Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back to Warsaw- Day 8

I have completed my first week in Poland and traveled to Warsaw and Gdansk in that time. We spent the weekend in Gdansk and traveled back to Warsaw by bus yesterday morning. It was a five hour bus ride!

Monday, June 29:
We left for Warsaw around 7:15 in the morning and arrived at our hotel around 1 p.m. This included two stops for the bus driver. Apparently, the driver's union has lobbied for two breaks for drivers lasting a total of 45 minutes. That, coupled with traffic, explains the long trip.

After lunch, we went to the Warsaw Rising Museum. At first, I thought this was the museum for the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. It was, in fact, the Warsaw Rising of the Polish citizens against the Nazi & Soviet occupation. This began on August 1, 1944, a year after the uprising in the ghetto. There is currently not a museum for the Jewish uprising but one is being built.

I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, although the layout was a bit confusing. Each exhibit was numbered and you could get a headset in English that went through each exhibit by number. However, often you would find that it jumped from 21-34 and it was difficult to figure out what direction to go. Aside from that, it was wonderful. There is information on the Polish Home Army (the resistance army) and their operations against the much stronger Nazi army. It includes information leading up to the beginning of the Rising, through the Rising, and on specific people involved. Doctors, nurses, priests, and public officials all took part in fighting the Germans. There is a wall which has holes in it where you put your ears and you can hear the sounds of the Rising. They also have life size replicas of the sewers they used for communication and , at the end, escape. You can actually walk through them and I had to duck to be able to do so.

There was so much information I could not possibly get through it all in one trip. I bought a book that goes through each exhibit to have photos and information. I highly recommend the museum if you ever come to Warsaw.

Dinner last night was an adventure. We tried a different Mexican food restaurant and we found a patio to sit on. The sun was shining, birds were singing.....and then the sky opened up and dumped rain for about two hours. We hurried inside to the basement only to have the toilets in the restrooms (located in the basement) overflow. We see water creeping in and then all of a sudden it begins gushing in. I will post pics later. So....we waded through toilet water (no raw sewage) to the stairs and then ran to our hotel in the rain. It was an eventful evening.

Tuesday, June 30:
We had three different meetings today. First, we traveled to the Warsaw Stock Exchange, which was interesting. They trade electronically so there were no brokers on the floor shouting. Its much smaller than the NY Stock Exchange, with only 25 foreign countries represented. However, considering they have only been in a free market economy for 20 years, the growth is quite amazing.

We visited a private school before lunch and met with the headmaster and a teacher. The headmaster is elected by the teachers every 5 years. He determines teacher pay. The school has a complete executive, legislative, and judical branch with a court for student hearings. Students can serve on their "Parliament", which I found interesting. They have a similar school year, with 10 weeks off in the summer. Also, teachers are not only evaluated by their headmaster but also by students. In the past, they even allowed parents to evaluate teachers!

Our last meeting of the day was with a professor who talked about culture in Poland. In traditional Polish culture, the Roman Catholic Church was at the center of everything. Religion has played an important role in Polish identity and history because it has been one area they could control and be independent through, even when they were under occupation. The strength of the church is still evident at Poland is 96% Catholic today. Traditionally, Polish culture has been very conservative and not open to new ideas. Liberal or socialist ideas were seen as too closely connected to communism. The system of rule during the Middle Ages of having a peasant class and gentry class held influence much longer in Poland than in Western Europe. After Communism fell in 1989, Polish culture opened up somewhat to more liberal ideas of consumerism and free market ideas. People wanted to be successful and that no longer was tied to the idea of a gentry class or land. Today, a return to traditional cultural ideas has brought about more conservative groups in Parliament who often find themselves at odds with the new class of youth who have socialist tendencies. The youth of Poland did not experience Communism as their parents did so they are less quick to associate some of the socialist policies, like government provided healthcare, with Communism. The legacy of Communism is a recurring theme in my studies here in Poland. A people who have been for so long repressed have little desire to give up any of their freedoms, hence the apprehension about socialism.

Tomorrow, we leave early in the morning for Krakow. We will be touring the city and attending a special 4th of July celebration held in a nice museum there, even though its only the first.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Malbork Castle

Damage to the chapel in Malbork Castle from WWII.

Main reception hall inside Malbork Castle.

Vigil set up outside Polish tram station for Michael Jackson.

Malbork Castle....I could not even fit the whole castle into the pic!

Warsaw & Gdansk

Update needed! I have been super busy the last few days so I have not had time to update my blog. Here is what we have been doing the last few days!

Wednesday, June 24:
We visited the College of Europe which is located in a suburb of Warsaw. The College of Europe has two branches, one in Warsaw and one in Bruges, Belgium. The campus in Bruges is the larger of the two. It was founded in 1948 at the Council in the Hague, where Churchill pled for the unification of Europe. The basic purpose for the two campuses is to provide graduate degrees that will prepare students for careers in the EU or for positions within their own governments that directly relate to the EU. The campus is Bruges is more specific (i.e. European Union Law) while the campus in Warsaw takes a more interdisciplinary approach. Classes are conducted in French and English, which is usually not a problem since most students can speak both languages already in addition to their native language. The Warsaw campus was formerly an aristocratic residence that was part of the Wilanow Palace, home of the Polish kings. It was then nationalized by the Communist party and it served as a retreat for important party officials. Nikita Khruschev even visited once! The current campus began in 1989, after Communism fell in Poland. The program is a one year program and only 100 students are accepted. It was a beautiful campus and very small. I will post pictures later.

We also visited the Center for the Advancement of Women in the afternoon. In Poland, women are often treated unequally in terms of opportunities and salary. Its much more difficult for women to find work and when they do, they are often paid less than men. Children can also be an issue for women because there is not adequate child care available for women so that they can work and be a mother. The foundation works to increase equality for women, especially in the workplace and by trying to increase the amount of social institutions available to help women care for their children. Its much more common for women over 50 to quit their jobs to stay home with their daughter's children.

Thursday, June 25:
We took a tour of Warsaw by bus this morning while getting a brief history from our tour guide at the same time. Poland has around 1.8 million people in the actual city. Approximately 800,000 Polish citizens in Warsaw were killed during WWII. The Royal Castle in Warsaw was completely destroyed during the war and it was not rebuilt until the 1970s because the Communists refused to give money to rebuild it. During the Warsaw uprising in 1943, where the Jews rose up against their Nazi captors in the Warsaw ghetto, almost all prisoners in the ghetto died. After 1943, the Nazis claimed the Warsaw ghetto no longer existed. There is a beautiful memorial that stands where the ghetto once stood as a testament to their strength and memory.

The first Starbucks has arrived in Warsaw. Our guide told us this is where most of the "15-19 year old Polish snobs spend all their parents money". Its a status symbol to be seen at Starbucks.

There is a large statue of Nicholas Copernicus in the main square, as he was of Polish descent. The Vatican suppressed the publishing of his findings that the Earth orbits around the Sun until 1828.

In the afternoon, we visited the Ministry of Education, which was one of my favorite meetings so far. Currently, Polish students begin school when they are 6/7 years old and they do not graduate until they are 19. Students are tested three times during their educational career- in the 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. The 12th grade exams are like exit exams. They are required to take tests on the Polish language, a foreign language, and up to 6 exams of their choosing. Universities release their required exam scores for admissions in May so students know what courses and exams to sign up for. If students do not pass these "exit" exams, they may repeat them the following year. They may try to pass an exam or improve their score up to 5 times. In Poland, like the U.S., teachers are paid a low salary but the prestige of being a teacher is much higher.

Our last meeting of the day was with an American professor at the Warsaw University who married a Polish man and has now lived in Poland for the last 20 years. She was very interesting. When she moved to Poland in 1987, they were still under Communist rule. She remembers have ration books for gas and meat. Daily life took up most of your day under Communist rule. Everything involved waiting in lines. In order to go to the grocery, you literally waited in a different line for each product. Milk in one line, bread in the next. Most of your day was spent waiting in lines. There was no concept of self service, which was a challenge when they switched to a market economy. Even alcohol and cigarettes were rationed! In order to make a phone call, you would have to order a call through the central line operator and then wait for several hours before you would be connected. People did not keep passports at home. They could not travel freely. They had to apply for a passport from the government for a trip and the government could turn them down for any little reason. You were not allowed to keep the passport after you returned.

Friday, June 26:
We visited the Ministry of Labor and the Polish Parliament. Poland has not been as heavily affected by the current economic recession. No one below 18 can work without a permit so youth workers are not as common as in the States. The fixed minimum monthly wage is about 1160 zloty, which is around 300 US dollars. For young workers entering the labor market, their first year they are only paid 80% of a full time salary since they have no experience.

In the evening, we went to the Polish Chamber Opera House for an opera. It was a piece from Mozart's works. It was in Italian but we could kind of tell what was going on by the actions of the cast. It was fun.

Saturday, June 27:
We left Warsaw early this morning to travel by bus to Gdansk, which is in the northern part of Poland by the Baltic Sea. On the way, we stopped in Malbork to visit the Malbork Castle. It was built by the Teutonic Knights during the 13th century and it is the largest brick castle in the world. It was partially destroyed during WWII and it was not repaired until recently because it came under Nazi control and the Communists did not want to support anything having to do with the Nazis.

We arrived in Gdansk and had dinner in the Old Town. The architecture is beautiful. It is a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic. Again, like Warsaw, much of the city was destroyed but it has been rebuilt. There is a heavy Dutch influence in the architecture because many Dutch immigrants moved to the city. It is the most multicultural city in Poland.

Sunday, June 28:
We had a meeting at the Universit of Gdansk this morning and then we took a bus tour of the city this afternoon. We went down to the shipyards, where the Polish solidarity movement began. It is the 20 year anniversary of the fall of Communism in Poland so there are lots of celebrations of the Solidarity movement this year. It was the Polish resistance movement against the Communist regime and it began in the shipyards of Gdansk.

After our tour, we had free time so a group of us went "power shopping" for amber jewelery, for which Poland is well known. I found some beautiful jewelery. We took a taxi to Sopot, which is the beach town on the coast of the Baltic Sea. It was very cold today, about 60 degrees, so no bathing suits were brought but I did get pictures standing next to the Baltic Sea! I will post them later!

Tomorrow we leave for Warsaw, where we will spend two days before leaving for Krakow, the old capital! I hope you have enjoyed this rather long update. Good night!

P.S. My discovery of the wonders of Skype has made my trip much easier. I can now talk with my family and Colton. I can even see him!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A few photos from Warsaw

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Welcome to Warsaw! This is the Old Town of Warsaw, which means this was the original part of the city. Everything else has expanded around it. Most of Warsaw (84%) was destroyed during WWII so it was rebuilt by using old photos in order to replicate the buildings as they once stood. The red brick building on the right is the Royal Castle.

Wilanow Palace- where the Polish kings lived

Memorial to the Warsaw Uprising-
Jews of the Warsaw ghetto decided to rise up against their Nazi captors so they would die as humans rather than submit to their deaths. This memorials commemorates those who fought in the Warsaw Uprising-both Jews and Poles- and those who lost their life in the ghetto.
Approximately 500,000 Jews and prisoners went into the Warsaw ghetto. Most died either in the camps, in the Uprising, or were sent to concentration camps.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Warsaw - Day 3

Warsaw is wonderful! We have been here for 3 days now and I am still finding new things to enjoy. The food here is plentiful and good. For the last two evenings, they have taken us to restaurants for dinner. Each dinner was 4 courses! They bring out a first course of cold vegetables, meats, breads, and cheeses. The second course is soup. The main course varies. Sunday night we had steak and fries. Monday night we had dinner family style meats and sides. They brought SO much food to our tables...duck, spare ribs, perch, pork chops, and pork knuckles. (I had the pork chop- no extreme meals for me!) Then the last course is always dessert. The have delicious ice cream here. Its called lody and its much creamier and sweeter than in the U.S. I will have to force myself not to eat ice cream everyday or, for that matter, every meal. I have a dress to fit into when I return home!

Monday, June 22- We visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and spoke with the Officer of the Americas (basically the under-under deputy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs --> similar to our Secretary of State). He talked about the transition of Poland from communism to democracy and Polish/U.S. relations. Interesting fact- There are not illegal immigration issues in Poland.

Our second visit yesterday was to Warsaw University where the Fulbright Commission is located. We had aa feminist/activist professor talk about women's rights/status in Poland since Communism. She discussed abortion, liberal activisim & equality for women in Poland, and gender issues. Interesting fact- Poland has the highest number of women entrepreneurs in Europe. Interesting fact 2- Poland has the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe.

We walked through Old Town (the older district in Warsaw) last night to get to the restaurant for dinner. The architecture is beautiful but all the buildings have been reconstructed. Approximately 84% of Warsaw was completely destroyed during WWII. It has been rebuilt to model the old buildings but very few original structures remain. We saw a memorial statue to the children of the Warsaw uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, which was completely destroyed when the Nazis burned it after the uprising.

Fun fact- Supposedly, if you smile at a Pole, they will either presume you are stupid or you are coming on to them. :) They are a very stoic people, probably a legacy leftover from communism.

Tuesday, June 23- Today we visited the College of Europe, which was amazing. It's a small campus in the suburbs of Warsaw. The main campus is in Bruges, Belgium. Only 100 students are accepted to the Warsaw campus and only 300 students are accepted to the main campus in Bruges. The College of Europe is basically a one year masters program to prepare students for policymaking and government positions in their own government or with the EU. The EU is the main focus of curriculum. In Bruges, curriculum is more specific, like EU law, while in Warsaw its more interdisciplinary. The actual campus was formally an aristocratic residence that was taken over by the Communists to use as their dacha, or personal retreat. Nikita Khruschev visited the campus while Poland was still Communist! Our speaker actually attended college in the U.S. at Harvard. He was very interesting!

We also visited the Center for Advancement of Women, which also focuses on improving the equality for women in the workforce and in the private sector. They were a less activist group and more focused on working with the policymakers to make changes. No protests for them!

We have free time this evening so a small group of us are going out to try Adler restaurant, which serves German, Bavarian, and Polish cuisine. Should be fun!

**Note: I took lots of pictures but, of course, I left my connector cord from my camera to my computer in Texas. Pictures will have to wait until I return, unless I find a cord. **

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Warsaw, Poland- Day 1

We FINALLY made it to Warsaw! After a day and a half of travel, I am exhausted but excited to see the city. We were supposed to fly out of Reagan Airport in D.C. yesterday afternoon at 2:30 but, of course, our flight was delayed until 4 p.m. No worries though! Our flight out of JFK to Warsaw at 6:15 was canceled. So...we flew to JFK to find there were no more flights to Poland for the day but there was a flight out of Newark, New Jersey. So off we go on a shuttle bus to Newark. Our bus driver thought it would be nice to take us through the heart of NYC so I saw Times Square for the first time. After sitting through unnecessary traffic (apparently there are shorter ways to get to Newark from JFK airport), we finally made it to Newark and boarded a 11:30 flight to Warsaw along with 250-300 other people. On the bright side, the flight was only 7 hours 50 minutes and was relatively smooth. I slept most of the way. I can now say I have been to New Jersey and NYC!!!

Fast forward to current time, I am checked into my hotel room at the Novotel hotel in Warsaw. We have some free time to settle in so I am updating the blog and emailing loved ones. We are heading out to the Old Town tonight in Warsaw for our welcome dinner here in Poland! Good night!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Washington DC

Hello! I have been in Washington D.C. for the last two days doing a pre-departure orientation for my trip to Poland. Yesterday, we spend the whole day at the Polish embassy, which is beautiful. It was built in the early 1900s and is still housed in the same building as original establishment. We had presentations on Polish culture and a brief history of U.S./Polish relations. They served us a lunch of Polish foods as well. I ate mostly bread! You know me..picky eater! Lots of meats in every dish.

Today, we visited the Catholic University of America, which is absolutely beautiful. They are one of the largest Catholic universities and they are pontificated, which means they are authorized by the Vatican to provide Catholic education in the United States. They are the only US Catholic university to hold that honor. Its a small school in terms of student body in comparison with larger American universities. Their student body total, including graduate and undergraduate students, is around 7200 students. You do not have to be Catholic to attend and they do offer more than just Catholic theology/religion courses. They also have a strong study abroad program with ties to many schools worldwide, including Poland.

We also visited the Basilica of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception in D.C. The architecture and mosiacs in this building is amazing. Its definitely worth a visit if you come to D.C. There are different chapels for many countries around the world.

We had some free time after our orientation was done so three other women and I went to the Holocaust Museum here in D.C. It was a thought provoking and wonderful experience. I highly recommend coming here to see the museum. You walk through the museum in a chronological tour from the beginning of Hitler's rise to power all the way to the end of the war. The images and memorabilia are amazing. I went through the whole museum and I know I did not see everything there was to see. I think any person who can manage to visit should because it is important to "Never forget" as the slogan says. I am looking forward to visiting Auschwitz Birkenau and seeing some of the real belongings that were only photographed at the museum.

I have met some wonderful people here already and I am excited to share my trip with them. I miss Colton, my family, and my friends immensely but having nice people around makes the trip more bearable. I know I will have great experiences while in Poland and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I do know that I will be so excited to get back to the U.S. and marry Colton!

I leave for Poland tomorrow! Until next time, blessings!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I began the packing process today by running errands for all things I will need in Poland. I am back a little lighter in the pocketbook but prepared to have a good time! My flight leaves Wednesday evening at 5:30 to Washington D.C., where I will spend a two days in a pre-departure orientation. C took off half a day at work to spend time with me before I leave. I just know I will cry at the airport. I am a baby about leaving!

I am working on my wedding to-do list before I leave. All big ticket items are taken care of but I have to make sure a few small things are done before I am gone. I am so ready to get married!

Side note- In an effort to be more healthy (and to look fabulous on my wedding day), I purchased Cook Yourself Thin today at Barnes and Noble. It has been getting lots of buzz on the Lifetime network for its good but healthy recipes. I will let you know how it turns out!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Our wedding theme/color scheme is black and white with damask accents. We will use hints of red color by using red flowers at the reception. Below are some images I found on the knot that are similar to the look we are going for. I love the idea of black and white for a wedding because it is classy and elegant. Colton loves adding the red so we have Texas Tech colors. Go figure!

We will be serving heavy hors douerves and cocktails at the reception. Guests will dance to live music and, of course, we will have yummy cake from one of my favorite bakeries in Dallas! It is seriously the best cake I have ever had!

Blog Newbie

I set up this blog to relay my travels this summer in Poland and my attempts at becoming a baker extraordinaire! I will also use it to update all interested on life as a Street (which I am not technically..yet!). Wedding plans and updates will be provided as well! Hope you enjoy!