Monday, October 30, 2006

Celta Training Course Begins

So we have completed our first week of Celta, the English teaching certification course that you all heard about before we came. It is intense. With 12 hour days and three lessons to teach per week, things get hectic. It is a thrill to get in front of the class and teach. Yes, we are teaching real students. They sign up for the free course knowing that they will be taught by teachers in training.

We just turned back the clocks yesterday. So now it gets dark here at around 4:30. And it's getting colder. It was 4 degrees celcius when I woke this morning. That's like 38 farenheit. It will climb to the 50s before the day is over. We're bundled up, each with a new coat and plenty of layers. Bethanie has discovered the joy of warm tights again (they're totally fashionable here), and I picked up a new sweater. I guess I'll need gloves next.

The leaves changed practically overnight from green to yellow and then the next night most of them fell off the trees. Each morning shop keepers and tenants line up down the lane sweeping the walks. Tomorrow we'll get up, down a hot cup of tea and some oatmeal or french toast and walk the booster before heading to training. And once again they'll be sweeping leaves.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Photos of Town Center

We realized we hadn't posted any pictures of where we live, so we're trying to take more. Here are a few from the town center (Stare Miasto). See if you can find Mr. Verduzco in one of them!

We've gotta run. It's a beautiful day here today, and we start our intensive course tomorrow so we have to take advantage! It's about 70 degrees and sunny, so we're going to try to find a park to play in with Booster.

Love from Krakow!

Friday, October 20, 2006

We're Engaged!

If that’s all you need to know, then you’re done here. If you’d like more details please read on…

After 4 lovely years together, your favorite ex-pat couple is engaged. It all happened the first night we arrived in Krakow, Oct 11th. We had just eaten a delicious meal of spaghetti Bolognese, Gouda cheese, and Polish porter, when Bhadri asked me to dance. As we stood up to groove, he asked me to hold on a sec while he went to the bathroom. Apparently that porter had created an urgent situation because I was thinking, “what a romantic moment…” I oh-so-briefly entertained the fantasy of him proposing when he got back, but quickly denied it. Little did I know, he was getting the ring ready. He’d kept it in his wallet for the past few weeks, and completely hidden it from me. He’d even asked my mom and dad for their blessings while we were in Oklahoma. I was completely in the dark. Of course my sister Molly had figured it all out on her own just by sheer observation, but I was clueless. When he came back in the kitchen and we had a beautiful dance. After the song ended, he got down on one knee and proposed. I remember thinking, “he’s totally messing with me!” And then he pulled out this gorgeous ring, and my crazy inner dialog was struggling to believe it. All of this internal drama apparently made its way to my face, because Bhadri said I was gazing at him with this distorted, furrowed look of shock.

When I went skydiving, they said it would take about 3 seconds after you jump from the plane to realize where you are and what you’re doing. That’s about how long it took to realize that Bhadri was proposing, that this was real. It was all a blur, but I know I said, “Are you serious? Of course I’ll marry you!”

I’m sure you girls want to know about the ring, of course. Well, I will say: he done good. You all know that I don’t wear much jewelry, but when I do I want it to be meaningful. On Ben Chomiak’s recommendation, Bhad looked into Gallery Jewelers in Austin. There he found my ring and it’s just perfect. The diamond is European cut from pre-1919 and the setting is from the 50’s. When I look down at that hand, I’m still surprised to see it there.

Bhadri extends his apologies to Ben and Manny, there was no in-flight proposal with the help of the flight attendants. He also extends his apologies to my dad who suggested he pretend like he found it in the corner of the room and then propose while he was down there.

First Post in Krakow

We arrived in Krakow on Oct. 11 after a long, but relatively easy journey. We started out from Tulsa to Chicago, after seeing the Bryant clan for a few days. We had a 5 hr layover in Chicago. Sidenote: Chicago, from what we’ve heard, has the second largest Polish population for one city outside of Warsaw (Poland’s capitol). We took Booster for a walk in the misty cold rain and hung out under the flags of the world – Not the entire world. Only the flags of countries that Chicago O’Hare connected to. At the same time, in all fairness, there is no way we would could hold the airport accountable for having all of the world’s flags, if that was their goal, because we don’t know what all the flags of the world look like ourselves. Of the flags they did have up, we identified at least half. Okay, enough on the flags.

The leg from Chicago to Krakow ended up being 9 hrs instead of the 14 that Bhadri had told everyone it would be. So that’s good news for anyone thinking of coming over. Flight recap: The veg meals were delectable, although sparse. They included free alcohol and consisted mainly of fruit and vegetable. They take the whole vegetarian thing very seriously. Couldn’t even get a bit of yogurt to go with it. Dairy! Bhadri tried to get a fruit cup, like the ones that came with the meat meals, but that was a nogo. Apparently not enough floating fruit to go around. Booster did great. He just slept in his crate beneath the seat at Bethanie’s feet, having sweet dreams of meat and his own seat. Each time we reached in to pet him, his head shot out of the top loader. So when we arrived, we expected to find our “accommodation officer” from the school standing on guard to show us to our flat. But there was no sign with our names or any that resembled ours. After 45 min. Piotr finally showed and we hit the road.

Our flat is a 2-bedroom, 1 bath with a kitchen and massive entry area on Ulica Krowoderska (pron. You-leets-a Kro-vo-dare-ska). It’s only a 10-15 min walk from the old town (Stare Miasto), the beautiful core of Krakow, surrounded by old castle walls and a green belt where the moat once was. About our place: it’s got all wood floors, except for the bathroom and kitchen; big windows facing noisy Krowoderska; a back patio that hasn’t been cleared of the pigeon shit in ages (we’re working on that. We’ve got no hose here on the 3rd floor in the middle of the city. But we’ve got a bucket, so …); a tv with 20 channels and only 12 stations (for some reason a load of the channels repeat, and even if they didn’t it wouldn’t matter because the only things playing are game shows, Polish soaps, American soaps poorly dubbed, variety shows and your occasional Name That Tune. And we don’t speak more than a little Polish any how); an 8 ft. ceramic tile heater tower in each of the bedrooms that we got turned on 3 days ago (which is nice because we woke up with frost on the ground today); a water heater with a flame that ignites each time we turn on the water (we can hear the pooooof of ignition power); oversized pillows and undersized beds; and a small sampling of meble (Polish for “furniture”) from IKEA.

Directly across the street is Lewiatan, a small super market with a lot of good food. We’ve been cooking lots of soups and have discovered Zywiec, the premier Polish pilsner. We’re trying to expand our recipe repertoire, but we still fall back on the odd grilled cheese and Bethanie makes some killer veggie burgers from scratch. We haven’t mastered any Polish recipes ourselves, and it’s been a challenge to shop because we don’t know what the labels say. But we have had some great dining experiences. Bethanie has fallen in love with Pierogi, a Polish dumpling. She prefers them without meat and with sauerkraut. Bhadri likes the Pierogi Ruskie filled with mashed potatoes and cottage cheese. Traditionally Pierogi are topped with sautéed onions, but we had them topped with some beautiful butter and herb sauces at a small (4 tables) restaurant called Vincent in the Kazimierz District.

We’ve also discovered Polish soup. Beware, this might sound disgusting, but trust us our taste buds do not lie. Bethanie tends towards Borszcz, hot beet soup. Bhadri’s found a jonesing for Zurek, a sour Polish soup with a thick broth filled with hard boiled egg, ham and sausage.

The city is beautiful. Krakow is full of energy – busy people darting everywhere. The streets are filled with them. There is great public transportation, from what we’ve seen. We actually haven’t got on board yet, because we can walk pretty much anywhere we need to be. The buildings generally are neglected but gorgeous, and generally don’t top more than 6 stories. There is lots of tagging on buildings, but we never feel unsafe anywhere we walk. The bottom floors of the buildings usually house shops: Meble (furniture), Apteka (pharmacy), Sklep (general store) and Fryzier (salon) are a few that we’ve picked up on. Often the shop won’t even have a name. The sign will just read “Antykwariat” and you know they sell antiques. There are lots of well-behaved dogs, some not even on leashes, and plenty of trees and grassy strips for the dogs to enjoy.

People on the street rarely acknowledge each other with anything more than a brief stare. We’re so used to smiling and saying hello. But that’s just been greeted with more stares and the occasional scowl. The Polish culture observes as certain respectful distance and in shops it is common to greet the sales clerk with a “good day” and leave with a “thank you” and “good bye.” We’re getting used to these formalities. Also, this may just be how life is in a city with so many people always on the street. It’s easier to tune it out.

Also, not knowing much more than a few phrases of Polish has been a challenge. We just try to keep smiling and we are learning and becoming comfortable with what we do know. It’s fun practicing knew words for phrases. The other day someone stopped by from International House to fix the heater and Bhadri offered him something to drink so he could try it out. And although this was the second time Bhadri met him, he still said “pleased to meet you” in Polish, another new phrase he just learned. The guy just went on about his business probably thinking, “Is this guy nuts?!”

We’ll be sure to let you know what we learn next …

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Up to Oklahoma

Mister Booster, what's your news, sir?

We made the 8.5 hour drive up to Oklahoma on Friday. So, we are officially "homeless" as David, Bethanie's dad, put it. We locked the door to an empty, as-clean-as-we-could-get-it apartment and hit the road with a Civic full of our belongings. That's right ... pretty much everything we own fits in a small 94 Honda Civic. And that's including a sewing desk and chair. They're family antiques so we had to keep them. They'll live, along with a few other things, at Kathi's (Bethanie's mom), for a while.

We spent Saturday morning waiting for our airline tickets to arrive. There was a big mix-up with Lott Polish Airlines and they sent our paper tickets to us late, so they would arrive in Austin after we had already left. After re-routing them to Tulsa, we were anxiously anticipating their arrival. As it turned out, the FedEx delivery person slipped them under the door mat without a knock. And as noon, the cutoff time for Saturday deliveries, came and went we started to get nervous. But then Bethanie, the sleuth that she is, sussed out the situation, checked under the mat and there they were. And we were all smiles.

Our flight leaves on Tuesday at 2:15. We'll head up to Chicago for a 5+ hour layover before heading directly to Krakow on a 14-hour flight. We're planning to watch a DVD at the airport to pass the time. We managed to bring a few with us, including The Edukators, Wallace & Grommit, The Office (English and American), seasons 2-6 of Sex and the City, the first 3 Harry Potter's, and a few I can't remember. The Edukators is a top-rate German film. If you enjoyed Fight Club, you'll probably enjoy it too.

An update on Booster: He rode up here pretty much the whole way in his Sherpa bag and did great. He doesn't like to go into it, but after that he just lays down for a nap and everything's fine. That will be his home for the long flight. He'll sit under the seat in front of us. It will be nice to know that he is safe there with us on the plane.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The countdown begins

Mister Booster, what's your news, sir?

Well, it's Oct. 2 and we're counting down to our departure. Pretty much everything that can be put on Craiglsist has been, and now we're sleeping on the floor with a stack of blankets that will be donated or given away in a couple of days. Josh, my brother, just got his new place, so they might go to him if he needs them.

I just looked at the weather in Krakow yesterday. It looks like it's dropping like 10° every week. So that puts us getting there on Oct. 11 and it will be in the mid 40s. OUCH! We will have to get coats straight away when we get there and make sure we've got what we need to stay warm. A couple of friends have mentioned the potential need for boots, but each time they do I think, "naaaaa, I won't need boots. I'll be fine." Well, maybe I'll get a pair of boots too. At this rate, I might need them. I'v already got the socks. You guys know that I wear hiking socks pretty much all the time already. So that's already taken care of. We'll have to get Bethanie some thick ones too. And Booster so that he has a pair to chew on and doesn't eat ours.