Monday, January 22, 2007

Our Day-Trip to Krakow

We'd been wanting to go to Krakow for a few weeks. But between having Saturday stand-by (in case teachers that normally teach Saturdays fall sick) and being too tired to catch an early train, we hadn't been able to go. But we decided that this weekend would be the one.

We took the 8:48 train from Katowice to Krakow, and arrived to a mild and cheery morning in the city. First things first: coffee! Bhadri confessed that he'd always wanted to drop into this little drink bar on the square, but had never done it b/c...well, b/c we lived there and didn't like to splurge on outrageous things like coffee. So we decided, we're tourists we can splurge today. So we went inside to this ancient shop called "Vis a Vis," occupied by a few old men at the window, smoking pipes and gruffing out conversation, a young man with a pony tail who seemed engulfed in his book, and a older gentleman holding a porter and preferring to stand. The tables were thin and tall, several stools around each, and a lamp post with a dim light shining at the base of the table. If more people were there, they'd have to share the communal tables. But they weren't, so we had our own. We had white coffees and a poppy seed roll and pretended we were sophisticated and it was 70 years ago. Well, at least I did. It was exactly what we like to do on our vacations: drink coffee and relax.

We went on to Kazimierz to check out the antiques market. It was buzzing with life: the elderly vendors with their stamps, antique glasses, and jewelled brooches. The young patrons with the leashed dogs, looking for treasure. It always rattles me though to see the old Nazi regalia, the swastika pins and medals of "honor," right next to the dull silver star of David pendants and faded postcards written in Yiddish. We looked thoroughly at the stock and took our leave.

For lunch we went to one of our favorite Krakowian restaurants: Alef! Delicious...the best hot chocolate I've ever had, ahh. And our friend Fran, from Katowice, joined us for a leisurely and very friendly 3 hour lunch.

After an hour or so at the Galicja Jewish Museum, it was dark. So we walked up to Wawel Castle (it was closed), and walked down to Grodzka street to find a good bottle of wine to take out on the square. We found the perfect bottle of Chilean wine, they shop keepers opened it and gave us two plastic cups, and off we went. The square was so alive! The lights of the old buildings danced in the shallow puddles scattered across its expanse. People were strolling, running, gazing and enjoying life. We had our wine (so good!) and watched the excitement.

Dinner at our favorite pizza place and back on a late train home. A lovely day in the city.

The Biggest Outdoor Park in Europe...

is a 30 minute walk from our apartment!

So we decided to take a stroll. We'd heard the place was massive, that it could be beautiful in parts, and to avoid it at night b/c of the soccer hooligans. (I'm not kidding about the soccer hooligans. In Poland, they don't have 'traditional' American-style street gangs; but they do have fanatic soccer fans whose loyalties are so deep that there are frequently deaths at the stadiums and surrounding areas on game days. Their grafitti is on almost every building.)

But we went on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with plenty of families and puppies trotting about. No hooligans to fear.

The park is really cool. There's a planetarium, a lake, and a zoo! So, we spent a while baa-ing at the sheeps, goats, and llamas at the front of the park. Booster was definitely amused. And then we stopped into one of the park's pubs for, Bhadri a pint of local Tyskie beer, and me a steaming glass of hot, spiced beer. We had cheese, crackers, and beer outside on the pub's porch while Booster scoured the deck for crumbs.

We walked a while in the sunlight, and soaked in each others' company, before deciding to head home for a cup of homemade hot chocolate.

A Cluster of Trees

A few weeks ago, we were on our vacation, driving through Eastern Poland on an inter-city bus. Sanok to Zamosc. I was dozing on Bhad's shoulder, waking up for a few minutes, and then back to sleep. I opened my eyes for a moment and was stunned at the beautiful countryside--how golden the grass was, how green the forrests were, how blue the sky was. Then, just to our left, appeared a small but not insignificant cluster of trees in the middle of a large field of golden grass. I had this strange sense that something was hidden there, it was such a strong feeling. In my mind, I urged the bus to stop and let me explore. But I resolved that I'd never know and to leave it at that.

Yesterday, we were in Krakow for the day and stopped into the Galicja Jewish Museum. This day there was a Polish Galicja photo exhibit on.

I felt my gut turn; there was the image of the same cluster of trees, unmistakeable, on the road to Zamosc. Enlarged to 3' x 2' and sparkling with brilliance were the same golds, greens, and blues; but with its beauty it carried such a weight.

A plastic sign with commentary hung under the photo. It read: Jewish cemetary, Stary Dzikow; no graves or markers remain, but the town's residents remember it being a cemetary before the war and have took measures to preserve it.

Even though this image was an absolute reflection of the image I held in my memory, I needed more. How could I, a non-Jew from Oklahoma just passing through on holiday, have known anything? How could I have felt it so deeply that my bones surged with energy?

When we got home, I peeled off my warm layers and set down my day bag. It had been on my mind all day: was it really the same landscape? Was my intuition justified? So I went for my Polska map and opened it to the city index...Stary Dzikow...coordinates: P27...

It couldn't have been clearer. Exactly in line with our route from Sanok to Rzeszow to Zamosc was a tiny dot labelled with the words Stary Dzikow.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mid-January Update

I realize that we're not the best at keeping up with our blog. We sincerely apologize for that! So, even though nothing spectacular has been going on, I'll write a note about what's up.

We've been working. A lot. I gained about 3 new classes when we came back from our 2-week holiday break, so it's been keeping me busy. One class is an advanced, late teens and, boy, are they obnoxious! I have to give them extra homework to make them stop speaking Polish (I know they are just sitting there mocking me and laughing at how they get--eh hem, got--away with it), I can't talk to them about anything fun or personal b/c it gives them ammo to be cruel, I have to give them tests instead of doing engaging activities b/c, again, they become cruel and sadly childish, and I even had to keep one kid behind from class the other day. It was a show-down. Actually, it was very anti-climactic. I thought we'd have to duke it out for control, but as it turns out he was very quiet and scared when it was just me and him. The same happened the next day with a pre-advanced, teen class. I had to keep a girl behind after class. Why can't we just have a good, fun, learning environment where we laugh at bad English jokes and give hi-fives for getting answers correct?!

Bhadri lost about 3 classes, and gained a few back...then lost's an on-going ordeal. That's what happens when you're under hours and are contractually obligated to teach 20 hrs/week. You get bumped around a bit. But he's bouncy, and is dealing with it well.

Another Bhadri update: have you seen his beard recently? Of course you haven't. We haven't posted pictures. Well, we will soon. But it's getting very long and, I dare say, it is a proper beard now!

So, when we're not planning lessons or teaching, we are planning the big event. Our wedding. We decided against Ireland (it would've been beautiful, but really, it's just too much to expect our families and friends to be able to make it half-way across the world); and decided for Tulsa. Hey, Tulsa's a beautiful town! So we're looking into this really cool looking mansion/lodge on a hill, trying to find a good photographer, and are scouring the city (or my Dad is) for some tasty kegs of beer. I bought my dress a while back, so that is taken care of. Unfortunately, I can't post it on our blog b/c I'm not allowing Bhadri to see it until our wedding day. He's cool with that, don't worry.

Tonight is Conversation Club Deux, and our Mr. Verduzco is organizing it. CC, to re-iterate, is just a bunch of our adult students and teachers getting together at a local English pub for drinks and convo. I really think it'll be a good time. He's created 5 pub quizzes: 1 is America-themed, 1 is Australian-themed, 1 is UK-themed, 1 is Poland-themed, and there's a general category, too. Lots of ridiculous trivia questions like: who invented the toilet? what is the heaviest land mammal? and in what year did Britney Spears get her first UK single?

This weekend, we're planning a day-trip to Krakow. I have a couple shops I want to visit for wedding-gear, we want to go see the Kazimierz antiques market, we want to buy some good, English-language books, and probably most importantly, we want to get a steamer for milk. We have had quite a few delicious, delicious cups of cappuccino at various bars/coffee shops these past few months; and although we have the same brand of espresso, a good espresso maker, and the additional ingredients to make the capps's just not the same as in the shops. We've decided that the reason our coffee is sub-par (it's good, it's just not AS good--in case you're worried :) is that we heat our milk on the stove. It needs to be steamed. And there is a kitchen shop (about 30 sq feet) in Krakow that just sells specialty kitchen goodies--so we owe them a visit. I love that, though. There is a specialty shop for EVERYTHING here. And they give you the best service, too. They will plug your item into a test socket to make sure it works before you take it home. They will wrap your item up with so much care and place it gently into a well-designed bag. It's just so far from the Wal-mart culture of crap, and I love it!

And, undoubtedly, we just want to hang out in Krakow again. The Rynek/main square, the Planty gardens surrounding the old town, the soul-filled Kazimierz district...Krakow just has something special.

But we did go out for breakfast and coffee the other day. We went to this great place called Cafe Europa. It's celebrating it's 100th anniversary, and it really does feel that old. They've renovated it with gold crome accents and white spray-painted wreath-like things--but under that thin layer of cheese is a very historical and real place. The ceilings were 2 stories tall, there were booth nooks with old men smoking pipes, grannies gossiping closely at reserved tables, and then us. On the wall was an old newspaper reproduction from, I assume, the early 1900s. It was from when the cafe had just opened. There were the normal other adds on the page, and then several recognizably Jewish names--the owners of shops, advertizing in the paper, like it was nothing, just normal life, and no one would care 100 yrs from then. It always gets me. Everytime.

Let's see...what else? Oh, Booster. He's lovely, as usual. We've been giving him lots of "naked time"--basically all this involves is taking his collar off and yelling "NAKED TIME!!!" And then he gets all excited and does his famous wiggle-dance. It's great! We've set up a spot on the window sill for him to sit and watch the passers-by...we even put a big, down pillow up there for max comfort.

We watched a couple of good movies this past week. And, more importantly, we found a dvd shop! We are members now. It's official, we are residents of Katowice. That's how we gage that, based on dvd-membership or no-dvd-membership. The goodies were: Everything is Illuminated (we saw this back in Austin, but had to watch it again. It's on my top 5 fav movies list right now), Jestem (very good Polish film), and My Life Without Me (watched that this morning. I give it a thumbs up!).

Other updates: my hair is getting long. We found peanut butter and have been eating it on toast every morning. I am getting tired of Polish beer (and am now loving Pilsner Urquell and tasty, vodka Zolakowa--pron: Zh-o-won-ko-vah). Bhadri is fantastic and we are loving life...what more can ya say :)?

We have 3 more weeks until "Winter Break." It's another 2 week vacation just for the sake of Winter, I assume. We're hoping our good friend, Patrice, from Ireland will come out and visit. Otherwise, we want to spend a few days in Warsaw and then hang in and do more wedding planning. I know, we are boring. I had noooo idea how much effort it would take to plan a wedding. But, in fairness, it's really fun too.

Oh, note to readers: please, please post comments when you read. We get online every few days and check our blog for comments and, if we have one in a month, we get super excited. So write anything. Write what you ate for lunch that day or what your plans are for the evening or how you are successfully avoiding work at the moment or how you have something greenish stuck in your teeth. Anything! We would be much appreciative. We love you all!

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I love Polish beverages. They come in all shapes and sizes (as do beverages from other sovereign states). But they are special.

Carrot juice for 3 zloty (1 USD) that is branded: Jednodniakowy, which means "one day." This juice is so fresh and delicious that its lifespan is only one, miraculous day. It's right on the label!

Barszcz (pron: Bar-sh-ch). Hot, beetroot soup served in a mug. It might sound disturbing, but it is a treat for the tastebuds. But a bit confusing. Is it a soup? Or is it a beverage?

Maslanka (pron: mosh-lahn-kah). Fruit flavored yogurt drink that you can buy by the liter for less than 2 zloty ($0.75). Good on granola or in a medium sized glass, sipping slowly. If you're lucky, there will be tiny bits of peach or strawberry or even grapefruit floating through this delicacy.

Sparkling water (also called Woda Gazowana). Underappreciated? I say yes. I feel excited...I am becoming European by the glass! It's fizzy and my brain thinks it tastes like pop, but my body says "thank you for drinking water." It's manipulative, that sparkling water. But with the best of intentions. It's good on its own, but add a few tablespoons of raspberry syrup and you're in healthy (or semi-healthy) Heaven.

Along the same lines. Beer with raspberry syrup: also delicious. And so simple at just two ingredients. Syrup and cold beer. Not too bitter, not too sweet.

Mulled wine (or Wino Grzane) pretty much tops my list. But it's not to be drunk (drinken? drunken?) on just any old day. It waits in the wings for a cold, dark night, and knows that it's only mission is to warm up your heart, soul, and most importantly, your tongue-esophogus-belly route. Ok, here's the recipe: good red wine, whole cloves, cinnamon, some kind of pepper (it's called ziele angielski here), sugar, and a big, fat orange slice. Heat to hot (not boiling) and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

Na Strovie (cheers)!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Our Teaching Schedules

Our holiday break is over and we are teaching once again. I taught two 90-minute lessons yesterday and have one today. Bethanie had a one-to-one cancelled this morning and she teaches two 90-minute slots this afternoon as well.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how our schedules work. International House, the school we teach at, teaches students English at 10 competency levels, including beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced, and super duper advanced (obviously not the technical term.) We teach ages 6+. Right now, Beth and I each teach about 10 classes per week. Each class lasts 90 minutes. And we can teach up to three a day, not exceeding 14 classes per week. Most of our classes are with late teens and adults. However, Beth does teach students as young as 9. Class times generally run from 3:30-5, 5:15-6:45 and 7-8:30. Sometimes we have classes at other times for business classes. These are classes where we have to dress up a little bit – I wear a tie – and we go to the business to teach the class. The topics we teach business students don’t differ much from a regular class, but usually we try to make the lessons more business oriented of course.

The planning time for each class takes 1 to 2 hours, depending on the level we’re teaching. Generally, it takes more planning for higher level classes because they cover a lot of material and it’s more complex than lower level classes. Hopefully as we get this whole thing down, we’ll be able to plan much faster.

So there you go! That’s the gist of it. Probably more information than you ever wanted to know. All that teaching and planning makes it a 40+ hour job. But it’s loads of fun as well and the good thing is that if a lesson bombs, it’s easy to forget about it because I’ve got so many other lessons to prepare for and make better.

Zamosc Photos

Post-Christmas fun in Zamosc

The day after Christmas some of the buses purred back to life after their holiday slumber. The three of us (if you’re wondering who the third person is, don’t forget Booster) hopped on a couple of well-connected buses and 6 hours later we were in Zamosc, a town with a population of 70,000 in eastern Poland, very near the Ukraine border.

In Zamosc we decided to hop a taxi into the town center to save some time and cut down on the foot travel with our bags in tow. The bus station sat about 2 km from our hotel. It was 4:30 and the sun had already set. The sky was slowly fading from purple to black.

A couple minutes into the taxi ride I noticed the meter wasn’t on. In more Polish than I could understand, the driver told me it was broken. When he finally delivered us to our destination, a nice hotel in town center (a little splurge for our Christmas holiday), he scribbled 50 zloty in his notebook and flashed it to us. The going rate, as we would find out from the tourist office the next day, for a trip from the station to our hotel should have been 8 zloty. He was trying to charge us 6x the going rate! I realized that my bag was in the trunk and felt trapped. As Beth and I got angrier and angrier, the broken Polish we had been using in an effort to communicate clearly crumbled away and we were nearly shouting in English. Beth talked him down to 20 zl and once I put the money in his hand he agreed to open the trunk. I got my bag. We checked into our room and I spent the next 30 minutes or more trying to calm down.

Eventually, we managed to get our mind off of the taxi ordeal and we enjoyed a nice dinner in the empty hotel restaurant before heading out for a stroll. The town was beautiful. Zamosc, a modern day renaissance town, was built in the 16th century by and Italian architect over the course of a decade or so. As the photos show, it is beautiful. The old town center, measuring 600m x 400 m, was our home for the three days we were there. The streets were uneven and slick with cobblestones that have been around for centuries. The historic architecture, featuring beautiful stucco work and archways, was a welcome relief from the post-war architecture of Katowice. The highlight of the center was the center square, lined with old Burgher houses once owned by Armenian merchants.

Our days were filled with strolling and lots of hot cocoa. We kept the new thermos that we bought for the trip full the entire time we were there. No snow was on the ground, but the air was cold and crisp and the cocoa really warmed us up. A skating rink was set up in the middle of town and we could watch the kiddies make laps from our hotel room. We even enjoyed a little skating ourselves on our second day there. You can see Bethanie skating in one of the photos. It was great. She’s really good – very graceful. She didn’t fall once. The only fall I had was from goofing around with her. I bumped into her on purpose and I was the one who ended up falling down.

We also visited a number of antique shops, a gourmet coffee shop where I had Kenyan coffee brewed in my own small pot, the local museum, a number of ornate churches, and the old synagogue that is now closed to the public but may become a museum by the next time we visit.

Zamosc like so many other Polish towns was hit hard (that’s an understatement!) during the holocaust. We also visited a round fort, now an open-air museum, which was used by the Nazis to kill 8,000 local inhabitants from 1939-1945. Those killed there included Jews and Poles, intellectuals, rebels and political opponents, among others. The constant reminders of the holocaust that remain in every place we visit shock me. It’s difficult to put into words.

We awoke on Dec. 28 at 3 am to catch the 5 am train back to Katowice. The ground was dusted with a thin coat of snow. We enjoyed being the first to leave our tracks in the white powder on our 1 km walk to the train station. The highlight of the 8-hour train ride happened at lunch time. Bethanie and I were enjoying crackers with flavored cream cheese, when a young guy around my age asked me if I had ever had Polish sausage before. I had once in Krakow I told him. He then offered me two huge links of sausage, the length of my forearm two times over, that his grandfather had hunted and made. It was the best sausage I have ever had. “Now you can say you have had Polish sausage on a Polish train,” he told me. It was delicious! I’ve still got half a link left in the fridge. I think I will have it in some soup tonight.

Photos from Sanok

As we mentioned, we spent Christmas in Sanok. Here are some pics from our hike.