Saturday, October 25, 2008

Returning to Poland

UEK Main Campus Building

The Kracow University of Economics invited me to return this fall to teach the Executive MBA course that I first taught while in Krakow last winter, so I decided to make a quick trip to Poland over Hope's Fall Break. It was great to be back, especially since the weather was beautiful - all the outdoor cafes were still set up and walking around was delightful.

My "students" this year were outstanding....5 company presidents, 2 chief financial officers, some sales VPs, several engineers for international made teaching the course both challenging and interesting. Though the quick trip over and back was tiring, so I'm not sure if I'd do it again (at least not on such a tight schedule). But I got to revisit some of my favorite places, so I'm glad I made the trip!

The Wawel (Castle) Cathedral

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Missing Krakow

The Barbakan - built in 1498 as the city's northern defensive fort, just outside the moat and wall built around the city. Originally there was a covered passage linking the Barbakan to the Florianska gate.

The Florianska Gate
Side view of the Barbakan

Monday, February 18, 2008

Good-bye to Krakow!

Monika Sady, my main contact at the University

Marek Szarucki, my research partner

I've just returned from my last day at the University: said good-bye to my "shepherd" Monika and my research partner Marek; I was supposed to meet with the Vice Chancellor/head of International Education, but he was tied up in meetings (it's the beginning of their spring semester). We have most of our packing done, except for last-minute things for tomorrow morning. We're leaving a lot of clothes here but our bags are still stuffed (and heavy). We'll see how the check-in process goes.

We had our last Polish meal at a cute little restaurant just down the street from our apartment. It's not listed in any of the guide books, but since we walk by it every day we decided to try it a few weeks ago and loved it. (It's called "PPP" and we joked that it stood for Pierogi, Pork and Paczke - three staples of Polish food - but it's really "Piwnice Palacu Pokutynskich" meaning "in the cellar of the Pokutynskich Palace." Many of the restaurants we've been to in Krakow are located in lovely old cellars with arched brick ceilings and brick walls covered with tapestries or oriental rugs.) This place specializes in mushroom dishes, and they are fantastic. John had his usual: salmon for his main course with zurek as a starter (a Polish soup that's hard to describe...some places translate it as white barszcz, others call it sour rye soup. John has had it almost every day since we've been in Krakow.)

This will likely be my last posting. Thanks to all of you who have followed our adventures - knowing you are reading the blog has made it fun to write. Special thanks to our friend Lee who sent us THREE care packages (one of which had an interesting adventure with the Polish Postal Service).

Do widzenia!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our Last Week in Krakow

St. Mary's Church on the Rynek - one of the symbols of Krakow

We're not spending our last few days in Poland how we might have planned: John has a very bad cold so we've been sticking close to "home." I've been doing some work with a colleague here on a paper we'd like to write together; I've met a few afternoons with a Fulbrighter who just arrived for the spring semester; and also had a very nice session with the director of the MBA program where I was invited back to teach a class again next year. It makes it a little easier to leave knowing there's the possibility that I may be returning (though I hope it can be some other time than in January).

A stage has just been set up on the Rynek and several wooden kiosks have popped up. I thought this might be for an Easter market of some sort, but so far it's just Valentine's Day trinkets and food stalls . As you can see from the snow in the picture, below, winter has returned...
One of the kiosks on the Rynek selling a favorite snack - smoked sheep's cheese ("oscypek"), which is grilled and then served with a red current jam. Yummy!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

“Poznan, a beautiful city in Poland”

Poznan's "Stary Rynek" (old town square)

With our time in Poland running short, we decided to take one last trip. Poznan is considered one of the “must see” cities in Poland, so we couldn’t leave without a visit. The title of this post is from the earliest known depiction of Poznan ("Posnania elegans Poloniae civitas") and it is a beautiful city. We didn't arrive with any particular expectations and were very impressed with how vibrant this city is. From the pictures you might think that these Polish cities and their town squares and churches all look the same, but that’s not the case. Though the buildings here reminded us of some in Lublin, Poznan’s are in much better repair and the square itself is very lively. (As one tour book put it, being there reminds one of what a great idea a town square is.) All those decorations you see on the buildings aren't just painted on - they're actually different layers of plaster…it’s amazing. (I've learned that this is called "sgraffito," a technique of wall decor produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors to a moistened surface.)

The Town Hall, in the middle of the Rynek

View of the Rynek from our hotel room

Sgraffito detail on a few of the buildings on the Rynek

We had about a 2 km walk from the train station to our hotel on the square (the weather was nice and after a 7 ½ hour train ride from Krakow, we needed a walk). We couldn’t believe all the activity… it’s a college town with lots of young people and the economic prosperity here is evident – Poznan is where all the Polish trade fairs are held and the city council (housed in a lovely building - see below) must be doing its job. [When we met with the Public Relations Officer at the US Consulate in Krakow, she explained to us that some cities in Poland have been very aggressive in attracting new businesses by simplifying their traditional bureaucratic – and long - process of applications and permits. As a result, foreign companies that want to locate in Poland, or elsewhere in Eastern Eurpose, end up going to a city such as Wroclaw or Poznan.] They have a shopping mall, built in a huge old brewery that was renovated and expanded with very tasteful, modern connections and additions that is just amazing. (And we don’t particularly like shopping malls. As John said, “Compared to our mall at home, it makes us look like we live in the back woods.”)

The buildings housing the city government offices

Poznan is in western Poland, on the main train route from Berlin to Moscow. For many years it was part of Prussia or Germany and was known as Posen. However, as the inscription of the town indicates (and which modern Poznan has adopted as its slogan), the citizens have long viewed themselves as Polish. In fact, legend has it that the Polish nation was founded on the Warka River island in the center of Poznan (now the Cathedral Island) when three Slav brothers (Lech, Czech and Rus) met after not seeing each other for a long time and the city was named to commemorate their reunion – “poznac” being Polish for “to meet.” A castle was built on the island in the 9th century and by the 10th century it had become a major center of the Piast state. The first Polish cathedral was built here in 968!

The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Cathedral Island

Back view of the Basilica

One of the buildings on the square is famous for holding Polish culture and language soirees during the Partition years, when all things Polish were banned. After WWI an uprising in Poznan won brief freedom for the region until 1939 when the Nazis rolled in, wiped out the city’s many Jews and killed or displaced much of the Polish population. After WWII, Poznan was in the area that was taken from Germany and given to Poland (as partial compensation for the large eastern chunk of Poland that the Soviet Union took). In 1956 Poznan was the site of a food riot in which 76 people were killed but led to a political “thaw” which many believe enabled the later formation of Solidarity and the eventual overthrow of the Communist government in 1989. Today Poznan is a thriving city of about 580,000.

Our hotel (and brew pub on the ground floor) on the Rynek

The monument to the victims of the Poznan food riots of 1956.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Klezmer Hois and Other Food Tidbits

Last night we ate at a Jewish restaurant in the Kazimierz section of Krakow. We had been wanting to try some of the Jewish restaurants, but Kazimierz is a bit of a walk. Now that the weather is nicer (and our time here is getting short) we figured we'd better go for it. The Klezmer Hois is an old house where they serve meals in what was the dining room...little tables covered with crocheted table cloths, pictures on the walls, Jewish music in the background. We were surprised to find Kugela on the menu - a potato dish that John's Mom always made at holidays, but it was a recipe from his Father's (Lithuanian) side of the family. One of my books did say it was hard to distinguish the difference between Polish food and Jewish food, since they both developed in the same geographic area using similar ingredients. And Lithuania and Poland were the same country for many centuries. But we have never seen Kugela on the menu of any Polish restaurants here. The other major difference in the menu was the lack of pork dishes, which are plentiful on most Polish restaurant menus. The tomato salad we had (called the Rabbi's salad) had so much garlic and onion in it that John and I could taste it all night. That didn't prevent us from finishing it off, though we did stop at the grocery store on our way home for some of our favorite "Krakuski" cookies to try to counteract it a bit.

Speaking of cookies, it took us a while to discover that in Poland you buy your bread at a piekarnia (bakery) but you go to a cukiernia (pastry shop) to buy coffee cake, sweet rolls, cookies, cake, etc. We will miss our favorite little neighborhood cukiernia - I think we've tried all their varieties of coffee cake....a habit we'll have to break when returning home is starting off every day with a few cups of espresso and a piece of coffee cake - in bed! (Remember, we live in a studio apartment.) Here are some pictures of our little coffee shop, also just down the street, that roasts its own beans. We will really miss this!

Friday, February 1, 2008

February 1

Blowing bubbles in the Rynek is a sure sign of spring

We hear that the weather is cold and snowy back in Michigan, but it's great here. Cool (40s) and damp, but no heavy rain or blasts of wind. We spent the day just walking around Krakow, as we did last fall. Everyone is out and about enjoying the early spring (or winter thaw - not sure which it is).

The Bernardine church, down the hill from the Wawel Castle

I don't tire of touring the Wawel, especially on a sunny day

My favorite stained glass window in the Wawel Cathedral

A high school building we passed on our walk...

Just another gorgeous building along the way....

I decided I needed another wood bead necklace...

The "big head" in the main square

The Bonerowski Palace on the Rynek, where we attended a Chopin piano concert in a lovely upstairs salon.

Fat Thursday

"Tlusty Czwartek" (fat Thursday) is celebrated in Poland on the last Thursday before Lent - January 31 this year. We are lucky Lent comes early so we get to experience how the Poles celebrate another holiday. Though we'll be gone before Easter, I'm hoping to see some of the preparation once the Christmas decorations are taken down (which should happen this week-end). The main focus of Fat Thursday seems to be consuming piles of paczki: what we would call jelly-filled doughnuts. I thought the traditional filling was prune, but all the paczki we've had since coming to Poland (they do have them the rest of the year, just not in such large quantities), have been filled with rose jelly! The paczkek was good, but I scraped out the rose jelly.....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Little Side Trip to Paris....

View of the Eiffel Tower from our apartment

Since my friends' tickets to Krakow took them through Paris, I decided to join them for a little "stopover" on their way home. Another friend flew in for the long week-end and we rented a lovely apartment on Rue Saint Jacques that had a view of the Eiffel Tower (kitchen window) and the Pantheon (living room window). This turned out to be particularly nice for watching the lights on the Eiffel Tower at night - for 5 minutes every hour they "sparkle" and it is a fantastic show. We packed a lot into our few days - the Orsay and Louvre museums, Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame, a night cruise on the Seine, walking the Champs Elysees and Ile St. Louis, with lots of good food and wine (Kathy taught the rest of us about Bordeaux wines). I especially enjoyed grocery shopping in the little stores right outside our apartment - the cheese shop was just delightful. We had great weather and one day was so nice we actually ate lunch at an outdoor cafe on the Champs Elysees.

View of the Pantheon from our apartment

Lunch under the "clock" at the Orsay (the museum is in an old train station)

Me with some of my favorite Monet ladies (can't believe they let you take pictures inside these museums - without flash of course)

The "Paris 5" at Coupe Chou, a great restaurant near our apartment.

View of the Louvre from inside the glass pyramid

The Eiffel Tower at night - you should see it when it sparkles!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Vicki's Friends Come to Krakow

Vicki, LaDon, Kathy and Marg outside a very Polish restaurant (notice - there's no snow!)

How lucky am I to have three friends come visit me in Poland? After a very long flight (Grand Rapids to Detroit to Paris to Munich to Krakow), Marg, LaDon and Kathy arrived. Despite what the pictures might indicate, we didn't spend all our time in restaurants. They visited the salt mine one day when I was giving exams, visited the museum with a DaVinci and a Rembrandt, and they came to see my school. We walked all over old town Krakow - including many of the wonderful churches, visited the castle hill including the palace and cathedral, went to a Chopin concert in one of the old palaces off the main square...and we SHOPPED! What a great time!!

On the grounds of Krakow's castle, the Wawel

No, they're not drinking in bed - that's a traditional Polish restaurant!

Kathy, LaDon and Marg enjoying another restaurant, "Pod Baranum"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tyniec Abbey

The Benedictine Abbey at Tyniec

In stark contrast to the ultra-modern Arka Pana church in the suburb of Nowa Huta, this Benedictine abbey in the little village of Tyniec a few miles southwest of Krakow was rebuilt after the Tatars detroyed it in 1240. The original Romanesque abbey was remodelled in Gothic style and defensive walls were added.

We had tried to visit here last fall, when a walk along the Wisla riverbank would have been delightful (and supposedly offer a nice view of the limestone cliffs on which the abbey is built). However, we couldn't find the bus stop for the #112 that goes here. Then the weather turned cold. Armed with better information, we tried again this weekend and - though we didn't walk along the river - had a nice little hike up to the abbey, where they are busy with renovations. After a leisurely walk around the grounds (no crowds this time of year) and a peek into the church's Baroque interior (including a pulpit in the shape of a ship's prow and heavy on the gold trim), we stopped at their little store to buy some of the wonderful jams made by the monks (cherries and rum, 'fruits of the forest' with vodka, black currant). John was disappointed that they didn't sell Benedictine there, though they did have different kids of beer and mead (made from fermented honey).

The pulpit in the Tyniec abbey church

Another delightful afternoon excursion!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nowa Huta

Nowa Huta's Plac Centralny (main square) im. Ronalda Reagana

With the weather turning to spring-like temperatures (30s and 40s instead of the teens), I decided to take a break from writing exams. We hopped on a tram to visit Krakow's largest suburb, built from scratch after the war as a large industrial (Nowa Huta means "new steel works") and residential complex. The Soviets planned this city as a means of producing steel in great quantities to help rebuild the nation, but did so in a way that would send an architectural message in direct contrast to that of Krakow. It was meant to be the communists' idea of the perfect city - one of only three built outside the Soviet Union - to showcase socialist ideals. Apparently the experts still disagree on whether this planned community deserves to be studied as an important example of urban planning. Large boulevards radiate out from the central square (recently renamed for Reagan in a strange piece of irony), which is a huge hexagonal space ringed by large, grey Socialist-Realist buildings with grand arched galleries on the ground floor. Before everything became covered in soot and grime from the steel mills, this was supposedly a beautiful (if architecturally boring, compared to the wonderfully varied buildings in Krakow's old city center) community: each large apartment building covered the whole block and was a self-contained unit with its own inner courtyard, school and shops. Though today the steel mill operates at just 1/4 its previous capacity (with significant reductions in its harmful emissions, so we're told) 200,000 people still live in Nowa Huta - most of them in large, nondescript apartment buildings nothing like the buildings pictured above on the central square.

One of the more interesting buildings in Nowa Huta is the antithesis of all that the city was supposed to be: the Arka Pana (Ark of the Lord) was the city's first church and was pieced together by volunteers. In keeping with the anti-religious policies of the postwar government, churches were not included in the original plans for Nowa Huta. After years of intensive lobbying (and open-air Masses held in fields by Krakow's archbishop Karol Wojtyla - who later became Pope John Paul II), the Catholic population eventually received reluctant permission to build the Arka Pana in the 1970s. The resulting building (designed to resemble Noah's ark - symbolicly encouraging Poles to persevere through the "floods" of communism) is an amazing building.

The Arka Pana is a concrete structure encrusted with mountain pebbles. There are many very interesting design elements to this building, including the support for the bell tower, below, which is surprisingly reminiscent of a Jewish menorah.

The interior of the church is no less spectacular - and controversial: Instead of a high altar, there's a figure of Christ flying to heaven positioned half-way down the aisle.

One tour book ends its description of the Arka Pana this way: "While architecturally interesting, the church is mostly significant as a symbol of an early victory of faith over communism: you'll be hard pressed to find a more powerful testament to the resilience of a persecuted modern Polish nation."