Friday, April 24, 2009

Cultural influences

There are many things that influence the culture of a country, from language to neighbouring countries, through to weather and freedoms. Something I have noticed lately in Poland is somewhat of a revolution in people from the first few times I came here. That is to do with a new national hero. The advantage of my job is that I am able to talk to a wide variety of people and am able to learn about the current and past psyche of Poland.

In the past, Poland (or more correctly, Polish people), had a wide variety of heroes, tending, in general, to be more matched to their national persona being more conservative in their choices. Common examples given to me in class have been people such as Pope John Paul (Jan Pawel in Polish), Copernicus, Chopin, Marie Curie (Maria Sklodowska in Polish) as more historical champions. Where as in more recent times, choices have been still conservative but slightly more modern, in Adam Malysz (pron. Adem Mow-wish) a multiple world cup ski jump champion and now in Robert Kubica (the F1 driver - pron. Coo-Bit-zar).

It is with Robert Kubica that I wish to stay as well. Something I have noticed is that his relative success has inspired many of the Polish people. In specifics, the people who drive public transport. Recent trips have seen my self along with countless grannies flying around the bus as the driver feels a round-a-bout is a perfect chance to practice his chicane form. A red light is a great chance to practice late breaking, and a pedestrian crossing means nothing, as they don't exist in F1. Sometimes, when riding the bus, I catch a glimpse of excitement in a granny's eyes as they enjoy the small moment of entertainment, as someone goes flying past them while they sit securely in their seat. Also, you can see a similar glimmer, of a time past, when they get thrown round the standing zone in the bus, it kicks their minds back to the days when nubile and flexible. The days when their hips weren't so fragile and a skinned knee was the sign of a day well spent. Then reality kicks back in as they curse at the driver and frown at the younger person who didn't give up their seat to them.

So you can see cultural influences and national pride is not just for rednecks and sportsmen, but for everyone that can take a small amount of pride in what someone does in the name of their country. Even if it threatens the secure existence of grannies.

P.S. I wanted some granny photos to go with this but couldn't get them in time. Maybe another post

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunday Strolls

Well, for me, there is nothing better than crisp skies, warming sunshine, blooms, blossoms and the chance to walk the streets with someone whose company you adore. So on Sunday Marty and I went into the heart of the city. We are always searching for markets, the last one we were able to explore was the Kolo market Northeast of Warsaw. This Sunday we thought it would be great to venture more and find something else, something traditional and of a long term existence. So we grabbed the sneaky bus (named so because it always manages to sneak past early or late from our stop and so I will tend to miss it often) all the way into central Warsaw and the Nowy Swiat (which means new world), it really is the heart of town. When we arrived there, the street was bathed in sunshine creating some gorgeous shadows, reflections and refractions of the sunlight. It was an inspiring thing to see when you have your camera in hand and time to burn. However, before going snap happy we ventured to our main reason for coming into town. A milky bar, or in Polish "Bar Mleczny"(read, one of many scattered around Warsaw and maybe around the country, I am not sure. They are remnants of the communist era and are full of old people, students and even the odd family enjoying the food, or at least enjoying the price. The one we visited, "Bar Mleczny Familijny" is located right on New World Street, and is, to put it bluntly, bland in appearance, lacking finery and with the distinct appearance that it was decorated by someone with a love of linoleum and differing shades of brown. As you will have read from the link above, they aren't meant to be glamorous and are also the cheapest eats you will find anywhere in town. For those of you who are fans of the Simpsons, just imagine lunch lady Doris combined with Agnes Skinner and you can picture the old ladies who work there. Grumpy, slopping plates down, spilling the soup at the counter, mumbling to each other about how people look, but to me, this is the greatest part of the experience. I loved seeing them treating everyone with the same level of disdain as if they were still stuck in the communist era and needing to be a good comrade. I ate the traditional bigos, Marty had sweet pierogi (Dumplings with soft white cheese inside and covered with thin cream and sugar). We also had two bottles of water and all this set us back a whopping 12.50PLN ($AUD5.20, EUR2.88, GBP2.53).

So after this pleasant and supercheap meal we strolled to Mirów (Miroov) which is one of the neighbourhoods of the Wola district just West of the City and the Wisla (Vistula) River. We love markets so we strolled to the Hale Mirowskie (Har-le Mirov-ski) which was constructed between 1899-1901 and was then the largest trade centre for Warsaw, until the Uprising in 1944, where most of this was destroyed by the Germans. There are now only two market halls remaining, unfortunately they are not open on Sundays, but we were able to stroll around in them a little, also to see the outside which had been sprayed with bullets during previous fighting. The markets are really beautiful and the brick facades make a great diversion from the area, which is mostly surrounded in concrete, or con-cretin, as I like to call them, structures.

After there we wanted to continue seeing some old relics of the past that Warsaw finds it hard to show as there aren't many remaining. So we continued on to the area of the old Ghetto. This was the small ghetto, the larger one being further North. We found the location of the old wall and walked the streets around there, observing some of the very few brick buildings remaining (there really are not many at all). Then we had the greatest stroke of luck. We were walking along past an old Jewish Silver Factory called Norblin. It is about a block worth of old factory. We saw the gate was open and started walking in, where we were stopped by a guard who said we could only come in if we had tickets to the theatre event that was on there. We said we didn't have tickets but would really love to look around the old factory, if we could. He said it was fine as long as we didn't take any pictures..... hmmm tough choice. So we didn't take any pictures................. in front of him! :) It was a most extraordinary location, full of old rusting machinery and in need of desperate repair to seal roof holes the size of cars. Then Marty remembered that it was to be knocked down to build an exciting new development, that is, wait for it, a shopping complex! Wow! However, it is said that it will still be beneficial to society, as it will have locations where you can buy coffee. Phew, praise the lord for this! I cannot tell you how magical it was to see this old factory. It was great to have these little holes to peak through and the contrast of bright blaring sunlight and pitch blackness in other areas. Although it makes it nearly impossible to photograph something and make it look decent. I was there with a heavy heart when we knew it was to be flattened, as it is one of the very few things that is pre-war in Warsaw, let alone in this area of Warsaw, where the Uprising gave the Germans the excuse to burn and dynamite the majority of the area. This really is a treasure and I could envisage many great spaces for Warsaw's artistic community to come, collaborate and enjoy a quiet space in the centre of the city. I don't know what I can do, or what anyone can do to stop the "progress" of another shopping mall. I hope the "Global Crisis" is able to stop it, as it appears the Polish Government are not interested in this sort of heritage.

After this we needed to satisfy ourselves and returned home to drink some Hungarian white wine and eat some small Spanakopita (Feta and Spinach pastry parcels) that I had been thinking about making for a long time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Family, Food and Frogs (in that order)

Well what a weekend of religiousity. I have just returned from a location called Sokolka (pronounced So-cool-kar) it is in the North East of the country and is in the "Border Zone" with Belarus.
and if you wish to read more about it then see
So we went to visit the family there in the northeast, this included Haggi the dog, and Latka (pronounced wot-kar) the slightly mental cat. The drive from Warsaw was around 4 hours and was quite pleasant, even though I was absolutely starving once I arrived, that was the last time I was to ever think that. I finally got to meet the animals as well as Marta's mother and brother. Upon arrival we sat down to start what was to be basically 3 days of non-stop eating. When we got there the food was basically ready, salad, mashed potatoes with dill and some delicious fish (being Friday and Easter this was very typical). It was delicious and I felt like I had eaten my weight in food before I staggered away from the table. We took in a brief stroll around their house and property which is quite large but not all being used as they loan out the paddocks near the house to local farmers. The scenery in this part of the country is small farmlets and small patches of forest, interdispersed by little towns. Sokolka is about 20,000 people, all of which seem to go to church.

Friday night I took over and tried to bake Hot X Buns for the family, based on my grandfathers recipe which I think was designed to make about 120, I had to play around with the measurements which were all of course in imperial! So after goofing around with that for a while I decided to bake, you can see them in the slideshow attached here. They turned out ok, until the next evening when they became rockbuns instead. I think Haggi had a good time with them after that. That night I sat down and drank some Mead or Miod as it is called in Poland, which was good fragrant of blossoms but still not as horribly sweet as some of the others I have tried previously.

The next day was a little cloudy, we had the chance to take a walk around Sokolka to see the fancy churches and poked around a little. We also painted eggs in some radiant colours which are traditional for Sunday (photos provided). In the evening I treated the family to a fish pie that I made (pic included), and had them watch Rabbit Proof Fence to learn a little about Australia, history, landscapes but best of all more accents :)

Sunday was the Church day for everyone (except me). So the family were all up and about at 0545 (or earlier) to see that Jesus bloke appear in wafer and wine form as I understand it, while I got to curl up and snooze a few more blissful hours. Then the real Easter thing commenced, the family morning had arrived, we went to Grandma and Grandpa's apartment in the middle of town and sat down to a huge meal. In the meal there were more meat dishes than you could imagine and of course the blessed eggs (not chocolate ones) and salt which are traditional in this part of the world for Easter. With me being the guest from furtherest afield I was the centre of attention, so I tried to wow everyone with stories of Australia and the excitement of living in a desert surrounded by sharks and crocodiles :) Or at least to tell them a little about what my Australian Easter entails, which is mostly chocolate and football. We ate almost every kind of meat, chicken, pork, beef, sausage (could be any meat but was homemade by Grandpa), turkey and more eggs. Of course there were some sides to the meat extravaganza and that included home made Ogorki, Tatar sauce (the Tatars actually live just up the road), green sauce (many green vegetables blended to a paste), salads of all sorts. Then there was dessert which was cheesecake, Babka (is a common word for woman but is also a yeast cake) and Mazurek (flat cake of pastry covered with a paste of nuts, almonds, cheese etc and then colourfully iced and decorated with fruit and nuts again), the latter two are the most traditional. The whole time I was having stories translated to me as well as having my stories translated back to the grandparents and Marta's parents. It was certainly a fun morning, and it finished with some honey vodka and some jokes around local idioms.

After the morning I was desperate to do something as I felt I had eaten a whole world of food. So Marta and I went for a stroll to the river and lakes near the family house. It was really lovely, nice and sunny and we found lots of frogs in the area (photos above). It was a nice stroll and a good chance to burn off a little of the calories that we had consumed. Upon return some of the extended family arrived and we drank coffees (and ate more cakes), while telling jokes and watching silly clips on the internet. It certainly was a long afternoon where you felt you needed to do something to get rid of the food you had consumed, so we rumnmaged through one of the old barns on the property which was nice to see some of the old relics that were still there. At night we sat and listened to Marta's brother play some songs on the guitar, well not whole songs it just seems he learns the intro or the chorus. It was nice, made me feel like I was in the Walton's or something.

Monday came and we decided to plant some trees! We wanted to reduce the global footprint and to brighten the area near the house with some beautiful birches and pine trees which we were able to obtain locally. So we planted 15 trees and we were allowed to name one each. I called mine Gary as that is how Grandpa had pronounced my name the day before as he couldn't say the th in Garth, Marta called hers Linda because it looked like a Swiss Pine which is called Limba in Polish. Hopefully she will grow as big to 35m, that would certainly help fence the property. Whilst doing this I was also roasting some honey garlic Pork neck with some potatoes in the oven. We planted out all the trees and then came inside to eat. It was a really nice meal with a couple of side salads too. Then after lunch we went back out to tender the areas around our trees, laying straw and crowding the bases with rocks. We also attempted to pull out other noxious plants in the area. After the food and the exercise we were really content and feeling like the world was a better place, so we lay on the grass and stared at the passing clouds while Latka came to join and purr away. Then Haggi was released from his enclosure and came racing down to see us, this freaked the cat who attacked the 60kg German Shepherd I tried to separate the two and the cat attacked me, I jumped back and landed on a spade putting a neat little hole in my calf, yes I should have been wearing jeans not shorts! However, the only lesson I learnt was that I still hate cats :)

Anyway the biggest reflection for me not just the simple frivolity of spending time with great people, was that if religion is all about penitance and suffering how does one of the most religious countries I have lived in commit gluttony so openly on a holy day? Certainly eye opening for an outsider.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Praga and Antiquities

From the weekend of the 4th and 5th of April 2009.

This weekend was great as we actually have finally caught up to Adelaide, Australia in the temperature stakes! The temperature overall reached 22C on the weekend and it was devine!

I was actually tempted to whip out the shorts and get the legs some much needed sun, but seeming as people in Poland are not really very big on shorts I refrained, for the time being anyway. Warsaw was bathed in sun and warmth, we had a really great weekend weatherwise.

Saturday's great weather allowed an adventure to a little Easter market in a fashionable district called Mokotow (about 5km south of the city centre or 3 Metro stops). It is all rather posh there as the houses are large and have been handed down through generations, with lots of fancy new constructions going on around there.

The market itself was only small but offered some interesting foods and the traditional amber that seems to pop up on a regular basis, also many things that are traditional forms for Easter things that are taken to church and blessed, they are called palms. The Polish people aren't really big on the chocolate eggs like in Australia, so it is a shame for my large belly and chocolate gene. I should have organised for a shipment to come from Australia!

After this small market we strolled through this neighbourhood, it was interesting as we came across a house that was quite grand and impressive, but as we walked past it on one side we could see there was a little door above the garage next to the house. All around the door you could see that there had been bullet holes scattered. It well known that during the war there was fighting all over Warsaw and well this showed that there was someone shooting at the Germans there as it was sprayed with bullet holes and they hadn't been patched up at all. It certainly was fascinating stuff. From here we strolled to Pole Mokotowski which is a large park near the university popular with students it has 3 pubs in the park named after cartoon characters Bolek, Lolek and their friend Tola (the first two are boys and the last a girl). In the park there were some beautiful crocus flowers out already in purple and white. So it made for a nice stroll in the crisp sun, watching all the rollerbladers, cyclists, joggers and dogs running around everywhere.

Then we jumped on a bus and we went to the far side of the Vistula river, to a district that has many embassies they are not quite the grand houses you expect with Embassies in Australia, but they are more houses that keep in the same appearance as the surrounding environments. The streets here are named after countries (alas no Australia street). It is a lovely walk around in the sun to see the many restuarants, cafes, icecream shops in the area.

We also stopped for some traditional food Marta had Pierogi which are traditional dumplings (considered one of the three national dishes here) you can get them fried or steamed (these were fried) see the attached. She had two sorts, Lithuanian which is buckwheat and mushroom and Gypsy with minced beef and paprika, I ate Zrazy which is a pickle (ogorki) and chopped onion wrapped in beef with gravy on top, with small dumplings (potato style), and buraczki (grated beetroot and apple). It was all lovely and great to be sitting outside to eat again! Polish food always continues to amaze me and I can guarantee this will be a reoccurring theme here in this blog.

Sunday we went to the Antiquities market in Kolo (about 5km Northeast of the main city centre) which was amazing, and if there is anything you are interested in that is an antique you can probably get it there and cheaper than most places in Europe. There is a great deal of war memorabilia and you can even buy old ID papers of people from that time and some amazing things like shells, guns and German medals, just eye opening stuff really. There are amazing art deco things here from the Soviet times! All angular and funky looking. There Marta picked up her a prize purchase a bear that is about 50 or 60 years old. It is now called Dzielny (which means brave in Polish), as we thought it must have been brave to survive so long and it is also filled with Grass!

So that was all just part of a great sunny weekend!

The first in Warsaw

Well...... I have finally pulled my finger out and organised my blog after I last did this 5 years ago, it is a little embarassing.

Anyway, I find myself sitting in our apartment in Southern Warsaw enjoying gorgeous radiant sunshine in the middle of the day. This is exposing me to the outside world as it made me open the balcony doors, so I can type while I hear the cars rush past on the main road round the corner. For all those people who think Warsaw and Poland in general is a cold and boring place, I hope to dispell these myths in my simple blog. It won't be too fancy, that is certain, but I hope it gives you an insight into this somewhat forgotten of locations in Europe. It won't all be purely good news stories and praise I hope to have some funny and irrelevant stories as well.

So I hope that you enjoy learning about Poland while I learn about blogging at the same time.

Have a great day

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