Friday, August 4, 2017

Post 4: Ryan’s Easter in Sopot – guest post by Karolina

One day, while walking around with Karolina in Sopot, I was telling her about how much I really didn't enjoy writing these posts. Oh, yes, it's fun to go back and read them later, but writing is a lot of work and it's not actually a job I enjoy. Then I joked that I needed to get some guest bloggers to write the posts for me.

And thus, the idea was born--Karolina could write a guest blog post! You've heard about her often enough during my adventures, but now you can hear about me from other point of view! I added the photos and captions so those you can blame on me. ;o)

And without further ado, here's Karolina's account of her showing me around her hometown of Sopot....

This post has been brought to you by Karolina, master snake charmer and my tour guide around the Sopot area--for a short while, at least! =)

        ******* Karolina's post begins here ******

When Ryan told me that this year he wanted to go to Poland for a couple of months and study the language, I must admit I did not believe him at first. You know how often it happens that people make plans such as ‘this year we want to go on a road trip in Italy!’ (my friends B&G) or ‘next year we’ll go skiing in Austria together!’ (colleagues J&T). How often nothing real comes out of these plans… People start thinking that realizing their plans will require too much effort, too much money, too much time… and they give up. End up doing something simpler, but oftentimes also less exciting and less exotic.

Traveling from the US west coast to Poland (9 time zones!) and spending over two months learning my convoluted mother tongue does require effort, time and money. I like Poland, and I totally recommend visiting the country, but I know from experience how difficult it is to get my international friends to travel there. One of my American friends once told me that Poland is a country everyone has heard of, but nobody has been to. I don’t think people realize how much they miss out! ;-)

As it turned out, Ryan really meant to visit Poland this spring. More than that – the first five weeks he intended to spend in Sopot, my hometown! He was going to be in Sopot in April, which coincided with my own visit over there around Easter (I currently live and work in the Netherlands and visit my family and friends in Sopot about four times a year). Cool, I’d be able to show Ryan around my haunts and introduce him a bit to my own country – just as Ryan did last summer during my first ever visit to the USA.

An astronomy-themed wall in Gdańsk.
When Ryan told me he subscribed to the Sopot School of Polish Language, an idea popped to my mind. There was an unoccupied room at my mom’s place (the one where my sister and I used to share as kids) and I wanted to ask her whether she wouldn’t mind hosting Ryan for a month or so. Polish people like to think of themselves as good hosts, welcoming friends under their roof and making them feel comfortable and at home. We even have a saying “Gość w dom – Bóg w dom” which means “Guest at home – God at home” (it doesn’t mean that the guest is a god, just that hospitality is blessed!).

My mom said that my friends were her friends and that Ryan was more than welcome to stay with her. I though this situation could be a win-win - good both for Ryan and my mom. Ryan wouldn’t be stuck with total strangers during his first weeks in Poland, there were bathroom, kitchen, and wi-fi facilities for him to use, he could practice his Polish by talking to my mum and her house was located within 20 minute walk from the Polish language school. As for my mom, I was sure Ryan would provide some entertainment to her – after all, hosting a foreigner coming from the other side of the world is quite an interesting experience, and I know Ryan can be rather entertaining person!

I wasn’t there when Ryan first arrived in Sopot, but I both my mom and Ryan reported that everything went well, in spite of a minor inconvenience in the form of a broken doorbell at the entrance gate. Knowing that the doorbell wasn’t working and Ryan couldn’t just give my mum a call upon his arrival as his American mobile didn’t work in Europe, my mom went out to the street around the expected arrival time of Ryan’s taxi. The timing was perfect – the taxi was pulling over just as she opened the gate. My mom took Ryan home, showed him to his room and fed him a banana, after which she retired to her own room wanting to sleep; it was past midnight when Ryan arrived. The next day she took him for a walk through downtown Sopot and showed some places of interest such as the pier (with 511 m the longest wooden pier in Europe and a beautiful places to go for walks), the main pedestrian area (Bohaterów Monte Cassino Street) and the waterfront of the Bay of Gdansk (part of the Baltic Sea) with its lovely sandy beaches. She also showed Ryan the way to his school, of which as it turned out, she knew the director (my mum is a teacher and knows most of the teachers in Sopot).

A random pope statue. (Polish is something like 97% Catholic, and the pope is kind of big deal in Poland. Not the least because Pope John Paul II came from Poland.)

I arrived in Sopot two weeks after Ryan had first got there. Already months ago I had planned to take two weeks off in April – to spend Easter at home, then take my mom on a trip to Prague, Czech Republic and then to return to Sopot and hang around the place for some days, before returning to my work in the Netherlands.

I arrived on Good Friday in the evening – too late to take Ryan to do any sightseeing, but I had plans for Good Saturday and the Easter Sunday.

The first thing my mom and I did on Saturday was preparing an Easter basket. We thought it might be interesting for Ryan to see how we celebrate Easter in Poland. Preparing an Easter basket is an important part of it. You fill the basket with colored eggs and other food – bread, sausage (real Polish sausage, not the poor imitation of it I tasted in the USA! ;-)), cake, salt and pepper and such. Then you go with the basket to church to have it blessed. Blessings happen throughout the day on Good Sunday, typically between 8 am and 8 pm every half hour. Because of the plans I had for Ryan and myself, we didn’t have time to take the basket to church. My mom was going to do that while Ryan and I would just drop in a church somewhere during our sightseeing tour, so that he could see how the ritual of basket blessing looked like.

A traditional Easter basket, which Karolina's mom (Barbara) will take to the church to be blessed.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention how we colored our Easter eggs this year; to entertain Ryan I talked my mom into use the traditional, old-fashioned method of boiling eggs with onion peels. That’s how our ancestors colored eggs for Easter before chemical dyes became common. Onion shells give eggs golden-brown color the intensity of which depends on how long the eggs were boiled with the shells. Other natural dyes people used in the old days were grass (greenish color), oak tree bark (greyish color) or beetroots (reddish color).

The place I planned to take Ryan to on Good Saturday was an open-air ethnographic museum located in the village of Wdzydze Kiszewskie, in the middle of the Kashubia Region, about 80 km southwest of Sopot. A bummer the weather wasn’t good that day – it was grey and rainy. But well, as Ryan says ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ – we had to take what we were getting and make the best of it!

Getting to Wdzydze Kiszewskie wasn’t easy, oh no, but I had known that beforehand. My mom doesn’t have a car (she doesn’t even have a drivers license; anyways, she wouldn’t be able to afford a car), so we needed to use public transportation – which normally isn’t a big deal in Poland, until you want to travel a little bit off the beaten path outside of the tourist season. We first took the suburban Tri-City train, which whisked us from Sopot to Gdansk in about 20 min. In Gdańsk we wanted to get on a bus which would take us to the Kashubian town of Kościerzyna, about an hour ride. At the bus station I found out that the schedule was different from what I had found on the internet earlier and our bus wouldn’t leave for another 40 min. Not a problem, I knew how to use that time – I took Ryan to the nearest church, so that he could get his basket-blessing experience.

This was a church in Gdańsk where Easter baskets would be blessed every half hour. I didn't get good photos of this, though, since I felt it was a little intrusive to go walking up them all taking photos! But Karolina wanted to make sure I saw the process of Easter baskets being blessed. (That's her with the yellow backpack.)
The bus ride was uneventful. I am not sure about Ryan, but I quite enjoyed the views of the Kashubian forests and countryside (ehhh, I miss Poland… *sigh!*). Ryan only mentioned that he would have been bored to death during the bus ride if I wasn’t there to keep him company. He did study his Polish flashcards for a while, but when he was done with that, I kept him entertained with conversation.

It was raining when we arrived in Kościerzyna… Furthermore, it turned out there probably weren’t any buses riding to Wdzydze Kiszewskie that day! Darn! But well… I kind of had known this could happen and had a plan B – take a taxi! Which is what we did.

A taxi ride between Kościerzyna and Wdzydze Kiszewskie cost us 60 PLN (about $15), which isn’t terribly bad, especially for someone working in Western Europe or USA. To Polish people, however, who in general make less money, that would be quite an expense.

The thing I noticed about our driver once we got into the car was his big, red nose. Yep, he definitely liked vodka and drank it regularly and in large amounts! Fortunately, the driver had respect for both his job and clients and was perfectly sober, driving us safely to our destination.

The open-air museum included this windmill! Which we got to go inside and look around. =)

To my surprise on that ugly, grey and rainy day, Ryan and I weren’t the only visitors to the open-air museum. Every hour there were small groups of about half a dozen people leaving with guides. In our group, except for us, there was a family of three: a mom, a dad and a little daughter of about 7. The girl had absolutely a blast visiting all the old Kashubian buildings gathered on the premises of the museum: mansions, windmills, barns, a church and a school. The girl reminded me of my first visit to that museum, during a school trip; I was about her age and found the place absolutely fascinating!

Our guide would tell us the stories of the buildings we visited – how old they were, where in the Kashubia region they were brought from, who they used to belong to and what was their usage. All the talks were given in Polish and every now and then I tried to translate the most interesting chunks into English, so that Ryan could too have a better idea of what he was seeing. His most favorite part of the museum was an exhibition of flowers made from colored tissue paper. The flowers were indeed very beautiful and making them seemed to be quite an intricate task. Ryan would certainly enjoy learning how to make those flowers – and it was possible to follow a tissue-paper-flower-making-workshop at the museum but, alas, not today!

Inside one of the other museum buildings decorated as it would have been eons ago.
After the museum tour was done, I figured I’d call my mom. In the morning she had mentioned that in case we would have troubles getting out of Wdzydze Kiszewskie, it might be possible for Tomek, her boyfriend, to pick us up. Now I wanted to use this offer.

The phone call with my mom was suddenly interrupted… I didn’t understand why until I checked the number of credits I had: 0. I didn’t realize I was so low on credits! Now I not only couldn’t make phone calls – I couldn’t receive them either, because I was using my Dutch phone number and had to pay a fee for receiving phone calls when abroad. How was I going to arrange our transportation back to Sopot? I needed either an Internet connection or somebody else’s phone. Fortunately I managed to find the latter – the lady manning the reception desk at the museum was kind enough to let me call my mom using her phone, so that Ryan and I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of Kashubian nowhere till the end of the world. ;-)

My mom told me that Tomek was busy and he wouldn’t be able to pick us from Wdzydze Kiszewskie until after 5 pm. That was not a big problem. We had a couple of hours to kill until Tomek would arrive but I have ideas for things to do: we would go for a walk, because –hey! – walking and hiking is something both Ryan and I do and enjoy. I only wished the weather was nicer – sunnier and less wet…

It might have been wet, but we came prepared with umbrellas!
We spend time until 5 pm going to a lookout tower at a lake and doing a small hike in the forest and along another lake. The landscape we were walking through had been shaped by glaciers – you could see that in the shape of rolling moraine hills and long, narrow and deep lakes. The lookout tower was placed where two of such lakes – one longer, the other one shorter - crossed perpendicularly to each other, forming a cross – a certainly appreciated shape in a catholic country such as Poland.

The lookout tower of which Karolina speaks!
Around 5 pm Ryan and I walked back to the gate of the open-air museum where Tomek was supposed to pick us from. To our disappointment he was nowhere to be seen… After a while I received a text message from my mom that Tomek was waiting for us at the museum gate… in Szymbark! Szymbark is another village with an open-air museum, about a half hour drive from Wdzydze Kiszewskie. Why was nothing going as planned today?! Not having too much choice Ryan and I waited for Tomek some more, hiding from the rain at a local bus stop, killing time and trying to not get bored to death.

And views from the top of the lookout tower.

On Easter Sunday some of my family were going to have the Easter breakfast together. There weren’t many of us, just five people plus Ryan. The breakfast wasn’t going to start until 11 am when my mom’s sister arrived. Ryan told me that in his book such a late morning meal wasn’t a breakfast but rather lunch and he was glad he had eaten earlier in the morning. Well, Easter breakfast in my family somehow always starts late – I guess people want to take their time in the morning, sleeping in, getting dressed nicely for the occasion, going to church and such.

The Easter breakfast in my family starts with a game: everyone gets an egg and we crush each other’s eggs against each other. The one whose eggshell remains intact till the end of the game, wins. This time Ryan won. He immediately identified flaws to the strategy of the game (or rather lack of it) saying, giving hints on how it can be organized in a more fair way. We may or may not adopt these hints in the future, I don’t know. After all, this game isn’t about winning, it is about being together and celebrating. :-)

Easter breakfast, which I'd be eating with Karolina's extended family.
The Easter breakfast wasn’t particularly eventful. We talked a lot in Polish and ate a lot. There was traditional food such as żurek (sour rye soup), white sausage (one of the real Polish sausages!), eggs filled with mushrooms and mayo and cakes such as Polish cheesecake (sernik; very different from American cheese and, according to Ryan, less tasty) and lemon-flavored yeast cake called babka.

After the breakfast I took Ryan out for a walk. Our destination for today was the Tri-City forest! Ryan has already been to the waterfront often enough, now it was time that he saw the other side of Sopot’s landscape. Right before leaving home, Ryan and I found little somethings left in our shoes by the Easter Bunny – Kinder eggs! I like to get those every now and them from my mom – gives me that feel of being a kid again for a moment, and I knew Ryan likes them because they are illegal in the USA and he feels like such a badass having them while in Europe. ;-)

Karolina and I discovered these mysterious Kinder eggs in our shoes when we left the house after breakfast. The Easter bunny left them!!!
The walk in the forest was very pleasant, but not too eventful. We saw one or two baby deer, which looked like giant rabbits because of white spots on their butts. We saw white blossoms on cherry and plum trees. We saw little pine cones – much smaller than what Ryan is used to from California! We went to viewpoints and admired the panorama of the Bay of Gdańsk, the city of Gdańsk, the town of Sopot and the green hills of Tri-City forests. We also visited a monument of Esperanto – an artificial language created by the Polish Jewish doctor L. L. Zamenhof. I know, nobody uses the language (everyone speaks English instead!) but in Poland we are still proud of it. The Esperanto monument in the Sopot forest consists of three parts – an oak tree, a boulder and an information board.

Karolina led me on a hike through the woods that took me to this viewpoint overlooking Gdańsk and the Baltic Sea.
Ryan and I ended our walk in Gdańsk-Oliwa. Over there, there was one particular place I wanted to show to Ryan – a Camino de Santiago way marker! One of the Caminos passes through Gdańsk and Ryan told me he had already seen the yellow shells indicating the Way in Gdańsk Old Town. The one way marker I wanted to show him in Oliwa was more interesting than just a yellow shell – it showed how far we were from Santiago – 4050 km – nothing by Ryan’s standards! ;-) Of course, we had to take a selfie of the two of us with the sign – Camino de Santiago is where Ryan’s and mine footsteps crossed for the first time back in 2012.

This is the photo of which Karolina speaks. I'll tell you, there's a part of me thinking, "Only 4050 km? Hmm.... That's really tempting...." =)
In Oliwa there was another place I wanted to show to Ryan – the cathedral. Oliwa Catherdral is one of the iconic churches of Gdańsk. It is more than 800 years old and famous not only for its fine architecture but also the organ concerts that are organized inside. The organs in the Oliwa Cathedral are a piece of art on its own. There are little angels and start all over the organs and when concerts are given, they become to move, playing instruments of their own.

Ryan liked the cathedral a lot, both its shape – long and narrow and the decorations inside. He proclaimed it to be his favorite church so far, because it was so different from all the churches he had seen. I totally understand what he means, the Oliwa Cathedral is quite a beautiful place. The cathedral was the last stop on our sightseeing itinerary for today – and for the weekend. Ryan and I took the suburban train back to Sopot. Only a few hours later, my mom and I left home, heading to Prague, Czech Republic, where we were going to stay the whole week, sightseeing, playing tourists and in general having good time. We left Ryan on his own, house-sitting my mom’s place during her absence. :-)

This is the Oliwa Cathedral, which I have to admit--I think it's the prettiest cathedral I've ever seen!
******** End Karolina's Post *******

I hope you enjoyed her post. If you do, comment. Maybe if there are lots of people who comment positively, she'll write more guest posts in the future and you can listen to me less. ;o)

But I have to made an addendum to her post regarding Easter traditions. The day after Easter, Easter Monday if you will, there's a tradition that Poles throw buckets of water at each other. Okay, maybe there's more to it than that, but I was warned that if I left the house on Monday, that there was a not-impossible chance that someone would throw water on me.

One person told me that traditionally, men would throw a bucket of water on women. Obviously, a tradition created by men! Although it's generally sort of a free-for-all in more modern times.

At the Easter breakfast hosted by my school earlier in the week, a former student from South Africa who lived in Poland for the last nine years first told me about this tradition, except he described it as a day when women throw a bucket of water on their men. And one of the teachers asked where he heard this, but it was incorrect--men were supposed to throw water on the women. It was his native Polish-born wife who told him that women threw water on the men! Hahaha! For the last nine years, his wife has been telling him that she could throw water on him, but he couldn't do anything about it! =) I bet they had an interesting conversation when he got home that afternoon.... And his wife might be getting her first bucket of water on Monday now that the truth was out of the bag....

Inside the Oliwa Catherdral.

Apparently, in more modern times, it's considered a little rude and presumptuous to throw water on strangers, but it's not unheard of to do so either which is why everyone kept warning me that I could get wet if I went out on Monday. Especially if it was early in the morning. To be on the safe side, I should leave the house prepared as if I might get wet. But nowadays, it's usually done between family members and friends.

Sunday evening, just before Karolina and her mom were about to leave for Prague, Karolina unexpectedly squirted me with water, later saying that she wanted to make sure I got the "full Polish experience." Yeah, sure, that was the only reason.... *rolling eyes* I don't remember exactly how she surprised me, but I remember saying how unfair that was because it wasn't Monday yet so I should have been safe from that stuff, but Karolina said she would have waited until Monday, but that she wasn't going to be there so she had to do it while she could.

This was only all of about 15 minutes before her and her mom would leave for Prague, but that still gave me enough time to later squirt her with water and she was as surprised at the "attack" as I had been minutes earlier. Take that! =)

I did leave the house late Monday morning, but I never got splashed with water nor did I see anyone else being splashed by water. Maybe I left too late in the morning. (Normally, I had school on Mondays, but Easter Monday is a holiday and there was no school and stayed in much later than usual.) Maybe it happens in the homes of friends and family and less-so outdoors where it was still remarkably cold at times. (There were snow flurries a couple of days after Easter, after all!)

But it's a tradition that y'all should definitely be aware of if you happen to find yourself in Poland the day after Easter....


Rebecca and Aaron said...

Great post, Karolina! Now I want to visit Poland!

Debbie St.Amand said...

Thank you for your post, Karolina! I'm enjoying hearing about Poland, because some of my ancestors came from what is now Poland many, many years ago!

Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

I really enjoy reading Ryan's hiking and travel blogs and having Karolina guest blog has been great. Reading both of your blogs about your JMT trip last summer was very entertaining and interesting, getting two perspectives on the same events. Using Google's Polish->English translation service was a first for me.

Lou AKA PI Joe
Round Rock, Tx

Grrly Girl said...

Happy very belated Dyngus Day Karolina!
Look Ryan, you can celebrate Easter Monday in Buffalo, NY

Dyngus Day in the United States
Main article: Easter Monday § Buffalo, New York
Main article: Buffalo, New York § Dyngus Day
Main article: History of the Poles in the United States

Dyngus Day is observed in many Polish American communities, most notably in Buffalo, New York, which hosts the largest continuing event commemorating the day.[4] The Buffalo dyngus celebrations only started in the 1960s as an effort by the Polish-American community in the city to find a new focus for its identity. It proved hugely successful, to the point that a local newspaper claimed that "everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day."[18] It has become a fusion of Polish and American traditions, with polka bands, a parade, consumption of krupnik,[19] and Polish food accompanying American patriotic songs sung in English.[20] Party-goers dress up in the white-and-red colors of the Polish flag and carry balloons saying "Happy Dyngus Day" in English.[21] (shamelessly copied from Wikipedia)

Encore, Karolina, Encore

Ryan said...

Yeah, but do they throw water on each other during the Dyngus Day festivities?! If not, I think it's a tradition they should start encouraging. *nodding* =)

Grrly Girl said...

there's a photo with the wiki page
boys with buckets dousing the girls
Watch out Amanda!

BrockBrood said...

Thank you Ryan and Karolina for the post. I much enjoy reading about all the adventures you have.
About the tradition of egg cracking... when I married into my husband's family (norwegian) 25 years ago, I was taught the traditional egg cracking game at Easter brunch too. Only their family calls it "king egg". We have kept this tradition with our boys and grandkids too. It's always looked forward to at Easter.

Anonymous said...

Great post Karolina! Ryan enjoy reading your adventures!
Pink Panther

Karolina said...

Thank you guys for the positive reactions! :-)
I hope in the future Ryan and I will get to go hiking together again. I'll be tempted to write another guest blogpost and describe the adventures we share from another point of view. :-)

clueless said...

Loved your post, Karolina!

Mary said...

I loved reading Karolina's post! I also loved reading all about the Polish foods in the previous post. I really enjoy Ryan's posts but I think guest posts are a good idea!

ruthsplace said...

Thanks Karolina for a great post. I had the privilege of visiting Poland a few years ago, though not the same area. Really loved the country and want to go back.