Archive for the ‘Poland’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

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Poznań, Poland: Goats in a Clock

May 20, 2011

For Poznań, the fifth largest city in Poland, I have more pictures than words. I didn’t stay very long and managed a quick walking tour on my own. It wasn’t too cold the first day, but it snowed on the second day.

Below you can see some photos of the main square, inside of one of the numerous churches in the church district and the old city walls. I wanted to visit the national museum and the Lech brewery but didn’t have the chance.

Old Market Square

Old Market Sqaure, Poznań, Poland. Image via Wikipedia

Church Interior, Poznan, Poland.

Church Interior, Poznań, Poland.

Poznan city walls.

Poznań city walls.

The highlight of my trip, however, wasn’t a church, a museum or even a mall. Nope, this time it was goats. Goats in a clock.

Poznań’s answer to Prague’s skeleton clock (also known as the astronomical clock) is a clock with goats atop the old Town Hall. There are a few versions of the story, but the central theme seems to be that, during a feast, two goats alerted the town to a fire that had just broken out in the town center. Because of the dueling goats, the townsfolk were made aware of the fire and able to put it out before any serious damage could occur.

Without further adieu, I present to you Poznań’s goats.

Poznan Goats from Steven Sirski on Vimeo.

You’ll notice at the end of the video you hear a trumpet playing. That melody is played in commemoration of a boy who awoke to see a gnome. The gnome gives him a bugle and tells him to blow it when he’s in trouble. Then the gnome turns into a crow and flies away. As luck would have it, some bad guys try to attack the city at night so he blows his horn and, well, the city is able to defend itself. This is the stuff of folk tales. Gnomes and crows and boys with bugles.

After Poznań, I ventured south to Wrocław, a city that would prove to be one of my favourite cities in all of Poland.

Gdańsk and Sopot, Poland: Danzig and Driving Devices

May 12, 2011
Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.

Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.

Day Trip #2 with my homestay folks from Bydgoszcz took us to Gdańsk (I think it’s pronounced Geh-daown-sk) and Sopot (So… pot?), two of the cities along the Baltic coast that make up what is known as Trójmiasto (or, three-cities).

The trip started early in the morning, 6:30 am or so, much to the chagrin of Homestay Daughter and I. Homestay Father was ready to go, however. He woke us up, had breakfast ready so we could eat (with eyes closed) while he went and got the car. By 7 am we were in the car, and this is when I learned about Polish road trips.

You see, I didn’t know what Homestay Father actually did for work. I’m sure my friend had told me before but I’d forgotten. So, when Homestay Father plopped a GPS device, a radar detector and a two-way radio into the front seat and began assembling everything, I couldn’t help but wonder. The GPS and radar detector I understood, but the two-way radio? I ask Homestay Daughter. Apparently he works for some transportation company. The two-way radio is for contacting other drivers on highways… especially about highway cops.

Smiling, he pointed proudly to the radar detector and said “Not legal!”

I could do nothing more than nod in agreement.

And so we drove to Gdańsk, conversing with one another, listening to Polish and English pop music, and, every now and then, radioing other cars for info about cops in the area. We had no problems.

Gdańsk

Długa Targa in Gdańsk, Poland.

Długa Targa in Gdańsk, Poland.

Gdańsk (known, in German, as “Danzig,” like the musician) is the port city of Northern Poland. Surprisingly, our stay in the city was very short despite the historical importance of this city. In recent history the city has undergone two momentous occasions.

First, World War II started here. The first attack by the Nazis occurred at Gdańsk’s Westerplatte on Sept 1st, 1939. Apparently the Poles were able to fend off the invaders for a week before they were overtaken. The city was liberated (or almost wiped off the map) in 1945 after a good ol’ bomb-fucking by the Soviets.

The next big thing that happened here were the revolts against communism some four decades later. Those revolts culminated in the “Lenin Shipyards strike” of 1980, and is now commemorated by a huge pillar with three anchors hanging at the top. It would be almost a decade before Poland would be released from communism after the so-called “Round Table” discussions of 1989.

Whew. (Shot of Żubrowka.) History lesson over.

Nazis, Soviets, and revolts aside, our stay in Gdańsk was more of a walking tour than anything else. The main street is ulicia Długa (dwoo-ga), marked by many pretty buildings and turns into Długi Targ after the Town Hall (see picture above.) Długi Targ is made memorable by Neptune’s Fountain, which sits in front of the historic Dwór Artusa (Arthur’s Court). The Court was apparently built by some folks who were inspired by King Arthur’s Knights of Camelot and wanted their own place to assemble and scheme.

Whoops, that was more history learning. Sorry. (Another shot.)

Then we walked through the Green Gate to the waterfront, admired the view and took pictures.

Gdańsk Waterfront

Gdańsk Waterfront.

We couldn’t miss, however, the staple of any walking tour in Europe: a visit to a church. (Are there any tours in Europe that don’t have a visit to a church?) Walking down ulica Mariacka we visited the monumental and old Bazylika Mariacka, or St. Mary’s Church, built sometime in the 14th century. It was a nice church, complete with images from the Bible, Latin inscriptions, and icons. The bleached-white interior didn’t look anything like the brick exterior. Unlike St. John’s Church in Toruń, which is the oldest brick building in Poland, St. Mary’s Church is the biggest brick church… in the world.

St. Mary's Church altar, Gdańsk, Poland

St. Mary's Church altar, Gdańsk, Poland.

Jumping back into the car, we drove to Sopot.

Sopot

Funky building in Sopot, Poland.

Funky building in Sopot, Poland.

We did a quick tour of Sopot on foot. The main street is ulica Bohaterów Monte Cassino, complete with a funky looking building and a boy on a rope. The main street stops at the beach facing the Baltic Sea and is taken over by the Sopot Pier.

Steve Among Swans.

Steve Among Swans. It was very cold that day.

We walked the pier and took a look at the marina they are building at the end of the pier. Along the way we saw swans, ducks, the Baltic Sea and a camera crew. Maybe my host family and I will be in a Polish movie as unsuspecting extras.

We stopped for dinner, but I forget the name of the place. I thought it was funny that I could try something call gypsy pie. I remember making some comment about “them wretched gypsies,” which Homestay Daughter didn’t find too funny and thankfully Homestay Father didn’t understand. Noting that gypsy-jokes were off-limits, we made other conversation.

The last cultural experience of Sopot was smoked cheese, called “oscypek.” It was good and greasy.

Polish oscypek.

Polish oscypek.

And then we drove back to Bydgoszcz.

I’d been staying in Bydgoszcz for a week before I accepted the fact that my Polish wasn’t going to get any better. Deciding to leave Polish lessons and a singing toilet behind, I decided it was time to leave. Saying thank to my host family and trying to figure out how many kisses on each cheek I was supposed to give, I returned to Warsaw for a few weeks before finally going westward to a town called Poznań.

Polish Rock and Metal Muzyka

May 5, 2011

Alright boys and girls, it’s that time again. Following posts on Asian, Korean, Winnipeg, and country music, it’s time for another round of Steven’s Musical Selections. This time I’m covering the muzyka from Poland.

While in Krakow, I walked into the Empik store in Stare Miasto, Krakow and asked the info guy to guide me through Polish music: metal, electronica, reggae, rock, whatever. Give me Poland’s best, I said. He pointed out a few Cds, I ended up taking all but one. Now before you think I just splurged on a bunch of Cds without listening to them (which I am prone to do), Empik has this really cool listening station. Every CD in the store has already been digitized which means you can listen to the CD without opening the package. All you have to do is wave the barcode under the scanner and it pulls up the CD in the player. Neat.

So we go, some of the better rock and metal music I found while travelling through Poland. In the next post, I’ll cover pop/hip-hop, raggaemuffin, jazz, traditional and classical music.

Rock

Łąki Łan's latest album, Łąki Łanda.

Artist: Łąki Łan
Album: Łąki Łanda
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/lakilan
Website: http://lakilan.pl

Well, for us beginning Polish learners, hearing a band named Łąki Łan (pronounced Wanki Wan), you kinda wonder what you’re getting yourself into. But this is the disc the music man at Empik picked out when I asked for the craziest Polish music he could think of. Amazing disc right off the bat. Hard to classify, but this group has elements of rap, rock, funk and some elements of klezmer. Rapping vocals with groovy bass and poppin’ drum beats. It’s really hard to write very much about this band simply because you have to hear them. This CD played as a soundtrack to my Search for A Cemetery in Southeast Poland (forthcoming). My only complaint is that the first half of the CD is absolutely amazing but trails off in the last 2 or 3 songs. I hope this band continues releasing new material.

HEY Poland

HEY! from Poland.

Artist: HEY!
Albums: Fire and Re-Murphed!
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/heypl
Website: http://www.hey.pl

This band has been around forever. Since they’re already releasing “best of” discs (actually, I don’t think those “best of” discs are authentic), I believe they’ve had quite a career. 1990-grunge music with female vox full of attitude and for that reason they reminded me of Alive in Chains, a little bit anyway. Their remixes, however, can go way out there. I was lucky to get both discs of their remix album Re-Murphed! Disc 1 was kinda too slow for my liking, but Disc 2 rocked my world.

Zepół Intercity

Zepół Intercity from Poland

Artist: Zespół Intercity
Website: http://www.intercity-official.pl

From Warsaw (I think). Although this band doesn’t have a CD yet, I was shown this band by one of the workers at the Oki Doki Hostel. The Sunday night performance brought out 50 or so people who appeared to thoroughly enjoy the onstage antics of the lead singer. Even though I didn’t understand what he was saying, his stage props (all carried in a briefcase) helped in interpreting what the songs were about. Don’t know how this band would fare in disc format, but live they were great. Think a mixture of Gogol Bordello and Winnipeg’s Trousermouth.

Lao Che's latest album.

Artist: Lao Che
Album: Prąd Stały / Prąd Zmienny
Website: http://www.laoche.art.pl

Probably one of the more bizarre discs I picked up. Elements of jazz, electornica, spoken word and rock, I’m not sure how to classify this disc. For those in the West, think elements of John Zorn with some of Marilyn Manson‘s Mechanical Animals and rock music. The whole disc is a mixture of good elements with some questionable choices. The chants in the song “Krzywousty” were pretty catchy while tracks like “Czas” had a weird 1980’s feel that didn’t work. Each track would stand on its own in a “shuffle”, but together on one disc doesn’t work.

KNZ from Poland.

Artist: Kazik Na Zywo
Album: Las Maquinas de la Muerte
Website: http://www.knz.art.pl

Clocking in at over an hour, this disc’s great dynamics are broken up with annoying slurred and mumbled spoken word tracks. Of course, they’re in Polish so maybe they actually contribute to the overall theme of the disc. This is a funky disc, given to me by the same casting agent who brought me down to Łódż. Some of the music reminded me of Gwar, fast and heavy but not as abrasive, though the disc remained uniquely KNZ’s own style of rock. Lots of attitude in this disc, sounds like great party music.

Marcinera Awaria - Rebus

Marcinera Awaria' album titled Rebus

Artist: Marcinera Awaria
Album: Rebus
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/marcineraawaria

From Łódż, Poland! Good train listening music, maybe for saying goodbye or even on those days that you feel kinda displaced as a traveller. The disc I got had a laid back singer/songwriter style to it. Not sure I’d listen to this on a regular basis but I’d let it play through in a shuffled playlist. The album ends with an upbeat feel with the dance-beat fuelled track, “Road.”

Metal

Unfortunately, there weren’t too many recommendations for Polish metal. I asked if there were any other notable metal bands but everyone told me Behemoth and Vader are all Poland has to offer. Most of the good metal comes from Norway, Finland or the USA. The two bands I did find have toured all over the world and are pretty well known. They are Behemoth and Vader.

Behemoth

Behemoth

Artist: Behemoth
Album: the apostasy
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/behemoth/music
Website: www.behemoth.pl

Who knew that Behemoth hailed from Poland? Apparently they’ve been banned from playing in Poland because of their Satanic image. The trio, though very scary looking, use a lot of symbols with their artwork ranging from pagan and satanic to images and references to ancient history. Musically the disc is amazing. Even with the constant battery of the double bass drum, their compositions are artfully put together while the vocals, though growly, complement the music. The only thing I hate about the disc is the fact that they put it in a cardboard outer sleeve, the CD case was right proper lodged inside. Once I got the disc out, however, I found it cool that they included a paragraph explaining the lyrics and inspiration behind each song, even if I don’t agree with much of their written content.

Vader - Necropolis

Vader's 2009 album, Necropolis

Artist: Vader
Album: Necropolis
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/vader
Website: www.vader.pl

More death metal from Poland, but these guys haven’t been banned from playing. Their vocals are a little easier to understand than Behemoth’s, but the music is just as assaulting. Would love to see these guys live as they can settle into a face-paced metal groove or hash out some blast beats. The track “The Seal” was a pretty cool chant piece breaking up the thrash of the album and the track “Anger” makes it clear that they are, well… angry. Interesting to hear their version of “Fire Fire with Fire” on the Necropolis album. For those looking to get into metal, this would be your disc.

Next up, I’ll bring ya some reggaemuffin, pop, hip hop, jazz, traditional and classical muzyka from PO-Land.

Toruń, Poland

May 3, 2011
Copernicus and Tower

Copernicus and Tower in Torun, Poland.

After the Great Blood-Giving Debacle in Bydgoszcz, my host family and I ventured out onto the road to visit the nearby student town of Toruń.

Toruń reminded me somewhat of Kingston, Canada: a student town, busy at night with all sorts of young folks, mixed in with the few businesses that have made a go of operating in this town. Our starting point was interesting enough: parking on the street that along which was placed a university, a church and… a prison. It’s an interesting combination to me, particularly when they’re so close.

The city is renowned as the birth-place of Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus, as he is generally known), some guy who had a crazy idea that the sun was the centre of the universe and not the Earth (which didn’t endear him to the Pope). All very interesting stuff I’m sure. Like good tourists, we took photos of his statue.

We went on a short walking tour which began in Stare Miasto (Old Town), continued down ulica Żeglarska to view St. John’s Church. After having seen a few churches, things begin to look, well… the same. The historical importance of this church, however, is that it is the second oldest church in Poland (but the oldest brick building) and the place where Mr. Copernicus got baptized.

St. John's Church, Torun, Poland

St. John's Church, Torun, Poland.

Our walk continued outside the old city gates to view the River Wisła and then back towards the Old Town square. Toruń does have some pretty streets and buildings, which figures since it was founded over 800 years ago. That means there’s lots and lots of medieval buildings. Not only that, some of the Christmas decorations were still up and they gave the city a festive feel. Looks like a nice place to study, or try to anyway. For dinner we stopped into one of the local restaurants and it is here that I discovered żurek, a soup. It’s my favourite soup in Poland (and very cheap at the Milk Bars). You can see a recipe here.

On our way back to the car (and hoping that it hadn’t been stolen or vandalized by the neighbours, though we would accept baptized), a musician ran up to me, offering to play a song on his guitar if I gave him some money. Muttering a few words in Polish, I gave the man a few coins. He wasn’t bad, but he certainly wasn’t the best. He sang something in Polish, I’m not sure what, before some other Polish drunk dude tried to join in. In any event, I can’t begrudge a man for trying and staying out in the cold like that.

River Wisla and Bridge, Torun, Poland

River Wisla and Bridge, Torun, Poland.

That was about it for Toruń. The one thing I learned in Toruń is that Poland looks better at night when the light bounces off of the wet streets. I visited in the winter, however, so maybe things are different in the summer. I imagine Poland would look better in the daytime during the summer months.

And with that, we found the car, untouched by the students, priests or prisoners, and headed back to Bydgoszcz. Our next day trip, two days later, took us to Trójmiasto (“three-cities”).

Bydgoszcz, Poland: A Polish Homestay and the Great Blood-Giving Debacle

April 28, 2011
Church Interior, Bydgoszcz, Poland.

Church Interior, Bydgoszcz, Poland.

The same dziewczyna with whom I travelled through Laos extended an invitation to stay with her and her family in Bydgoszcz. They graciously accepted me into their home, generously fed me and gave me a glimpse into their day-to-day lives. I was lucky enough to stay for a week.

The apartment was a comfortable place. Not only did the shower have a built-in radio and TV, the toilet sung too! When you opened the door and turned on the light, the radio came on! So all those pips and squeaks are covered up by none other than ’80s and early ’90s pop rock! Amazing invention. The only downfall is when you wake up and have to go the radio is a little startling.

One thing that confused me when I first walked into the apartment was where the bedrooms were. Sure, I was shown them but I was confused as to where the actual beds were. As I was to find out, my host family had couches that doubled as beds! As I was to find out, this seems to be common in much of Eastern Europe.

One morning I tried to make “Canadian style” eggs for the mother but my effort was less than stellar. What are Canadian scrambled eggs? Eggs, milk, sausage, pepper. That’s it. And it failed to impress. I believe it was missing maple syrup and bacon. Why didn’t I try to make French toast? At least the effort appears greater. It is here I learned that if you’re going to stay at someone’s house, make sure you are ready with one or two recipes to impress the folks.

Bydgoszcz (Bid-gosh-ch) itself is a moderate-sized city of 500,000 and offers a vintage look of what Poland was like before the war. Although a quarter of the population (then 200,000) was killed at the hands of the Nazis, the city itself wasn’t destroyed as much as other cities. As a result, Bydgoszcz has a very old look to it. (The city’s website, however, boasts a simple, but neat music section.)

Basiclia Interior, Bydgoszcz, Poland

Basilica Interior, Bydgoszcz, Poland.

We spent a lot of time walking the streets, visiting pubs and cafes in between viewing churches and the basilica. We stopped by quite a few churches, most of which I forget the names, except St. Peter and Paul’s… only because I took a picture of the sign. On my first night in Bydgoszcz we caught up and practiced Polish at a neat pub in a boat, called Barka, on the river. Lastly, we went out with some of her friends (one of whom said that carrying a small bottle of vodka in my jacket pocket is a “sign” of a problem) to a local pub in which there was a Belarusian musician with an accordion, kinda like the American version of Jason Webley. He sang mostly Polish and Russian songs but obliged when I asked for Ukrainian songs.

Crossing the River

Crossing the River Brda monument, symbolizing Poland's joining the EU.

We also went to the ballet… for kids. There was a limited engagement of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the Opera Nova. My friend was thrilled to see the ballet but I was thinking of the small bottle of “research” I had left in my jacket pocket which was at the coat check. I’ll give it to the performers, especially the dwarves: they did a marvellous job of conveying the story through dance and pantomime.

After the ballet, we headed to a cafe called Cukierna Sowa, apparently it’s a local start-up. A swank joint, it had a live pianist who played classical music. I wanted to request something but my friend dissuaded me unless I asked for them in Polish. I relented. He was good. We also visited their second, more prominent, shop at the base of the bridge at ulicia Mostowa 4. They offer a wide variety of coffee creations, some with alcohol and others without. Both were neat places.

Bydgoszcz streets at night.

Bydgoszcz streets at night.

There was also the day my friend wanted to donate blood, something her parents told her not to do. She said it would be no problem… and then fainted. The amusing part about the episode is that it happened the day after an argument we had about Polish health care. We had both experienced health issues in SE Asia, she had dengue fever and I was bitten by a dog. But I told her: “This trip, I am determined to stay out of hospitals, especially Polish and Ukrainian ones.” Naturally, she thought I was overreacting and we argued about the state of Polish health care. Seriously, what do I know about Polish health care? Nothing. And I kinda like it that way.

So when she fainted, I seriously thought she was just joking around. Kind of like, haha Steve, I’ll show you. Surprise surprise, it was a true faint. No harm done, an IV and an hour later she was fine. The nurses promptly picked her up and moved her into her own room. They took very good care of her and even told her father and I to put away our cameras as we were causing undue stress. On the plus side, the episode convinced me that the Polish health care system works rather well.

After the Great Blood-Giving Debacle we were supposed to go to Torun. I said it was fine if we didn’t go since my friend needed to rest. However, after some Polish conversation it was decided we were going anyway. Kudos to my friend for having the strength to carry on despite the eventful morning!

And with that, the three of us: father, daughter and me, hopped into the car and drove to Torun.

Happy Easter!

April 24, 2011
Baba in Church

Babuska in Church. Kharkov, Ukraine

I thought I’d make a little post to wish everybody a Happy Easter. As they say in Ukraine, Христос Воскрес! (“Christ is Risen!”) to which others respond Воїстину Воскрес! (“Indeed He is Risen!)

For those non-denominational folks, Happy bunny and chocolate day. (Remember those Cadbury commercials with the bunny who clucks like a chicken??)

I attended most of an epic Ukrainian Orthodox Easter service last night, dropping out at 2:30 am for a rest before returning to bless Easter baskets at 5 am. Quite the ordeal. After the blessing, my fellow church-goer and I returned to my place to eat the blessed food: meat (she says it was chicken, I don’t believe her), eggs and paska. Paska, in Ukraine, is amazing. Unlike in Canada, it’s served as a dessert at the end of the meal.

I will write more about Easter in Ukraine and Ukraine itself in a later post. Until then, Happy Easter!

Kutno, Poland: Zapiekanki and Coffee… “Polish Style”

April 19, 2011

I missed the direct train to Bydgoszcz so I had to transfer in a small town called Kutno. As luck would have it, this transfer would not be without a cultural experience.

I arrived Sunday morning, still a little wobbly from the previous night’s escapades, only to find all the restaurants closed. The only places open were the kiosks near the train station. I had an hour to kill before the train to Bydgoszcz and, though I wasn’t hungry, I figured I should find something to quell the riotous behaviour of my stomach. For starters, I figured I’d order a coffee, it’s the easiest thing to order.

My need for coffee is no secret, you can witness it in written and movie formats, I was fascinated to witness coffee “Polish style.” In my poor Polish language, I ordered “kava, chorna, nie sugar” (coffee, black, no sugar). The wonderful lady, hearing my terrible accent and believing me to be some village-hick, asks me some other questions, to which I respond (in Polish), “Pzpreszem. Nie rozumiem. Moj Polsku nie jest dobze,” (“Excuse me, I don’t understand, my Polish isn’t good”) and thus furthering her belief that I was an uneducated hick from Nowhereski, Poland.

She gives me a small plastic cup and puts some coffee grounds into it. I stand there wondering what to do. I look around for some hot water. I notice a small cart over to the left of the kiosk with a kettle on it and I wonder if I’m supposed to boil the hot water myself and somehow find a strainer for the grounds.

Nay nay, my friends. My wonderful server explains to me, in Polish, that the hot water will be ready in about five minutes. Of course she’s speaking pretty fast and I don’t really know much more Polish than to impress women at the bar (or swear). I give a “backpacker’s moment,” that is, I wait and observe the situation while smiling and agreeing. I figure I’ll wait and see what happens.

Finally, she brings out the kettle and pours the hot water into the small plastic cup, over the grounds, and stirs it for me.

Clarity.

Polish Style Coffee, before and after.

Polish style coffee. Pretty hard to screw up.

Weathering that storm, I decide that I should probably get something to eat. The problem is that the “food” sold at these kiosks isn’t really food. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and something called zapiekanki. My head was a little fuzzy and couldn’t recollect ever trying a zapiekanki before, so I decide to give it a try. I sputter some Polish, “Zapiekanki, prosze.” It’s 5 PLN or something like that.

For those of you who don’t know what a zapiekanki is, take a look at the picture below, taken in Warsaw. It’s Polish fast food. Popular amongst the Poles as a snack between classes, on the run, or after the club (as opposed to eating kebabs). There are a number of toppings ranging from pizza toppings to dessert toppings to the one I got, which was kinda gross. On a long piece of French bread she put (I think) tomato sauce, mayonnaise and some other red, gooey BBQ-like sauce.

Zapiekanki and hot chocolate.

My eyes warned my stomach, “Dude, I don’t know about this.”

But my stomach insisted, “Just give it a try. How bad can it be?”

I bite into the “sandwich”… and almost lose it all. To this day I don’t know what was on that piece of bread, but mayonnaise, tomato sauce that red sauce mixed with remaining vodka in my stomach made for some bad chemistry.

“Don’t you complain! You wanted it!” Scream my eyes.

To which my sickened stomach responded, “But I was soooo hungry.”

Finally, my brain, awaken by this commotion, declared the cultural experience over. It recalled that the one I had in Warsaw was better.

Time to find the platform and stare into space until the train arrives.

At least I learned a new way to make coffee.

Acting Up in Łódź, Poland

April 13, 2011

Piotrkowska Street at night, Łódź, Poland.

While in Warsaw, I befriended a man who introduced himself as, literally, a clown, and that he was in Warsaw for a few auditions. Bewildered, I ask for clarification. He pulls out a little advert. Turns out he’s a clown, an actor, and a casting agent, too. And his real name is Kamil. He invited me to an audition for a commercial in Łódź (pronounced “Woodge”). I figured, “Why not?” The city isn’t far from Warsaw, about 2 hours.

So off I go to the audition. The first time I’ve tried to act since making Coffee and Milk in Korea.

The task was pretty simple: I had to imagine standing on a beach with no one else around, sad and lonely, when all of a sudden a penguin walks up and gives me some ice cream. After that, I’m supposed to fucking lose it with happiness. The one note they gave me was to keep eye contact with this imaginary penguin. That’s a lot more difficult that it seems.

Next, I was supposed to imagine being a date with nothing to say (yeeeeaaaa right!!) when that same fucking penguin walks up and gives us ice cream. We’re supposed to lose it with excitement. My colleague (who might have been the co-director of the commercial) did well, but me? Not so much. I didn’t get the part.

The experience, however, truly exposed my ignorance of Polish cinema. Turns out Łódź, and Poland in general, has cranked out a few famous directors. You may have heard of Roman Polański (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Pianist) and maybe Andrzej Wejda (Pan Tadeusz, The Promised Land and recently nominated for an Academy Award for his film Katyń) but Krzystow Kieślówski? No idea. (He’s known for a TV series titled The Decalogue and a trilogy of films, Three Colours: Blue, White, Red). Those folks belong to the Łódź Film School (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i Teatralna).

Łódź Walk of Fame - Roman Polański (Roman Pola...

Roman Polański's star in Łódź, Poland. Image via Wikipedia.

The studio I was auditioning in, however, was called Se-Ma-For. Turns out the studio has won a couple of Academy Awards for their work: in 1983 for Tango and in 2008 for Peter and the Wolf. The studio specializes in stop-motion animation (think Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas.)

After the audition, Kamil took me on a tour of the museum behind the audition studio, called the Museum of Fairytale. It was a neat little museum dedicated to their stop-motion work, complete with sets and props and a screening room for their latest work. They also had one of their Academy Awards on display.

Auditioning aside, I stayed only two days in Łódź so I didn’t get to see everything the city had to offer.

Though Łódź is mainly a student city now, it has been an industrial city for much longer, particularly for textiles and other manufactured goods. It has been dubbed the “Polish Manchester.” The factories used to be powered by underground rivers, apparently there are 19, but only one is visible.

I contented myself with visiting Manufaktura, a huge shopping mall made from renovated red-brick factories and warehouses. The mall is located at the end of the “longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe,” Piotrkowska Street. Along the way I saw the sculpture of Arthur Rubenstein (a famous pianist) and his piano near some stars on the sidewalk commemorating the film directors mentioned above.

manufaktura

Manufaktura, Łódź, Poland.

I was told to try a restaurant called Bierhalle, a German-themed brew house and restaurant. There’s one in Manufaktura, so I stopped in. Not only does Bierhalle have some eye-popping marketing tactics, the restaurant chain is renowned for their naturally-brewed beers. So along with my meal I order a litre of beer. These Europeans seem to think serving a litre of beer is nothing unusual. I can recommend going to Bierhalle. The food was affordable and the beer was much better than the typical Polish beers you can buy (Królewskie, Warka, or Żywiec).

After my Bierhalle experience, I head on back to the club near the hostel. I meet up with some folks I met the night before to embark on another night’s escapade. A few shots of vodka, some beer and more craziness and I wake up in another apartment. Bad night to do that since I’m supposed to be on the first train to Bydgoszcz to meet up with a friend. I locate two of my bags, leave the third wherever it was (gifts for my host family!!) since I didn’t have time to get them, and I get myself to the train station.

If I had the chance, I’d visit Łódź again, but next time I’d be sure to do a little more sight-seeing, including the museum and the film school.

Warsaw, Poland Part 2: Women, Movies, Booze and the Policia

April 7, 2011

This is (probably) the last post on Warsaw… until I go again. 🙂

One memory that stands out is the amount of joviality of the people. If aliens were to land in Poland and meet the people, I think they’d doubt that the country and its people were nearly eliminated within the last century. Instead, they’d think the Poles have been sucking back laughing gas. Makes me wonder if they were laughing with me, or at me.

On that note…

I did get asked out while sitting in a coffee shop, first time that’s ever happened. After visiting the museum in the Pałac Kultury i Nauki (the Palace of Culture and Science) I went to the nearby Coffee Heaven for my espresso and sandwich. Not long after sitting down this girl leans over and asks if I want to go to a movie… without even introducing herself. Immediately I thought, “Finally! Women the world over have realized my sex appeal!” Well, not quite, but I quickly responded, “Sure.” The movie was to be held at the MultiKino of Złote Tarasy, one of the newest and biggest malls in Warsaw.

Zlote Tarasy, Warsaw. It's a mall.

Turns out it was an actual movie premiere for Wojna żeńsko-męska (Voy-na zhen-sko meow-ska), a movie about this female reporter who hits a slump in her career. She comes up with the idea to psycho-analyze men by testing their cock either by observation or physical manipulation. It’s a comedy, by the way. I didn’t understand everything (it was all in Polish), but I think I got the gist of the movie.

After the screening we got to mingle with the celebrities. Well, I didn’t mingle because I wasn’t sure if they spoke English, so I just drank the free wine and ate the sandwiches. You can see some photos of the premiere on the movie’s website. I am not in any of them. 😦 The lead actress is a lot hotter in person, so is her sister (they were both in the movie). My bragging was cut short, however, as no one at the hostel knew anything about the movie or the celebrities. Such is life. To add insult to injury… I didn’t even get a picture so I have nothing to prove my attendance. 😦

I did go to the coolest chocolate shop ever, called Wedel’s. Apparently Poland boasts this family (the Wedel’s) who’ve been making chocolate for some 200 years. Do you remember, as a kid, your parents saying “Don’t eat so much candy or you’ll get sick” and how you, in your invincible youth, would think you know better?

They were right. Go figure.

I was kinda hungry when I went there so I ordered a regular sandwich which cost twice the amount I would’ve paid anywhere else. Before I could finish the sandwich they served me my cup of hot chocolate. This wasn’t just any powdered shit, however, this was a right proper cup of melted milk chocolate. Ffffffffffffffuckin’ awesome. Made me think I was visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A boy at heart I am.

Since I was there, I tried some of the pralines they had on display. I was given a menu of chocolates to choose from. And they didn’t give me just any dish for these chocolates. No no, they served them on a silver platter. This is when I felt a little out of place. The whole visit left me about 56 PLN poorer and kinda sick from a sugar overdose.

Wedel's Chocolate Lounge in Warsaw, Poland.

I’ve already written about Poland’s national beverage, vodka, complete with its procedures and protocols and the many types that exist. By the way, drinking on the streets is actually illegal and is actually enforced. I found this out the hard way. We were innocently smoking and drinking our beers in a dimly lit, garbage-infested nook when the cops stopped and made their presence known. As luck would have it, I didn’t have my passport on me. The cops didn’t like that.

To add to the friction between us and the dutiful cops, my lady partner refuses to accept the ticket they want to write up! Of course, the entire conversation was in Polish so, at the time, I had no idea what was going on. In my view, it was a very calm conversation with several sideways glances toward me. Turns out she might have to show up in court one day to answer for her refusal.

Chocolate, women, movies and booze aside, my favourite activity, however, was strolling through the streets of both Old and New Towns, arms behind my back, tipping my hat to ladies and police officers alike with a gentle smile, just like an old man. If there is one reason I would like to return to Warsaw, it’s to walk the Old and New Town streets in the summer. It was by walking around like an old man at night that I came to realize that Warsaw looked great at night as the street lights bounced off of the wet pavement.

Walking the streets of Warsaw at night.

And that about sums up my time in Warsaw. I see the hope and feel the energy of great hope among the people. Here you can see the thriving arts scene, booming construction and economy, and have a chance to meet the generous and hospitable local folks.

Warsaw impressed me and I continue to think of it fondly. I missed it as soon as I left.

Kudos, Warsaw, on a job well done.


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