European Travel Weblog - Summer 2003
Saturday, 6 September 2003
Natalie atop a giant Oldenburg sculpure downtown. | München, DE
Skeletal violins: a tribute to the tree, from the riddle "Now that I am dead, I can make a beatiful sound." These were among the many strange instruments in the Stadtmuseum. | München, DE
[natalie and puppets]
A plethora of puppet heads! | München, DE
So much has happened. Now we are in München (Munich) and using the "easyInternetCafé" which is anything but, really. (The rate they charge varies from minte to minute, from €1.40 up to 1.90, you've got to buy a pre-paid card, too, so anything we don't use goes wasted... my least favorite way of doing e-business.) MabyI'm justfeeling stingy because just yesterday we spent a whopping €78 (about US$85) to ship home a couple of boxes of games, books, gifts, and souvenirs that we've collected along the way.

Of course, it was worth it to not haveto drag it all around anymore. Heh... Thursday, 4 September was our last day in Warszawa, and with one hour left before our train left, we set out walking in full gear, laden with packs, carrying shopping bags full of said souvenirs, etc., wrapped in our ponchos, in pouring rain (we could see about 3 meters in from of us) for what seemed like 2 miles to the train station. It took us 45 minutes to make the trek, and we arrived about 5 minutes before the train did. (A blessing, that!) So I suppose we now have several pounds lifted off of our shoulders now, and all in all the trip has run a bit under budget, so I guess it isnät all that bad (I do need to watch my time, though, so this might be a short entry).

It's nice to be back in Germany. After mailing off the packages yesterday, Natalie and I took a blanket and some books to the famous Englischer Garten to lay out and relax. I told Natalie we should sunbathe naked (a time-honored tradition in the garden), knowing she wouldn't go for it. It didn't take long for herto note that most of those who were naked were men. I also pointed out that most of those who were naked were alone and the few women we saw were in a group... so it follows that most who strip are there alone, and it's probably unwise for women who are lone to strip. We revisited a waterfall that I remember from my last tour as well... it's kinda funny to be back here seeing these things again a few years later. I soaked them in the first time, thinking that I might not ever see them again. Now I'm starting to wonder if Natalie and I will make a more regular pilgrimage out of it. We're already starting to talk about what we might do the next time we do something like this. When that will be, neither of us are too sure.

And I couldn't wait... I bought the new Harry Potter at the "American Bookstore" in Warszawa a mere half-hour before the aforementioned wet-trek. They were selling it for 79z, which is about US$19.75, so I broke down. Since the aforementioned train ride from Warszawa to München was also an overnight train (we arrived here yesterday at 11:00am, which was only 4:00am in Madison, WI) I went ahead and dug into it... I didn't get much sleep on the train anyway. Now I'm on page 218 for those who are wondering, but this is in the British version, which is typeset differently (about 100 pages fewer, smaller font, and no illustrations, which Natalie says is good because they give too much away, anyway). It took about a half hour to get used to the English spellings ("colour," "favourite," "pyjamas," etc.) and single-quotes instead of double-quotes, but other than that, I don't think they change a whole lot for the USA printings.

After we finish up here, we're planning on heading to the Stadtmuseum, which has exhibits on beer brewing, musical instruments, photography, and puppetry! Tomorrow's agenda consists of the Deutsches Museum, hailed as "a combinataion of Disneyland and the Smithsonian Institution." I hope we get to see it all, and still have time to see the famous Glockenspiel at Marienplatz. Last time I was here I was too busy checking e-mail and I missed it playing (@ 17:00 = 5pm). I also feel we must witness some debauchery at the Hofbräuhaus before we leave on what is currently scheduled for Monday night (overnight train to Venezia, where the famous "La Bienniale" arts festival is going on).

posted by burr - 12:45 pm GMT
[englischer garten]
Cooling off the feet in the Englischer Garten. | München, DE
macht schnell!. I can't be sure of the spelling of that phrase, but I'm not going to look it up right now. Munich is a bit more expensive than Berlin, and so are it's internet I'm typing as fast as this rickety german-arranged keyboard will allow. Bavaria has been wonderfully relaxing, and although I appreciated the chance to practice my Polish back in Warszawa on the streets, it is nice to be around a much more intuitive language. Yesterday we went to the Englischer Gartens and saw only a bit of the whole thing. The river through the gardens is a bright aquamarine which is pretty, and pretty disturbing at the same time. In any case it was nice to soak our feet after the previous day's marathon.

On our last evening in Warszawa we made a bee-line for the Central Station through the pouring rain with all our gear under ponchos. All of our Polish friends had warned us earlier to watch our pockets when we arrived at the station and speak softly in English if we had to at all, other wise we would draw unwanted attention...creepy. After hurried deliberations about what platform, what train, and what wagon we came to our sleeping couchettes--like tiny bunks--and collapsed into them. I'd have to say sleepng on a train is an aquired ability and I need a little more practice. We did arrive in Munich many hours later--Burr reading Harry Potter and I reading over his shoulder when he wasn't looking (even though I've already read it...It's sooo good!). Enough for now... I think my expensive time is almost up!

posted by natalie - 12:26 pm GMT
Wednesday, 3 September 2003
Natalie has her own resaurant in the train station! Her name in Polish is "Natalia" which, when possesive, is declined "Natalie." So the sign really reads "Natalie's." Well, sort of. | Warsawa, PL
Our map was just too big. We streamlined. | Warsawa, PL
Of the pheonix. At the end of last week I finished the first book I brought with me, You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers. Then yesterday morning on the train from Bydgoszcz to Łódz, I finished my second book, The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff (it was a high school graduation gift from my good friend Mary Hrabak, and until yesterday hadn't actually read the entertaining defense of Winnie-the-Pooh as a Taoist master, I dunno what inspired me to throw it into my bag before we left but...). I'm about halfway through my set of Petit Nicholas stories (French children's stories I picked up on my last tour), so I'm going to need something else to read on the planes/trains/busses quite soon. So I was thining about getting the new Harry Potter and Order of the Pheonix (British version) to read... but it's going to be so heavy! Natalie's read it already, but I have not... and I think it would be cool to own the British version instead of the USA printing, though if I had the one, I would feel inspired to buy the whole series in the British versions... hmmm... I will say that it's interesting to see all the translations of the Harry Potter books in all the different languages. Each culture chooses a different scene or image to illustrate on the cover. It sort of tells you something about the culture in a way... of course, Pheonix isn't translated to anything yet, so the stores are just selling the British version. Any e-mails encouraging/discouraging these purchases are welcome...

Speaking of the pheonix, however, Poland as a country is like a pheonix. Their national anthem even has a line in it which, translated, means something like "We will unite again to take back the land that was ours." I'm not sure I've been to someplace with such a crazy history. It gets captured, bombed, changes hands, saved, restored, captured, blablabla... We're currently in Warszawa in fact and it's changed hands between the Poles, Germans, and Russians so many times it's not funny. But here it is, Polish again. It's still cheap, even here in the capital city. We just ate dinner at a restaurant called "Pierogi Swiata" (either "Pierogi of the World" or, preferably "Pierogi World") where we ordered the "Ruleta" (roulette -- random) platter which included a salad and 10 randomly stuffed pierogis each. Among mine were crab, salmon, potato, sourkraut, and strawberry. We enjoyed them so much we ordered another plate to split. In that one we had a chocolate pierogi!! Natalie also had tea, and I had a 0.5L beer (Zywiec, a decent Polish ale), and the bill still came to, with tip, 83z = US$20.75. This internet cafe is 5z = US$1.25 per hour, 1/3 what it was in Denmark. Still, I can't say that Poland has been one of my favorite countries to visit. I enjoyed the time we spent with Natalie's friends immensely, and the food is hearty and good, and it is cheap, but it hasn't been quite so relaxing. Poverty is rampant. A walk down the street isn't a pleasureable people-watching experience, but rather a defensive practice of going from point A to point B (if you stop or make eye contact, you're swarmed with pickpockets or gypsies or accosted by those trying to give you leaflets). I haven't seen Wrocław or Kraków, which Natalie tells me is less run down. Nevertheless, I'l kind of glad we're headed for Munich tomorrow night. (Overnight train... Natalie's first experience with a couchette!)

Side note: check out Gogle... I guess Google isn't good enough for the Poles. Another note: some of the Polish characters might not come accross correctly in the web browser... for example "ł" is an "l" with a slash through it, and "S" is supposed to be an "S" with a tickmark over it. Oh, well... maybe it's the font I chose for the blog, or maybe it's internet explorer. Either way, be warned.

"Aurelie" (mp3)
"Mamona" (mp3)
Music update. I forgot to mention that before leaving Berlin I purchased the CD Die Reklamation by Wir Sind Helden (translated "we are heroes"). It was between them and a band called Tocotronic (surprisingly not techno), both from Berlin, and both sing in German, but the former was a bit more musically experimental (even if the quality of the recording leaves a smidge to be desired, relatively). The Polish contribution to the music collection is a 1998 album Masakra from the late Republika (not to be confused with Republica. I say "late" because the leader, Grzegorz Ciechowski (I have no idea how to pronounce that), died in 2001, so this is actually their last complete album. There is apparently a very strong punk rock scene in Poland as a result of the anti-communist sentiments leftover from the 1970s and 1980s... Republika was one of the punk bands from the early 80s that branched out after the fall of communism and found other things to sing about. Of course, I don't quite know what those are yet, tee-hee.

posted by burr - 07:54 pm GMT
[camp eden]
Visiting Camp Eden, the summer children's camp where Natalie volunteered doing mission work in 1997 and 1998. | ???, PL
[burr on the castle]
Burr climbs the walls of the oldest castle in Poland. | ???, PL
[no climbing on the castle]
Burr is informed of the sign: "Don't climb the walls." | ???, PL
Natalie and Jan in front of the run-down church in Janikowo that the Evangelical church hopes to afford to renovate. | Janikowo, PL
pierogi swiata. Burr and I just finished a meal in the "Old Town" in Warsaw (Warszawa var-SHA-va) at a place called Pierogi Swiata--either translated "peirogies of the world", or the translation option Burr likes, "pierogie world". We will solve the mystery of the true identity of the restaraunt when we get back to our room and pull out my Polish text book. More about pierogies will follow in Burr's entry.

Before this jaunt to Warszawa we stayed one more day and night in Bydgoszcz and one day and night in Łódz (pronounced-believe it or not- wooj). In Bydgoszcz Renja, Piotr, and Dorota (all about 16yrs old) were our tour guides around the city and on our walk though the woods at the edge of the city. However, the day before we left they were obligated to go to school for their schedules and later Dorota had some school shopping to do. With our other tour guides in dispose, Jan was a wonderful host, kindly taking us with him on his various runs to people and places in various towns around Bydgoszcz. He made a stop to show us a church that had been newly given to he and the other evangelical pastors in the area. It is in a place called Janikowo. The building is need of a lot of repair with tiles missing from the roof, plaster falling off the walls and several holes rotted in the ceiling. These repairs wil be very expensive, but they are taking it one step at a time with a lot of prayer. (Please contact Burr and I if you are interested in helping them or hearing more about this project.) The people in the area who normally have to drive all the way to Bydgoszcz for church are very excited to have an evangelical church come to their area.

After Janikowo we went to the camp where I worked with Jan 5 years was really fun and odd to see it so many years later:--the beach where many polski, amerykanski were dunked liberally by their compatriots--the coffee room where I ate Polish candy and learned to count to 100, memorized declensions and brutalized many a Polish word with horrible pronunciation. We ate rip plums that had fallen from the tree, took pictures, and I gave Burr the full annotated tour--right down to the fire pit where I leaned that Poles roast sausage chunks on sticks, not marshmallows. On the drive to our next stop Jan and I told Burr about the elaborate games that we played at the camp; they seem more like theatrical practical jokes now that I think of it...there is no American equivalent. One game is called "King Maharahja" (sp?) where unwitting victims are lead one at a time from the large camp dormitory/chalet (?) to the camp's large meeting tent. Each victim is brought before King Maharahja--Jan, draped toga-like blankets with a bed-sheet turban clothes-pinned onto his head. He tells the victim that he/she has been accused of a crime and he must now sentence him/her. (He can perform this sentencing in both english and polish with varying humorous accusations for each student who comes to him.) After some banter between King and victim, and giggles from the peanut gallery the king says he must sentence the victim to DEATH, at which he swiftly raises a long (and real!) ax (usually causing the victim to cringe) while two people hiding under his raised "throne" yank the "royal red carpet" on which the victim was standing out from under him/her causing victim's feet to fly out from under him/her (don't worry, the "guards" who stand on either side of the victim are actually there to catch him or her just before he/she hits the ground. This all happens so fast that the victim is completely caught of guard! The result is always funny and is even more funny after you've experienced it and get to watch the next victim enter...

...but no King Maharahja for Burr during this trip...

The next stop was Biskupin, the oldest known settlement in Poland, cir 500 BC. You can actually walk though reconstructions of the buildings (thatched, log long-houses), walk the top of the wall and see remains of other parts of the town and civilization in the museum nearby.

On the way back to Bydgoszcz we stopped at the ruins of the first castle in Poland. Burr scaled the walls and took a look down inside though the caved-in ceiling--the doors are all bricked in from the outside. Burr's adventuresome walk on the walls convinced Jan that he needed to see the top too, so up he went--in his suit, dressed for the work of a pastor! They were both so funny! It wasn't an easy climb so I stayed firmly planted on the ground instead of running the risk of planting myself even further into the ground.

We made the trip back to Bydgoszcz and spent our last night there before moving on to Łódz. My friend, Kasia, from the camp in Oćwieka was in Łódz with her boyfriend, Riemek. We had a lot of fun cooking, sight seeing and talking to Kasia and Riemek about music, language, liturature and all sorts of things. Kasia is a wonderful teacher and even though we only stayed for a day in Łódz I started to remember all sorts of words and grammar in Polish.

Now in Warszawa we made a preliminary sweep around the town; tomorrow we will see more. Tonight I think the order of the evening will be board games and translation practice in the children's book I bought today. We are staying in the guestroom of a church--via Jan's arrangement. It is a place I stayed 6 years ago on my first trip.

posted by natalie - 07:50 pm GMT
Sunday, 31 August 2003
Breakfast with the Tomczyk family. | Bydgoszcz, PL
Polska. Last night we arrived in Poland via 3 trains from Berlin. I read and finished my book on the first two trains, and spent the thrid train translating the instructions for our "Spiel des Jahres" game "Villa Paletti." The instructions were in German, Italian, and French. It's a good thing we got the one with rules in French because the German was far too difficult. It took me an hour and a half to translate the 6 pages of rules (specific vocabulary like "sceau de la maitre d'ouvre," or "Baumeisterspeigel" in German... which means "architect's seal"... made things a bit slower). I finally did it, though, and tonight we played the game for the first time. It's kind of like Jenga and the opposite of Jenga at the same time. Natalie won, of course.

Surprizingly, Poles use a keyboard configuration identical to the English keyboard. For a language so starved for vowels (for example: "wstecz" is the word for "back" on a Polish web browser) I would have expected Z,Y,W to be front and center, but no! My polish vocabulary is ridiculous: about 10 or so words, one of which is "głópi" (pronouced "GWOO-py," which means "silly," at least I think that how it's spelled). Then again, Natalie is the one who studied Polish.

We are staying in Bydgoszcz (pronouced "bid-GO-sh-ch") with the Jan Tomczyk, one of the pastors of the evangelical church here that sponsors the summer camp where Natalie volunteered in the summers of 1997 and 1998. He's an amazing story teller, and though I've refrained from Polish jokes (which I can't ever remember finding all that entertaining) he's told over half a dozen himself! He also shared some really scary stories about being a minister during the time of communist soviet occupation. Because he is college-educated (a rarity, I guess, for Poles who remained in the country at that time) the KGB tried many times to force him into working for them. It was very difficult in the late 1970's to be running a Christian church (which I suppose to be illegal), and it's scary the lengths they sometimes went through to expose and trap him... and some of the stories are nothing short of miracles. In fact, the room we are sleeping in was in fact the former chapel of the original contraband church. Its a strange thing to think about. Puts things in a new perspective.

This morning as we entered the new, perfectly legal church, we were greeted by an old man who was asking us something in Polish... and clearly we didn't understand. So he tried, "Italiano? Francais?" and I said, "Oui! Je peux!" and he proceeded to explain that he lived in southern France from when he was 5 to 18. Doing the math in reverse, that was likely the time of the second world war. Again, eerie but enlightening. We also had a very friendly fellow named Chris (don't know the Polish spelling) who is fluent in Polish, English, and French who gave us an impromptu translation of the entire service. His vocabulary was astounding!! Words like "physiological" and "schema" (never mind how they were used in the sermon) were quite impressive. He apologized profusely when he couldn't congure up the word "chlorophyll"... but it's OK, Chris, really. The church was a little larger than Geneva (the one Natalie and I attend in Madison), but appeared to have the same sort of member-involvement and community that we've enjoyed there so much.

After church and a fantastic meal from the Tomczyk family, Jan had some errands to do and an evening service at a church in a neighboring town to attend, so one of the member, Dorota (sp? -- Natalie will get these right if she makes an entry) showed us around town and took us out to a beautiful park. We ate ice cream. Very, very cheap ice cream. The Polish currency is the "złote" ("ZHWA-tuh"), which is about 4 to the dollar. But prices here are about what you would expect to see in dollars in the USA. Ice cream? 1 złote per scoop = 4 scoops per dollar. Yesterday in the Poznań train station we got 2 sandwiches for 6 złoty, or about US$1.50 (for two!!). It's very strange. But then again, the average Pole's salary is much much less than the average US salary, so though it is cheap for us, it may still be on par for them. During the stroll, we saw a mountain music festival (different than mountain music from Kentucky, mind you) and the Polish equivalent of a renaissance festival, too... with duelling knights and kitsch souvenir booths to boot. The park was beautiful, though. And of course we forgot to take the camera. D'oh!

posted by burr - 08:12 pm GMT
Weekly Archives
Front Page
21 September - 27 September
14 September - 20 September
07 September - 13 September
31 August - 06 September
24 August - 30 August
17 August - 23 August
10 August - 16 August
Burr's website
Natalie's website
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Smithsonian Institution
National Library of Medicine
About the Trip
For the fall of 2003, we're taking a break from Madison to work for a bit in Washington, DC. Natalie landed an internship at the Smithsonian Institution after acquiring her MFA, and Burr will be doing research at the National Library of Medicine. But, with a month or so of free time between the end of our lease in Madison and the start of our capital tenure, we decided to jaunt around Europe! We'll be sleeping on trains, seeing some art, and visiting some friends. Here is a loose itinerary.

Since Europe is riddled with "cyber-cafes," we will stop occasionally to post our thoughts about the trip and keep you (beloved friends + family) up to date with what's going on.

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