Paris, museums part one

There is a certain point while touring galleries and sightseeing where you hit a saturation point. Yesterday at the Louvre Sarah and I both hit that stage. So much happens on a trip like this that it becomes hard to share it all… I will have blog fodder for months!
So far Paris has been an amazing city. The contrast between the smaller less urbane cities of Poland and the hype-cosmopolitan Paris are abtut of a system shock. Paris is such a… city. Things are always happening and when you are at museum like the Orsay or Louvre you are constantly surrounded by the crowd.
The weather has been not so good, it rains a bit each day and is overcast. It has made the humidity crazy. When it rains this whole new level of fashion appears. Colourful umbrellas for some, jackets over heads for others, dotted with a few souls who seem to plan outfits for being rained on. Shirtless men in drenched suit jackets and fabrics that shimmer when wet. Quite fascinating.
Sarah seems to be on a mission to eat fois gras and creme bruile every day, and my mission to eat as many cheeses as I can goes well. I am at eleven so far.
Out appartment is quite large and has floors that creak. The hot water on the fifth floor is in short supply so no long north American style showers. Having a fridge and kitchen is a huge boon, we eat some meals in and save money for fancier cafe fare.
At the Orsay we saw Van Gogh’s famous self portraite, a bunch of Monet and Manet, and for me the prize of the museum: The Death of Marat by David. For a paint that we spent so muchtime on in art history to ve seen in person was awesome. It is smaller then I expected, which ususally is a sign of a good painting.
At the Louvre we did mostly German, Dutch, Flemish, and Russian paintings. Totally the way to go if you are tired of people, they are at the far top side of the Louvre about as far from Mona Lisa as you can get. Mona did get what Sarah and I called a ‘Drive by Viewing’ though I did stop to take pictures of the crowd around the Mona Lisa. We then wandered about and saw the Venus de Milo. The Rubens room and a bunch of Rembrants.
By the end of our day at the Louvre we were people watching instead of art.

Polish Wedding Part Two

Lechek and Beata have a cabin in the woods on a lake about 45 minutes outside of Olzstyn. It is amazing. They had the after wedding reception out there and rented some neighbouring cabins for the twenty-some odd people who came out. We spent about three days out in Polish lake country hanging out and celebrating the wedding some more. It was a good chance to meet more of the family and friends.
And eat an endless supply of kielbasa.
Piotre ( Peter ) was kind enough to do a lot of driving on sightseeing trips and Lechek and Beata were amazing hosts and did justice to Polish hospitality. They did a lot of work on the weekend and for the wedding and it was much appreciated.
The weather was lovely, the Mosquitos enjoyed Canadian blood, and ear plugs mitigated snoring.
Things we did:
Enjoyed the lake
Enjoyed the people
Went on a walk too see a local modernist style church.
Relaxed in the woods.
Ate local fish and chips.
Went on a tour of a locale Buddhist retreat.
Visited a cathedral which had this cool pipe organ ( I forget the name right now but will post about it later )
Visited a castle.
Visited Hitler’s Wolves Den bunker installation.
A busy couple days for sure!

Polish Wedding Part One

Polish weddings really do last for days. Hence no posts.
Even though this wedding was small for Polish standards it was big enough for me. I would guess there were about 45-50 people. Mostly non English speaking. A mix of friends and family brought together to celebrate Aaron and Gosia’s marraige.
The wedding was held at this sort of boat/dinner club house on one of the main lakes ( lek ) around Olzstyn. Maybe a 15 minute drive from our hotel. The evening started with Aaron and Gosia arriving via motorboat. There was a live oompah band ( standing bass, clarinet, drums, accordian ) and they played for most of the evening. I think there were about four or five suppers during the evening…
Supper the First: champaign and tapas served on the docks as the reception line welcomed Aaron and Gosia.
Supper the Second: sit down meal with soup, salad, turkey in cream sauce and potatoes, and lody ( ice cream ).
Supper the Third: plates of these Polish pate type things. Pork with dried fruits in one, mushrooms and chicken in another. There was also some sort of pork and pear head cheese. More salads, cheese, smoked fish of various unknown species ( probably eel and pickperch ).
Supper the Fourth: Pyrogie stuffed with duck ( amazing ), stuffed with bacon and mushrooms, and vegitarian. Pickled herring in sour cream ( one of my favourite dishes ), and more pate things.
Supper the Fifth: desserts and cakes. I count this as a full meal because of the sheer volume of cakes.
The eatfest ended with a beet broth soup.
Throughout this the band played a mix of Polish folk music, with sets of iTunes playing all the Polish wedding faves ( which includes the soundtrack to Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, and Top Gun and a LOT of Roy Orbesson ). It was pretty sweet. The band was amazing at what they did and they had great personalities. They worked hard at bringing the English speakers into the party and did a ton of traditional ( or silly ) Polish dances. Great group of musicians. I am on the hunt for their music, I believe they were called something like Yesterday’s Famous something …
So I polka’d my face off, did the Penguine Dance ( not to be confused with the chicken dance that the Germans and I were expecting ), and a couple walking dances. Lots of fun, but be warned: Polish dance songs run long, very long and get faster as they go. It wasn’t until Sarah and I just about exhausted ourselves during a particularly long polka that we found out you are not obligated to dance the full song.
It was an amazing wedding reception.
The next day was informal wedding reception part two…

The trip to Olsztyn

So taking the train from Krakow to Olsztyn was a lot easier this time around. We bought our tickets well in advance so we were in pretty good shape for the treck to Olsztyn. Though getting up at 4:30 am to catch the train was… grand.
We got to the train station and were desperate for kawa ( ka va ) but things don’t really open until later. There was an automatic coffee machine so I slotted my 2 Zloty ( zwa ta ) and picked what seemed to be the largest instabrew in the list. Machine starts up. Gurgles. Coffee pours out of the machine into a non-existant cup.
Precious kawa wasted!
After much puzzlement we went to the next machine in the station. There were two rows of choices on this machine. One labelled kubek. A look in our phrase book set us straight. Kubek ( Coo Beck ) means cup. Apparently most of the machines assume you have one. Sadly machine number two refused to take our coin. So we got the horribly over priced instant coffee from one of the kiosks under the peron ( pear on : train platform ). 8 Zlaty ( about $3.50 ) for Nescafe instant coffee.
Getting on the train was easier this time, even with coffee sans lids. We lucked out for the train car. Though it was full we did have a fellow who could speak very good English. We talked mostly about where we were from, the growing trouble with Polish trains running late ( the train from Krakow to Warsaw used to run in 2 hours and now takes about 3 ), and the weather. Weather is a good international small talk topic, people must complain about the weather around the world.
After that it was EIC complimentary kawa and kielbasa from my backpack. Switching trains in the tiny town to catch the non- direct train (TLK) to Olsztyn involved us looking at the analog posters of travel times and platforms followed by the station personel yelling in Polish and waving their arms to tell us to ignore the train schedules. I guess they are out of date or something. We got ourselves onto the right platform and train. Got into Olsztyn and when we tried to get off at our station everyone was nyie! nyie! ( no in Polish ) because the station near Gosia’s parents house ( Lezeck and Beata ) is very small.
Of course the second we go get off the train it starts barfing rain. Like Vancouver style God wants to drown the sinners type rain. Wet but happy we arrived at Lezeck and Beata’s house and were greeted with warm herbata ( tea ) and their wonderful hospitality.
Another Polish train trip in the bag.

Glass? No glass.

So we are wandering about the lower side of Wawel ( vay-vell ) castle and we stop to get some water from a touristy booth thing. The lady selling water says in a thick Polish accent ‘gas or no gas?’ which I miss heard as ‘glass’. So I said ‘no glass’ and got a weird look and a bottle of water ( and mockage from Sarah.)
Later in Olsztyn ( oll shtine ) Janice ( Sarah’s mom ) ordered water in a resturant and was asked the same thing and her response? Yes I want a glass.
So now water here in Poland is glass or non glass. ( Carbonated or non )
More to post but there is lots to do before the wedding part duex.

Wandering Old Town

Today a pigeon or swift pooed on me.

Feces from the sky while was trying to take a photo of a crucifix on the back side of a church. Probably God’s way of telling me to be more respectful and humble in life, or perhaps just God’s good sense of humor. Luckily there was a fountain where I could get a bit of water to dab off the good luck.

There is so much sculpture in Old Town. Every where you turn there are sculptures on corners, in plazas, frieze on buildings, mounted sculpture… and from many time periods. There are some great Renaissance works, lots of stuff from communist times, and a few newer modern pieces. It makes for a fascinating mix of time and place.

We took in Wawel castle today and saw the dragon sculpture breathing fire. Later the poor creature was covered in screeching children, dozens of them climbing his back and legs. Poor fellow, it must be exhausting.

The tour of Wawel is worth the trip up the hill, lots of very cool art and tapestry inside, and the building interior shows the changing fortunes of Poland. You see how the castle was fixed and changed over time, and how much history it has as a building. It is still alive and changing today, there are huge restoration and repair projects on the grounds. A warning if anyone comes this way, get to Wawel early. Krakow seems to wake up slow on a weekend, but by noon the streets are packed!

We ate at a pub/restaurant near the central market of old town called Miod i Wino, and I can now check another species off my list of animals to eat: wild boar. It was a lot like pork, with just a bit of gamey taste and a bit tougher a texture. It came with this mushroom and cream sauce that is amazing, and potato pancakes. ( My low carb diet is taking a beating! ) They also served an appetizer of lard with pork and garlic, you spread it like butter on bread. Absolutely amazing, and I am going to try and make it when we get back home. I think it was bacon grease with ground pork and garlic, but I’m going to experiment. It sounds kind of gross, but it is divine! They also do these prunes and olives wrapped in bacon. Mmmm… bacon…

After dinner we met up with Michal and his fiance ( who I apologize too, I am not sure how to spell and pronounce your name properly. ) We went for pivo ( beer ). We tried some beer on a patio in the market square, and it was okay, then went to this pub where they serve beer in these tall clear tubes and measure the servings in them in litres. There is a small spout where you pour from. We had a local brew from that bar, and it was very good. Sort of a medium darkness, light filter. Then we had some glasses of an unfiltered beer, tasted close to Rickards White, but a bit more texture to the hops. Poland is the place for some of my beer connoisseur friends to come, lots of good stuff here. I think Sarah had a bit too much pivo, and not enough woda ( water ) because she’s feeling pretty rough today.

Michal and his fiance ( sorry! ) are awesome, their english is good, much better then my polish, especially after a couple pints. At least I got some laughs as I tried to learn some polish ( reading the back of a cigarette carton ) and trying to say simple words like ‘tak’ ( yes ). Sarah on the other hand is much better. Ah well, perhaps I can redeem myself on our next trip to Poland…

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So there were some technical difficulties enroute to Krakow that make it a bit tricky right now to log on and post, so this post has been back-dated a couple days…

Amsterdam was easy, but the cab ride from the Warsaw airport was brutal slow ( and a bit white knuckle, cabbies drive a bit crazy when fares are running long! ) The train station was very chaotic, people moving about everywhere and there weren’t many staff in the ticket booths who spoke english. Lucky for us there were a number of good samaritans in the station who knew a bit or a lot of english. We were helped by a gentleman who was apparently a meteorologist, and he was telling us about how the weather has been while we waited for the train to Krakow. He also helped us out a great deal with our tickets and finding where we needed to be on the platform. Even with his help when the train came we were in the wrong spot, and I am pretty sure we rode to Krakow on the wrong car, but the ticket man on the train didn’t seem to care if we were in wagon 3 instead of wagon 2. The seat numbering is what threw us off, our tickets seemed to say we were in wagon 2 seats 86 and 88, but when we got on wagon 2 the seats were all in the 100s.

Once we were in our seats things were great, the train is an amazing way to travel. Seeing the Polish country side and the way people farm was fascinating. They have very small farms, and they farm in long narrow rows, maybe 30-50 meters wide by 250 meters long. ( Maybe the size of 3 city lots in Calgary ) So you get these neat patterns of different crops in rows, all in different stages of growth and harvest. It looks like they get a much longer growing season here then we do in Alberta, because the spring wheat is already forming and starting to ripen. There also seems to be some tree farms, I don’t know if they are just for growing trees or if they are for timber, but they have rows of trees in different ages. Very cool.

The countryside is mostly rolling hills, scattered farms, and small areas of trees. Mostly deciduous but there are also conifers of some sort, they look like a type of pine. I think the farms were a mix of grains, potatoes, and food crops. I think I saw a few apple or plum orchards, and maybe some walnuts and peaches. Lots of hops.

People so far have been really nice in Krakow, and they were very patient and helpful as Sarah and I took our bags on and off the train. One fellow offered to help us with our bags, which was sweet but we declined. By the time we got into Krakow Glowny (sp?) station we were pretty brain dead from the travels. The Hotel Amedeus is very central to Old Town, and is very nice. Governor General Adrian Clarkson stayed here at some point, her picture is on the wall beside the hotel computer.

Landing in Amsterdam

So we’ve made it to Europe!
The flight was all right, though it was full of babies. Thankfully you can drown babies out with prodigious use of Boombox Saints, Miley Cyrus, and the KLM in flight Tiesto mix. As usual I did not sleep on the flight, though I think Sarah did.
We are just enjoying the hyper-polite airport staff and announcements with a bit of airport grub. My sandwich claims to be made with 100% welfare meat. Not sure that has the same connotation as it does in Canada, because it sure doesn’t taste like no-name brand canned meat.
Uh-oh, the iPod is about to run out of juice…

Posting from my iPod

So here I am posting to my blog again. Huzzah. Now with the added novelty of doing so with sausage fingers on the iPod touch type pad. May the choas and typo madness be kept at a minimum. So thankfully I will be able to blog and keep everyone sort of in the loop as Sarah and I take a merry jaunt through a flooding Poland and Paris in June.
With the packing done and the checklist items checked we are about ready to get this trip underway. One last sleep and it is off to YYC to grab a KLM flight that will dodge rain storms and volcanic ash clouds. Booyah!
Update: Testing new twitter + facebook feeds for posting.