Archive for August, 2006

Wroclaw

Aug 20

We had to leave Piaski today. Jason promised Uncle Krzysiek to practice volleyball. He also promised to improve his “Dart” technique, especially since he lost miserably to Uncle Krzysiek. It was once again hard to part with family; but at least Renatka and Artur were going to the city of Wroclaw with us. We saw the “Raclawice Panorama”, a giant canvas painting (15 meters by 114 meters, and to give you an idea of how large that is: I am 5 feet 1 inch tall, or 1.55 meters). The painting is wrapped around the internal walls of the rotunda in the form of an unbroken circle and viewed from an elevated central balcony. It depicts the battle of Raclawice fought on 4 April 1794 between the Polish insurrectionist peasant army, lead by Tadeush Kosciuszko, and Russian troops.

In the evening we went to Old Town with my cousins and Renatka’s boyfriend. His last name literally means “little fishy” so we had to joke that we are related to him because Sturgeon is a fish also. We finished the evening by teaching Renatka, Artur, and “little fishy”-Lukasz, Texas Hold’em Poker. The pretzels we had with us made good chips to bet with, although we kept on loosing them through the cracks in the cafe table.
In the morning Renatka and Artur took us to the train station and we parted one last time with family in Poland. And then I felt very sad. We had one more week in Poland and we would not see any more Cousins, Uncles, Aunts, Grandma or Grandpa.


Mushroom Hunting

August 19

When you ask someone who has just come from the forest with a basket full of mushrooms “Where are the mushrooms?” they will look at you, smile, and say “In the forest.” they just won’t tell you where in the forest. The places of where mushrooms can be found are carefully guarded by mushrooms hunters/gatherers, and Uncle Krzysiek took us to just such a place. Unfortunately, no matter how much Jason, Renatka, Artur, Uncle and I looked they just were not there. It was too dry and too early, but we did not give up hope. As we drove through the forest on the designated/(ridden into a permanent state by other drivers over the years) road, we looked at the forest road till we heard Renatka scream, “Stop! I see a big one!”. Unfortunately there was only one. A few yards up the road I screamed “Stop! I see one.” there were three. A few miles further there were some more and eventualy we had half a basket of what I think in English are called “The King Boylean” or “Boylin” – Prawdziwki (look it up I don’t have an encyclopedia on me). And that was that for the wild forest, of course like true mushroom hunters we had that undying hunger to fill both of the baskets. This need brought us to Uncle’s home made forest which was crawling with Maslaki (rough slang translation accumulates to “Butter Mushrooms” because they had a slimy top, they are tasty but icky to touch).

So with these we filled up our baskets. Back home Grandma, Aunt Bogusia, and I peeled them. My finger tips were brown for three days straight from peeling those fungi. In the evening over sausages from the grill and vodka we all sang old Polish Campfire and Scout songs, even grandma surprised us by singing with us. When it was Jason’s turn to lead us in song he choose “We all live in the yellow submarine…” refrain, and we all followed to it since Beatles were big pretty much everywhere.

So here are some yummy recipes, remember you need cook the mushrooms first before canning, making soup or sauce out of them.

Cooking fresh mushrooms:
Peel mushrooms, chop from stem to cap checking for bugs, if you find holes, the worms are close and you might as well throw them away.
Put mushrooms in cold water (twice as much water as mushrooms) for 4 handfuls of mushrooms put in a tablespoon of salt. If you know now that you want to make soup now add 6 leaves of Italian (flat leaf) parsley when mushrooms are not cooked yet (remove before they become mushy). Add one small onion the size of half of a fist (or quarter of a fist if you are a football player)
Boil/simmer for an hour or until soft (thoroughly soft, not just squishy).
Next, well it depends what you want to do with them. If you want to can them then put them drained in a jar quickly, well packed, close jar, store in cool dark place for up to 3 months. Or you ca put them in zip lock bags (minus the water) and freeze them.

Soup
So you just cooked them and they are soft enough to eat pleasantly. You will use the mushrooms and the water they are swimming in to make soup. Add a pinch of pepper, 200 grams (8oz cup) of sour cream (although its in a firm state you may want to stir some of the mushroom water into the sour cream to liquid it up) and 1 tablespoon of flour for thickening (add the flour into a cup first and a tablespoon of cold/ice water to the flour and work into a thin paste). Hopefully you removed the parsley before it disintegrated. At the very end right before serving you can chop some Italian Flat Leaf Parsley and throw some on the soup. You can eat it straight, with boiled barley, or with pasta (I suggest Angel Hair pasta).

Mushroom sauce
Sauté chopped onions, 2 handfuls (roughly) for 4 handfuls of mushrooms, when transparent add the freshly cooked mushrooms, sauté till it smells yummy, add 2 – 4 tablespoons of sour cream (with water worked in for smooth texture), bring to boling stage, add flour (with cold water worked in like for soup). Add more salt/pepper to your liking, sprinkle some freshly chopped Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, eat with boiled potatoes.

–Marzena


We are the Champions, Well sometimes

August 18

Another relaxing day with family, chatting with Grandma, looking at her garden and the enormous Magnolia tree, watching Uncle Krzysiek get excited about sports (expecting to win with Jason on his team). And so in the afternoon, after a nap and a coffe, we were all ready for the big game, the players: Uncle Krzysiek with Jason (once again showing team spirit by wearing matching shirts) against Renatka and Artur, with me as the official Volleyball photographer. Aunt Bogusia came to the beach volleyball court in the village next door where the match took place later with her girlfriend to watch and support the players. The stakes were high: the loosers would have to buy beer for the winners. The first match was won by the very joyful Uncle Krzysiek and Jason. In the second match just as Renatka and Artur were coming back almost matching the opositions, again, high score, rain broke out and poured so hard that all the players, photographer and fans escaped to the comfort of their dry cars. So the winners were Uncle Krzysiek and Jason and they were presented with the beer/edible trophy during the championship photo session. All were celebrated that night with food and Hazelnut Vodka. Good game, good game Everyone.

–Marzena


Travel to Piaski

Aug 17th

Thursday we took a train to the city of Sieradz where my Aunt Bogusia Hofman (also my Godmother) and her daughter Renatka picked us up and drove us home to the village of Piaski. The railroad does not go through Piaski. I have not seen them since our wedding. When we got to Piaski we were greeted by my Dad’s Mom, Grandma Halinka, Uncle Krzysiek (Aunt Bogusia’s husband) and by their son, Artur, Renatka’s brother.
When Uncke Krzysiek saw Jason he said that in our wedding pictures he looked like Hurcules and Uncle was glad that Jason was not bigger then him but the same size, and he immediately recruited Jason to his Voleyball team. The practice match took place that evening in the back yard against the opposition composed of Renatka and Artur. Jason even got a matching t-shirt to play in while on Uncle’s team. After the practice Jason was told that the game will take place the next day in the town on a beach volleyball court.

We took a walk with Uncle Krzysiek, Renatka, and Artur to the forest of pine trees that Uncle planted 5 years ago. It was thick and taller than Jason with ediable mushrooms growing under the trees.
It was great being with family and taking a break from the traveling. We even got to do laundry.

Just so you get an idea of my cousins’ ages:
Artur just finished his first year at the University and Renatka just finished her Masters’ Degree and will be starting a job shortly where she will be speaking with customers in German.

–Marzena


Museums and Adventures in Warsawa

Wednesday, August 16th

We had a late start to the day, after slugishly pulling ourselves out of bed we went to see the Palace at Willanow in the south outskirts of Warszawa. We are feeling more tired even though we are cutting down on some of the museums and sites. The palace has an amazing collection of paintings with the rooms kept the same way the Royal Family Sobieski kept it when they lived there in the late 1600’s. What was most touching was that at the time when royal and noble families married to gain land, allies, and power; King Jan the 3rd Sobieski was trully in love with his wife and would write romantic letters to her when he was away, or so our English speaking guide told us. The letters are considered classic romance and studied by Poles to this day. She was a small delicate woman who’s spoke slowly with a thick Polish accent. We are guessing that she was in her late 70’s, and we were very happy to have her explain the history of the Sobieski family and move us along the large palace for over and hour and a half. By ourselves we would have been there 3 hours and very grouchy at the end, I can honestly say that we were sleepy and hungry after just an hour. We went back to Old Town to roam and watch the Warszawians in their native habitat and when we tried to get back to our hostel our adventures started. Apparently, when we got back the previous night to our hotel we were not paying attention to which bus took us there because the one that theoritically should have, went every where but to our hotel. And so, by accident we saw most of Warszawa’s monuments to victoms, soldiers, and the Resistance fighter of World War 2, as well as the Jewish Ghetto. Eventualy we got fed up and walked back to the hotel. That was a long, long day and a very long walk.

–Marzena


Warsawa on a Holiday

Tuesday, August 15th

It turns out that this day has two holidays in Poland, which means all the musuems are closed, but we still managed to find a lot to do. The “Feast of the Assumption” meant that it was a bank holiday, the museums were closed and there were a lot of church services in the name of Mary. The “Day of the Polish Army” meant that it was a bank holiday, the museums were closed, and the army was showing off the wares: helicopters were flying around the city, army men were showing of their gear: tanks, hummers, rocket launchers, tents with information desks and computers, privates in camaflage and officers in formal uniforms. We went to the Wazienki Park, a huge park with a summer palace where Polish kings and noblemen took holiday. In one of the smaller buildings coverted into a museum there was a piano concert. The room was packed with people in their Sunday best and in formal military uniforms, as well as rhe media. We stood outside and listened to a piece by Chopin as the bored Peacocks strolled through the grounds. There is this understanding between the birds (ducks, swans, peackocks) and the park visitors; the birds ignore all visitors and the visitors get to look at them and take pictures, if a visitor attempts to touch a bird they take a chance of not only being re-buffed by the other visitors but also by the birds themselves. We walked through the whole park, glimpse a popular music concert in honor of the army at the island ampitheater, and made our way to the rose garden with the Chopin monument where army and airforce orchestras were playing classical Polish pieces from the early 1900’s of “the young Poland” era to the popular military orchestra sound of Benny Miller. Next we made our way to the “Old Town”. It had cobblestone streets, red roofs, accordion players on the streets and vendors of all kinds from amber, paintings and imaginatove nicknacks to total tacky ridiculous junk, well technically its all junk that collect dust but some of it significantly prettier than other stuff. We strolled around the streets and enjoyed the evening. It was a great day with beautiful weather.

–Marzena


A Day of Travel to Warszawa (Warsaw)

Monday, August 14th

Another day on the train, 3 hour trip on an express (significantly longer on a regular). The central train station in Warszawa is underground and the first thing a person sees when emerging from it into the above ground world is the old headqurters of the comunist party. The Palace of Culture and Learning is a relic on the outside and a useful cultural structure on the inside. Its 36 floors with side buildings are used today as a a play house, movie theater, convention center as well as offices. When we got there the International Bridge Competition was taking place and we saw many countries’ flags on the score-board, as well as heard many languages arould us. A few days later when stopping by a resturant on a cold and windy evening for a cup of hot tea, I heard one member of the Swedish group composed solely of tall man in their 60’s and 70’s say in a loud acented voice to a waiter “We want to be outside, we are vikings, we don’t mind the cold”. They were very excited and happy.

Warszawa is the capital of Poland and the largest city in Poland. In some cases at major intersections pedestians have to use an underground passage to get to the other side of the street. It is a busy city where hotels can be as luxurious and expensive as in the States. Since we were staying 3 nights here and I expected the city to be a flocking point of tourists I decided to expose Jason to a Polish Hostel, where hopefuly there would be a bunch of other people in jeans, with backpacks, all looking at a map, scratching their heads as they leave the comfort of their lodging in the morning to brave the city. To tell the truth I have never been in a hostel and Jason was more prepared for it than I, having stayed in a few 4 years ago.

Our very colorfull (and I mean that literaly) hostel was called “Oki Doki Hotel” and it might as well have been a freshmen dorm in a liberal arts college. There were indeed people from all kinds of nationalities with backpacks, the lobby had shabby haired guys sleeping on sofas waiting for their buddies, music was always playing, there was always someone at each of the 2 computers checking their e-mail, and the noise from the canteen rarely, if ever ceased . Each room had a theme and was decorated acording to it (ex. The Fan had pictures of celebreties, The Angel had a few angelic faces on the walls, ours was Raspberry Thicket painted a lively green, in between the color of a real lime and neon green, with a lamp that had chicken wire for a lamp shade covered by fake pink roses, the same wire with fake, pink, roses was around a 2 x 2 foot mirror on a wall, although with the pink-rose-fluffy-frame the whole thing was 6 x 6 feet in dimentions. Why roses you might ask, well I guess Raspberries were not in season.

It was evening when we got to the hostel. The museums were closed and we were too tired to explore the city. Our only aspiration for the evening was to find food and see a movie, Jason need a break from hearing Polish and it was a nice mental escape. Since movies in theaters are only dubbed for children’s films we got to see “Superman Returns” with Polish subtitles and to Jason’s dissapointment no beer in the theater. We were in Poland not in Germany. There were several small theaters showing about 12 films, mostly American, one Indian from Bollywood, and by small I mean 8 rows with 20 seats in each row. We had assigned seats, which we ignored since there were only 7 people at the movie. It was an excelent film, we both liked it. A good end to our first evening in Warszawa.

–Marzena


Last Day with Family in Gaj Wielki and in Tarnow Podgurne

Sunday August 13th

This time we did not take the bus and walk to Gaj Wielki, instead Uncle Mietek drove us. After he gave us a tour of Tarnowo, via car, we went to the cemetery where grandma is buried (my Mom’s Mom). The church next to it is 800 years old and has just gone through a conservation process. The cemetary is undescribably beautiful and I can not do it justice by writing about, so please wait for photos. I will say this: families come once a week, mostly Saturday and clean the gravestones, weed, put fresh flowers and candles on the graves and tidy the surrounding area. It always looks as if it was All Souls day. There is no grounds-keeper, the familes keep everything looking nice.

We were hoping that the rain at the cemetary would not follow us but alas we were not so lucky. It was raining through out the day and the gray weather kept the rooster confused. The poor fella was cock-a-doo-a-doing all day long every few hours. We spend most of the day with my Mom’s Dad, Juzek Koziol, his youngest son Uncle Piotrek, Uncle Piotrek’s wife Renata, their 2 sons David-just finished college and Lukasz (Luke) – high school. Their oldest child Evelina, in her early 20s, was not there since she and her fiance were busy personally delivering invitations to their wedding next month, unfortunately we don’t have enough vacation to be here for it.
Althought the weather kept us inside we had a great time talking with Grandpa, (he is 86), Uncle Piotrek and Aunt Renata. Jason has a curious mind and is a very engaging conversationalist, so as a translator it was a hard working day for me, but I was very happy that we had the opportunity for my family to get to know Jason.

Besides learning what life for a farmer was like during the communist times and how it differs now under the European Union, we also discussed farm life in general. They use to grow sugar beets, wheats, corn for feed and potatoes. Everything that was grown would be bought by the communist government at very decent rates, so things were very good for farmers at that time. Now it does not pay to grow such things since there is no buyer for them due to world commerce being the driving force of the European Union. This means that even though Poland can produce many things, they are not encouraged to do so by the EU, because the EU wants Poland to buy these products from the other EU countries. So where once there was a buyers to be found for pigs and cows (for food), now there isn’t one and EU tracks every piece of livestock and every crop. The crops that the Koziol Farmers farm now are for their livestock and for themselves. Although they have pigs, cows and chickens, they sell only milk and get most of there money from that. Sometimes people do come directly to they and buy a pig or a cow, but this is also tracked and not their primary source of income.

When the rain took a break for a short while, we took the opportunity to strech our legs and I showed Jason the farm as the rest of the family tended to the animals. Grandpa went to the bulls to change their straw with a pitchfork. When we went up to him he signaled to us to go ahead and get closer. This was something Jason was not too keen on doing since he has never been this close to an animal that theareticaly could maul him. As grandpa stood in the door way to the bull pen, Jason got close enough for the chained, beautiful blue-black eyed bull to sniff him. All the bulls behaved themselves, they know better then to piss-off Grandpa.
Since we, the adults, toasted with Krupnik, honey and herb vodka liquor, David drove us to Uncle Mietek’s.

After one last hot tea and cake with Uncle Mietek’s family, he drove us to the city to our hotel in Poznan. We had a train the next morning to Warszawa (Warsaw) and it was less stressfull to be able to spend the night in Poznan and walk to the train station in the morning. By the time we got to our hotel we were wiped. Jason snored instantly and I, although completely exhausted from translating all day long, could not sleep. My mind would not rest. Good thing there was a tv in a seperate section of our room so that Jason could comfortably snore away as I watched “The Mummy” dubbed in German, ‘Oh Shnell’.

–Marzena


Poznan and an Evening with Family in Tarnow

Saturday August 12th

Our hotel in Tarnow was within walking distance of everything in the Town of Tarnow, so on Saturday morning (5:30) we rolled out of bed and headed over to Uncle Mietek’s place to say good buy to Malgosia, her husband Jacek and the little Zemus (formal is Ziemowit, a very old Polish name, he is 10 weeks old). Jason got to bounce the little fella on his knee and we had breakfast with them. We got back to our hotel around 7:30 but could no longer fall asleep. All that was left was to head to the city where I was born, Poznan, 20 miles away from Tarnow.

Poznan’s beginnings go back to the 10th century, when a settlement was founded there. In 968 the town cathedral was build and the city grew. Today it is a large city with a lot of history and my favorite art museum, the Poznan National Museum. In the summer the museum is not crowded with school children and we spent 3 hours in it. Among the various modern art pieces and experiments in cubism and surrealism there was one floor with the clasical Polish paintings. Many of these I recognized from ilustrations in periodicals, children’s literature, and even reproductions that adorned my pre-school walls in Poland. These paintings of other children or of the Polish countryside with Polish people working the land burned themselves in my mind and it was a great feeling of happiness to look at them again.

By the time we left the museum, we could feel the toll of waking up as early as we did. After walking around Old Town and eating lunch at the “Under the Goats” (that is what the restaurant was called since it was under the city hall tower on which 2 mechanical wooden goats come out evey hour to butt heads much to the tourists’ amusement) we made it to only one other museum before heading back to the hotel and dropping dead on our very hard matresses for the afternoon nap.

In the evening we walked back to Uncle Mietek’s place with a Wisnowka (Sour Cherry Vodka), which we could not bring back due to the recent developments at the London airports, then ‘by golly’ we would drink it with family. Nazdrowie/Salut. Uncle Mietek, who is the older brother of my Mom, worked in a steel mill and is now retired. He and his wife Crystyna, have three children (all adults, oldest one is few days younger than I) in order of age from oldest to youngest 2 girls and a boy: Malgosia, Kasia, and Andzej. Uncle Mietek has a great interest and talent for building his own house, garage, plastic green house, pond, and gardening. Jason bombarded him with questions on all aspects of building and gardening. It was a great evening filled with food, Wisniowka, and conversation. My mouth and head hurt at the end of the evening from all the translation back and fourth and I still had Sunday ahead of me. Tomorrow, we are spending the day with Grandpa and Uncle Piotrek’s family on the farm in Gaj Wielki and once again I am going to be the translator. For now we are going to sleep very well.

–Marzena


A Full Day in Gdansk

So many things to do in Gdansk and only one day to do them. The festivel was going on and so we decided to go to the big Tutonic Kinights castle, Malbork, in the morning, then go to the musuem in town and then just enjoy the festival. Well, got to most of that. Things don’t always go according to plan when travelling. That would be boring. 🙂

We got up pretty early, I actually woke before the alarm though. We were both happy to get 8 hours sleep straight for the first time since we left. A good sign that we are mostly over our jetlag. We took the train to Malbork, and coming into town we could see the imensely large castle. We walked a bit to see the castle, which did not take long. The castle was really one heck of a fortres. It is said to be one of the most formitable for it’s time. There is literally four walls and moats to be crossed to get to the inner castle. All along the way are places were you would receive a barage of arrows from slits in the castle walls and places to have hot liquids poured on you when attacking the castle. All in the name of Mary and Jesus. The knights were first invited here by the Polish government to convert the pagans, which they did by force when necessary and when not necessary. Just goes to show you there are extremes in all religions. The knights started to expand into more of Poland and Lithuania and gain more power. The Lithuanian Price Jagielko married the Polish Queen Jadwiga and coverted to Catholicisim. They then were able to join forces in a massive battle to remove the Tutonic knights from power.

We then decided to head back and we found out we had to wait around for 45 minutes because it was not the school year, so there was not as many trains. When we waited long enough, we got to the plaform, but the sides we not labeled well and the people waiting said the train was from Poznan, not to it. So Marzena ran to check the board since it was arriving in 2 minutes. The train arrived and Marzena hadn’t come back yet and so I picked up all our bags while waiting for her. The train was gettinh ready to leave and I asked the train conductor if the train was to Poznan and he said no, that it was on one whole platform over. I carried the bags down to the tunnel and finally saw Marzena who said it was one platform over. I said, I know. 😉 She had to wait in the information line again to find that out and that is what took her so long. We had to run to catch the right trian. It was quite stressful. I was glad to be on the train. When we got back to Poznan it was too late to go to the museum, which was fine. The rest of the evening we ate dinner and walked around the festival. It was quite nice. We also were able to find some soft-served ice cream that is very close the stuff that Marzena had as a child and could find in Poland since then. It was awesome and we were both very content and happy.
–Jason


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