Zwiedzanie Polski

So much has happened over the past two weeks since my last post. I have explored new places, met new friends, ate new foods, tried new things, and fallen even more in love with this beautiful country.

One thing that I find so stinking cool about Poland is that there are palaces with giant gardens in almost every town. Some of them have castle walls and towers, while others have long walkways that lead to the front doors. A couple weekends ago Kamil, Grzegorz (my host dad) and I visited a few in the area. We walked through gardens, climbed up grand staircases, and peered into giant ballrooms. That same day we attended a concert of Chopin’s music at his childhood home. The pianist was a student at a local university, and he was amazing! It really made me wish I had stuck with piano lessons back in the day (what was 5 year old me thinking?)

Last week Kamil, Urszula (my sweet host mom) and I went on a road trip. We woke up at 4:45am, loaded up the car, and began our trek South to Częstochowa, home of the magnificent Jasna Góra monastery. Thousands of pilgrims visit this beautiful shrine every year to see the Black Madonna (also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa), and I have to say, I understand why. The shrine was unbelievably beautiful, and because we visited on a Wednesday morning, we were almost the only ones there. We spent a couple hours walking through the narrow streets within the monastery walls, and exploring the different chapels we found around every corner. While wandering around, we found an exhibition filled with artifacts from not only Jasna Góra, but also various important events from Poland’s past. Kamil was my personal translator and teacher, patiently explaining the deep history this country holds.

DSC_0005 DSC_0008 DSC_0001

After a little while we jumped back in the car and went to Kraków. This charming city was once the capital of Poland, and is home of the Wawel Castle. I felt like a little girl pretending to be a princess as I strolled through the castle halls and rooms. It was amazing imagining what life was like for the royal family who once lived in the giant castle, which is complete with a mote (and dragon).   Our next stop was the city square, which was filled with street vendors, tourists, and my favorite ice cream. We sat, ate our ice cream, talked, laughed, and tried our best to take in the beauty of the old city.

DSC_0027 DSC_0022 DSC_0035

DSC_0065 DSC_0071 DSC_0076

The day was quickly turning into evening, but we had one more stop before finding our hotel for the night. We headed to Łagiewniki home of the Basilica of Divine Mercy, and the convent where St. Faustina spent much of her life. I was so excited to visit because I have always had a love for St. Faustina and Divine Mercy. When we arrived at the Basilica Mass was being said, so we sat in the back and I was in complete awe. After Mass we walked around the church and gardens, and saw signs pointing towards the chapel where St. Faustina is buried and the miraculous image of Divine Mercy is displayed. Unfortunately, however, the chapel was closed for the day. I was disappointed, but still so happy to see the Basilica and walk along the same paths St. Faustina walked along not so long ago. We were about to leave when Kamil told me to follow him and we headed towards the closed chapel. He talked to a man who was locking the chapel doors, and the next thing I knew we were inside. We were literally the only people there and I was able to kneel in front of the miraculous image and St. Faustina’s tomb and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I have goose bumps now just thinking about it. (Seriously the coolest thing ever, so thank you Kamil!) By this point we were EXHAUSTED. I mean waking up at 4:45am will do that to you. We found our hotel, and went straight to bed, fueling up for another busy day.

DSC_0084

The next morning we drove to Wadowice, St. John Paul II’s hometown. We visited his childhood home, which has been converted into an awesome museum. It was surreal to stand in the room where St. John Paul II was born and lived for many years. Later, we visited the church where the saint was baptized and received his first communion, and then ate his favorite cake at his favorite local bakery. It totally rocked.

DSC_0088 DSC_0093

The next part of our day had a much different mood. We visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, where about one and a half million people were murdered during World War II. I will never forget stepping through the gates into the concentration camp and seeing the train tracks, barracks, guard towers, and gas chambers. Birkenau is much bigger than Auschwitz, but most of the buildings were destroyed towards the end of the war by German Nazis, who tried to hide the terrors that took place. The buildings in Auschwitz have been converted into exhibits that show the tragedy of the Holocaust. Many of the rooms were filled from wall to wall, floor to ceiling with possessions of the victims. One room was filled with pots and pans, one with suitcases, one with hair, and another with children’s shoes. My stomach was filled with knots and my throat was swollen shut as we slowly moved through each building. The last one was the gas chamber. Most of them were destroyed by soldiers who tried to hide evidence of the murders, but one is still in tact. As we stood inside we could see the grates on the ceiling where Zyklon-B was poured into the room, and nail marks on the walls where people tried to escape. I have read dozens of books and seen countless movies about the horrors of World War II, but standing in Auschwitz-Birkenau made it so real. I will never understand how or why the Holocaust happened, but I will forever pray for a RESPECT FOR ALL LIFE.

Tuesday night was the shortest night of the year, and Poland holds an extremely old tradition for this special night. Young people all over the country meet and light a giant bonfire and watch the sun set and then rise.   The sun sets here around 10:00pm and rises around 4:00am, which is something I am still not used to. I had so much fun talking and laughing with my new Polish friends. It was about 50°F, so we were all bundled up and standing close to the fire to stay warm. It reminded me a lot of a Fall Friday night at home.

The weather here is much colder than at home, so it is feels so strange to be wearing a long sleeve t-shirt and jacket almost everyday. My Polish vocabulary is slowly growing and I can now say yes, no, good, thank you, really, ice cream, sausage, water, right, left, straight, and shop (in other words my Polish is very very bad).

The time I have spent in Poland has taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I am beyond grateful for my host family who has opened their hearts and home to me, and all of my new friends that treat me like we have known each other for years. I miss my family, friends, and hot sauce, but I am going to have a hard time leaving in just a little more than a week. So until then…

Kisses from Poland,

Sarah

Jezu ufam Tobie

Advertisements

Just an Amerykańska girl in Polska

Eleven days ago, as I was boarding a plane in Lubbock, Texas I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My head was flooded with a mix of emotions as I prepared to embark on the journey of a lifetime. After a few hours I met with eight other students who like me, where excited and nervous to hop on a plane to Poland. Although we had never met before, the nine of us became instant friends, sharing laughter, telling stories, and growing closer on our nine-hour flight. When we landed in Warsaw, Poland we met with Katarzyna (or Kasia) Boczek who works with the Polish Extension Service and assists with the Polish 4-H program. She is such a friendly woman, and made us feel instantly welcome with her overwhelming hospitality. The next three days we visited local agriculture agencies, farms, a local high school, a fruit processing plant, museums, a research institution, a fertilizer plant, and the Polish Parliament. Talk about being busy! We learned about the impact of the European Union on the Polish Agriculture industry, and about different agencies that work to assist local farmers. By the end of our first three days together, we began to understand a little more about not only the agriculture industry, but also the history and culture of Poland.

group

2015-06-01 13.36.37

Wednesday morning, the nine of us prepared to part ways and meet our new hosts families.   We ate lunch together at a restaurant in downtown Warsaw, where we met our families for the first time. I was scared to death. Part of me was ecstatic to be fully immersed in a new culture; while the other part of me was terrified to live in a country I’ve never been to, with a family I’ve never met who speaks a language I do not know.   After lunch, I grabbed my luggage and got in the car with Kamil (my host brother who speaks EXCELLENT English), Krzysia (my host sister), and Damian (Krzysia’s boyfriend). We were all pretty quiet as we drove from Warsaw to Wola Kałkowa, the beautiful village where they live. As I sat in the car I was extremely anxious, until good ole Taylor Swift came on the radio and we all laughed and hummed along together. Never underestimate the power of T- Swizzle. After a few hours in the car we arrived to the house, and I met my sweet host parents. Although it is difficult to communicate, they are so incredibly kind and welcoming. They truly made all my worries disappear, and I have felt at home since the moment I arrived.

Poland is an extremely Catholic country, which I find so amazing. There are beautiful churches at every corner, and small shrines at every crossroad to pray for safe travels. Thursday was Boże Ciało, or the Feast of Corpus Christi, so I went to Łowicz with Kamil and his father for Mass, to watch the procession of the Eucharist, and to enjoy the booths and rides at the festival. We had so much fun! Lots of people (men, women, and children) were dressed in traditional clothing. The dresses were so colorful and bright, and all of them were handmade! I took so many pictures, but they don’t do any of it justice. The clothing was extremely impressive, but I was more impressed with the respect and reverence that the entire city held throughout the day. It was evident that everyone understood why we were celebrating, and during Mass the entire Cathedral was full and people were crowded outside, listening to Mass through large speakers. It was such a wonderful experience.

 

Saturday night was Krzysia’s 18th birthday party, and man oh man it was fun! Friends and families came together to celebrate her with food, drinks, music, and dancing. The food was DELICIOUS. We ate three three-course meals and birthday cake (aka I am pretty sure I won’t fit into my jeans when I go home). I danced with Kryzysia and her friends and even tried teaching them how to two-step. We all had a blast and danced the night away until about 5 the next morning.  We were exhausted, but had too much fun to care.

So to wrap things up, here are the top ten things I have learned in my 11 days in Poland:

  1. I overpacked.
  2. There is so much value in knowing a second language, and I should really brush up on my Spanish.
  3. I am not sure how I survived so many years without pierogi, because it is officially my favorite food.                                                         2015-05-31 17.41.41
  4. Polish words are extremely complicated and hard to pronounce, but I have a month so hopefully I will be able to at least pronounce Kryzysia correctly before I leave, because I feel so bad when I butcher her name (which is every time).
  5. Music is the same everywhere, and Kamil and I have very similar taste in it and have enjoyed sharing our favorites with each other.
  6. The Catholic church is truly Universal.      2015-05-31 11.30.02
  7. I may not be able to understand Polish, but I do understand kindness and I am overwhelmed by the kindness of the Polish people.
  8. I need to learn more about world history.
  9. The USA should really use the metric system, because it is so simple.
  10. One month is not long enough to spend in this breathtakingly beautiful country.

Kisses from Poland,

Sarah