Saturday, June 21, 2008

Korean Dinner and Other Preparations

This week has been another busy one for moving preparations. We've sent our visa applications in, I've gotten an International Driving License, and I ate my first real Korean food! On Wednesday, after our Korean lesson, my tutor Jihyeon invited us to go to her favorite Korean restaurant in Virginia Beach. We picked Keegan up and drove over. The restaurant was very nondescript inside, with minimal decorations and a big karaoke area in the back. We sat in a booth and looked over the menu. Jihyeon decided on a rice, meat, and vegetable dish served in a huge stone bowl. It looked delicious, but was apparently quite spicy - beware the red pepper paste! Keegan tried kimchee stew, complete with cabbage, tofu, and the notorious red pepper paste. I had a noodle and seafood stew. We ordered a sushi-like roll (but with pork instead of raw fish) as an appetizer.

The sushi-like roll was delicious. Soon thereafter, a number of small side dishes arrived at the table - we hadn't ordered them, and Keegan says that in all the Korean restaurants he's been to, similar dishes are served. I guess they're kind of like condiments. We tried dried seafood, creamy cucumber salad, breaded and fried fish (my favorite!), lots of vegetables with red pepper sauce (yow!), and kimchee, which I thought was delicious but, predictably, too spicy for me. There was also a dish of fish. They were tiny, but they were whole fish, with heads and all. And we were supposed to eat them. Keegan described them as being "fish jerky," and that is pretty much what they tasted like. I guess I am a typical American in that I love seafood, but only when it looks like tender white chunks of flesh and not like an actual living creature that can swim around in the ocean.

My soup was absolutely delicious - the noodles were buttery and filling, and the seafood was tasty, too. I was surprised that the shrimp in the dish was whole and looking at me - I was reminded of that scene in A Christmas Story where they go out for Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant and a presented with a whole duck, head still attached. The mother looks at the waiter and says feebly, "It's smiling at me." That was me. I need to learn to be more adventuresome with my eating! My soup also had mini-octopi and mussels and calamari.

One thing I noticed was that having even small bites of various red pepper dishes had caused my nose to run. Having read that blowing your nose in public is extremely rude in Korea, I tried to subtly dab at my face with my napkin. I hope that it wasn't grossing everyone out. I may have to avoid red pepper dishes altogether, when possible, to avoid embarrassing nose incidents.

Other news: I've been put in touch with the wife of Keegan's boss, whose name is Glenda. She is an English teacher and has given me some insight into the job opportunities in Okpo - apparently they are plentiful! In fact, she has already offered me a student, but I want to wait until we have some time to get settled, learn the ropes, and until I have a better picture of what opportunities I might have to teach more formally. Glenda has also written a lot about the island and sent some beautiful pictures. I think we're really going to be living in a cool place.

Last night, Keegan and I went to Costco and purchased a membership. We then proceeded to roam the aisles looking for good old-fashioned (non-perishable) American food to take with us. Macaroni and cheese and peanut butter were high on my list. Keegan bought coffee and pancake mix. We also stocked up on cold medicine and vitamins. Maybe all of these preparations will turn out to be silly, but I know from my time in Poland that there are some days where you just can't try to fit in anymore, and you just need a big bowl of mac & cheese. So now we will be ready for just those days.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Things Are Finally Moving Along

We've gotten lots of news in the past week or so. In addition to learning a bit about our apartment and getting the first bits of advice about what and how to pack, we now have a departure date: July 10. I can't believe how soon that is! The movers will come to pack up our house on July 7 and 8 (we hope) and then we'll fly out of Norfolk early on July 10. Our flight goes from Norfolk to Detroit, Detroit to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Busan. We'll arrive in Korea at nearly 9 p.m. on July 11. What a long trip! The flight from Detroit to Tokyo is 12.5 hours! We're not particularly looking forward to that, I can tell you.

Preparations are in full swing. I'm trying to prepare the house (slow going) and am studying Korean every day, using a few books and CD's, the Rosetta Stone language program, and lessons with a Korean student at ODU named Jihyeon. My vocabulary and reading ability are growing by leaps and bounds, but my practical ability to put words together in sentences definitely needs some work. I think we will be in Korea for several weeks before I'm confident enough to do basic things around town using Korean. Keegan has been working hard keeping up with paperwork and making arrangements with the company.

If anyone wants to come visit us here in Norfolk before we leave, just let us know. My schedule is pretty flexible these days, and we'd love to see anyone who has time to get down to this neck of the woods.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Tale of the Honeymoon, Part IV

Krakow and the Trip Home, May 29-June 1

We were reluctant to leave Zakopane on Thursday morning, but also excited about returning to Krakow.  We successfully navigated our way back to Sylwia and Marek's apartment (well, the taxi driver did), and we settled in for an afternoon of relaxing, reading, and reacquainting ourselves with the world of the Internet.  We could easily have taken a bus into the Old Town, and I felt a bit guilty for not doing so, but I think we were both ready to just take a rest from being continually on the go.  Sylwia and Marek were both home before 6, and they had some ideas for the evening.

We drove into town, stopping at several sites along the way.  First, we stopped at an old quarry that has been flooded and now is a popular place for people living on the outskirts of town to picnic and swim (illegally).  I had been there with Sylwia the last time I visited Krakow.  Next we stopped at a place I hadn't been before, the Kosciuszko Mound.  The mound is a monument built in the 1820's to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Pole who fought in the American Revolution as well as leading an uprising during the time of the second partition of Poland.  It's a big, steep hill that challenged all of us who don't like heights.  But, as usual, the view from the top was worth it.  The entire city of Krakow was laid out before us, looking ridiculously tiny.  We took some photos and then headed into town.

In the Old Town, Sylwia was eager to show us a new hotel that has a spectacular terrace overlooking the market square.  The evening light was absolutely perfect for pictures with the beautiful Kosciol Mariacki in the background, and we then settled in for drinks.  Before we knew it, our quiet rooftop retreat became the scene of a very sophisticated (i.e. oddly dressed) gathering celebrating some recent exhibit at the National Museum.  One of the first couples that emerged from the elevator consisted of a woman wearing the most godawful yellow, ruffly dress which I thought of as "the canary outfit."  Her companion was an extremely hip-looking Asian fellow with spiky hair and a carefully mussed suit.  As we finished our drinks, we saw more and more outlandish outfits, matched with shoes so ugly that we knew they must be high fashion.  We left just about when things got unbearably posh.  I think all of us were a bit excited to have witnessed such a spectacle, even if we outwardly laughed at some of the most unusual garb.

By now we had worked up quite an appetite, so there was only one place to go:  Chimera, Krakow's famous salad bar, where just a few zloty buys a plate stuffed with 7 kinds of salad.  We ate in the atmospheric basement dining room and enjoyed our food immensely.  

After dinner, Marek offered to take us on a tour of some of Krakow's pubs and clubs, most of which he remembered from his university days.  Most of the bars in Krakow are in the basements of old buildings and are truly impressive, with room after room of vaulted brick ceilings and couches.  Keegan was duly impressed.  It was interesting to see the variety of bars you could choose from - some were so smoky you could hardly breathe, and others were curiously airy.  We went into one bar where all of the men had long, wavy hair and black t-shirts.  Some were full of young people dancing and others with older people talking earnestly.  It could take years to fully explore the bar scene and get to know which places were best to go when.  Good thing we had Marek as our guide!

Miraculously, Sylwia and Marek made it out to work on Friday morning, leaving us with a huge breakfast (thanks, Sylwia!), and a free day ahead of us.  We decided to visit Wawel Castle.  We took the bus into town and crossed a bridge over the Wisla River to head up to the castle.  Once we got there, we realized that........the courtyard was full of schoolchildren!  Agh!  But we forged bravely on and managed to explore the beautiful grounds of the castle, the cathedral museum (with a whole room dedicated to Pope John Paul II), and the ticket office.  Finally we decided we'd try to see the cathedral.  The interior of the cathedral is really beautiful, with a number of royal tombs and beautiful carvings and stained glass.  My favorite is the tomb of Jadwiga, and early queen of Poland, whose white marble sarcophagus shows the beautiful queen in repose with a lithe and peaceful dog lying at her feet.  

I've always enjoyed visiting the bell tower in the cathedral because the massive church bells are impressive and because there's a stunning view of the Old Town from the tower.  This time, it was slightly less enjoyable.  We were, as usual, surrounded by a mob of school kids, so the wooden stairs and odd little passageways were extra claustrophobic, and we couldn't linger long in front of the view.  But I'm glad Keegan got to see it anyway.  

After we finished our cathedral tour, we had a quick lunch in a new cafe they've built in the courtyard, and I got to try strawberry pierogies!  I felt lucky that we were in Poland during strawberry season, since I've never gotten to have these deliciously sweet dumplings before.  I also had some truly delicious bean soup.  We finished just in time to take our guided tour of the Royal Palace, which was interesting.  Talk about some unique architecture and elaborate furnishings!  Our guide did a great job, but I absolutely loved to hear the way she said century. "The eighteenth cen-TCHREE!"

Free from the company of the hordes at last, we wandered up towards the Kosciol Mariacki to see about climbing up to the bell tower where the trumpeter of Krakow plays his bugle every hour.  Sylwia had mentioned that tourists could pay to climb the tower now, and I had never been, so I was pretty excited about this chance.  We headed over to the tower where a man selling postcards pointed us to the tower door.  There we paid a fireman (they are the ones who are in charge of playing the trumpet) 5 zl. apiece to climb up.  Good deal, if you ask me!  It was not obvious that the tower was open to tourists, so Keegan and I only encountered one other couple at the top.  The fireman told us we could open the windows of the tower to take pictures, and we had a great time taking in all the views of the city.  Then, finally, the fireman joined us at the top and opened the windows to begin playing the trumpet call, the hejnal.  So cool!  If you are ever in Krakow, I highly recommend climbing the tower close to the hour so you can see it too!

By the time we had a quick beer in the main market square, it was time to head back to the apartment to meet Sylwia and Marek for dinner.  We picked Marek up at his English lesson and then started a drive to find the ruins of an old castle that they had visited before.  It's a good thing we had "native guides" because we would NEVER have found this place on our own!  But it was beautiful, especially in the light of the setting sun.  We had a lot of fun scrambling around over the rocks, climbing up the ruins, and of course, taking a billion and one pictures.

After the castle, we headed on to the restaurant that Marek's uncle owns.  It is styled like the restaurants in Zakopane - all wood, with a huge grill and lots of "country" style.  We sipped some honey vodka and ate delicious homemade bread while we waited for our orders.  When they arrived, we were definitely taken aback - the portions were huge!  Sylwia's meat was the size of, well, a small animal, and my sausage was definitely more than a foot-long.  Keegan called it the amazing yard-long sausage.  We dug in with gusto, but I don't think any of us finished more than half of what was on our plates, even the men.  After we had all asked for boxes, the waitress came out with a cake with candles on it - I was so surprised!  As we dug into the cake, it headed past midnight, and it was officially my birthday.  What a wonderful way to start the celebration!

Saturday started out with another huge breakfast, including the copious remains of dinner from the night before.  By the time we were all fed and packed and ready to go into town, it was after noon!  I had made reservations at the Hotel Copernicus, one of the nicest hotels in Krakow, as a birthday present, and we packed our bulging suitcases into Sylwia and Marek's tiny car so we could go check in.  The hotel was really beautiful, with an amazing atrium, a rooftop terrace with a gorgeous view of Wawel, and the coolest basement swimming pool you have ever seen.  There are pictures here.  I've always wanted to stay in a super-swank hotel on my honeymoon, and since it was also my birthday, I felt that a stay in the lap of luxury was just the thing.

After we were finished checking out the hotel, we headed into town for some refreshments.  We decided to visit the Jama Michalika, a famous hangout for artists and literati in 19th century Krakow.  Of course, it is also a must for a Michalik (even an ex-Michalik like me) visiting Krakow to stop in at this cafe.  We had some cake and iced tea in the cave-like interior, and enjoyed looking at the stained glass and interesting sketches on the walls.

Next it was time for some souvenir shopping.  I was able to find some beautiful amber jewelry, and we also fell in love with a pottery stall and bought a really gorgeous hand-painted soup tureen and a spoon rest.  After shopping, we split up with Sylwia and Marek and headed back to the hotel, where Keegan surprised me with a beautiful amber bracelet and necklace, and we enjoyed drinks on the rooftop terrace.  It was a beautiful afternoon, but also a bit melancholy since we knew we were leaving the next day.

For dinner, we met up with Sylwia and Marek again at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Corleone.  The outdoor seating area there is one of the most pleasant places I've ever eaten - a secluded courtyard filled with flowers and candlelight. 

After dinner, I wanted to take Keegan out for drinks at u Louisa, which makes fantastic White Russians, and other good mixed drinks, too.  But when we got there, there was a particularly rowdy bachelorette party going on, featuring at least 10 girls dressed up with bunny ears and little bunny tails.  We decided a different scene might be in order, so we went back to Buddha and found a nice table in the corner of the upstairs at which to end our trip in style.  Ten days have never gone so fast, let me tell you!  

We were so happy with how everything turned out, and we really can't thank Sylwia, Marek, Sylwia's parents, and Jurek enough for their hospitality, good cooking, and chauffeuring services.  We'll see you all again, I'm sure, on our next anniversary trip to Poland!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Tale of the Honeymoon, Part III

We've actually gotten some more news lately about the big move. We found out that they do have an apartment lined up for us. Apparently it has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room and kitchen. That sounds surprisingly large to me. I wonder what it's like. We've also gotten several e-mails from people already living and working on Koje Island. They have a variety of advice about what to bring with us - mattresses (the Korean ones are apparently rock hard), familiar medicine, favorite foods. I wonder what my advice to newcomers will be after I've been there for a few years.

Part III: Zakopane, May 26-28

I wish I could say that our journey to Zakopane was uneventful, but I'll have to admit that we had a bit of trouble at the bus station in Krakow. We took the train from Tarnow to Krakow, and when we got off the train, I was completely disoriented. Buses to Zakopane used to be very easy to find, in a parking lot right in front of the train station. But they've changed everything around and added a truly enormous shopping mall to one end of the train station. It's very easy to emerge from the underground tunnel beneath the tracks and be immediately overwhelmed by floor after floor of shopping, with no friendly tourist information desk like before. Eventually we got straightened out and found a bus headed to Zakopane, albeit crammed full of Polish boy and girl scouts. (Isn't it odd when foreshadowing happens in real life?)

We asked the driver if there would be room for us with the group of kids, and he indicated that there would. We put our bags in the under-bus storage and headed on board, but the driver told us not to be so anxious and that the bus wouldn't leave for another 20 minutes. So we went to get a snack and use the bathroom, and when we came back 10 minutes later, the bus was gone! With all our stuff. Cue a tremendous sinking feeling in Ellen's stomach. Fortunately a nearby bus driver witnessed our distress and pointed us to where the bus had moved. We were able to get on and ride with our bags to Zakopane. We won't leave our stuff on the bus again!

The trip was disappointing because the weather was hazy and the views of the mountains were partly obscured. Also, we weren't able to sit together. I was sitting next to an adorable little boy who fell asleep on my shoulder halfway through the ride, much to the delight and hilarity of his fellow scouts. How embarrassing.

Finally in Zakopane, we took a taxi to the hotel Sylwia had recommended to us. It had a stunning view of the mountains and was in a quiet neighborhood a bit outside of town. We fought our urge to nap and decided to get a look at the town and then climb the ski slope to the north of the town (Gubalowka), from which we could get a great view of the Tatras. We walked down Krupowki Street to the ski lift and then started climbing. At the top, we not only had a wonderful view, but also the chance to ride the "gravity toboggan" a kind of rolling bobsled that goes down a curvy metal course with spectacular views of the mountains and the town below. Keegan was thrilled. Back in town, we had dinner in a suitably touristy restaurant, complete with a goralski (highlander) band and finally tasted real Polish kielbasa, straight from the grill, with mustard and beer, which is the only meaty dish that I really cannot resist. Fortunately, it is only truly available in Poland, so most of the time, I am not tempted.

Tuesday morning we slept in and then headed to the bus station to catch a ride to Morskie Oko, the Lake Louise of the Polish mountains. It's a popular place for tourists in Zakopane, but I was not prepared for the number of buses we saw in the parking lot, or the number of schoolchildren we saw heading up the trail. The weather was warm and sunny, and the trail was long, wide, only gently sloping, and absolutely crammed with elementary, middle, and high school students traveling in packs of 30. I was really disappointed by the numbers of kids - we found out later that we had timed our visit right during the most popular time for school trips. The weather is usually glorious at the end of May, and high school seniors are busy with the Matura exam, so younger classes use the time to take a trip. What really rubbed it in is the fact that neither of us had ever had the opportunity to take a several-day-long hiking trip with 29 of our closest school friends. At any rate, we finally made it to the lake, only to find that the hostel, the viewing area in front of it, and the shore of the lake were absolutely teeming with kids. I have been to Morskie Oko three times now and have never seen it this crowded.

We didn't linger at the lake but instead decided to keep walking around the lake so we could climb a bit further to a second lake, Czarny Staw (Black Pond). Not as many kids made it past the hostel and the first view of the lake, so we were able to get some quiet. The trip up to the second lake was snowy and steep, but the views along the way and at the top were definitely worth it. In front of us, we saw Czarny Staw, still mostly frozen, and behind it Rysy, the highest peak in Poland, still covered in snow. Behind us, we could see Morskie Oko from above, with the schoolkids no more than quiet, tiny specks. As we congratulated ourselves for finishing the climb, we heard a helicopter and then saw a red rescue chopper emerge over the ridge. It circled the lake a few times, dropped off two men high on the slope of Rysy, and then landed near us on the lake shore. Everyone at the lake took a ton of pictures and was beside themselves with excitement. Finally, the helicopter circled back around and picked up the men before flying away. That's definitely the only way I'd ever get up Rysy's slopes.

On the way back the lake was quieter, so we had a chance for photo ops and a cold beer at the hostel before starting the long walk down. Back in Zakopane we had just enough energy for a plate of delicious spinach pierogi and some grilled oscypek (sheep's milk cheese) with cranberry sauce before falling exhausted into bed.

On Wednesday we planned another hike in the Dolina (valley) Koscieliska, but when the bus arrived at the trailhead, we saw, again, hordes of schoolchildren. We had hoped that the day's misty weather and the fact that it was midweek would deter some classes, but our hopes were dashed. So we pulled out our map and chose a different hike, a trail that led to the top of a mountain called Czerwiec. This was one hell of a steep trail. Both of us were soaked in sweat and breathing hard as we moved at little more than a crawl up the trail. But eventually we emerged into a truly beautiful alpine meadow. I'm sure that on a sunny day, the views from that meadow were spectacular, but the misty view had its own charm, so we did our best to enjoy that too. Eventually, we approached the treeline and encountered another couple who warned us of snow higher on the trail. Indeed, we found a broad patch of snow covering a steep uphill and decided not to go any further, especially since the mist had gotten very close (we were essentially in the clouds) and we knew we wouldn't get much of a view anyway. We changed out of our sweaty shirts and settled in for lunch. As we sat there munching, we watched a man with a snow ax and good hiking boots come tearing down the snowy patch, almost at a run. I was astounded. Don't think I'll ever be that brave - sorry Keegan.

When we got down from the first hike, my legs were quivering with tiredness, but we decided to hike another little stretch of trail nonetheless. This stretch led up and over a ridge, and as we climbed into another beautiful meadow, the sun began to come out, the clouds began to clear, and we could finally see the huge mountain we had been climbing earlier in the day. I must confess that we were rather pleased with ourselves. While on this stage of the hike, we heard a cuckoo calling over and over again. I had never heard a cuckoo that was not actually a clock. They sound strikingly similar. It was hard not to feel that judgment was being passed when everything we did was accompanied by a running commentary of "Cu-koo, cu-koo, cu-koo!"

Back in Zakopane, we headed straight back to the hotel to take advantage of the pool and hot tub. I don't think I would have been able to walk on Thursday had we not taken the time to loosen up a bit in the water! After our swim, we went to a restaurant close to the hotel where Keegan tried beer with raspberry syrup for the first time. He liked it! We were in bed asleep by probably about 9:00. And thus ended a wonderful leg of our trip, one which we vowed to repeat on numerous anniversaries in the future.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Tale of the Honeymoon, Part II

We just returned from Keegan's cousin Mandy's wedding in New York. The wedding and Mandy were absolutely beautiful. I couldn't take my eyes off her gorgeous dress. She and Gerard seemed very happy, and the party was a rockin' good time. Congrats, you two!

Part II: Visiting old friends in Debica and around, May 24-25

Saturday morning started quite early when Keegan's eyes sprang open at 7 a.m. The jet lag must have gotten to him, because usually I'm the one who wakes up annoyingly early. Fortunately for us, Sylwia prepared the most amazing breakfast, complete with grilled cheese sandwiches, breakfast sausages, several different salads, fresh veggies, bread, and coffee and tea. We knew that we wouldn't have to eat again for a long time.

Fortified for the trip, we loaded into the car to drive to Debica. Debica is about an hour's drive from Krakow, and it's the town where I taught English so many years ago. Our first stop on arriving was the apartment of Sylwia's parents. Sylwia's mother, Pani Zosia Wiktor, is a teacher at the school where I also taught, and she is the one who introduced the two of us. She was in the town of Rzeszow, grading high school exit exams, a truly gargantuan task. But Sylwia's father was home and quite busy in the kitchen. Our large breakfast not so far behind us, we sat down to yet another meal. Sylwia's parents are truly fantastic cooks, and their versions of popular Polish dishes are always my favorites. Pan Wiktor prepared some zurek for us, and then warmed some of his wife's delicious pierogi, both with cheese and potato filling and also with mushroom and cabbage, my favorite. After we were truly stuffed on those delicacies, out marched Sylwia's young niece, Justyna, who had been acting as our waitress, with small bowls of bean soup and then with bigos, a stew made from cabbage and sausage. Now almost certainly packed to capacity, we still felt it necessary to sample a few of the cakes that Sylwia had bought from a new bakery in town. Whew!

There was only one thing to do after a meal like this, and that was take a stroll around town. Justyna wanted to come with us, and she amused herself by running, jumping, climbing, and collecting a bouquet of wildflowers for Sylwia. I enjoyed seeing my old haunts again. There were many changes around town. For one thing, the teahouse, or Herbaciarnia where we spent countless hours meeting friends, eating crepes, and gossiping relentlessly, was gone! I was crushed. There was a rumor that it had moved to a new location, but we didn't see the new shop in our wanderings. I saw more new supermarkets in town, which made me a little sad, even though I would have loved the convenience when I was living there. There is a new statue of Pope John Paul II in its own little park, and the old Russian army tank that used to grace a hill in another park is gone. I felt a bit like the town was losing little by little the exotic, unique touches that made living there a real experience for me. I can only wonder how things will look the next time I make it back to Poland.

After our walk, we stopped for drinks at a new restaurant with a pretty outdoor eating area. Poor Justyna was put to work again, this time running up and down the driveway so that Keegan could practice his motion photography. Justyna was a real sweetheart. She is already studying English in school but was too shy to use it in front of us.

Pani Zosia returned from Rzeszow in the evening, so we trooped back to her apartment to share more food and to reminisce about school days. Apparently one of the teachers, Adam, still retains the nickname "One Teacher" (in English) from my days at the school. Most of the teachers are the same, but our old director has retired and been replaced with Joanna Dymitrowska, who was my liaison with the school when I first arrived in Poland. I was happy to hear that she moved up. Pani Zosia heartily approved of Keegan and told me that he was handsome, which I dutifully translated for him.

Finally, it was time to call my friend Jurek, who owns a hotel in Tarnow where we would spend the night. He arrived to pick us up and drive us the 20 minutes or so to the hotel. The last time I was in Poland, the hotel and restaurant were under construction, but now they are complete and luxurious. The hotel is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and, as Keegan noted, is meticulously furnished and decorated. We shared still more food and some wine with Jurek and his hotel manager, Maria, until we were so stuffed and sleepy that we had to head to bed.

On Sunday we had breakfast at the hotel before Jurek picked us up for a drive to Krynica. Krynica is a spa town in the mountains, about a two-hour drive from Tarnow. I had been there once before at Thanksgiving but was eager to see the town again when it wasn't so cold and snowy. We arrived in Krynica around noon and headed to the town's main pijalnia or drinking house to taste some of the town's renowned mineral water. Although we tried the mildest kind, it was hard to swallow the first sip without making a face - the water is bitter and tastes like, well, minerals, I guess. Blecch. At least we had some apple cake to help it go down a bit easier.

After the mineral water experience, we headed to a nearby ski slope for a little hike. We marched straight up the ski slope - do you realize how steep those are? I'm sure you can get some great speed going down on skis, but walking up on foot, not so much. We were thoroughly winded and drenched in sweat after just a few minutes. Still, the views were gratifying, and we enjoyed each other's company. At the top of the slope, we stopped for some grilled pork and french fries and cold beers and then commenced the trek back down.

After our hike, we took a brief siesta at a brand new hotel nearby. This place was swanky, and the parking lot was full of Audis, Mercedes, and BMWs. They are adding a truly impressive indoor pool overlooking the mountains this year - I was actually kind of surprised at the level of luxury available in Poland now. They are ever more capitalist, I suppose. We enjoyed sipping our tea in the warm sun and gazing at the surrounding mountains.

Jurek was eager to drive us into Slovakia to get a view of the Slovakian Tatra mountains. We rode for probably another hour, along a beautiful river and over a bridge where we easily crossed the border (things are very simple in the EU!) and soon made our way to a ridge with a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, it was quite hazy (or, as Jurek would say, there was "a lot of smoke") and we couldn't see the tallest mountains. But we were excited about adding another country to our honeymoon trip and about the gorgeous castle we could see overlooking the town. We investigated the castle quickly, learned it was closed for the day, and settled in for the trip back to Tarnow. It was a long ride! By the time we got back, we were ready for a quick dinner, a short photo-sharing session with Jurek (stunning photos of his trip to Havana), and bed.

Pictures to be posted soon...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pictures for Part I

Pictures are up on flickr to go with what I posted about our first day in Krakow.  They are here.

I think the best viewing is to choose the "Slideshow" option on the upper right. This allows you to look at the pictures in a larger format. When the first slide loads, click on the "i" in the middle of the picture to see the comments I've added for each photo. Sorry for micro-managing you, dear readers, but I like to see nice big photos and thought you might too.

The Tale of the Honeymoon: Part I

I failed conspicuously to keep a travel diary on our recent honeymoon. I suppose it's easier to write every evening when you're traveling with your parents and not with your husband of less than one month! So I am going to try to write an account of our trip here, before I forget some of the best details.

Part I: Travel and Arrival in Krakow, May 22-23

After our usual frenzy of preparations for traveling, Keegan and I managed to pull out of the house very early for our drive to Richmond. We arrived at the Richmond airport waaaay too early (better than waaaay too late, I suppose) and settled in to wait for our flight. As we sat at our gate, I saw what looked like a familiar couple walking down the terminal. Sure enough, upon closer investigation, the couple turned out to be Peter, our wedding officiant, and his wife Kim. They were on their way to another wedding (no, he was not going to officiate this one) in Texas. Virginia is indeed a small state.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful, but once we got to the Chicago airport, things got interesting. As you may or may not know, Chicago is jokingly referred to as the second biggest Polish city because of the number of Polish immigrants living there. As soon as we found our way at last to the Lot (Polish national airline) ticket counter, we were surrounded by Poles, and almost no one was speaking English. The flight to Krakow was jam-packed with people who looked, dressed, and sounded Polish.

I mentioned before that Keegan and I were not able to sit together on the flight, which was too bad. I was sitting next to a young boy whose mother was assigned to a seat a few rows back. After some clumsy attempts at Polish on my part, I was able to negotiate a switch and was a couple rows closer to Keegan, but his seatmate didn't want to switch. I was able to order all my drinks and meals in Polish on the plane, so I was happy that my Polish is still up to at least minor tourist tasks.

After a seemingly-interminable flight, the plane landed in Krakow, accompanied by the typical Polish applause for the landing. We wearily made our way through customs and the baggage claim and found ourselves in a huge throng of people, from which Sylwia and Marek emerged. It was wonderful to see them and to be able to load our heavy bags into their car instead of taking the bus. They drove us to their new apartment, which was still being built the last time we were in Poland. It's beautiful! They have made very good use of their small amount of space and have furnished things beautifully. Keegan said several times that he felt much better about the prospect of living in a tiny apartment in Korea after seeing the Smets' living arrangments.

Sylwia cooked us a "small snack" of delicious homemade pierogi ruskie (dumplings with potatoes and cheese), and we washed up a bit before heading out to Chlopskie Jadlo, a restaurant purporting to serve authentic Polish peasant cuisine. We parked near Wawel castle and walked our way through the Old Town to get to the restaurant. I hoped that Keegan was suitably impressed by the winding medieval streets, the huge market square, and the glorious Mariacki Church.

The restaurant was decked out like a Polish peasant home, complete with a giant bed in the corner. When Sylwia told the waiter that we had a reservation, he told her that we would be eating in the bed! Fortunately, it turned out to be two high-backed benches covered in "bedding" with a table in between, a very clever disguise. We got a sampler of four Polish soups, including what would become Keegan's favorite, zurek (sour soup), and barszcz (beet soup) and mushroom soup as well. The men were disappointed in the size of their entrees, and Marek mentioned a similar restaurant in a town close to Krakow, run by his uncle, where portions were much more generous. More on that later...

After dinner we went to a small bar called "Buddha," which reminded me a bit of the teahouse in Charlottesville. The walls were painted a deep red, and seating was very cozy. Keegan had a chance to try Zubrowka (Polish vodka) and apple juice, which he enjoyed. Afterwards, on our way back to the car, we stopped by an intriguing store with shelves lined by large glass bottles full of richly colored liquids. It turned out to be a bar with all sorts of differently flavored liqueurs. Sylwia quickly made herself popular by showing a group of rowdy American university boys to the honey vodka with the highest alcohol content. Not to be outdone, Keegan and Marek also ordered glasses. I had some coffee liqueur with about half the alcohol content and was immediately rendered zombie-esque. Time to go home and prepare for our trip to Debica on Saturday!