Zakopane- Try The Cheese

Alright, integration camp was so much fun but I am pretty much dead after that. This is the amazing view from our hotel room. It would have been nice if all of Zakopane were like that but the actual town was so touristy, it hurt. Imagine a post-Communist snowy Disneyworld knock-off with a strange obsession with cheese and novelty hats. You have Zakopane. Friday was an interesting experience. We were supposed to meet at UEK at 1pm. However, any time there are Spanish people involved, being on time is not an option. Chelsea One came with her flatmates after everyone else had already loaded up on the bus. This was 50 minutes after we were supposed to be assembled and on the road. It was ridiculous but the real surprise was that they were ONLY 50 minutes late. Any time a Spaniard shows up less than an hour and a half after they are supposed to be somewhere, it's pretty much a miracle. We got on the road for about a 2 hour drive into the mountains but people apparently couldn't wait to start the festivities so some people were doing shots on the bus. It was actually really funny because of the 85 people on the trip, 41 were French so they all started singing dirty songs in French. Thibaut, being adorable, tried to explain the translation of the song in his limited English and his exact words were "Zis song, it means, um, put your...sex on my face." I know you don't want to hear this Mom but it was really funny to hear him try to think of the words to describe it. It made me giggle. That night, we had dinner at the hotel, it was pretty bad. Soup, really cheap wine, mashed potatoes from a box and this schnitzel knock-off type thingy. There was a party and dancing at the hotel which was very fun except for the fact that people were smoking while they were dancing and that got really old, really fast. I got a cigarette burn on my elbow and the cough that I have had for a week now just got worse. Having to yell to have a conversation over the music didn't help either. Saturday was our big day. Half of the people went skiing on a very disappointing run from what I heard. It was all of this hype about Zakopane being the best place to ski in Poland but it was only one run. This does not speak highly of the skiing here but that hardly concerns me. I went with the sight seeing group to the actual town of Zakopane. First, we went to this special cathedral that started the unique Zakopane style of architecture. It was built to celebrate the Pope and to give thanks that he survived being shot. Did I mention how much they love JPII here? Here is one of the stained glass windows from the church depicting his shooting. Like I said, they are pretty intense. Then, we went to this ski jump that is supposed to be famous because that's where the world championships for ski jumping take place. I thought we were just getting out, looking around and getting back on the bus. I was wrong. So, instead of taking my entire bag, I only brought my camera. My bag contained my wallet, my hat, gloves, scarf and Burt's Bees. All of these things whould have been helpful due to the fact that it was wicked cold and windy and Zakopane has fully embraced capitalism to a sickening degree. I saw a massive St. Bernard and snapped a picture then the woman walking the dog tried to demand 5 zloty from me for taking the picture. I just used the fact that I don't speak Polish as an excuse an walked away. Most of the time we spent in the town was inside a cafe. It was too cold to justify seeing this really lame location. Anyway, we went back to the hotel (my bag was left completely intact, thank Science) and ate another really shitty dinner. Then, there was swimming which was actually really fun. Since I'm down about 10 kilos so far, my bathing suit was a lot more comfortable and I felt more confident. I still have a long way to go but the lifestyle here just lends itself to weight loss. Now that classes have started, I'm walking a minimum of one hour per day plus more if I go out and then all of the calories I burn while out dancing. I know alcohol contains a lot of calories but I don't know if it's the altitude or the higher quality of the vodka, but a little goes a long way. After swimming was international night. That was so much fun. Every country had to do something to represent their nationality. The Spanish did the Macarena and they won 3rd prize. The Mexicans brough girls up and sang to them which was quite funny. Germany did a waltz. The Italians made this tiny girl into a gondola by having her lay down on her stomach and do kind of a Superman thing to curve up at both ends and then the Italian guy used a broom as pole to push along while singing. As our representation, we taught everyone how to play FlipCup. Matt, the guy from North Carolina, is officially on my shit list because of this. He interrupted me while I was explaining the game and then said "I'm what you call an American frat star." That is his new name. Frat Star couldn't even chug the tiny amount of beer he put in his cup and then failed epically at flipping it so he ended up cheating by just putting his cup on the table upside down and telling the next guy on his team to go. I was pissed off at this in a big way. After the prizes were handed out and everyone sang Happy Birthday (in 3 different languages) to a Diego from Spain, the dancing went on. There was less smoking that night and at one point during the night I ended up with Jean-Christophe, a ridiculously tall Frenchman, on my shoulders. I was dancing and suddenly, Alexis comes up behind me with J-C on his shoulders and then puts his legs on my shoulders too. Alexis ducked out and then there was a French guy on top of me. It was interesting and many pictures were taken. Later in the night, Alexis and J-C called me over. They had their arms around each others' shoulders and kept saying "Shelsea, roogby!" I had no idea what they wanted but it looked kind of like the set up for a scrum. Turns out they wanted to have sort of a tug-o-war with me driving against the two of them. I held my own despite the huge amount of leverage that J-C had. Sunday was another few hours of sightseeing in Zakopane, again spent in a cafe. I did have some of the cheese called oscypek. It's actually really good. It's a salty white cheese that is smoked. You can also get oscypek na goraco which means they fry it on a griddle so it's warm and fantastic. That was very nice. The drive back was spent mostly sleeping but the traffic was insane because of all the people coming back from their weekend holidays.


It's Pączki Day, Were You Aware?

I didn't know that in Poland Fat Tuesday is actually Fat Thursday. Well, needless to say, pastries were involved in my day today. But let's backtrack, shall we? To say, yesterday 1430 Central European Time when little did I know, victory was nigh. We met in front of Ekonomyczna for the Conquer Kraków activity. We didn't actually leave the campus until 1500 and might I say -8˚C is just as cold as it sounds. So, we walked to a tram station and rode to a parking lot south of the river with no historical or scenic value to stand in the cold some more. However, I planned for such weather and layered my underarmour, long sleeved T-shirt, sweatshirt and coat so I was actually relatively cozy. My feet got cold after a while but the boots can only hold off so much cold. After we finally got the map to know where to go (not related to the parking lot, not close to the parking lot, no bloody reason we should have ever been there) we went to Pod Wawelem, the first location on the map. They have a wicked awesome special on schnitzel on Mondays. 15 złoty for schnitzel as big as a pizza and only 6 for a litre of beer. I'm not to keen on Żywiec so it's not that exciting but the schnitzel can easily feed two people so that's always fun. My competitive nature helped drive Srdjan, a guy from Serbia, and me to plot and strategize about the most efficient route. We decided to go to Collegium Novum first but the checkpoint person hadn't even arrived yet. I was not happy at all about that. We were power walking our asses off to get there first but by the time the rep got there another group caught up to us. I was evil and told the other group to move on because they were going to just skip this point since there was no one there. They were about to start moving but then Aga, the rep, showed up. For each point, we had to complete a small task and for this first one, we had to blow up a balloon and make it pop. I volunteered for this one because of my brass player background but as it turns out, gloves make blowing up a balloon to extreme size and pressure rather difficult. However, they never specified the reason for the balloon popping, it was simply implied that it pop from over-inflation. Well, I took advantage of this loophole after struggling with the task and grabbed the cigarette that a guy in our group was smoking and used that to pop the balloon. Our group continued on at a rather frantic pace that involved criminal tram ride theft, a Serbian trying to act out "Shrek" as a charade and scaring random Polish people by asking them the time in Polish and taking pictures with them. It was actually really intense because that group that caught up with us at Collegium Novum was on our tail the entire time so we actually ran as a team for a portion of the way. At 1720, we arrived at Błęndne Koło, the club where I am headed tonight for the Erasmus party, to answer the questions about all of the different locations we had to visit and finally, we were declared the winners. It was awesome! I would have done it even if the prize were the sheer thrill of victory and getting to know my team members but, luckily, that was not our only prize. Tonight, we get 120 shots on the house at the club to divide as we wish. Sorry, Mom, I know you don't want to read this but sobriety and I are not one in the same tonight. On to today. I met Chelsea One and Magda today in front of Ekonomyczna to get my first stipend payment. I was expecting to wait in line and get tossed around by bureaucracy a bit so that's why I planned in an hour for the ordeal before the meeting today as part of our orientaion. Turns out, with Magda's help we were in and out in less than 5 minutes so we had an hour to kill before we had to be anywhere. As we were leaving the University, Magda got a call from her mom, reminding her to eat a pączek (singular of pączki) today. With that in mind, we headed over to Galeria Krakowska to get a coffee and a donut. Not just any donut though. I thought I had tried pączki but I was so incredibly wrong. These were filled with rose jelly (not prunes, so anyone who wants me to eat one of those because it's the traditional filling can shove it) and glazed with bits of candied orange peel. It was amazing! The latte was alright but not great. Yes, I am on the hunt for the best latte in Kraków but there are many, many more cups in my future.
Tonight is the last night for Marius, who studied at UEK last semester and is going back to Germany. He is an excellent cook and tonight, I finally get to try one of his legendary cakes. This should be a meal for the ages and I will try to remember to get pictures. I keep forgetting to take pictures of the food I make while I'm here but I will try harder to get those. I will also make an effort to show more pictures of Krakow's architecture. Seriously, I love this city even though I have only been here 2 weeks.


Vive Le France!

We have our complete group of flatmates now. Thibaut and Nicole moved in on Thursday and at first, they were really quiet but that was because they had just flown in and there are some language barrier issues. No worries though. They have since opened up very much and even made crepes for us yesterday. Then, they invited me along to meet one of their friends from their home university that is here in Krakow. We ended up going to a birthday party for one of the Erasmus students. It was a really fun party and I am getting so many compliments on my Spanish. I have to say though, the Spanish accent is REALLY hard to understand for me. All of the "ethtath" and "Ethtadoth Unidoth" takes quite a bit of getting used to. Seriously, I don't know which will improve more, my Spanish or my Polish. Hopefully, both will grow by leaps and bounds but most of the Spanish students just want to practice English and love to talk to a native speaker. Most of the time we end up compromising and speaking half and half. I can't wait to get to know more of the Erasmus students this week. Orientation seems more about meeting the other students rather than learning the campus. The week culminates with a three day trip to the mountains in the resort town of Zakopane. It is only 300 zlotych for 2 nights in a hotel, the meals, transportation and most of our activites. I won't be going skiing and that would be the main expense that isn't provided. Wednesday is a scavenger hunt around Krakow so I should get some really awesome pictures as well as making new friends.


Just Look At The Picture

Behold, the world's most perfect shoes. Melanie and I went to Galeria Krakowska yesterday just to look around, do a little grocery shopping, etc. We happened into a shoe store and I saw these. They are also available in red but these shoes are absolutely divine. They were only 80 zlotych so a little more than $20. Aaah! They are so perfect and I love them. They don't match my green purse but I think they work together. Also, where money is concerned, I may be teaching some private English lessons. I'm a native speaker so I can get good money doing it. Serdar, the rental agency guy asked me yesterday if I was interested in teaching a private lesson for a Polish girl and I said yes. This will probably cover my groceries if I teach even one lesson a week. I'm pumped about that possibility.



So, as promised, here are the pictures. This is the Cloth Hall. It's a huge market in the middle of the main square. You can find just about anything there if you are willing to look...and this is the lovely Melanie, my German flatmate. Here is a picture of my room now that I have moved in.

I'll try to get more pics of all of the beautiful things here but I get so wrapped up in experiencing all of these great things that I forget to take pictures. That's all for now. I'll try to include at least one picture in every post so you get an idea of how easy it is to fall in love with this place.


Home Sweet Home

I finally got moved into my room so I actually am home now. I love my room. It's small (10 square meters) but it is very cozy. Edith, the girl who lived there before me, was a painter so we have a lot of original artwork hanging in the flat. I have a window that gets the South sunlight and I have a bed that is up off of the floor now. I can't really unpack until I get my laundry done but it will be very nice to not live out of a suitcase anymore. I know I still haven't put up any of my own pictures up but come on, I've only just moved in to my own room. I've only been here a week and I have had so much to do other than worry about my blog. I will try to get some up tomorrow or the next day.


Mondays Seem Better In Poland

Alright, I keep forgetting my cable for my camera at my flat so you'll have to settle for some of Chelsea T's pictures for now. This is Chelsea, her tutor, Ania, Luis and I in front of the huge cathedral in the main square. You can't really see much but again, this city is so beautiful. To answer Kristen's question, my flat is on Siemaradskiego(sp?). It's about 15 minutes from the main square and just off of Karmelizka. I'll ask Melanie so I can send you the address, Mom. I know things will settle down a bit once we have classes and such but things are so amazing here. I'm really glad that I don't have a laptop or TV at my flat so I am completely free to just walk around aimlessly. Two nights ago, Melanie, my flatmate, and I held a small dinner party. She made gnocchi with this herb cream sauce concoction and it was AMAZING! I made the dressing for the salad and the dessert. I found some ladyfingers and used frozen berries that I cooked down to make this tart and delicious sauce thingy for us to dip them in. People asked me what this dessert was called and I had to tell them I made it up as I went along. After that, a few more of Melanie's friends came over (they already ate dinner at a restaurant) and we went out to a club. It was a very fun night, one of many to come I'm sure. Yesterday was mostly recovery from the parties and catching up on all of the sleep that I missed. I'm still not adjusted to the time difference so I'm a bit wonky on sleep rhythms. No worries.


Na Zdrowie!

We went to our first Polish party last night at the dorms for UEK. I am definitely glad that I am not living there!. The party was in the basement of the dorm but I guess Aga, Luis's tutor, brought us there a bit early so the place seemed really big. Not the case when you have 50 International/ Erasmus students. It got SO loud. It was so much fun and everyone was really nice. For some reason, Nicolas, a French guy who also plays "roogby," was making pancakes. He was going for crepes but he rode the struggle bus on that for a while. He ended up having to go upstairs to make them but his assistant person kept eating all of them before they came downstairs. I did get a bite eventually and really, how can you go wrong with smothering something in Nutella? I finally got to meet Helvia, my contact for that flat I was going after. She was so nice and funny. I know that this sounds kind of weird because the law of averages says that in every party there has to be at least 2 assholes for every genuinely nice person but I guess they forgot to invite the jerks because all of these people were so open and kind. I really wish that I would finally memorize my mobile number. It was funny with the Chelseas giving people each other's numbers. I swear I will remember to bring my cord with me so I can finally put pictures up. Until then, use your imagination.


...Yeah, About That

When I last posted, I was on Luis's computer so I wanted to keep it short. Thus, I left out a lot of details. Like the 3 hour fog delay on flight from Munich to Krakow. I don't really mind delays terribly except when I have already boarded the aircraft. Did I mention that two of the three hours were aboard the plane? So yeah, even though I had the whole row to myself, the armrests only went up part of the way so I couldn't pull an air-couch. The flight from O'Hare to Munich was actually quite nice. The food was bad but it's airline food so my hopes weren't terribly high. Traversing the entire O'Hare Airport with 2 massive suitcases in addition to carry-on and messenger bag was quite an adventure. One of the attendants at the transfer trams saw my struggle and came to help me. By that point I was so flustered that I was on the verge of tears. Having someone help me and make me take a deep breath was very helpful. I know I'm working through this backward but right now my mind is kind of wrapped up in the whole new environment. The flat I stayed in the past two nights is amazing! I got two free nights through a rental agency that works with foreign students on the off-season. I found my perfect flat last night, as I already said, but hopefully today I will be signing my lease and moving in there. I'm trying to pick up more Polish but I've only been here for 2 1/2 days so not a whole lot of progress has been made.
On another note, screw London, they should refer to Krakow as the Foggy City. It has been ridiculous! You can't see the tops of buildings and I tried to take a few pictures last night but that didn't go so well at first because flash + fog=frame full of white unintelligibility. Learned that lesson very quickly. We ate at the restaurant below the hotel my parents will be staying at last night. The food was really good. I had this mushroom soup thingy. It was surprisingly good given that I hate most mushrooms but I ordered it anyway(no, it wasn't an accident, they have English on a lot of menus here). Chelsea, the other girl from Grand Valley, ordered the bigos, which is a really traditional mixture of meat and saurkraut. It was HUGE! They served in a bread bowl that was bigger than my head and completely filled with the bigos. She gave a good effort but she couldn't even eat half of it. I dare the Man Vs. Food guy to give that one a go. I tried some and it was really tart and intense but so good! Please people, comment on my blog. I'm writing in this format so people can know what's going on. I don't if you look unless you write to me.



I'm here. This is by far the most amazing city I have ever seen. Everything is gorgeous and the people are so kind. My tutor, Magda, met me at the airport and made arrangements for me to stay in my current flat for two nights free. Luis, from Mexico, before me. He's really sweet. Chelsea One (yeah, we have numbers) also from Grand Valley is in the same flat as us right now. Today, Chelsea One, Serdar from the agency, and I walked around to look at flats. The first two we saw were pretty scary. I was honest about my budget which really limits the amount of options I have but after our tutors met up with us again, we went to one last flat and I am in love! It is gorgeous! The smaller bedroom in this flat is only 800 zlotych per month plus media so at the most it will be 1000 which means another 50 USD per month at the most with heating at its peak so the price will come down as the semester goes on. I'm going to sign the contract for the lease tomorrow. There is one girl who will be living there this semester already. Her name is Melanie and she is German. She also seems very sweet and witty. It seems like a good match. The neighborhood is fantastic and it's a 15-20 minute walk to the university. I can also take the tram there if I want because I walk out the door and I'm practically at the tram stop. Overall, I am so happy with the way things are working out! Hope everyone at home is safe and sound. Loves!