We went to Poland. I am not sure really what I was expecting. I know we planned to go to Auschwitz, and I knew that wouldn't really be fun but that it would be historical, important and interesting. If you can say that. I wasn't expecting much of Krakow in particular.
We were pleasantly surprised by the sites and food in Poland. the Old Town in Krakow was really picturesque and active. There was a castle to visit with a myth about a fire-breathing dragon complete with deep, dark cavern to wander through. the handcrafts there are very nice, although like a lot of Europe you have to wade through the "touristy" stuff to find the gems. I added 2 bells to my new collection - one with a dragon (I just had to) and one that was handmade by a blacksmith (at least that's what he told me).
We ate great food. Homey, comfort food that was very inexpensive. We found a festival outside and decided that was a great place for dinner. We even found our new favorite treat - Tredelnik (see previous post of Czech Republic) although they called them "chimney cakes" here.
We went to the Schindler Museum and Auschwitz and Birkenau with the students. We had guided tours for both which was helpful. It was a somber experience. the tragedies are made real. It is a strange irony that this is a "tourist destination" and that people pay to see it and therefore Poland has to pay to maintain it. It is important and difficult.
We live in a great neighborhood. We are not far from the heart of the city where all of the main tourism is. We are really a short 20 minute walk or hop on the UBahn and it will take less than 10! The neighborhood has a main church that is currently under renovation on the inside, but the grounds are used for pop-up markets or soccer games with the kids. The church is that pretty yellow that so building are here- it is right on the end of our street and welcomes us down the street as we head home. We also have two grocery stores, two bakeries, coffee shop, soup shop, yarn shop, chocolate store (where they make the chocolate in the window), a "werkhaus" (which sounds scary but is a shop of homemade arts and crafts!), flower shop, many cafes, a bar where the patrons only get loud on "football" night, many parks, lots of families and kids. It feels like home.
The OC students were given the opportunity to participate in missions while on the study abroad trip. There were two mission weekends to various cities not to far from Vienna, and "Mission Vienna" on Tuesday where the students participate in a variety of activities here. David and I chose to participate in a mission weekend and we went to Varazdin, Croatia. The pronunciation of this town's name was a subject of debate even among the Croatians, but it's not said like you would think- it's more like "varshj- eh-din." The shj is similar to the 'g' in vegitables and then 'eh' is barely audible. I couldn't remember how to say the name of the town, but I did learn how to say "dobar dan!" Which means good day - and I said it to anyone who would listen.
We went to a day care facility for people with special needs and sang for them, then invited them to sing with us. We did the hokey pokey and other silly songs. It was a hit with all of us! on Saturday the missionary couple made us breakfast then we handed out fliers. We worked with the youth of the congregation that evening
and we put on another concert - that is what our hosts kept calling it. We sang some songs and invited them to sing with us, not the hokey pokey though.
Our hosts were so kind. Mladin is there minister and he told us about his conversion at the time of the war. Mateja is their church secretary, she was with us a lot of them time, she is a new convert that had taken English lessons at the church building. Trevor and his wife, Kayla were the mission couple from Texas working with the church, specifically the teens.
We enjoyed worshipping with them on Sunday. David brought the lesson and Mladin translated. I introduced myself to a woman and She took my hand and said, "I am your sister." What a blessing!
A bonus of the whole weekend was that Varazdin is a quaint little town that was fun to explore.
This was the view from the St Nicholas tower around dusk. Unlike a lot of cities in Europe, Prague was fairly unimportant in WWII and was spared a lot of the distruction. The buildings seemed a lot taller to me than in Vienna, where nothining (in the city center) can be taller than the spire of Stephansdom.
St. Vitus Cathedral on the hill with the castle. It is very interesting to look at far away, but up close- it is massive and to me, seems to have many different personalities. On the outside alone there were beautiful mosaics, ugly, almost scary gargoils and heavilly carved historic doors. Really interesting.
The Pinkas Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is now a memorial to over 77,000 Jews from Prague and nearby villages who were killed in the Holocaust. The family name is in red- individual names and dates come after. Village names are in gold. We also saw the old Jewish Cemetery in Prague which was fascinating.
In Europe, ART is everywhere. It is old. It is new. It is original or remade. It is in the architecture, in the gardens, the window boxes. It is in the signs over the doors and even in the way the veggies or flowers are arranged for sale. There are a lot of pretty things to look at here. Well, some may be more fascinating than "pretty."
It can take us a while to get from here to there- there are so many things to distract us in-between! On our way to lunch: we make plan, know our route and head out. Getting off the U Bahn (subway) we notice a church we have never seen, a statue, fountain or maybe even tents that have popped up over night. We have to go in the church and when we do, we find a beautiful mosaic replica of The Last Supper; we stop by to photograph the fountain and ponder the statue; we investigate the tents- something fun going on this weekend. We get to lunch by 2! This happens pretty much daily. There is a lot look at, to investgate--- not to miss!
As I look around I realize that art is in so many details. I wonder about the original purpose of the building. I wonder about the artist who painstakingly carved, sculpted or painted. Some of the time the artist or architect is well known - you can look them or their works up on Wikipedia even. Most of the art here is un-famous, inconsequential and unsigned -- made by craftsmen to complete the look of a building or a church.
I wonder about those craftsmen. I imagine they took pride in their work, lucky to be contributing to this church or that rich man's home. Did they walk by the finished product and smile knowingly? Did they imagine someone 150 years later would still see their handiwork?
There are lots of people (men, scantily clad women, angel babies) holding up buildings. There are lots of heads above windows. In the churches there are dozens of paintings, carvings-- even the wooden pews are artistically made. It all pleases me and makes me wonder....