Day 6: Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw

What a fantastic day! I visited two lakes on the Polish border with Slovakia: Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw. I spent the entire day there, walking, sweating and enjoying. The way to Morskie Oko is paved very well, so it’s not much of a challenge. More exciting is the walk around this beautiful lake and the trip to Czarny Staw, located way higher. It wasn’t too busy, but also not too calm. Once again the Dutch idea of ‘cozy busy’ could be applied onto the overall atmosphere. I was surprised that I hardly saw and heard any foreigners. Bascially all people hiking around there were Poles. On the more quiet tracks they all greeted me; how friendly! I love this country! Ready for some pictures?

The water was so nicely clear. I drank at least a liter of it too, as it was so refreshing. Let’s see during my next toilet visit if that was clever or not 😉

Morskie Oko
Czarny Staw, with still some ice floating around in it
Ice, ice, baby!
 Part of the path surrounding Morskie Oko
I’m quite sad I have to leave this wonderful place soon. I’ll surely be back! Luckily there is a lot more fun waiting for me. There is some ballooning time scheduled for the upcoming days: whoohoo, I love my life!

Day 5: Krakow – Zakopane

Time to leave Krakow behind. It has been a delight! This morning I packed my suitcase and headed Southwards, to the cozy town Zakopane, located right next to the Tatra mountains. Even though I got a little car sick during the bus drive, I must say it was definitely worth it. The snowy mountain tops of the Tatra area looked magnificent within the bright sun light. The hostel here in Zakopane seems to be all fine. For the same price I was somehow immediately upgraded to a six-person room, even though I booked a bed in a 10-person room. The bathrooms are lovely. A bit more privacy than in the hostel in Krakow for sure! There were semi-transparent shower doors, and no distinction was made between a female and male shower. So, when brushing my teeth, seeing the reflection of the shower doors in the mirror, I saw more masculinity than I should have.

I actually expected Zakopane to be a sleepy little town, but wow, there is so much going on! In the Netherlands we often say ‘gezellig druk’, so, cozy busy. Well, that’s how I would describe the atmosphere here as well. Not too many people, not too less. When I dropped off my suitcase at the hostel I immediately started off hiking. I went to Gubalowka. A fast train smoothly slides up that mountain from time to time, but I decided rather to walk to the top. Sweaty weather! But, nicely sunny though. I applied my well needed factor 50+ sun screen several times today, but I still managed to get burnt a bit. The hike was relaxing, a little tough because of the warm weather, but overall very fulfilling. During the evening I strolled around the nice centre of Zakopane, filled with characteristic wooden houses. 50% of all the shops here are outdoor shops, so next time when I need a new pair of colorful hiking shoes I know where to go! Round little cheeses with patterns carved in them seem to be a speciality of this region. Every couple of meters some ladies are standing selling their wares, which because of the sun became shiny and sweaty. Hm.

A couple of years ago I went to Warsaw alone, and even though it was an interesting trip, I didn’t feel too comfortable there. That’s different during this little holiday though. With all the terribly bad stereotypes about dangerous Poland circulating in the Netherlands, I must say I feel very, very safe, both here in Zakopane as well as in Krakow. My respect for this country only rises. A long trip is planned for tomorrow, so I better charge my own batteries, and the one for my camera now!

Day 4: Krakow (including balloon talk!)

The last full day in Krakow. At least… for now. I’ll be back! Today I started off checking out the little market located next to the hostel I’m staying at. Lots of strawberries and old Polish people fanatically buying fresh ingredients for their next meal. Krakow’s old town is surrounded by a large piece of green; grass, trees, benches, birds… By taking the green route I eventually ended up in the Jewish part of town, namely Kazimierz. Apparently I was a little too early, as the restaurants were only just slowly starting to open up. There were however incredibly many young guys in golf carts around, hunting for groups of tourists wanting to join them on their sightseeing tours. The overall atmosphere in Kazimierz was alright, but I somehow expected it to be a little bit more arty and alternative. I guess this vibe would however be a bit more noticeable during a later stage of the day. The market located at a cozy square was worth visiting though. A lot of old stuff, but surely of true value for all sorts of collectors. I walked along the river Wisla, enjoying the sun warming my skin. I spent an hour in the park during lunch, just sitting there, observing all people passing by. A very small impression:

What I noted for the rest is that there are a lot of Swedish, English and Austrian tourists here in Krakow. And, a lot of locals have a kick scooter, young and old! Interesting was also to see that a lot of fathers are actively occupied with their children. Yeah, the overall atmosphere here is very pleasant.
This morning I found a nice message in my inbox from a balloon-minded local; if I’d be interested to meet today. Well, of course! A young blue-eyed Polish look-a-like of Tom Cruise during his Top Gun time named Marek, since recently balloon pilot, was waiting for me in old town. We took a little walk while enjoying some of the best ice cream in town, and afterwards we sat down on a cozy terrace with a good Polish beer. Ballooning unites! Apparently he had been in Chambley too during the previous fantastic edition, so we had many stories to share. Time for another beer, and some traditional Polish pirogi. What a delight to just sit there and talk. Before we knew, it was after 22.00 already. Guess it’s time to slowly start to pack my suitcase now, because tomorrow the second part of my trip will start. Somehow a pity, I really like this city!

The next picture of us will be in between the balloons in France next year 😉

Day 3: Krakow and the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra

The first full day in beautiful Krakow! I started off for some sightseeing before 09.00, when all restaurants seemed to receive their goods, preparing for yet another sunny day with hordes of tourists. I strolled around Old Town and visited Wawel Castle. I also discovered a church that had a fantastic colorful interior. During the afternoon I felt like being in France; a cozy terrace, a huge croissant and a happy chatty French family sitting next to me. Time for some pictures!

 Balloon! It wasn’t flying (well, going up and down) at the time but it was fun to see it from nearby. A lot bigger than the gasballoons I’m used to see!

These kind of bread stalls can be found on basically every corner of the streets. For around 35 eurocents you can buy a typical Krakow pretzel. I tried one today: tasty!

Many beautiful historical buildings located on top of Wawel Hill.

The colorful interior of the St. Francis of Assisi Church. Amazing!

Not really sure what was going on here exactly, but every single high school in Krakow was represented on stage by some pupils that were dressed up in all kind of ways.

This evening it was time for some indoor entertainment. I found out that the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra would play film music tonight, with Krzysztof Dobosiewicz as conductor. He lives and works already for around 20 years in Finland by the way! I reserved a seat on the balcony from which the view eventually was ‘lagom’, as Swedes would say, so, good enough. The theme of this evening was horror, and I must say I’m not too familiar with that film genre. I thus didn’t recognize all the themes that were played. I do however know now how that strange instrument looks like that makes this typical horror movie sound. If you look for ‘waterphone’ on Youtube you’ll probably understand what I mean. Fascinating!
Overall, I enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to hear this kind of music live. If I ever get the chance to visit a similar venue, but where plays from for example Korzeniowski or Sibelius are performed, I’d certainly like to make use of such an opportunity. The music doesn’t only flow through your ears, but also through your bones. Nice! On my way back to the hostel I noticed that the old-people-tourist-atmosphere had turned into a young-drunk-tourist-atmosphere. Even though it wasn’t even 22.00 yet, I saw already many British guys on a stag party being terribly drunk. Such a kind of environment is not my cup of tea; time to head to bed and wake up around a decent time for some more explorations in Krakow!
The hall just before the performance.

Day 2: Auschwitz

How wonderful; a non-party group of people in the hostel last night! Everyone went to bed before twelve and none of the people snored. I slept like a rose, which was needed, because a big trip was planned for this day. I took the train to Oswiecim, better known as Auschwitz. It took around two hours, even though it’s not even that far away. We just went very slow, which was great for some calm countryside sightseeing though. I actually expected to travel in an old fashioned train and to end up in a depressed looking venue. Well, that was not the case. The train was ultra modern and Oswiecim on first hand looked like a sweet little Polish city with some modern shopping facilities and even a Kaufland like the ones I know from Germany. 
I started off at Birkenau II, where incredibly many barracks were once located. Most of them were burnt down after the liberation of Auschwitz, yet, all of their brick chimneys remained. It’s a huge territory, and knowing now how packed those barracks were, I cannot even imagine how crowded it must have been with weak, undernourished people over there. Interestingly, as soon as I entered the gates of Birkenau it started to thunder. What was that for a weird sign? It was way over twenty degrees, but a heavy rain shower brought some freshness. There were lots of tourists around and I was a bit confused by all of them. Especially youngsters only seemed to laugh and have fun. I somehow expected the atmosphere to be a lot more tensed. I also absolutely didn’t expect people to pose with their thumbs up next to one of the deportation train wagons still standing around. Weird behavior, isn’t it? In order to just feel the actual atmosphere I distanced myself from the tourists by walking away half a kilometer towards the end of the camp, where it was empty and silent. Still, the sight was impressive and immensely huge. Yet, with all the terrible footage I’ve seen in documentaries, I couldn’t fully project those terrible images onto the seemingly quiet place I was standing, listening to the songs of many birds. 
Time for Auschwitz I, known for its ‘Arbeit macht Frei’ entrance sign. So many tourists… On forehand I read that guided tours are compulsory between 10.00 and 15.00, but that these are rather rushed. I therefore decided to plan my trip in that way that I’d be at Auschwitz I slightly after 15.00, which worked out. It was pleasant that I could take as much time as I wanted for all the various things to see; information, photo’s, articles of use, barracks, prison cells, etc. Again, I had my difficulties to visualize what really happened at those very places. The ovens in which people were burned were impressive though, especially when I had one minute all alone there. But, the emotions were quickly disturbed by yet another huge group of tourists and the sound of moving plastic. They were all wearing such a cheap plastic rain coat; that sound! I thought about the Nordic saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. I was pleased I brought my beloved Swedish outdoor jacket, as usual. 
What struck me the most during this day were firstly the ovens, and secondly an exhibition piece from a barrack that contained all sorts of information about the Netherlands and the prosecution of Jews. One wall was covered with names. The letters were so tiny that on firsthand the names weren’t even visible. If this is ‘only’ the list of Dutchmen that died, how terribly many more of those frames are needed to display ALL victims’ names?
All in all, both Auschwitz I and Birkenau II seemed both so calm and clean. I had my difficulties to realize what really happened. Maybe this is also because I’ve been watching quite some cruel documentaries about Auschwitz lately. They were for example about the medical experiments that were carried out, and about babies that passed away, but were – as if it was nothing – opened for some further medical exploratory purposes. With the hordes of tourists around it almost seemed more like a venue where an important movie was shot. Unfortunately it wasn’t a movie… I need some time to think it all over.

Day 1: Kaunas – Warsaw – Krakow

Oh what a night! At midnight I took the bus from Kaunas to Warsaw. I once again realized that I’m either too tall or that bus seats just don’t offer enough leg space. The guy behind me seemed to be kickboxing around on the back of my chair and the guy in front of me leaned his chair backwards so comfortably (for him) that I ended up involuntarily sniffing his receding hair line; fantastic. My roommate Yi joined till Warsaw, and after a pre-06.00 o’clock visit to McDonalds our ways separated. I visited Warsaw during Easter 2011, but it certainly didn’t become my favorite city. When walking around there once again this morning the same uncomfortable feeling struck again. Some drunk people yelled and threw a bottle cap at me, and it happened more than once that some macho-like men, all individually, made some of these weird flirting sounds which more sound like a command for a dog to come back to its owner. Brr, I don’t like that. Luckily there were a lot of police men on the road, even that early, so I did feel safe in the end. I only heard later that this was because Obama was in town! Haven’t seen him though, as I soon took the metro towards the bus station from which Polski Bus departs. When traveling through Warsaw I somehow started to miss the simplicity of the province I come from: Drenthe, even though I of course know that the uncertainty of a new place is the essence of an exciting travel. Back home almost nothing comes unexpected there and I can rely on the overall mentality of the people there. When waiting for the bus for over an hour I noticed that this is a natural feeling for me, being at a rather unknown but busy place. As soon as I started to observe the people around me everything felt allright again. I could now view the  pre-work-rush from a side line, noticing how much alike we humans actually are (and how dirty, unfortunately). 
The bus ride to Krakow took around five hours. It felt like a five hour rollercoaster ride. During this trip I noticed a couple of things. First of all, commercials. Advertisements everywhere! Especially concerning building (tools and building materials) and cars. Every second house we passed by was accompanied by a garage, with spare car parts or carcasses laying around in the gardens. Also esthetics differ, in building (kitsch fences), advertising (painful fonts and Wordart) and, surprisingly, even the flowers seems less appealing. Whereas I’m used to bright, blue/purple Finnish lupinus, the ones I saw on my way to Krakow were yellowish/white, as if they had been standing in a smokers’ room. It’s not my intention to be so negative, because actually till now I really enjoy my stay here! The first moments in Krakow gave already a way better impression than Warsaw. There is so much history to be found within this city, so many people cycle around and the overall atmosphere is very arty and creative. Because of my lack of sleep I didn’t manage to do that much today yet, but there are some more days to come. I found a great thick book with all kind of interesting facts and historical stories about Krakow (in German, but for less than 3 euro’s, happy greedy Dutchman!), so that’ll certainly help me to dig a little deeper into the soul of this on first hand very relaxed looking city.
Time for a well deserved sleep now. I’m in a hostel nicely close to the city centre. Surprisingly there are a lot of Chinese people here, I seem to be the only Western European. There is also one guy from India, and when he asked me about my nationality I let him guess, and he was right! That’s something else than being proclaimed a German, Swede or Finn. 
A few pictures from today… The first one was taken in Warsaw (not far away from Obama, ha!) before 06.00, just after the bus ride from Kaunas. The other pictures I took this afternoon in Krakow.

Later more, as taking it slow and enjoying this trip is more important than sitting in front of my laptop once again :).

Inner peace from Korzeniowski

A while ago (March 16, 2014), I posted an article about two Finnish songs which joyfully cleared my mind from my time consuming thesis work. Well, I can gladly announce that nothing is needed anymore to distract me from that huge pile of work, as I managed to successfully defend my Master thesis Thursday. It was quite exciting, but hindsight it wasn’t really necessary to be all sweaty and nervous. I received a 10 (out of 10) for my work! In about three weeks I’ll receive my diploma, so then I may officially call myself Master Bos. If only my last name had an extra ‘s’!
To come back to the music: my mp3 player is also filled with some Polish delights. The idea to share these pieces with you comes from the fact that within a couple of days I’ll visit Krakow, the home town of Abel Korzeniowski, the conductor of those pleasant works. He composes film music, but to be honest I’ve never seen the films that are accompanied by his music. Oh well, guess I should, one day. I’ll at least share some of my favorite pieces of Korzeniowski’s work in this blog post now. Interestingly, both Blogger and WordPress don’t seem to be the biggest fan of embedding video’s (they are wizards eagerly wanting to make already embedded links disappear), so therefore I’ll provide just some links to the video’s on Youtube.
Abdication is certainly my top favorite. If I’m not mistaken this track was used within a car commercial around 1,5 years ago. It’s so smooth and innocently intense. When I listen to it I feel like all my senses perceive the world around me two times stronger than normal.
 Regarding his face I would have guessed he’d be Scandinavian actually! (Image from abelkorzenowski.com)
What attracts me the most in Korzeniowski’s music is that it is a bit melancholic, but not in such a way that it makes you feel intensely sad (at least, not me). There is somehow some hope, desire and endurance woven into especially the pieces mentioned above. Hmm, would this mean that this music would be highly suitable for the stereotype Finn? It reminds me of the Finnish term ‘sisu’ (a kind of strong inner persistance, or determination), about which I’ve been reading lately in Stine Jensen’s beautiful book ‘Licht op het Noorden’, about the search of the soul of Scandinavia. Enough about Finland now; time to focus on Poland!