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I can’t believe how fast the time is flying by. Summer is finally here (!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and I feel like I don’t have enough weekends left to do everything I want to do before I have to go back. It’s already sad to think about, leaving Poland. I know it’s still 3 months away, but looking at the past 3 months as an example, that time will disappear so quickly.

I’m trying to think of everything that’s happened the past while and it all feels like too much to remember. I haven’t Skyped with anyone in months because I’ve been incredibly busy[1]—but with what I can’t quite recall. A while back I was gone for a few weekends in a row visiting family and then was studying[2] for the mid-terms, which are finally all over, and I know my marks for almost all of them—passed, with varying colours ;) But I’ll start with what I do remember!

Last weekend, Dorothy and I signed ourselves up for a weekend-long hiking trip, into the mountains! It was a much needed get-away. It felt so great to be in the mountains again, to breath fresh hair, to be surrounded by trees and silence, to gaze at the snow-capped mountains, to sleep in old cabins, to be challenged by a trail, to sing songs around a campfire—haven’t done most of those things since last September! It was also fun spending time with new people, getting to know them, and just the process of hiking. We hiked for 2 hours the first day, 8.5 hours on the second day (granted with breaks), and 4ish hours on the last day. And the process was an ordeal!: cautiously stepping through thin and thick snow, leaning away from the all too-near cliff sides praying your foothold doesn’t slip out from beneath you, walking through the snow run-off (that is, a stream) that found a suitable path to the bottom of the mountain (that is, our path), and manoeuvring yourself up steep slopes, grabbing onto tree branches and the snow itself to prevent yourself from falling, meanwhile not trying to think about how you’ll ever get down[3]. The only constant thought was to just keep going forwards and up and up and up.
And it was so worth it. Getting to the top is always worth it in the end. The view was stunning. The mountain, by the way, is called Babia Góra and we made it to the top on the third day. On the first two days, the mountain, of 1,725 m[4], seemed like this giant obstacle. We could see in the distance, sometimes when we made it to a clearing, this looming white-covered thing surrounded by a haze of clouds. To be honest, I didn’t believe them at first when they told me that was the mountain we would eventually get to. In between our starting point and it, there were quite a few hilly mountains—it just seemed ages away. But the experience was really worthwhile, climbing over and around hill after hill and seeing it a step closer.

Here are some photos from the last day—I was too busy trying not to fall or slip to take many photos in the first two days.

P1140056a look out

P1140079there it is!

P1140107

P1140098

P1140078one last scenic photo on the way down

Other than that, I have been spending my time casually in bars and pubs, drinking beer after beer, some occasional shots, some occasional cake, grabbing one too many meals (pizza or a kebab) at the “local”,  meeting friends of friends and new people, spending time lounging in the sun by the river, biking (I bought a bike!), walking, sightseeing, and planning my evenings with friends.

I’ve grown more and more to love the life I have here, and now with the warmth and sunshine (at last!) it doesn’t feel like it could get any better.

This feels kind of weird, because I know she reads this blog, but one of the people I have come to spend most of my time with[5] is the amazing and wonderful Jessica :) I can’t believe how fast the time has flown together and how quickly and easily she’s grown to be one of my closest friends. Here’s a picture of us today on this very warm (27 degrees!) day this morning:

me and jess3

On Sunday, I have potential plans to go to Auschwitz (finally!) if I feel like I’ll have enough time afterwards to pack, because on Monday I am flying out to Switzerland!!! Again, I can’t believe that the Swiss-trip is already here! The tickets were bought last February. Anyways, I’m not too sure of what exactly we’ll be doing, but I’ll be sure to write something up about that afterwards! I’m really excited to be seeing some more of Europe, especially a country like Switzerland! Dorothy and I are going to visit our friend Betina there, who was in Dorothy’s school three years ago in Canada on an exchange. Things will be fantastic. My only worry is wondering how I’ll work my way around the disgusting thing that is cheese….

Hope things are well with my friends back home! I know most of you guys are back in Terrace (/Prince George!) as universities in Canada are out for the summer now. It makes me a little sad that I can’t be there with you guys—if it was only possible to be in two places at once! But, I’ll catch the end of the summer with you, and though I can’t quite picture August yet, I know I’ll be happy to be home.

Joanna


[1] Also, with the 9 hour time difference, it was impossible to find a time that worked.

[2] By this I mean sitting by the river or in a cafe and trying to study

[3] “Getting down” the steep last slope, was one of the most fun things I’ve done in a while. The steps that had been dug into the snow were so worn down by the end, it was nearly impossible to make our way down them. Among others, I took out my rain jacket, tied it around my waist, and slid down the slopes as if I was sledding. It took us almost 3 hours to get to the top of Babia Gora, and only 30 minutes to get down. You can imagine the speed :D And you all know I like high speeds.

[4] I just realized that’s not as high up as I imagined…I mean I’ve skydived from higher than that. But from the ground, it doesn’t seem that small!

[5] And you can blame her (partially) for not finding the time to blog!

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I meant to write about my winter vacation in northwest Poland a week ago, however the return to school issued instant concentration towards homework and whatnot. Duties aside, I just hope I remember the thoughts I was having on the eleven-hour drive back to Krakow. I’m not sure what it is, but it is always a good, long road trip that makes me want to write most. Watching the scenery change second to second just flicks off a switch in my head; new thoughts, ideas, intentions, just these muses hitting you from all directions. The road trip home fell nothing short from that either. (Home being Krakow, of course.)

After an amazing Christmas, as written about in my previous blogpost, New Years followed suit. I will be honest. At first, I wasn’t interested in spending New Years with my dad, and his 50+ aged friends, in a small town, somewhere in northwest Poland. I wanted to be in Krakow with friends, find a club worth the party, and have a memorable night.

But I take it all back. I had a superb time. I met my parents’ friends. Friends they’ve had since their own university days, since they were in their early twenties! I had heard about these people my entire life, how Betina lived in Germany with my mom for a time, how they wanted to move to Canada (unfortunately, not all papers went through at that time, and my parents’ friends had to return to Poland), all of their travels together, living in dorms together, their group’s mountain-venturing adventures, drunken moments, campfire singing, I have heard it all. Spending a week with these people put me back in time. I could picture all of them, exactly how they were thirty years ago. I could see my dad, just the way he was, and still is. Some people never change.

We spent plenty of nights drinking vodka, and singing songs from their song books like “Sokoły”. My dad and Zbyszek had guitars and songbooks, that they browsed through and they sung every song they recognized. It was really beautiful to watch them meld back into youth singing songs that still rung true to them, that reminded them of their lives back in communist times. Sometimes, they couldn’t remember the words to a song. But as a right chord was strung, as someone remembered the first few words, suddenly someone remembered the rest of the verse, and so on. They could manage to sing a whole song that no one even remembered a word of at the beginning! It was full of trial and error, of singing the wrong key, of missing a verse here and there, a wrong word, or a slip of tongue or strumming pattern. It was this unravelling, decrypting, and remembering of songs they hadn’t sung in thirty years. I was blown away by how much came back to them. On a whole, I really enjoyed listening, singing, and the storytelling that came with each song, and just being with them, even as an observer.

Watching them over the week, my dad and his closest friends, despite the time and distance spent apart, really reminded me of where I want to be in my life. I want to have friends like his, I want to be like them. So relaxed, so cheerful, understanding, loving, and constantly happy. They were like a family. And that’s how it should be. That’s where I want to be when I am fifty-three years old; surrounded by my oldest, closest friends, always finding something to laugh about, not worrying about anything. This effortless relationship, unchanged.

Another thing that made the last part of my winter break great was the sightseeing. Before then, I hadn’t really seen much of Poland, especially not up North. Driving to the sea, to the town of Kołobrzeg, was really great. It was a rainy day and, maybe more-so because of this, reminded me of Prince Rupert[1] and felt a little like home. (Home being Terrace, this time.) I only drive up to Prince Rupert a few times a year, but having Rupert there is some kind of comfort, I guess. I like being near the ocean.

Kołobrzeg

Next, we drove to Kamien Podmorski and Szczecin. We drove to Kamien Podmorski because it was where my parents wanted to move to before they decided to move to Canada. Honestly speaking, there isn’t much in Kamien Podmorski. It was sort of like a trip for Dorothy and I to walk in my parents’ footsteps. Likewise was Szczecin, though there is definitely lots there. Szczecin is where my parents and their friends all went to school, met up, basically lived a big chunk of their lives.

Unfortunately, because of hangovers and lack of sleep, we arrived in Szczecin late in the day and after visiting with a couple more of my dad’s friends, there was only an hour left of sightseeing, and half of that spent inside in my dad’s old school, looking at old photographs, walking down old hallways. The other half hour was spent driving out of the city, stopping at a couple places to see exactly what houses my parents lived in while there was still daylight, and onwards to our friend’s place where we would be spending the night. Despite the lack of city-sightseeing, there was something I really, really liked about Szczecin. But I can’t pinpoint what it was. Small things, the way the city was laid out, how it wasn’t completely flat like Krakow, the architecture of all the buildings we passed, but something else, I’m not sure, I felt very drawn to it, perhaps because it was the city my parents called home for quite a few years[2]. I was sad we didn’t have more time, but I think Dorothy felt similarly and I am almost positive we will go back to properly sightsee the beautiful city and to visit our new ‘family’, so to speak.

Lastly, we went to the Słowiński National Park. To be found there is, yet again, the Baltic Sea! Embroidered by the long-stretching grey-white beaches, towering sand dunes, and pine forest, it is a well preserved area and I really freaking loved it.

Who knew how much I was missing nature. Frolicking[3] through the forest[4], jumping over streams, crossing wild boar tracks a time too many, spotting deer, climbing giant hills of sand, walking on the edges of the shoreline where the water just reaches your feet—yeah, it really made my day. I could’ve spent hours more there, but the time always comes to leave as the sun sets.

So my winter vacation had an excellent finish. I met amazing people, new family, I went to the sea, I walked in my parent’s footprints, I saw a new city, and I got to spend almost a month with my dad. Life felt good.

I will leave you now with one last picture!

As it is getting dark, on a highpoint, in view of the forest and ocean, leaving.

Joanna


[1] Prince Rupert is a port town right on the ocean, similar in size to Terrace and one and a half hours away from Terrace.

[2] Though I definitely don’t feel that way about Surrey (the place I was born) or Vancouver, where my parents also lived a few years.

[3] Because I did frolic.

[4] Yes, it was an actual forest, a pine one at that!

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I’m glad I came to Poland.

That is basically the past week’s thoughts summed up. I can’t say exactly what it is, but I have been quite happy this past week. Cheerful, skipping, singing-songs-aloud, random bouts of happiness –kind of happy.

I feel like my perspectives are starting to change. Perspectives… of life? I’m not sure. I suddenly feel more whole, closer to that person I am. I’m not sure how to describe it.

In class the other day, my amazing grammar teacher didn’t teach. That wasn’t the plan. We just got off topic, and talked and talked about how our (the students) countries differentiated, what the politics were like, universities, families, etc. I think what separates a good teacher from a great teacher is a teacher that allows that. To drop the plan for the day and let the students converse about serious matters.
One girl is from Belarus and talked about the dictator there and their life under him, how they’re scared to go on the streets when it’s late, how there aren’t opportunities, how he prevents them from increasing their living standards, how they can’t discuss his dictatorship, how they can’t even say his name on the phone without the conversation being monitored. She got really fired up when talking about it because it is a very personal issue that upsets her. Some of the other students were shocked, others were close to tears. She left Belarus for a better education and for her freedoms. I think this class was really productive because the students and the teacher got to understand each other on a new level[1].
Later we got on the topic of racism, and being an observer to other cultures, I explained where I lived and the prejudice that exists on Natives and just how it frustrates me how my family here look at them like they’re inferior, and all the same. They’re not. They are a living part of our society, intermingled like everyone else. Others yet have incredibly beautiful cultures and the damage that was done to them in the past hasn’t completely died down, as racism is still incredibly alive. Some people were surprised how intermingled the area where I live is. In one class alone, there is a mix of all races. Portuguese, Chinese, Native, South African, Filipino, Columbian, American, Polish, to name a few. My teacher said it’s a good thing to grow up in a place surrounded by culture. I know I didn’t really notice it as a kid, but looking back, I am thankful. As a kid, you see everyone as one and the same. But when you get older, you see the differences in history, ethnicity, and culture. I remember going to community potlucks and how filled with tradition those were. Dances, songs, food from all cultures. I even remember being about seven and dressing up in traditional Polish dress. I don’t remember what we did, maybe dance or sing, but I do remember the experience.
And then, languages. We talked about how languages connect people. My teacher told us a story about a dinner he had at a friend’s house. His friend’s daughter was raised by her parents, one bilingual, one trilingual. She was about eight years old and knew four languages. He said, how without a hint, she walked up to the Spanish family and started speaking to them in Spanish. The French guests- in French. Italian guests- Italian. And she walked up to him, before he said a word, and she spoke to him in Polish. He said he was amazed that this girl just had a feel for language.
An observation about Poland, and I guess the rest of Europe, is that many people here are bilingual. Especially these days, it is fairly common for a person to be fluent in two languages, or three (English often being one of these). Where I live, unless you’re the emigrant, most people I know only know one language. But there is so much to gain with another language. After our conversation, I just feel so thankful that I understand Polish. Yeah, I wish my parents could have taught me  how to read and write, and I wish I had taken more interest in it as a kid. But I am so thankful that I’ve retained as much as I have and that I am here continuing the learning process.
I also regret not taking my French classes seriously. I know a majority of the time I didn’t have a very good teacher, but if I had put it in some honest effort, I really could have come out of the French program better than I did. I understood all six tenses. After that? With practice, reading, speaking, and expanding the vocabulary; I wasn’t that far away from getting a hold on the language. So I’m thinking, maybe I’ll return to it. I know it feels like I’ve forgotten nearly everything—but you know what? I felt that way with Polish too. And I am amazed with how much I remembered, how I can easily converse, yes with difficulties recalling words, but understand the majority of what it being said.

Today, I realized, I can suddenly read Polish a lot faster. It honestly feels like it happened in a day, but that I’m nearing a good tempo. Before I struggled with understanding long sentences as a whole because I was struggling with the reading and pronunciation of individual (incredibly long) words. And of course that hasn’t stopped, but it suddenly got a lot better. When speaking on the phone with my dad the other day, he said what really helped him when learning English was reading, even when he thought he didn’t understand. Reading and reading and reading. I need to find me some Polish blogs!

I know my head is still spinning in Grammar class, that in Ortographia I still make frequent punctuation errors, and that as a whole it doesn’t feel like I’ve learned that much, but when I see in little steps how I’ve progressed, I feel really accomplished. And really hopeful. I keep thinking, I’m getting a grasp on this. Finally.

On another note. I love my roommates! I know we don’t know each other super well yet. But when you both wake up at 3am and end up talking for an hour, with way too many loud laughs and a nice refreshing break on the balcony, things feel good. Marcelina, the girl living with me, is hilarious. A really sweet, nice, good-humoured character. And the guy next door, Michal, just a great, nice guy. Super chill. (He is currently roommate-less, but no one really minds). I had drinks with him and a friend the other night, and had way too much fun[2], likely because it was the first social thing I’ve done, but still fun. For the record, my Polish is incredibly improved when I am drunk.

ALSO. IT SNOWED. This may have made an extreme contribution to how happy I’ve been lately. Suddenly the cold isn’t so bad. I don’t know exactly what it is about snow, but it seriously brightens my day. The feel of snowflakes brushing my cheeks and dampening my hair, that crunch underneath my Converse[3], the frost coating the leaves, seeing the stare miasto covered in snow—love it! Snow just transforms surroundings. And you can feel the change in atmosphere. So far, nearly everyone I’ve talked to, is complaining about the snow here. I think they secretly love it. The warmth of buildings just got a lot better. Bundling up in our thick coats, tuques, mittens, is a warming feeling. It’s the coziness of winter! And with that coziness is soon to come my birthday, and Christmas. I’m not particularly fond of my birthday, but I love the holiday season. And New Year’s. And skiing! And seeing my dad at Christmas!

Oh how excited I am for the things to come!

The soundtrack of the last few days[4]:

Sticks & Stones – Jonsi

Illmerica – Wolfgang Gartner

Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons

Grey Gardens – Rachel Portman

Follow Me – Muse

You – Nils Frahm

Alive Again – Matt Maher

I really need some more Polish songs! Any suggestions? Throw ‘em!

Joanna


[1] And, you know, we conversed heavily in Polish.

[2] and way too much wódka.

[3] I really need to get myself some winter boots.

[4] I said I would do this every now and then :)

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