Sunday, July 26, 2015

Welcome to Hel

I've been warned all my life that I'd wind up in hell. Who knew it was such a beautiful place. The sand is a lovely white color. The water is clear. The weather changes from minute to minute, but the air is fresh and crisp. We had a good time.

It was our first trip with the girls to the Polish seaside. They really enjoyed the beach, the go-carts, and the waffles with whipped cream. There was a moment of disappointment when they realized that the water was cold. Then they discovered jellyfish in the water, and all was forgotten. The water is cold. The wind is cold. It rains almost every day. Be prepared. You can get sunburnt even on a cloudy day as my red legs can attest to. I was not prepared.

Here was our stanowisko. We didn't have the windbreakers (parawany) which are extremely popular on Polish beaches. I'm not sure if they are popular because they actually do break the wind or if they just appeal to Polish people's love of fencing themselves in or rather fencing others out. 

our humble homebase 

Daddy, why the windbreaker? There's no wind. ----But there are fellow Poles.

After five minutes on the beach, we were already on a ciocia-basis with our closest neighbor. She requested joining her parawan with our beach blanket to create a more private zone which she defended tooth and nail. Our kids began playing in the sand, and they were lost to us for most of the day.
cold, clear water

a jellyfish delicately returned to the water

one of many sandcastles
We let our kids run, jump, swim, sunbathe on the sand, pretty much do whatever they wanted. From some of our closest neighbors I observed a different philosophy of beachgoing. The philosophy of taking kids to beach and not letting them swim. There are two schools of thought apparently- one, it is too hot to swim - the other, it is too cold. The same ideology applies to eating ice cream as well. The next part of this philosophy involves taking frequent breaks with mother sitting on a beach towel, not the sand, never sit on the sand according to this philosophy. Additionally don't walk in the sand because you'll have sand in your shoes. This said to a child already on the beach. Said child stops walking, frozen in the conundrum presented to him by his mother. How can you take a kid to the beach and not let the kid swim I wondered as one mother tortured her child while all other kids were having fun. "Why did you even bring me here?" asks one 10 year old girl. I wanted to ask the same.

Our girls found some like-minded children with normal parents and spent the time being happy and having fun.

I was very happy to be on vacation. Not that I don't like my job. I love it. It is a very people-oriented job though, so it was nice to not have to talk to anyone or listen to anyone or correct anyone. I'm pretty sure Ciocia from the next parawan was trying to get some English lesson out of me for her grandson, but I just disappeared into my book.

Not everyone looked happy to be on vacation. People were literally running the path to the beach, not because they were excited to get to the sea, but because they were worried about finding a place. I wanted to scream - There's enough beach for everyone! Once they got to the beach they eyed up the other beach goers with unfriendly looks. When new holidaymakers arrived, they told them to move on, there's not enough room. People! We're on vacation. Smile at each other. Enjoy yourselves. Enjoy the (fleeting) sunshine.

One gentleman behind the next parawan was thought to be sleeping by his family but instead required immediate medical attention. The lifeguards did their Baywatch run down the beach, and then the EMT's arrived. Nothing like a possible death on the beach to snap people into perspective and to realize that it is an amazing thing to be alive, to be on vacation, to have our little piece of the good life no matter how small it is. The man was revived, and we saw him on the beach the next day. 

What's a trip to the beach without getting buried in the sand?

an evening on the beach and Rosie's solution to cold water

port side of Hel

sea side of Hel

that frisbee was an excellent source of fun for all of 3 zl

our attempt at a selfie

Lighthouse in Hel from afar

from a bit closer

evenings on the beach were my favorite - kisses from Tatuś

we dropped a lot of money on go-carts

the fokarium with seals

the beautiful beach

We stayed in a private apartment. It was located close to the Cypel and gave us easy access to the beach from both the port side of Hel and the sea side of Hel. The apartment was adorable in a kitchy kind of way. Enjoy.

I had to sleep under this and...

...under this.

a little nautical theme

with a pinch of religion 

and a smidgen of art

and a sprinkle of kistch

basically awesome, that's the owner in his younger years
We also visited some military stuff, bunkers and whatnot. I gave myself a good scare when I shined my flashlight in the prisoner's hole in a door in one of the bunkers and met the eyes of another tourist that I did not realize was already in there. A lot of the bunkers, etc. have been used as toilets by other tourists so visit at your own risk.

All of Hel is a kind of kitschy, touristy place. If you are expecting elegance, go somewhere else. If you are expecting families with kids, ice cream, fish, french fries, beach volleyball, windsurfing, kitesurfing, disco polo bars, military museums, fishing museums, boat rides, lighthouses, seals - then Hel is a good place for you. One thing we didn't find and we were looking for were t-shirts from Hel. We saw a lot of t-shirts such as - I don't need you, I have internet - Eat cupcakes for breakfast - This is my hangover t-shirt - but not even one Hel shirt. People in Hel must have a sense of humor, I mean the bus to Hel is #666. Do Polish people not buy t-shirts when they on vacation?

We're back home, and we miss it already. Now it's time to clean up all the sand we brought with us.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Independence and Bubbles

Here in Poland, our little Polish/American (or American/Polish if you wish) family celebrated July 4th czyli American Independence Day. It was a blast.

Truth be told, my sister is famous for her legendary 4th of July parties. Three years ago we happened to be in the States for her party, and we were not disappointed. I think the whole town was there. We stopped counting when we reached a hundred people. And the good. The best part of all was the hour-long firework show thanks to my brother-in-law's completed course and certification in firework handling (?) and my father's deep pockets. 

We finally found the flag that we purchased at Target last year. It was in a safe place that we couldn't remember. We also found a great fireworks store, but decided not to burn the whole village down and opted for sparklers only, so-called "zimny ognie" in Polish which translates to "cold fire".

Here's how our flag presented on the barn door.

Our romantic country netting fared much worse as it was windy and wasps kept getting trapped inside.

It found a new home.

I almost forgot that before the party we hit a local flea market and came out with these great party finds.

It was hot as hell yesterday so we did our best to stay cool. Some of us were chilling in the shade of the barn.

The rest of us enjoyed the low-tech fun of getting sprayed with the hose. That water's straight from the spigot in the basement, and it was c-o-l-d!


The loft in the barn is always an attraction for our little guests and for their parents a nice reminder of childhoods spent with grandparents. 

We also organized a scavenger hunt. It wasn't too complicated, but the kids' natural rivalry came out. They were running around despite the heat trying to be the first to complete their list. Here are two little ladies presenting their findings to the judge.

Our village had a small festival as well. There was no occasion. I suppose our local municipality got some money and had to use it up. Or I can pretend that it was in my honor. There were games and competitions for kids, some small rides, a water curtain, popcorn, cotton candy, etc. Our girls and their guests came home with arms full of prizes. Forgive the picture above, but this man fascinated me throughout the whole festival. I don't know if it was the no-shirt and suspenders combination or the fact that he had the suspenders hitched to his jeans in the back, but hitched to his underpants in the front. Additionally these suspenders were in no way doing their job of keeping his trousers up. He deserved a prize too.

We ended the day with sparklers which I didn't catch a picture of because I was having too much sparkler fun myself and also with bubbles using my own homemade bubble concoction which worked perfectly if I do say so myself.

All in all, it was a great day.

Here's my very imprecise recipe for bubble mix:

I mixed everything in a big jar of water. I added about a 1/2 cup good quality dishwashing liquid. Here in Europe "Fairy" which is "Dawn" in the States. Next I added a little 50 gram bottle of glycerin. I don't know if that is too little or too much. After that I added a teaspoon or less of baking powder. All of that was sufficient for making bubbles, but the bubbles didn't want to come off the wand, they weren't reflective, and they popped right away. Google to the rescue, I discovered I was missing a key ingredient - some kind of polymer to help the bubbles along. We found that polymer at the pharmacy in the form of Durex 2 in 1 lubricant similar to KY jelly. I added a couple of squirts only. After that the bubbles came right out of the wands, were big and colorful, and lasted a long time. My mix was a bit concentrated so I transferred it to a plastic bottle and then diluted individual portions with water. 

Give it a try!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Our kids don't have everything

Our kids don't have everything. By our choice.

I had pretty much everything as a child. I did grow up in America after all. My husband a child of PRL had adventures, not toys.

Years ago we bought a house about an hour outside of the city in a village of 500 people surrounded by farms and forests. A house is an overstatement. It was more likes a collection of bricks. No heating, no electricity, no water, no bathroom, but one hectare of land and peace and quiet all around. 

Now the house has new windows and a new roof. It has electricity and water and heating and its first ever indoor bathroom. Ameryka, po prostu. Our kids have a big room, shared, full of books and toys - it is true. They have less than what I had, and more than their father had. 

There will be no gaming systems, no iPad per kid, no television sets in their rooms, nothing like that. There will be family bike rides, their own personal flower beds (weeded out by Mom), worms, snakes, frogs, bug bites, swimming in the lake, and family barbecues - emphasis on experiences, instead of things.

I must admit it is often harder for us as parents to say no than for the kids to hear it, especially the parent who had less as a child. Yes, one Coca-cola won't kill them, but today it's a coke, tomorrow a candy bar, the next day a video game. It's a slippery slope ;)

If you know Polish, here is one parent's perspective on the "kids with everything " issue - from a parent who grew up with "nothing".,nasze-dzieci-maja-wszystko

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Half naked

Poland has a new President, well, President-Elect until he's actually sworn in. President-Elect Andrzej Duda won out over current President Bronisław Komorowski. Duda is strongly supported by the conservative right and won overwhelmingly in the eastern side of Poland. The east-west split in Poland falls along the lines of history with so-called Polska A of the west including territory acquired after WW2.* Polska A tends to be less conservative, less religious, and better off than Polska B. It follows that Polska B is less well-off, more conservative, and more religious. In some areas in the east, Duda received even 70% of the vote. Voter turnout hit about 50% if I remember correctly. There were 2 eastern areas where Komorowski won out. Those areas are Eastern Orthodox which goes to show how much of an impact religion had on the election results.

*Noted* First commenter below reminds that this division existed prior to WW2 as well.

Recently Duda was asked about the possibility of homosexuals working in his cabinet. His reply speaks for itself:

"I cannot imagine that I would ask employees how and with whom they live."

Good, good.

"But I also cannot imagine that some half-naked people would be parading around my office."

Duda, you should have stopped while you were ahead. So homosexual = half naked. Maybe if we are talking about a hot, gay club at 2 a.m. or at least that's what I've seen on TV. Maybe Duda has more experience with half-naked homosexuals than I do or perhaps we just watch the same TV programs.

Mayor of Słupsk, Robert Biedroń, when asked about Duda's comments, made an excellent point, "Duda should remember the he is president of a serious country. If he holds such a stereotype about gays, just imagine what he thinks about Jews, or Roma, or Germans or Russians. That's not an appropriate stance for a politician of this stature. He's not doing me any favors sitting at the table with me. I'm just as much a citizen as anybody else." I should mention here that Robert Biedroń is not only the Mayor of Słupsk, he is also homosexual.

It's supposed to hit 28*C today so I think there are plenty of people who'd like to be parading around half naked at work...including me!

Article in Polish,robert-biedron-nie-przystoi-by-prezydent-tak-wypowiadal-sie-o-gejach

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Get your Polish pottery fix here!

We had a great Saturday full of family and pottery. First, let's tackle the pottery part. We went to Bolesławiec, the Mecca of Polish pottery lovers, to get our yearly pottery fix. We bought a reasonable (not excessive) amount of pottery and snapped a lot of pictures. Trips to Bolesławiec are always great, but this time there was the added family bonus. I got to see my cousin after 20 years and meet her husband. They're currently living in Germany and are also pottery fans. It was only natural for us to meet up for some shopping. Bring on the zakupy!

It was hard to make a decision with so many beautiful pieces to choose from. Luckily, Lizzie and Rosie were on hand to help. At least we only had to pop our stuff in the car and go. My cousin will eventually have to pack it all up and get it all to their next home wherever that may be. That didn't deter my cousin in her shopping along with my comments of "Get it. You deserve it." I should get commission.