It's Christmas time and I'm in Poland!
I’m sitting at home writing this blog post about December, reflecting on all that has happened this year. I know, it’s now September, but as we all know it has been a crazy 2020. Way back in December 2019, this COVID virus was barely known, I can’t even remember if it was in the news at all. Everything was normal, people were going on their Christmas holidays, buying furniture, going on planes, taking everything for granted – and in a way we should be able to do these things. We should be able to depend on a job, a roof over our heads, be allowed to walk the streets and be able to live. I know many, many places are doing it harder than where I am in Spain, but it hasn’t been easy here. In Europe, if not the World, we had one of the toughest lockdowns – it was swift and brutal, but I still think, absolutely necessary for everyone’s sake. We were confined to our homes, masks on in the streets and trips were limited to the supermarket trips, taking the rubbish out and taking the dog for a walk (if you were lucky enough to have one). Fines for breaking the rules were meted out at €600 a pop. I managed to keep my job, we all moved to online teaching within a week and kept our students. I had some money saved and didn’t spend much at all during the quarantine, so came out of it better and also a little fitter as there wasn’t much else to do at home. With the second wave already here though, I fear what the rest of the year (or two) will bring. When will this horrible pandemic end?
Little did we know way back in 2019, when everything was so normal. Myself included. So, we made our Christmas plans and flew to Poland for 3 weeks, blissfully unaware. Christmas time in Poland is great – it’s cold and really feels like a traditional Christmas that we all know and love. I also love being outdoors at Christmas, like a Sydney Christmas, having a BBQ and sitting around on the beach. In Poland, it’s all about the food though – a traditional Polish Christmas has 12 dishes – and many of them fishy. The main celebration is on Christmas Eve, or 'Wigilia,' and some of the dishes served are Pierniki (gingerbread), Barszcz Czerwone z Uszkami (Beetroot soup with dumplings) and Jarzynowa Sałatka (potato or vegetable salad). There is also lots of ham and good Polish pickles too, so I was in heaven. The day before, lots of the family got together to form a production line, pumping out the tiny little mushroom dumplings, like mini pierogi, called 'uszkami'. I got involved and within minutes was an absolute pro! I proclaimed this new status, I said it was easy, and so I was then stuck there for the rest of the night! It was fine, as the more you made the more you could eat the next day in the soup! Carp is also very traditional here – there was fried carp, carp jelly and also boiled carp heads. In fact, most of the kitchen was full of fish in various states most of the time. Luckily though, there was no live fish swimming in the bathtub – people my age remember this vividly, with fond memories while laughing at how silly it seems now. Luckily, I didn’t have to kill anything for our Christmas dinner.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Poznań is a lovely city, very beautiful and with plenty of things to see and do. Although it was Winter and was very cold and dark by 3pm, there were still things to see and do. One of the things was the Christmas nativity scene in a church in the centre. Although nothing to knock your socks off, it was a full-sized depicture of the birth of Christ – there were animals, shepherds, the manger - everything, even some angels. If that’s not your bag, what you can do is head to the old market square for the Christmas markets. As with all markets, there are local arts and crafts, as well as produce. There were hams and bread, pickles and jams, but I loved the cheese – Oscypek salted sheep cheese from the Tatra Mountains. It looked like a little loaf of cheese, the outside a dark yellow colour and patterned, but it’s completely edible too. When walking around the markets gets too cold, maybe it’s time to head into a comfy little bar or restaurant somewhere on the square. During the summer months, this typical, Central European square is filled with outdoor seating and dining areas, where people enjoy the view and the weather. During the colder months people head inside, where the Poles really know how to make something cool and cosy at the same time. There are loads of bars and restaurants – my amazement of the variety never ceases. Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, steak houses, pizza places and burger joints are everywhere, not to mention the bars and microbreweries! My favourite big brand beer in Poland is Lech, which is actually from Poznan, but if you’re into craft beer, then never fear – there is an absolute abundance of that too, as the craze has hit Poland as much as anywhere else in the world. Not only are these places great inside, their facades are also pretty cool and their names original. There is one bar called HashtagHashtag (or #Hashtag), Whisky in the Jar (an American whiskey and steakhouse that plays good rock music) and Jabberwocky Craft Beer. Even if you went to a different bar each day, you’d be here for some time and wouldn’t even get bored by repeating!
Before we left for Spain, we decided to take a short weekend drive and see some other things around the city. Within an hour’s drive from Poznań, winding your way along country roads, you’ll find Rogalin Palace, an 18th Century Baroque Palace. built between 1768 and 73 (which makes it older than British settlement in Australia), it is a rambling and very beautiful mansion, built for the Raczyński family. Unfortunately it was closed, but that was to be expected at this time of year and on a Sunday, we walked around the grounds and enjoyed the beauty of it and the peace and quiet of the gardens. The last owner of the estate was Count Edward Bernard Raczyński, who in 1979–1986 was President of the Polish Republic in exile. His sarcophagus is in the Raczyński Mausoleum, just across the road from the house. After his death the house came into the guardianship of the Raczyński Family Foundation, and its president is the Director of the National Museum in Poznań. It is famous for its art gallery in the main building, which houses painting by Monet along with famous Jan Matejko's large-size painting Joanna d'Arc. The garden is also impressive, as it has 3 huge oak trees that are more than 1,000 years old – each with their own names; Lech (like the beer), Czech and Rus. It is amazing that trees can live that long and that such huge organisms come from such a small seed. Not far away was another little piece of history, Kórnik Castle. Built in the 14th century, but remodelled in the 18th and had many features of Gothic Revival, including the red brick tower which stands out as very different to the rest of the building. It is a squat, four cornered castle, surrounded by a little moat with a draw bridge. Again, being a Sunday, it was closed, but we were able to appreciate this beautiful, National Heritage building of Poland. Something unique to this castle is the Kórnik Arboretum, founded by Count Tytus Działyński in the first half of the 19th century. It is the oldest and largest Arboretum in Poland, covering around 40 hectares and containing more than 3300 species of trees and shrubs. It was a little cold to go walking the grounds too far, as they are immense, so instead we grabbed a hot chocolate and then headed back to the car for the journey home – it was nearly 4pm and getting dark after all.
It was January and time to go home. Christmas and New Years in Poland had been fun and relaxing. We were heading back into the long stretch of teaching that is the 2nd term, but it would be a very long, difficult and different term. We’d planned a great trip for Easter; Lithuania and Latvia, 2 new countries for us both. Sadly, everything was cancelled and we got stuck at home. It took ages for the tickets to be refunded, but that wasn’t the most upsetting thing. Luckily we still have our jobs but there were vast changes in the world of teaching. It would change the profession in a way nobody had seen before and I think these changes will last. Everything has moved online, there are more and more courses being offered, people learning to programme on their phones in the hope of getting a better job. Times have never moved so fast and it will be hard keeping up with everything. It’s hard not to feel old when things are moving so fast – gone are the days when you can stay in the same job for the rest of your life. The Baby Boomer generation were lucky in that case, most of them have made it through to retirement (just), but my generation will have to re-train and re-educate themselves, change careers, more than once. For the kids that are leaving school and entering University, that is a whole unknown world. We have to keep moving and learning, never stopping, to survive this new world.
Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/myuncletravellingmatt/ MyUncleTravellingMatt. December 2019.