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Looking for investors

Today I stumbled upon a business that I am sure I could be happy doing the rest of my life. Today, we went to an absynth bar.

The decor of the establishment can only be described as an antique lovers dream. Overstuffed chairs and couches, old tables and shelves, and lacy doilies. It sounds terrible, but it was actually quite comfortable, if we weren’t in a hurry to get to the castle, we could have spent a lot of time in there. Oh yeah, and they serve Absynth.  Check out these super sweet shots.

Absynth Shots

For you purists out there, we are aware that this isn’t the “proper” way to enjoy Absynth, but we were tourists in a hurry so give us some slack. Oh and they don’t take credit, so me running all over town trying to find a working ATM was pretty funny too.

So we finally get out of there, and we are off to get our second shot at touring Wawel castle(they were closed the first go around) at about 2:30pm. I was a bit hungry so I stopped for a local staple, a Zapikanka!


It’s pretty much a bagette with cheese and catsup, and to be honest it wasnt the greatest, but the name is awesome. ZAPIKANKA!!!!!

We arrived at Wawel at 2:55pm to buy tickets and guess what? CLOSED. Although they officaly close at 4pm, the last tour leaves at 3pm. So maybe they left a little early? I tried to ask the ticket lady, but she was playing the “I can’t hear you” game in her booth. That is the trend I have noticed here, that the older generations are a bit grumpy. Of course, hello holocaust. I would be a little grumpy to foreigners too.

So now I’m slightly upset that because we like to sleep in on vacation that everything closes super early. What do you do when your upset? Go shopping! Souvenirs for everyone! We got lots of good polish stuff, and if your lucky you might be getting some(cause I don’t think that anyone else is reading this)!

After shop #5(2 of them scarf shops) I needed a beer, and fast. So when in Poland where do you go?

The Irish Pub of course!

We spent about two and a half hours here, and we ate an entire large pizza. Wash it down with a few Guinness and I am good to go!

Were going to try Wawel again tomorrow, I’ll let you know how that goes.

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Oskar Schindler’s Factory

Our hotel is located in Kazimierz, about 1 mile from the downtown square of Krakow, and is considered the old Jewish quarter of the city.  To those of us in Indy, consider it the broad ripple of Indy.  It is now home to several art galleries, cool/artsy bars, and mostly college students.

However, back in the day, as I said it was the Jewish Quarter, and home of where the Nazi occupation took place.  We didn’t realize at first, but we are staying literally about 1 mile in the other direction from the ‘Ghetto’, as in the Ghetto where thousands of the Jewish population were quarantined to, then later liquidated.  Included in this ghetto was Oskar Schindler’s factory – yes, as in from the Steven Spielberg movie ‘Schindler’s List’.

We were surprised to find that it was only recently that the factory was turned into a museum (June 2010) but found the display and way that it was laid out to be by far the best historic representation of the Nazi Occupation of Krakow by far.  They had separate artists design every room of the museum depicting the timeline of 1939 to 1945.

It was a moving experience and HIGHLY recommend it to anyone that comes through the area.  We even had the chance to see Oskar’s office, and see where the camp was that he held, trying to give the Jewish population a chance to live.  The man was truly a hero and I can only hope to have the strength to make the hard choices, should I ever be put in a situation like that.

Then to walk out of the factory and know you were literally walking the streets where all of this happened.  In the same footsteps – an indescribable feeling.

Photo of Nazi Occupation in Krakow, Poland

Photo of Nazi Occupation in Krakow, Poland

Oskar Schindler's desk

Oskar Schindler's desk

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The Salt Mine

Today’s adventure is: “The Crazy Old Salt Mine”

When we started planning this trip we found that there were two main attractions around Krakow, Auschwitz and the Kopalnia Soli (salt mine).

Auschwitz was an experience not to be missed. The salt mine however – lets just say you should look at my pictures on Facebook and save yourself the $150 or so it took to get it all done.

The nice couple from London we met yesterday at Auschwitz had taken the mine tour previously and had some very useful tips on how to make the trip cheaper. They told us where to catch the city bus that would drop us off at the mine for about 80 cents each (most of the commercial tours cost about $30 for transportation). They also warned me that the price for the tour in english was about $40 each. That seemed a little steep but its a once in a lifetime trip so why not right?

Well let me tell you why not. The mine is an impressive 600 years old. But, aside from the crazy depth of the whole place, 135 meters(which is like 400,000 miles I think) and one AMAZING cathedral cut out of the salt, there really wasn’t much else there.

It was clear that they were trying to capitalize on tourism because it looked like one big animatronic ride at Disney World. Aside from the fact that you walk a total of 4km(again like 7 billion miles).

So in the end, I am happy we went to see it, I just wish it would have been a little easier on the wallet. Photos to come when we have a good enough connection. Pozegnanie!


Oh and one more thing, on the way home we stopped at The Rocking Horse in old town and straight STUFFED ourselves with traditional polish food….. GLORIOUS!!

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Today was a day to be remembered forever.  Like one of those days that you look back on and tell your kids about (well…said kids in my case).   I will say that Auschwitz is a place that will never be explained well without actually experiencing it, and seeing how big those numbers you hear actually are until you see and stand on the land where it happened.

We started the day off a bit later than planned but left Krakow about 1140 and took a 2 hour train ride to Oswiecim. Located there was the concentration camp – Auschwitz.  (we learned later that ‘Auschwitz’ is the German name for the town ‘Oswiecim’) We ran into a woman from Atlanta, and 4 blokes from England (2 from outside London, and 2 from Manchester).  The 7 of us formed a group and went on a private tour together.

We started off in Auschwitz 1 (did you know there were 3? I didn’t) where there were brick buildings that prisoners lived in, that have now been turned into exhibition halls.  I have to be honest and say that the entire camp was very non-conspicuous from the outside.  Brick walls and buildings surround the outside, with large pathways visible from those outside the walls.  The giant ‘work will set you free’ sign we are all so familiar with – actually well within the walls.

Our tour guide did a fantastic job taking us through the exhibitions, including halls (yes, halls) filled with shoes of the prisoners that were killed, baby’s clothes, dishes, toothbrushes, suitcases taken from each individual person. Even the empty gas cans that were used.  Did you know that those persecuted from Greece actually had to pay for their ticket there? Unbelievable.

At the end of Auschwitz 1 we even had the opportunity/dismay/unbelievable experience of actually going through a gas chamber.  It is the only one left standing as its use was changed to storage after Auschwitz 2 was opened, therefore the soldiers did not burn it down during the liberation, as they did not believe it posed as evidence of their crimes.

We then took a shuttle to Auschwitz 2 – also called Birkenau.  This is actually the place that you see in all the historic photos, all the movies, every history lesson you had locates the death camp here.  As soon as we got off the bus you knew where you were.  A single train station stop, and an electric fence surrounding 300+ acres of land where you see buildings that have been reconstructed for the museum.  The rest of the land shows only the chimneys that are left standing from the horse barns that held millions.

A few pictures will follow tomorrow, as its about 2 am here and I’m beat, but nothing could ever explain the the humiliation that mankind could do something so ……..wrong.



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Castle woes

Today we decided to check out the enormous castle that is visible from everywhere in the city. We set out around 11, and after walking around the walls and up to the main gate we were privy to beautiful and super old castle structures. I would be able to tell you when they were built, post photos, etc, but they are not open on Mondays. Wah Wahhhh

So we decided to check out a place that a friend of ours recommended called the Irish Embassy. It is in close proximity to the US Consulate and and Sarah wanted to get a picture of it. She hadn’t noticed the big “no pictures” sign on the door, and I didn’t feel like going to jail so we passed on that idea. The Irish Embassy turned out to be pretty great, and Sarah ordered literally  half a chicken.

Well our food comas have worn off, and we are heading out for dinner and a drink. Tomorrow, Auschwitz.

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Day 1 – Cultural Differences

I’ve officially been in Poland for an entire 24 hours and can already see several cultural differences between the United States and Poland.  Some for the better, some make me nervous, and others are startling due to the extreme opposite that I’m used to.  I’ve explained the biggest ones below:

1) Apparently English has become the 2nd language for most of the European/Polish people……under 30.  On the plane ride over I had the pleasure to sit with a man from Stockholm who spoke decent English.  Our first conversation went something like this, as we were leaving Charlotte:

Him: ‘Where are you from’

Me: ‘Indiana’

Him: ‘…………….United States?’

Me: ‘……yes, the united states’

Him: ‘oh….where’s Indiana…middle?’

….as you can see this lead to a significant amount of time describing where Indiana was to someone that had no reference of the US. (Me: ‘its in the midwest’, Him:  ‘near New York?’, Me: ‘no, more middle.  do you know where Michigan is?’, Him: ‘no’, …and so on, until a map was brought out and i could point to it)

My plane ride from Munich to Krakow I thought would be great as I could talk to the person next to me to get more familiar….however when I asked as we were flying over an obvious mountain range …’what mountains are those?’ while pointing out the window/ slightly down.  He replied:  ’20 minutes’.   Me: ‘…….oh ok’

When I landed in Krakow, Kyle then informed me the age/language difference.  Apparently they’ve begun teaching English in schools as its become the official 2nd language of Europe, so those of a certain age never were forced to learn.

2) The English dollar to Polish dollar is 4:1.  So its weird to leave a 10 polish dollar for a $20 bill.  Even though its like $3 USD to a $10 USD bill.  Also, apparently tipping is not something Polish people do?  No wonder they’re so happy to see us when we walk in.  One restaurant we walked into today, as we passed the guy behind the stand on our way in, turned to his counter part and said excitedly: ‘english man!’

3) Bathrooms.  This is a two part explanation.  1) the toilet has 2 buttons…1 for a ‘number 1′, and a bigger button for a ‘number 2′.  However for this American, I stood dumbfounded at the two buttons, like Sylvester Stalone in Demolition Man (‘there were 3 sea shells…’) and just pushed them both at the same time.

The second part is that public restrooms are hard to find, and if you do find them, you have to pay……for whatever number your doing.  Seriously.  Its .50 if its a #1, and $1 for a #2.  To which you pay to receive your allotted amount of toilet paper.  (yes, I am totally serious about this)

4) Pace.  Whoever said Americans were fast paced never came to Poland.  Lines are a fight to the death, and if you’re not walking fast on the sidewalk you will get run over.  I was standing in line at the money exchange and was cut twice, then had to throw elbows to finally get my spot.

5) Personal Space:  this one I was told about, but didn’t really understand until I was here.  It happened as I was pursuing through a store, looking at scarves.  There was another woman near me looking as well.  I was very aware of her and trying to stay out of her space.  Then I was suddenly shoved, and when I turned to see who was wanting to start a fight, it was the lady but she was intently looking at the scarf I had just been looking at.  No sorry no nothing, she wanted to look at that scarf and I was in her way! Needless to say I ran away worried that I had somehow just pissed off a local, that was ready to throw down over a piece of cloth.

6) Vodka: or as the locals spell it – wodka.  Its amazing, and in all flavors.  On my first night I ordered a ‘Polish Martini’ from the (yes) Mexican restaurant in our hotel.  It was made with Honey Vodka, Apple Juice, and some other stuff.  It was AWESOME.  Tonight I am going to take the advice of my ChaCha resident Poland guru – Ry, and trying Lemon Vodka…I’ll let you know how that goes.

I think that’s about it for Day 1 in Krakow.  We mostly walked around trying to get our barrings.  Oh and I learned a new Polish phrase:  Thank You -  Dziekuje  (pronounced ‘Gin-Coo-Ya’ )  How they get any of those sounds out of those letters, I have no idea!

- Sarah

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Fellow teachers

One of the professors I am with has what I think to be an insane amount of street cred in the visual effects field. He doesn’t like to brag about it, but I will. If you check his IMDb page you notice that the guy has worked on EVERYTHING. As an example, for those of you that saw the film Invictus have seen his work. During the stadium shots, the only thing real in that footage is the field. He made the stadium and the crowd. The contrast between him and other university professors I have had is staggering. Maybe its the fact that he is Canadian that makes you think he is a normal graphics guy, I don’t know. The guy is crazy knowledgeable, it has been a pleasure and an honor to work with him.   And no, I’m not getting any extra credit for this.

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Almost done

So today I would like to talk about my main job on this trip. When we arrived we had about 1% of the information we needed to actually teach a successful class. One of the things we were not sure about was the presence of an online classroom/drop box type environment, or at the very least access to a printer for handouts. On the first day of class we found out that we had neither. That first day I allotted some of my server space just so we could post the handouts for the students to download. Text only, no big deal. Then we realized that they need somewhere to upload their files so we could grade them, so I built a php uploader, and separate drop boxes for each assignment. The next day we noticed that it was an entirely different class, at a different graphic level. So I took our ad-hoc online environment and split it into two different classes. At some point we realized that we needed some type of rudimentary grade-book, which actually became two problems. 1. that I didn’t know how to make a grade-book. and 2. that I would have to make it secure to respect the students privacy. Creating the database and the queries to access it was relatively easy, the login on the other hand gave me a few problems, but after an hour or two it was up and running. All of the slide shows are just extra graphical stuff just for fun. One is jquery,  the other is PHP and XML. Overall I am pretty happy with my unstyled, ugly, but working and completely necessary environment.

P.S. Sarah joins me in two days and I am WHOA excited.

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Old Town Square

MVI_2000 So this video is of the Old Town Square. I don’t need to tell you that it is beautiful, and that the video doesn’t do it justice. The video was taken at about 7pm, and the nightlife does not begin until 10 or 11pm so it is nice and quiet. At 10:30pm, we left the establishment just behind the camera to begin our 15min walk home and the square was quite full. The surrounding streets are just as beautiful as well, and if you can do it, I would definitely recommend a visit.

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