warsaw filharmonia

The following week was spent getting acclimated to the city. Lori & Teré never seemed to stop complaining. It was cold in the rooms so Stefan and Fred brought over a heater for them. We went shopping for boots and they didn't like anything they saw. To be fair, we were shopping in Poland and were lucky to even find any boots. Many shops were half empty. Then again, did they not realize that February and most of March is still winter? Lori's pink high-top Reebok's may have been stylish but were impractical.

Mike and I did our best to avoid them. I liked Nopp but she stayed with Lori & Teré so I only spent time with her at class or at the dorm. Fred didn't do much to make the girls shut up but he didn't placate them either. I think he was used to tuning out females.

I started to venture out on my own. I liked doing what I want when I want and not have 5 people complain about it. I liked to ride the trams and just watch the city go by. It was very cheap, less than pennies. I went into a local café called the Magnolia. I was handed a typed menu, all in Polish. I would point to something and be told "Nie wiecej" I would point to something else and be told, "Nie wiecej." Finally, I pointed to something that they did have. I didn't know what it was until it came. It turned out to be veal cutlet which was good.

I thought a lot about Bill. As much as I liked him, I was conflicted. There wasn't anyone to talk and I didn't know which way to go. I guess that was all for the best. Lori told Fred about him. When we got to the embassy Friday night, Fred was already there asking for Bill. It was very embarrassing. It was the one night Bill & I could have gotten together. But there were plans to go to the Warsaw Philharmonic. I really did not want to go and Fred knew it.I am glad that I went. The music, limited to a piano and violin, was wonderful. I was really impressed with the architecture. The original building was destroyed in 1939 and was rebuilt after the war. Fred thought it looked too plain but I really liked it. I think it made me focus on the music more.And going to the Philharmonic made me avoid a big mistake with Bill.

my roommate arrives

Nopp is from Thailand and she had been visiting her family before the trip. She flew from Bangkok to Poland. She said the flight was so full that some people actually stood for the entire flight! I guess flight regulations don't apply to eastern block countries.

Nopp brought a suitcase full of toilet paper. Bless her! She gave a roll to Teré and one to Lori and said that was all that they get. The rest was for us. Yay!

The Polish students had arranged for us to take meals in the school cafeteria. Our first meal was Fat Tuesday. We walked into a large nondescript building and then past the bathrooms. Oh god! What the hell? Was this an outhouse? Oh the smell! We quickly walked upstairs and thankfully the smell did not follow us.

The meal wasn't bad. Typical Polish fair, pork, potatoes and over-steamed vegetables. I think their was even some dessert. We figured this would be OK.

You know what comes next, don't you? Ash Wednesday. I got up early and went walking to go to church. The Church of the Black Madonna happened to be pretty close. I walked in to the dark church to find mass already taking place. In fact, mass just continued from one hour to the next. I hung out in back because I'm shy.

The floor was covered in straw. Huh? Well, it wasn't completely covered but mostly in the aisles. I guess it was cheaper than floor mats. The place was pretty crowded and there were not enough pews. Many people were standing. When it came time to kneel (I always felt that mass should be called Catholic aerobics; stand up sit down, stand up, kneel...) people knelt on those dirty floors! Um, no thanks. Call me sinner. I got my ashes and left.

Do you know that on Ash Wednesday, good Catholics are supposed to fast. Now, Catholic fasting is not the really fasting. It means no snacks, and two small meals that together do not equal the third. OK, not a problem since we still hadn't figured out breakfast yet. We all went to the cafeteria for lunch. Oh no. Cabbage soup and the driest bread known to man. That was it.

We found that the hotels had good food and pretty cheap for us. We went there for dinner. There was one hotel we favored over the rest, The Forum. They had a cheap side and an expensive side. The meals were similar but the cost was double in the expensive side. On the cheap side, there were only waitresses. On the expensive side were waiters. We learned to ask for ice for our cokes. When we first arrived, our salads were cole-slaw. As the weather got warmer, we started getting iceberg lettuce. We never tried the beefsteak tartar.

Realizing that Ash Wednesday would be lacking in food. We went back to the cafeteria on Thursday. Walking past the sess-pool and up the stairs, we realized that was Fat Tuesday was a celebration in good food. What we got that day was one step about Ash Wednesday. This wasn't going to work. After trying to eat another scary, unfulfilling meal, we would have to walk past the raw sewage smell and hope that our meager lunch stayed in our stomachs. We went to talk to the Polish students.

Our first 24 hours

We had to go upstairs to an office to get our student ids and our one roll of toilet paper for the month. Yes, one roll. Toilet paper in Poland is a luxury and what they supplied us was more like crepe paper. In fact, I cut off a strip and put it into my journal. We were to carry this one roll of toilet paper each time we went to the toilets. There would be no toilet in there lest we should forget. And towards the end of the month when the rolls were gone, we would find magazines and newspapers left in the toilets. Fortunately, I never had use them.We settled in a bit and had to go to dinner. The Polish students took us to Old Town for pizza. Well, what they think pizza is. It was a dark sort of charming restaurant in the original city walls. The pizza, well, it could best be described as belgium waffle with ketchup and a spot of cheese. Pizza happens to be one of my favorite foods and this was an extreme disappointment. The next morning the Polish students brought us breakfast. Hard dry bread covered with ketchup, cheese and olives. And tonic water with the flavor of the month which happened to be lemon lime. Have I mentioned that I hate ketchup and olives?On to university where we meet our professors and more students. The Polytechnic is in a large old building with large studios full of life. Several of the students knew me by name. I guess they had been previous exchange students.Lunch time came and we were starved. We walked through the snow to a cafe. It smelled good inside and warm. We saw a man eating at the counter and we wanted what he was having. Even though the students' english was great, not everything is easy to translate. Our meals came and we happily dug in to what we thought would be pieces of chicken and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. I took one bite and knew it was not chicken meat. And if I had not been so hungry after 2 days of airline meals, Polish pizza and breakfast, I would never eat those chicken livers. But they weren't bad, the potatoes were real and the gravy was good. Lori and Teré were not so open minded and would barely touch their potatoes let alone the chicken livers. Needless to say, they bitched and moaned the rest of the day.


to read the first part of this story, click here: the decision

There were only 7 of us going on the trip, 6 students and Fred, our professor. Michael, Teré and I took a plane from Detroit to London. Then another to Frankfort. In Frankfort, we met Fred, Lori & Brad. Lori had her 100 pack of xacto blades confiscated by security. The next leg was much different. Even though it was still Pan Am, it looked and felt like we travelled back in time about 20 years. The plane was old and worn. The crew was old and worn as well as Polish. I would soon learn that everything was old and worn in Poland, even the new stuff.The flight was uneventful, the arrival, not so much. There was no jetway so we had to walk down the stairs outside, in the cold. It was February. At the top of the stairs was an armed guard counting the number of people who got off the plane. We walked into the terminal and collected our luggage. There were no carts so we had to carry, kick or drag it all ourselves across the dirty floor. We stood in queues in front of steel gray doors lining a tall wall that did not reach the ceiling. You walked through and realized you were in sort of a no man's land with another row of doors in front of you. This new wall also did not reach the ceiling but was too high to jump. And as the heavy door slammed shut behind you, you got this feeling there was no turning back. No escape until you served your time. Some of the polish professors and students met us once we were through customs. We then got on a bus and travelled to our dorm. I looked out at the gray. Not only was the February weather gray, but so was the city. Most of the buildings were built after the war. But they were falling apart. What did I expect?We pulled up to our dorm and I was happily surprised by this cheery yellow building. It didn't look new, but well-kept and nice. That old saying is true: Don't judge a book by its cover. The memory of the lobby has faded over time. I remember dirty beige. An elevator that mostly didn't work. Some phone booths that usually stood empty. Nothing cheery or inviting.We trudged up the stairs and there were plenty of people to help with the luggage. Bradley & Michael would have their own suite on the second (first) floor. The four of us girls would have a suite on the third (second) floor. Lori & Teré would share a room and I would share with Noppawan who would be arriving soon from Thailand.Each suite contained 2 bedrooms with 2 single beds, 2 bookshelves and one armoire. There was small bath, shower and sink but no toilet, and another room which had a counter and some cabinets. The communal toilets were down the hall to the left. The communal kitchens were down the hall to the right. There were no refrigerators, you had to buy what you needed each day.I should also note that the sheets threw us for a loop. There was a flat sheet and another sheet that seemed more like a pocket. But it wasn't big enough the slip over the mattress. How long did we go before we figured out that it was a duvet and we were supposed to fold those scratchy wool blankets inside and use the flat sheet on the mattress?One thing I regret was not taking more photos of everything. But I only had 16 or 18 rolls of film for 4 months. I had to ration it. Why would I want a reminder of all that gray?

the decision

I never had any intentions of going to Poland. I was planning on going to Italy as part of the school program. I mean, really, which would you choose; communist Poland or Italy?

Then Carol asked me to come to the meeting. She and her boyfriend were planning on going to Poland. OK, I'll sit in the basement classroom and listen to the spiel. Funny thing happened, I wanted to go. Huh? Why? Was it because Carol was planning on going? Did Tony do such a good job selling the trip? Was it finding out that Fred was going to be the professor? I dunno, I can't recall.

Anyway, I left that meeting thinking that I needed to find a job so I could pay for the trip and in a couple of weeks, I had an interview at SVM. After the Saturday meeting with Steve, I drove home to tell mom of my plans. I smile when I think back to it. I told her, I didn't ask. Carol asked and was told she could not go.

I got the part-time job and spent the next weeks preparing for the trip; getting my passport, planning for my month of travel after school ended in May. Unsurprisingly, my grades remained high as I do better when I am forced to manage my time.