Friday, May 27, 2011

5/26 Sitting on the train from Gdansk to Warsaw, Poland

Now I’m on the train leaving Gdansk and heading to Warsaw. I woke up at 6am to catch the train. The scenery flows past fast – bright greet foliage and vibrant yellow rapeseed fields; fairly flat or slightly rolling land, frequent ponds and small rivers.

Last night, Ola took me to a very cool, hidden bar in the Gdansk Shipyard. Its out of the way and no tourists would ever know about it. The bar eschews Mondrian influence. We met Ola’s graphic design friend and co-worker, Paga, there. A gallery attaches to the bar and Ola tells me that this place is packed with young people dancing and music on weekends. We are the only ones sitting at classy tan, block seats this Wednesday evening though. When we finish our drinks, we head to a traditional Polish restaurant. I ordered Kasva to drink – a soda of sorts, which has a rye bread flavor hard to explain. I like it! I ordered yummy cabbage/mushroom pierroges. Ola ordered traditional Polish rye soup, zurek, with egg and ham and garlic mashed potatoes on the side to dip in. Paga ordered crispy potato wedges and some kind of ground ham steak smothered in creamy mushroom sauce. I got to sample the other dishes, just avoiding the ham.

We talked about design, traveling, work life, buying a house vs. not (and the freedom and responsibility given up or kept in either option) – how if you buy a house then you’re stuck with the pressure of keeping a job to maintain the house and then sometimes you’ll end up just working all the time and not even having the time to enjoy the place you are working to support. But then, if you’re renting, the money is not getting invested in anything tangible – but it is an investment in the freedom to pick up and leave and travel! (so the 2nd option is my choice for now, until/unless I have a family). We discussed relationships and boys. And of course we talked about food in different countries! We became friends instantly and if I were staying for the weekend, I would get to go bike riding with them on the super-long bike path that stretches along the coast – passing through the tri-cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. This attraction to the city and the people only means I’ll just have to come back with more time on my hands – maybe for one of the numerous cool music festivals happening here during the summers!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

5/25 Gdansk & Sopot, Poland

I’m in Sopot Poland on the Beach. I can hardly see anyone on the sand, which stretches from the sea straight back to leafy green nature, as it has for ages. Development exists on the beach side near the central plaza, but buildings have not yet infringed further. Workers are constructing an entirely new plaza, which I’m sure will be beautifully flower and fountain-filled soon. Ola tells me all the consruction/renovation is in preparation for games/sport event happening soon.

I’m resting on a driftwood log, having a serene sea-side walk, treading where the sand is wet and compacted by the waves, flipflops in one hand and camera over my shoulder.

The day began colder, windy and overcast, but now sun shines and clouds cast dramatic shadows. I’m so happy here. I wish I could stay longer in Gdansk and Sopot. I love the decorative architecture, kind people and creative spirit. Gallery walk pamphlets sit on the tourism shelves.

I am staying with a wonderful Polish graphic designer/textile designer 5 years older than I. Her name is Ola. Her apartment brims with Ikea modernist, black and pale wood furnishings. She possesses great taste in clothes, shoes and music (and we have plans to trade some music before I go on). She scribbled a handful of her design influences, movies and other such things for me in my notebook:
Movie- Navy Blue, Almost Black
Vivian Westwood – English fashion designer
Christian Montenegro
Henrik Tomaszewski
Teresa Pagowska
Homework – young Polish graphic design group
Mamastudio – graphic design group
Fajwe Ceopaki – Polish Graphic design
Lex Drewiniki
Michael Gondry
Heineken Opener Festival – music festival in Gdynia, end of June/beginning of July
Agnieskie Peginke

My favorite countries to eat food in in the world are Poland and Taiwan. Today, I bought a small piece of raisin cheesecake pastry thingy and the women behind the counter sweetly slipped me a free bag of leftover chocolate/raspberry donut scraps! Everything is so affordable and plenty of healthy vegetarian options abound. Last night, Ola and I ate sushi, of all things. Then we went back to her place and had my favorite kind of beer, hefeveisen blonde wheat, except this was a polish version. Yum!

5/24 Stockholm, Sweden cont.

On my 2nd evening in Stockholm, I was very happy to see Otto again after two years and I got to participate in comic night. This special evening occurs every Sunday in the house and involves a group of friends collecting around the table working on collaborative comics. For instance, once person draws a few boxes of a comic strip story and passes the page along to a new person to continue. Or, you can help out with one of the “experiments” as Petter calls them: 3 boxes, the first image begun by one person, the 2nd box continued by a 2nd person, and the 3rd box finished off by a 3rd person – hopefully with some sort of joke or punch line created. My favorite of these experiments shows an airplane diving toward the ground in one box, in the next box, the airplane has changed scale and has landed head first in a flower pot, and in the 3rd box, the plane is shown growing out of the flower pot beside other flower pots growing cars and other machines. What a cool thing to do in an evening! And what a treat to participate in such an evening with highly sophisticated, politically, environmentally aware people talking philosophically about demographics and population, social issues, food resources, and what makes a person bad or corrupt.

I had a few one-on-one good catch-up conversations with Otto. As he was cramming for an engineering exam, I had anticipated not having much time to hang out. We took a long walk through the parks one evening, getting to avoid the streets all together and just walk through the greenery to cross the island; this abundance of parks is one of the qualities I loved most about Sweden. Otto will soon be hitchhiking to Berlin, via Denmark. Maybe I’ll see him there next – everyone keeps talking about amazing Berlin, so I’ll go soon I hope. (Otto and I met by the way in Santa Fe, Summer 09 through a mix of couchsurfing/craigslist happenstance).

It rained the morning I left and cost $30 just to get to the airport (nearly the same amount for my cheap plane to Poland!) I would not recommend flying out of Skavsta airport. I spent money in Sweden only on transportation to and from the airport and a little bit on fresh fruit and icecream because the cost of transportation was so high. I hear it is one of the most expensive cities in Europe right now. I am grateful I had great people to stay with; it made all the difference in my visit.

5/23 Stockholm & Uppsala, Sweden

I met my friend Otto’s friend, Petter, in a park in Stockholm upon arrival. Since I don’t have a phone here, I was happy to see Petter’s facebook familiar face in person for the first time. We walked a few minutes through a pretty park to his flat where I would stay for the next 3 nights. I would sleep on a mattress under a grand piano! Petter’s bed and Martin’s bed (the other housemate) were also in the same room, so it was like a dorm. The flat is artistic and well-furnished, though a bit untidy from student-style living. Petter played piano beautifully a few times during my stay and made me really want to pick up that instrument. Haha, maybe after I learn Spanish! Pieces of Otto’s creativity could be found around the flat – from when he used to live here. I would see him my second night in Stockholm, since the first night he was gone on a family trip. A beautiful pair of black and pink butterfly wings of stretched-silk/gauze over coat-hangers sat on the window ledge. Otto had made them sans prototypes, just made them, for a costume party. A big panel leaning against one wall, depicted a tree house scene in black lines Otto drew for a play. The leaves were heart-shaped. Pieces of paper with doodles and comics filled the main table. Paper star cut-outs and free-form poems in Swedish stuck to the bathroom walls.

My first impression of Sweden was of a calm, collected city filled with parks, people picnicking in parks or biking along the many pathways following the water, a highly planned, neat city with extra efficient use of the limited housing space. The city spreads across 14 islands connected by bridges.  I spent a lot of time reading and walking in parks; mainly I just enjoyed the outdoors-free museum of the city itself because everything was just too expensive there. I did not feel like being a tourist. Maybe this was because I fully saturated myself with fun sight-seeing in Barcelona and I knew I would be doing the same in Poland, where prices are reasonable. If I come back, I would like to get out into the archipelago and experience the nature rather than the urban part of Sweden. Sweden seemed like Maine so much, similar to the place I grew up and had already explored, so I was happy to just relax and treat it like a place of normal living. Similar black rock coastlines, sea, ships, quiet/working living atmosphere, cooler climate, slower pace, and pine trees. Typical of myself, I explored all of what I did see on foot, walking through 5 or so of the islands and along the sea pathways, snapping pictures of old churches and buildings.

I also went to Uppsala one day intending to meet a friend from my past from when I volunteered in England 4 years ago, but we never found each other at the designated meeting spot. That’s the first time that has ever happened to me. When ever I tried calling her, the line was busy or went straight to voice mail so I assumed she had either slept in or thought we were supposed to meet a different day. It was too bad not to see her, but I’m glad I went to Uppsala anyway. It’s a very pretty university town with flower gardens, parks, and waterways.

I enjoyed time with Otto and his friends. They are all vegan or vegetarian and they were constantly cooking food and sharing it: delicious, chewy bread with grated carrots and flax seed mixed in; shortbread cookies with ground peanuts in sticky/sweet sauce on top; lentils with parsnips, garlic and tomatoes; and, when Otto came home, he made some kind of broccoli, garlic, tomato sauce to go over pasta or lentils.