51° 14′ 47.2344″ N, 22° 34′ 6.4056″ E
Learning Polish is pretty difficult. When I arrived in Poland, I could only speak a handful of words and phrases. I knew how to say “hello,” “good day,” “good-bye” and “I don’t understand.” I knew a few numbers, and a few words I might need when I go shopping or when I buy a train ticket. I couldn’t understand anyone! Now, I can communicate with most people.
The other day, I went into my favorite bakery to buy a bajaderka (pronounced baya-DARE-ka), a cake ball made with gingerbread cake, nutella and almond flavoring. When I asked for one, the girl working there told me that they hadn’t had any all week. She said that they are only small bakery, and they have to get their cakes and cookies from the big bakery in a different part of the city. She said that the big bakery wasn’t making them right now. I was disappointed not to find my favorite snack, but pleased that I had understood everything she said!
In Lublin, it’s important to know at least some Polish. There are many college students in the city who know English, but most of the people who work at restaurants in stores can only speak Polish. A few older people speak Russian or German, languages they had to learn during World War II and under Communism. The more Polish I learn, the more I feel like I’m a part of this city, not just a tourist.
Since I’m beginning to feel like a Lubliner, I thought I might give you a short tour of my city. Lublin is an old city. It was founded during the early Middle Ages. Unlike many Polish cities whose old towns were destroyed during World War II, Lublin’s Stare Miasto (pronounced starey meeasto) looks much like it did during the 1300s and 1400s. To reach the Old Town, you must walk through the Krakow Gate, built during the 1300s. When you walk through the gate, you feel like you are walking back in time. Around Christmas, which is very important in Poland, vendors set up stands selling hot drinks and traditional Polish foods like fried sausages and grilled sheep’s cheese. The cobblestones click under passing ladies’ high-heeled boots. Women in Poland have impressive balance. Even when it’s icy, young women wear boots with three-inch spike heels! Walking past them, I feel pretty unfashionable, but since I like to walk around the Old Town for hours, I’m happy to be wearing normal shoes.
The Old Town is not large, but the streets are winding and the buildings are an appealing mix of brightly-painted, renovated buildings, and run-down structures asking to be bought and fixed up. I like to walk one of the streets off the main square, peek into the windows of one of the abandoned buildings, and imagine how grand they were once. When you reach the second gate of the city, you can see Lublin’s castle. I haven’t been to the castle yet, but I’m eager to take my husband there soon. Today it’s cold so I think we’ll wait a few more weeks.
I probably talk about this too much, but winters in Poland are not fun! I’m from Iowa, where the weather gets cold during the winter. School is usually canceled at least a couple of times a year because of heavy snow. In eastern Poland, it’s cold and snowy almost every day! It also gets dark a lot earlier. How much farther north do you think Poland is from the place you live? Take a look at the map I created and find out!
One of the worst things about Polish winters is that they are lonely. Because it’s cold and because it gets dark so early, people don’t get out much. My friend Eva, who works with me at the Catholic University, likes to joke that in the winter all she does is sleep and eat. I’m very lucky to be friends with most of the professors I work with, but it has been quite sometime since I’ve seen most of them. This weekend, my husband and I are having dinner with a professor I like very much. It’s very exciting to think about having a social life again now that February is almost here.
When you walk around the city of Lublin, people might not seem very friendly, especially now. In Poland, it is not considered appropriate to smile at strangers. You should greet people when you walk past them into a shop, and you should always greet the people in a shop, but you will get strange looks if you walk around with a big grin on your face! At first, I thought Polish people were rude. Now that I have many Polish friends, I know that Polish people are warm, very funny, and very generous. My landlady, who comes over once a week to practice English, always brings me something good to eat, and the students I am friends always make sure I am included in university events.
It’s starting to get dark, so I should probably hurry home. I don’t live all that far from the Old Town. About five minutes walk from my apartment building is Lublin’s downtown area. Its buildings date from the 1800s, and are bright white and graceful looking, like the buildings you see in photographs of Paris. My neighborhood is a little run-down, and my building is only from the 1930s, but I like that it is so close to everything. I pass by the old man who is always out with his dog and say hello. Most dogs in Poland are scared of me. I have no idea why. I take out my skeleton key and unlock the big, heavy wooden doors that lead to my apartment. The inside of my apartment is new and comfortable. I think this is my favorite thing about Poland, and about Europe in general. It’s a mix of the new and old, of the run-down and bright and modern. I definitely feel like I’m living somewhere different than home, but not so out of place as I did when I lived in China. I’m looking forward to our next trip, when we will go out for some traditional Polish foods!