Monday, July 19, 2010

More Museums, Language Classes, and Further Excitement

I'm now in Kraków! Just took my language placement test (apparently I'm level 1B, which is roughly advanced beginner). I got here yesterday afternoon after taking the train from Warsaw, which took about three hours. It was pretty crowded, and so I had to sit on my suitcase in the little entrance area between train cars. (Also, when we passed through a storm, we got rained on inside the train. Excitement. There was a nice view of the countryside and some little villages from the windows, though.) There were some interesting people sitting near me, though - some students from Poland and some travelers from England - who I talked to on the way here.
I took the taxi to my host family's house - they live a bit outside of the main city, but the tram which goes directly into downtown (for only 2.5 zloty, or about $1, each way) is only a block away. I actually managed to hold a conversation with them in Polish! (Well, rather ungrammatically and with lots of hand gestures on my part, but still, I was quite proud of this.) Later, I went into town and found a Coffee Heaven (essentially the Polish version of Starbucks, and just as ubiquitous here. Considering that it's air-conditioned and has free Wi-Fi, the name has proven rather appropriate.) I Skyped my parents to let them know I'd gotten here OK, then figured out tram directions from where I'm staying to the language school with the help of a Polish guy who lives in San Francisco, but happened to be visiting Kraków. After leaving the cafe, I got a first-hand experience of the infamous Central/Eastern European caught in a downpour without an umbrella. :/ (Luckily, I managed to find a store selling them on the way to the tram stop.) At least it's cooled off a bit's been really hot and humid the past few days, and carrying most of my stuff with me while walking around the city hasn't helped. (Since the hostel had been switching my room each night, I figured it was easier to just take anything I might need throughout the day - laptop, books, etc. - with me instead of going into and out of the cloakroom until I could check back in.)
Before heading here from Warsaw, I also had a chance to see quite a few other interesting things on Friday. I visited the State Ethnographic Museum (Państwowe Muzeum Etnograficzne). The first floor had an exhibit on the history of the museum itself, how it got its collections, etc. They have objects from anthropological field expeditions all over the world, but Polish anthropology also seems to include a lot of fieldwork within Poland as well, particularly on rural areas and folk art/craft. There's a gallery devoted to "folk art," which seems to designate non-professional artists and includes both contemporary and historical works. There's also one with artifacts showing traditional handicraft (which they define as manufacture for household use). On the top floor, there's an exhibit on traditional Polish annual rituals for holidays and seasons.
I spent about three hours in the museum, then headed out to the main street, where EuroPride was happening. This was the first year it was being held in a Central/Eastern European country. It was pretty heavily policed - there were officers standing in the street and we weren't allowed to cross until the parade had passed by - and there were a few counter-protesters here and there, but seemed overall to be fairly peaceful, at least from where I was standing. Here's a BBC News link to a recap of the event:
I also visited the Warsaw Rising Museum. It's fairly new and apparently has been pretty well received in comparison to many other museums in the area for its use of interactive exhibits and multimedia. Because of this, I figured it might be informative fieldwork-wise to see it. There are three floors, arranged chronologically as you walk upstairs from the events leading up to the Warsaw Uprising to the event itself. The museum's floors and walls are designed as if you're actually walking through the city in 1944, and there are different kinds of displays - historical objects in cases, information on the walls to read, and handouts for visitors to pick up (most interestingly, little calendar pages that have each date and what happened then in 1944). There's also a big screen showing films shot by people involved in the Warsaw Uprising in the center of the museum, which you can see as you walk around on the different floors.
After leaving the museum, I managed to get lost looking for the bus. There are no centralized transport schedules, at least that I could find, so I basically got around by asking people which bus to take to the central train station/Palace of Science and Culture. I was hoping to also see the Poster Museum, but it closed at 6, and by the time I figured out which bus to take, it was 5:30. I headed back to the city center, did some shopping in the areas nearby (the Empik media store is pretty cool - didn't buy anything there, although I did conclude from the displays that people in Poland are just as inexplicably obsessed with Twilight as are people in the States), and then back to the hostel, where I hung out in the cafe/bar with some of the other people staying there.
I'm currently in a cafe about a block from the language school. I have discovered that Facebook evidently gets very confused when you go to another country and try to log in...first they asked me to verify my account, then they tried to send me a text message with a confirmation code (absurdly high international roaming charges aside, my phone doesn't get service here anyway). It did eventually let me log on, though. Good to know for future reference. Free Wi-Fi seems to be pretty readily available, though, so if nothing else I can keep posting on here.
My first language class starts in 20 minutes. Off to go learn about Polish pronunciation!

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