Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kraków, Poland

After the conference in Wisła ended, all of the volunteers went to Kraków for about a day and a half of sightseeing before heading back home. We stayed at the Novotel Kraków City West hotel, which was pretty nice.
I liked the pops of color and that the shelves and lights were incorporated into the headboard

The bathroom was split into two separate, adjacent rooms, which seemed like a poor use of space,
considering the spatial economy of the rest of the hotel room

View from our room on the 5th floor

The afternoon we arrived, Mirek, one of Rita's co-workers who lives near Kraków, kindly picked us and a few of our friends up and took us to see some sights and have dinner. First, we went to Krakus Mound, which is the oldest structure in Kraków and the highest point. It is 52 feet high and has a base diameter of 197 feet. Its exact age is unknown, but it is thought that it could be about 2,500 years old.

Krakus Mound
View of Kraków from the top of Krakus Mound
From the top of the mound, you can also see Liban Quarry, which is a limestone quarry that was established in 1873 by two Jewish families. During World War II, it was converted into a Nazi forced labor camp. The site was also used as the concentration camp set in the movie Schindler's List (the Płaszów concentration camp site is nearby).

Liban Quarry

Some flowers on the side of the mound
From there, we went to the Niepołomice Royal Castle (also called the Castle of the Polish Kings) in Niepołomice. It was originally built in the mid-14th century. We ate dinner at the restaurant in the castle. Mirek recommended a traditional Polish meal that included a breaded pork cutlet, potatoes, and cabbage, so I got that, and it was very good and filling.

The next day, I went on a group tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp site and museum. I'll do a separate post about that.

Rita and I also walked around Kraków in the evening, taking in sights, getting gelato, and picking up a few souvenirs. I got an orange scarf to go with my navy trench coat from Wisła and some postcards to send to family (which were mailed at the end of May and arrived in mid-July!).

St. Mary's Basilica

Skałka Church
St. Florian's Church
Main Market Square (Cloth Hall)

The Barbican
Wawel Castle
Grunwald Monument

Town Hall Tower
I enjoyed everything we did, but there's just too much to do there in a day and a half. It would have been nice to spend some time in Kraków during the daytime and go to the market in the square and go inside the churches. If I go back, I'd like to do that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wisła, Poland

In late May, I went on a trip to Poland to volunteer at the European Leadership Forum, which is an annual conference for European Christian leaders. The conference was held in Wisła (pronounced veese-wah), which is in the mountains near the Czech border on the Wisła (Vistula) River. About 100 volunteers, mostly from the U.S., helped to run the logistics of the conference. Rita, a friend from BSF and church, invited me to go, so we were roommates (Ed couldn't go because of just starting his new job). Some other members of our church in Rockford also went.

A view of Wisła from the hotel
This trip was immediately after our move to NC, so it was kind of a stressful, busy time, and I felt linguistically unprepared (I didn't have time to learn many Polish words or phrases), even though everyone at the conference spoke English. However, the Polish people I interacted with spoke English and were kind. The conference was held at Hotel Gołębiewski, which is HUGE and very nice.

Our room at Hotel Gołębiewski in Wisła

Those are pretty much the only photos I took in Wisła, because I was busy almost the whole time, and when I wasn't, it was raining (bad for photos). I had many different duties, including bookstore inventory, conducting audio interviews for conference scholarship recipients, typing session evaluations, room monitoring, and meal seating, but my primary job was to run the projected visuals for the plenary sessions, which were twice a day. It was a good fit for me, because it included editing slide text and advancing the lyric slides during the hymns and songs, so it combined both my technical writing/editing and music skills.

With the exception of another guy from a different church in Rockford, everyone else on the production team (there were six of us on the team) was from Scottsdale Bible Church in Arizona. Probably half of the volunteers were from that church, actually. It became evident that they were indeed from Arizona when it suddenly started storming and pouring rain one afternoon, and everyone but the two Illinois residents jumped up and ran to the window. We all found it quite amusing.

I downloaded the following four photos from Facebook (not sure how to credit these).

A plenary session
Aaron running lights and Kevin running sound
I spent most of my time here, trying not to mess up (that's apparently my concentration face)
The worship band is to the left, and the production team is to the right
The worship band was from the UK and were nice to work with. I liked that they tried to have a balance of hymns and more contemporary songs that were doctrinally and biblically sound.

During one of our breaks, we went to this kind of discount general store called Biedronka, which I'm a total fan of now. I got some really sweet deals there, including a scarf, a shirt, some walking shoes (didn't pack them in the post-move chaos), and a $10 navy trench coat that fit perfectly and came in handy later in Kraków. I also got some chocolate-covered wafers, and they were so good. I highly recommend Polish wafers and chocolate bars, both of which can be ordered on Amazon if your local international market doesn't carry them. I got a few other necessities, as well, and my total was only about $30 (USD). And speaking of food, the food at the hotel was pretty good, too. I was impressed with some of the different combinations they came up with so as to avoid food waste (strawberry mousse-filled pierogi were interesting and actually not bad). And speaking of pierogi, we went to a restaurant just down the hill from the hotel one day, and I had some delicious spinach and cheese-filled pierogi with a Gorgonzola sauce on top. I love pierogi, so it was a culinary highlight for me to have them in Poland.

But the main highlight of my time in Wisła was what happened when we were about to leave Biedronka. It started pouring rain, and we had walked there, so we waited for it to ease up. While we were waiting, a Polish woman overheard us speaking English and started talking to us. She was really nice and asked what we were doing in Wisła, so we told her about the conference. She said she was also a Christian and that she was getting ready to move to another town and start a new job, and she didn't really know any other Christians. We prayed with her and invited her to meet us at the hotel the next morning for the plenary session, so we could introduce her to someone who might be able to help her find a church when she moved. And she came! She got to talk to someone at the conference who could give her some information about a church in the town she was moving to, and she seemed to really enjoy the worship time and fellowship. Her name is Maria, for those who might feel led to pray for her.

Also, I kind of met Wayne Grudem and John Lennox. I say "kind of" because I'm not sure if it counts when all you do is exchange pleasantries and names. I have this thing where I don't say much when I meet someone well-known/famous. I think it's an instinct kicking in to keep me from saying something stupid, but it doesn't do much for conversation. Not that they had time to converse with me.

I'll do a separate post for some sightseeing we did in and near Kraków at the end of the trip.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Knitted Toys

Our nephew is already a year old! We went to his first birthday party in early August, and our gift to him was a set of knitted toys. They're quite adorable, if I do say so myself.

I knitted the cat above in the round with double-pointed needles. I found the pattern on Ravelry (it's called "Beans the Cat" and the designer is Linda Dawkins), but it's also available on her web site here. It was a good project for my first attempt, because it was small and quick. It was also my first try knitting an i-cord (for the tail). So now I can officially check off #2 on my list of knitting goals with this cat and the beret (the cat and the hat!).

I knitted the cat because it was just too cute not to knit, and then I saw some patterns on Ravelry for some other animals that I had to make. These were actually knitted flat (not in the round), so I got some practice with seaming, which I had mostly managed to avoid until now.

These patterns were designed by Aine Marriott and are called "Mini Elephant," "Mini Lion," and "Mini Hippo."

I knitted all of these toys with cotton yarn, so they are washable (hand washing is probably best).

He seemed to like them. We noticed when looking through the photos Ed took from the party that he held onto the cat through the opening of several gifts.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

I'm not implying that he wasn't interested in those other gifts, but I think it's sufficient proof that he liked the cat I knitted for least for about five minutes.

Some adults enjoyed playing with them, too:
My dad is saying he has the cat by the tail (and the others are forming a cheerleader-style pyramid in the background)
My dad juggling the toys and displaying classic concentration face
Uncle Brandon victoriously completes a feat of balance (it lasted approximately 0.5 seconds)
It was a good party. Lots of people came, and we got to see family and friends we hadn't seen in a while. It's nice to be a few hours' drive away again so we can do stuff like this.