The Adventures Continue!

Who needs Poland to be adventurous?! Not this girl. And it turns out, I am very easily persuaded . . .

Todd: Hey, Ellen! Wanna do the one mile lake swim with me this Saturday?

Ellen: Do you think I can swim a mile?

Todd: Sure!

So, the girl who hasn’t swam in, like, at least a year if not five, agreed to swim with a very enthusiastic “YEAH! I’ll swim!” I mean running is the same as swimming, right?

Morning dawned bright and early in Battle Creek. It was actually a perfect morning – sun shining, calm water, not too hot, not too cold.

Everything was perfect. Except for the fact that I seriously can’t swim. At least not in racing form. About 100 yards in, I looked over to Todd’s Dad, who also got roped into the swim, and yelled, “This is the worst idea we’ve ever had.”

BUT, after the first 1/4 mile, I realized I wouldn’t drown, only that it would take For.Ev.Er. to finish. But, hey, finishing slow is better than drowning any day.

So, after a dominant 55 minutes and 3 seconds of combination side stroke/back stroke, I brought home the third place MEDAL out of the three people in my age group! And Tim kayaked next to me the whole way. Bless his heart, it was a long time to kayak. Todd brought home gold with his show off “I-used-to-be-on-a-swim-team” stroke.

Moral of the story is, yes, I can swim a mile. Should I? Absolutely not.

But at least I have a time to beat for next year :)

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Gloomy Weather

Well, dear friends of southwest Michigan, I am truly sorry for bringing the rain back with me from Poland. I thought perhaps I could shake the clouds and rain by fleeing Europe, but instead I brought it home to share. Just think of it as a souvenir.

And, hey. At least I’m not sharing the stomach virus I also brought home. You’re welcome.

I think it goes without saying that I am safe and sound at home again! And I couldn’t be more excited about it :) It was a great trip with great people, but home is home, ya know?

We headed out of Bialystok in a mad rush on Saturday and went to Warsaw with Amanda, who oh so kindly let us share her hotel at the airport that night (thank you friend!). The three of us, plus another from our program, took one last wander through Warsaw that night. It was actually lovely in the city, good weather and a perfect night for dining outside.

 

We even managed to find the good “tight twist” ice cream; America certainly does not twist this tight. And in Bialystok it’s somehow coconut flavored, which may sound tasty, but . . .

The next morning, Corey and I headed out of Warsaw, waking up about 4 am. We flew, cabbed, flew, waited, flew, and drove. After a mere 22 hours of travel, we made it. Oy.  And special prize goes to the reader that can accurately guess how much our cab from London Luton airport to London Heathrow airport cost. For a hint, the ride was under 30 minutes.

OH! And, since I know you all have been dying with suspense (did we see the illuminated fountains or did we not before we left Bialystok?!?) . . . NOPE! Turns out Friday night is not a weekend night in Poland. Of course.

A few more stories to share, but a nap is in order first.

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Homeward Bound

For a variety of reasons, the road home starts today. By 6:30 pm tomorrow I will be back stateside.

We tried to tank the tank home, but the army didn’t go for it. I know, I was shocked, too.

It’s been a great trip, but it feels like time to be home. I still have a few tricks up my blog-sleeve, so it’s not over yet. Let’s hope for safe travels and clear skies – see you all soon!

 

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Bialystok Sights

Four weeks has come and gone. Today is our last class and people have already starting to head home. We have had a great time here, but home sounds pretty amazing.

Here’s a (long overdue) quick tour of Bialystok before I head on out.

This is Branicki Palace. A palace built by a man who one day hoped to be King of Poland. He didn’t quite make it, but he at least contributed some nice buildings to the city.

The Palace is currently home to the medical school. In the back are the gardens, though recently planted and growing slowly. I am sure all the rain we’ve had this week will help with the growth factor.

Another Branicki sponsored building sits in the middle of the city center square.

The Rynek Kosciuszki  is now home to many different restaurants and the main site of many music festivals.

There are also little shops around, and no shortage of clubs to get your dance on nearby.


This is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It stands on one end of the city center, with an Orthodox Church located at the opposite end. Parades and processions usually run between the two churches.

I attended mass here last Sunday here. There is as much brickwork inside as outside, and stained glass windows are everywhere. The service was in Polish, but the order followed the flow of mass in the States.

And before you think it’s only gray around here, the sun does break through on occasion. Today it should be 78 and sunny, but the gray clouds outside the window are telling me otherwise.

This is another open square near the law school. There are fountains and a theater at one end. We also caught the auto show here, as well as a military display the day the President came to the city.

 

There is a beautiful park in the middle of the city, which just so happens to be across from the law school.

Planty Park is home to the “Washerwoman” sculpture, and illuminated fountains. I have yet to see the illumination since it occurs only on the weekends and we’ve managed to be out of town most of those. The one day we were set to see the fountains, there were off due to a music festival. Go figure. BUT, tonight we will make on last attempt! Stay tuned . . .

 

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Little (and Not so Little) Decisions

The hardest decision I faced yesterday was whether I would go horseback riding or to the shooting range. Horseback riding won out (though I’m still not sure if that was the safer option).

As I trotted around on my horse, I got to thinking. Life is full of decisions. It happens to be a time in my life when the decisions are pretty insignificant; fun even. Will we head to Germany after Poland, or catch an earlier flight home? Not such a bad decision to make.

But do I really appreciate that?  Am I enjoying making all these easy decisions?? We all know decisions aren’t always so simple. Or easy. Or right. Or even decisions that you want to have to make.

Ever.

As we left Krakow a few weeks back, we stopped at the Auschwitz concentration camp. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my initial reaction was, ‘Wow, this is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.’

And then I felt like an ass.

This place, this tiny place, was the site where hundreds of thousands of people were held and murdered. Imagine making decisions as a person inside that camp. Do you fight back? Are you even physically able to fight back? Should you help the person next to you if he’s fallen, or will that just make it worse? I can’t even pretend to know the decisions these people faced inside the walls of this camp; the decisions everyone faced during that time.

One of the first quotes I saw in the Auschwitz buildings is from George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

Europe remembers.

Through our classes here, I have seen that this history is built into more aspects of the culture and the law than I even could have fathomed. Europe has broad anti-discrimination laws to protect larger classes of people from finding themselves in another similar situation. There are laws in most countries that prevent speech that denies the Holocaust occurred.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It makes me wonder, though, if America always remembers the past, not the Holocaust as much, but our own past: Slavery, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement.

Do we learn from our past decisions of tolerating hateful attitudes towards persons with certain characteristics, and therefore strive to keep an open mind?  Do we decide to enact laws that aim to avoid the kind of oppression and disparate treatment that we once had on the law books in the past?

Decisions are not always easy. But there is always hope, if you choose it.  Hope that yesterday’s mistaken decision will avoid the same problem today, and tomorrow. Hope that tomorrow will bring a better option. Hope that tomorrow will have no decisions at all.

What I didn’t know, was that the initial grounds we toured were only the beginning. Only a short while later there would be Auschwitz-Birkenau, a camp with its own railroad track that startled me with its endlessness. And even after that Auschwitz-Monowitz.

This trip is quickly becoming my own history. May it always remind me to keep an open mind and an open heart. May it remind me the next time I am frustrated with choices, that at least I have choices. And that those choices aren’t always so bad.

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A Little USA Pride

Class on the Fourth of July?! Silly Poland. At least there was cake.

Despite the rainy weather – all weekend – by some miracle, it mostly blew over by yesterday afternoon. It was more gray, and certainly more cold, than we had hoped for, but we were still able to head out into the forest for our Fourth of July celebration.

It was absolutely in the middle of nowhere, but full of beautiful trees, wagon rides, horses, and even ziplines. I promise, this was not as bad as it looks. Though, I did end up a little more soggy than I hoped for . . .

We traded Kielbasa roasting skills for Marshmallow roasting skills with the Polish students. The S’mores were a huge hit, despite the faux graham crackers. And, I ended up only moderately sticky as the Official Assembly(wo)man.

Perhaps I should have zip-lined after the s’more making.

Cheers to 235 years, America, and thanks for a great reason to celebrate with new friends!

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A Polish Delicacy?

This is a picture of me eating raw meat.

I assure you it won’t happen again.

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