Poland: part 1, abridged.

I realised it’s been a while since my last post and so rather than spend the time outside I decided to write a bit about my time in Poland.

My decision to go to Poland was born of wanting to erase my complete ignorance about the country as well as a healthy dose of spontaneity. I was in Berlin at the time and had far too many bags than was healthy to carry around so I left the bulk of them with a friend and took only my small American “vintage” military shoulder bag.

I decided to do Poland a bit differently than I had been doing my travelling thus far (hostels, busses, etc) and travel as exclusively as was reasonable by hitchhiking and couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is something I would definitely recommend to anyone, even those who aren’t looking after a budget; it gives an opportunity to meet locals and get a more personal feeling of the country and the people. Hitchhiking definitely isn’t for everyone but if you’re patient, open minded, and don’t mind being idle for sometimes quite a while then why not give it a go. http://www.couchsurfing.com and http://www.hitchwiki.org are essential.

I started out with blablacar, a ride sharing website, to ease my way from public transport into hitchhiking. I found a ride from Berlin to Poznan (4 hours) with a really interesting couple who travel around Europe all year doing street performances. My first experience of Polish hospitality (as far as I’m aware – strangely not well known) was with these two; after the border, and some fun with the border guards, I was asked where in Poznan I was planning on staying. As per usual I had no plan and no idea, letting fate take me to somewhere reasonably warm with a bed, so I was invited to the house of the performance couple and later found out that he was in fact a host on the couchsurfing.

The weather at this time in Poland (around mid November) was reasonable horrible so Mikołaj and his girlfriend Niki (our hosts) told me it was naturally fine for me to stay as long as I wanted to and went as far to also invite a friend of mine to come and stay also. We stayed inside a lot due to the rain but this was hardly a problem as there were four of us and Mikołaj was an adept bridge player! We spent many hours (and possibly more than a few beers, including a banana flavoured one… It wasn’t my favourite but you have to try everything I guess…) learning how to play bridge. We even managed to beat out Mikołaj and Niki once or twice!

On one of the colder days, I think it was somewhere around -15, me and the friend who had come to Poland with me realised we hadn’t been for a swim in a disastrously long time (being both from the same corner of the world.. more or less) and asked our hosts if there were any waterparks nearby. It turns out that Poznan has a great waterpark complete with slides, fountains, and a wave pool! Of course I didn’t come to Poland with togs (swimming clothes for the non Kiwis among you), so after going to H&M for a pair of cheap sports shorts we headed straight there. A new experience for me was the heated outdoor pool in the middle of early Polish winter; you get the great feeling of the water slowly freezing in your hair, while the rest of you is comfortably above 20 degrees in the water… Interesting…

After Poznan and some great memories after just the first week or so, I decided to stay a bit longer in Poland and see some of the other cities and towns. This post is getting long winded so they’ll have to wait for later. They include such nonsense as getting completely lost 5 minutes walk from the city center, meeting two girls from Belarus who thankfully spoke English and deciding to go to the town where they live, hitchhiking in the ice at -20 degrees, getting spooked by cheesy mechanical skeletons in a castle ruin… I do some silly things…

Australian friend in the lovely weather.

Australian friend in the lovely weather.

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A bit of a boring photo.

A bit of a boring photo. I just found the translations funny. You seem to only need to add a “y” to English words.

That’s all for now. Cheers for reading my nonsense and traveling vicariously.

Jase

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Work: food

I’m not sure how it happened but in the first upload of this post all of the text and photos were not added… So here is a re-do.

I wanted to write about what kind of work I’m doing here in Germany at the moment, but I think to write everything in one post would make it impossible not to gloss over a lot; so I decided to write about a small experience in each field. The first (being the one I enjoy the most) naturally, is cooking.

Most of the cooking I/we do here is for ourselves, with the occasional opportunity to cook for guests; be it a small dinner for a couple or catering for 40 people. While cooking for many people can be fun, mostly it’s chaotic and there are far too many dishes to do at the end; I really prefer making smaller quantities. Here, just for showig off, are a couple of photos from an event we catered for:

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Good, that’s out of the way.

While walking back to the house after working in the garden, Katrin (my host) told me that we have a big leg of turkey and asked if I’d like to cook it. When I agreed, she said she has a “meat infuser” and ran upstairs to get it. I started to prepare the turkey for roasting: browned in butter (bone side down) to both render the fat and get all the flavour from the bone started, placed thyme around the bone and then seasoned, rolled it up and then tied it with string (I put some extra thyme and some rosemary under some of the string for good measure).

The sauce was relatively simple: most of a bottle of red wine (the rest for me of course), plenty of butter, sliced wild garlic, roughly chopped red onion, and some fresh herbs which included a new one for me; I can’t remember the name of it (which probably wouldn’t help you anyway as I was told it in German), but it has the most amazing citrus smell, so I smashed up the stem, left the leaf intact and threw it in. The result was actually quite beautiful…

Every 20 minutes or so I sucked up some of the sauce, jammed the spike down to the bone, and filled ‘er up with wine. I didn’t take a photo of it dished up unfortunately… We were all quite hungry by this stage. The punchline is that the turkey was delicious, succulent, and tender. A recipe to keep in my head I think!

More to come on work. More frequently I hope… It includes gardening, llama walking, building, carpentry, housekeeping, etc.

Till next time!
Jase

Slightly heretical

I’m not sure if this is a Germany-wide tradition or just a regional curiosity. Irregardless, it was a great time.

Last week we had the “Hexenfeuer” (literally – witch fire); greatly looked forward to by everyone in this region. Its a night that seems to hold more anticipation than Christmas or birthdays and the tradition predates Christianity.

I was told by my host here the evening starts with a BBQ and erecting a maypole. I expected at most a 10 meter pole… After putting a jumper on and leaving the house my expectations were shattered; the damn thing was roughly 30 meters and took nearly the whole villiage’s supply of men to push up (all by hand with wooden poles and ropes).

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Traditional idiocy

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Note the absence of women. German countryside is still very much patriachal.

Once the pole is up, celebrated by a lot of beer drinking, the children of the villiage march up the road with torches.

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Aren't they cute; little witch burners

Good god, I wasn’t expecting there to be an actual figure of a witch complete with a smiling face, and a carrot penis (yes indeed).

The dry wood turned very quickly into an inferno, and lit the fireworks stored inside the poor effigy. It became impossible to stand within about 20 meters of the fire due to the heat. Did I mention the pile of wood was about 8 meters in diameter? The night degenerated into a lot of beer and also unfortunately, eventually into a deluge of rain. We retreaded indoors to drink more and play a marble run game.

My pole is bigger than yours, witch burnt, and plenty of beer drunk. A reasonably successful night.

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Macarbe...

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I asked a couple of days later what the tradition is for. The pole is something of a competition between villiages. A very male mine-is-bigger competition. The fire is a bit more meaningful; it’s symbolises the end of Winter, almost like without the fire, there can be no Spring or Summer.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, if I don’t know the answer I can ask my host and reply!

Till later,
Jase

Memories

This morning, as I was woken by the Church bells about 50 meters away (bless Sunday mornings in a small villiage), I was reminded of my first day in Berlin – consequentially the first day of my life truly on my own feet and alone.

I landed in Berlin (Tegel airport) at around 7am; fully zombified from 33 hours of flying, and a bit longer than that with no sleep. I somehow remembered to collect my bags, and was suddenly brought into conciousness by the strictness of German customs… Or lack thereof. I had come to Germany expecting a dogmatic attention to regulations and laws; going through customs at Tegel airport was nothing more than two questions (my answer to both was simply “I have no idea”), a stern “welcome to Germany, and have a good day”. No sniffer dogs, no biosecurity, no bag scanners; coming from a country with perhaps the most stringent biosecurity, this was unbelievable.

I think I was staring stupidly at the ticket machine for public transport (actually quite comprehensive and logical – read; German) for quite some time before I was greeted with my first experience of Germany hospitality. A girl around my age with reasonable English showed me how to use it and then went as far as to invite me to take a taxi with her (paid by her company) and take me where I need to go. After arriving at my hostel I collapsed into bed (post a beer or four with some Australians) and slept extraordonarily well.

The morning found me bleary eyed (but bushytailed) and ready to go exploring. I paid for a breakfast at the hostel – a very generic German breakfast including Brötchen (what we would call bread rolls, but oval), cold meats, and cheese – and set off to see what Berlin had to offer on a very early Wednesday morning.
I have the impression that the whole of Berlin is made out of church bells. Every hour there is a small explosion of sound, the most impressive of which comes from the Berliner Dom (cathedral). Never mind Sundays, when the whole city is a cacophonous racket for a few hours. (I jest, it really is quite lovely).

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The biggest noise machine in Berlin

After reflecting on this (I’m currently drinking a beer while I wait for the charcoal for the bbq to warm up – I lead a hard life) I realise how lucky I am there is only a single church in my small villiage and it has a curfew.

I’m feeling motivated enough to start cooking the “original Thüringen Rostbratwurst” now. Till later.

Tchüss!
Jase

Introducions: a brief history.

I suppose the first step for any blog is to first have an introduction.

Hello to all! My name is Jason (Jase); I was born in New Zealand into a middle class family. At a young age I began to learn the cello; for the short version of my life I’ll say that it more or less consumed the next 19 years of my life, including 5 years of university.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered a passion for culture, language, and travel. Influenced heavily by my parents – listening to their travel stories from Vietnam, travelling with them to fiji, helping me on my first solo adventures, and of course family vacations around my own country – I decided to travel to Europe, with the main idea of joining an orchestra (a story for another post), and ended up travelling, challenging myself, and experiencing the different cultures in Europe.

I discovered a great website called Workaway; an informal volunteering/work and travel portal for both hosts and volunteers. I have been to a couple of hosts already, and now am currently in the middle of Germany in a villiage called Arnsgrün where I do a large variety of jobs.

I invite you to read to my thoughts, enjoy my stories, and follow me around wherever I end up.

Feel free to ask me any questions or leave any feedback :).

Jase