Throwback Thursdays: Hunting for Polish Pottery

I’m going to restart my Throwback Thursdays series to backtrack and blog about the adventures we took over the last year or so. Those who follow me on Instagram have seen glimpses of what we’ve been up to. It’s the only platform of social media that I use consistently these days.

Hubs and I like to make use of the office holidays he gets here, and this year the dates all happened to fall on a Friday or Monday – perfect for long weekend getaways. At the beginning of May 2017, we went on a road trip to Poland. Our first visit to Poland was in summer of 2015, and we went to Krakow and Auschwitz.

The itinerary this time was Boleslawiec and Wroclaw. If you recognize the name Boleslawiec, then you know it’s world renowned for its unique pottery – in this case, think of everyday dishes bowls, mugs, etc… Many military wives and expats who live within an eight hour drive have gone on weekend expeditions (yes, multiple!) to buy heaps of this stuff.  When I mean heaps, I mean American sized SUVs/mini-vans filled to the brim with boxes and boxes of the pottery. The parking lots were filled with Jeeps, Odysseys, etc. These were dead giveaways of the presence of American military wives since they usually ship their vehicles from the states during their time overseas.

I first heard about the Polish pottery when I happened upon other expat wives blogging about day and weekend trips there. It piqued my interest and I started to do the research. Boleslawiec Pottery is only made with locally sourced clay only found in that particular region of Poland. The intricacies of these hand painted and handmade pieces are just exquisite. There are many collectors and it’s super expensive to buy authentic pieces outside of Europe. Hence, the reason why people come here to buy Costco amounts of this stuff. It’s so affordable to buy it in Poland. I love the fact that it’s dishwasher, oven, microwave safe AND super sturdy. There are many categories of the pottery and usually people buy GAT (quality) 1 or 2 for the above mentioned purposes. The other categories (below 2) are usually just “for show” or decorative pieces. As you can see from the pictures, I had a bit too much fun.

 

I also should mention that it was our very first time trying homemade Pierogis. I also had this savory potato pancake-like dish with goulash stuffed inside. OH. MY. LORD, comfort food at its best! So delicious! My mouth is watering even as I type this.

Onto to Wroclaw! We spent two nights in this charming little city. It’s often mistaken for Warsaw. What was really nice is that it’s not crawling with “English speaking” tourists-yet. Most locals couldn’t speak or understand English-which was quite refreshing. Hand gestures and pointing were greatly appreciated. We loved going on a “scavenger hunt” for the famous dwarf statues of the city. Did you know that there are over 400 of them dotted throughout the town? We found 40 of them during our short stay.

Poland has really captivated us and I have a feeling we’ll be making more road-trips back to explore more of this lovely country!

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The detour that almost didn’t happen

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
― Elie Wiesel, Night

Even up until the day we were leaving, Hubs and I were going back in forth if we wanted to go see Auschwitz. We’ve been to Dachau and weren’t sure if we wanted to put ourselves in that emotional state again. We are so glad we decided to make a go for it. It was sort of on the way back to Vienna and we both said we would have regretted if we had not gone. It was very emotional going to both sites. Did you know Auschwitz was made of three main camps and 40 sub camps? I knew it was the largest, but didn’t realize just how big it was until we were there. Hubs and I managed to visit Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. Auschwitz I has the famous gate with “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work sets you free). It was really something to see first hand and really know that the psychological torture for the victims was utterly relentless. We only walked the grounds there briefly and decided not to take pictures of each other there, out of respect. We don’t believe it’s a place to come and get your “happy face” pictures. We toured a gas chamber and crematorium for only a few seconds. The emotions were too much.

Auschwitz II:  Birkenau is probably the most infamous of the Auschwitz cluster of concentration camps. The old rail line that leads in through the center gate is still there for the world to see. Hubs and I always knew Auschwitz II was big, but, really, it’s humongous. We learned about this place in history classes, but to see it in first person was overwhelming, humbling, atrocious, sad, etc…There are not enough words to describe the feelings and sensations standing on the same platform where Jewish people from several European countries, transported like cattle, disembarked packed rail cars in a unfamiliar, hostile, land. Separated into two lines – one to live, and one to die – only hours after arrival.  How could evil this horrid be permitted to exist in modern times?  One preserved railcar still remains on the tracks, displaying how people arrived and the deplorable travel conditions. On one side of the camp 15 prisoner barracks remain, restored, so the world cannot forget. Behind that row of 15 around 105 more existed, only the chimneys are left behind. Near the end of the war, when Germany was near defeat, the German soldiers tried to destroy and cover-up their atrocities. Like children who knew they were doing something wrong, but wanted to cover it up to avoid punishment.

Like I said before, I’m glad we did it. As we were leaving, we had to stand on the tracks leading into the camp one last time to ‘take it all in’. If you’re ever in that part of the world it really is worth the trip. Both sites are free to enter, and guided tours in several languages are available.

The pictures below are ordered by Auschwitz II, and then Auschwitz I:

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Captivating Kraków

Ever since our spontaneous weekend of renting a car and driving to Venice to meet a friend, it encouraged us to take more weekend trips that are drivable from Vienna. Krakow was always on my list of must-see places and it was only about a five hour drive. We took advantage of Hubs’ “summer hours” at work and got on the road around 4PM on Friday. We made good time, despite the traffic and road work we encountered in the Czech Republic. To put it in perspective, it was about the same driving time from Baltimore to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Krakow is undeniably beautiful. It’s so rich in history.  Again, I think it’s one of those cities that people tend to overlook when planning their European holiday. We chose to stay in the Jewish quarter, which is about a 15-20 minute walk to all the sights the city has to offer. Since we only had one full day and a morning in Krakow, we packed in as much as we could without feeling overwhelmed and grumpy. Rynek Główny (the main market square) was gorgeous and impressive. It’s the biggest medieval square in Europe. We got suckered into taking one of the carriage rides, which I read was a “must”. It was nice and gave us a nice overview of old town, but like Vienna, it was pricey. On the order of $40 for a 20 minute, non-narrated, carriage ride. If that’s your sorta thing, make sure you start early, before 10am. It’s cool in the summer mornings and there aren’t too many people, yet. Later in the day, the market square was jam packed.

I became enamored by the traditional Polish pottery/dishes I kept seeing around the market square. The items were hand-made, hand-painted, and were of excellent quality. Hubs thought the items very unique as well, but frowned at the seemingly high center-of-town-prices. I did my research a little later and found a small locally run place over in the Jewish quarter. The sales lady there was fantastic. She carried the same items from downtown, but the prices were at least 25% cheaper. Plus, she only carried items which she researched to be reliable pieces. She mentioned she would occasionally make trips to the factory to see items being made first hand, so she would be knowledgeable about what she was selling in her store.  I may have went a little overboard, based on looks from Hubs, but I don’t know if we’ll ever have the opportunity again. I am definitely looking forward to putting our new pieces to use and replacing some of our older items.

After the pottery adventure, we aimlessly explored the Jewish quarter.  We walked along the picturesque river and crossed on the fancy pedestrian bridges. The Jewish quarter is sort of like the “hipster” part of town.  Lots of unique little shops, cafes, and cute little restaurants. We found a neat little ice cream place. They had some very odd flavors, but were done well( beer, gorgonzola, and rose). Just after the ice cream we happened upon St. Joseph’s church, the one which looks like it could be a castle. The architecture was amazing.  We wanted to take a peek inside, because that’s what you do when you see old churches. As we got closer we heard singing and people talking inside the church, on a Saturday. We stepped inside and realized there was a wedding going on. Since we were uninvited guests we stood at the back and watched for a few minutes, trying to understand what was going on. It seemed like a traditional wedding ceremony. It was a cool experience being there, watching, and listening. After we left there we made our way back into town, feeling uplifted by the joyous occasion.

 

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