Guess what everyone? I got to try my first real Polish pierogi today! Since that’s obviously the most important part of today, I’ll get to that at the end of the post (but there will be a picture too, I promise!)
Today was our first day actually out and about in Poland. We started off taking a shuttle bus from our hotel to Warsaw University, our host university for our stay here in Poland. After driving through a part of town very reminiscent of Newbury Street in Boston (think cute shops, places to get coffee, fun restaurants and cafes), we arrived at the university. It is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. All the buildings, even if they are not actually old, have been made to match the old, classical architecture of the Old Town in Warsaw. Much better than the regular old square buildings at Northeastern.
We met up with our host professor, a very nice man, but please don’t ask me his name as the answer will result in a lot of stuttering and slurring of strange consonants rolling off my tongue and by the end you still won’t know this man’s name. Really, just better off that we move on. He specializes in Ottoman history, but has made an exception for us and is teaching us about the history of Poland, starting all the way back in the 10th century. We took a quick tour of the history building and ended up in a very hot, very crowded seminar room for our lecture of the day entitled “Glimpses into Polish History.”
This brings us to today’s list – Five Things I Learned About Polish History. here we go:
1. At the end of the 19th century, there were no Poles registered at Eliis Island. I know what you’re thinking. “Wait a minute, that can’t be true. My Polish relatives came through Ellis Island in the 1800’s, I have proof!” Believe me, I was just as shocked as you. But here’s the deal. At this time in history there was no Polish state. All Polish territory had been partitioned up and was governed by Prussia or Austria. When people from these partitions came through Ellis Island, they were categorized as Austrian or Prussian, not Polish. For many of them, it wasn’t until they met other immigrants like themselves in the United States that they even learned of their Polish background!
2. The only reason Warsaw is the capital of the country is that is was in-between Krakow, the former capital of Poland, and the capital of Lithuania. In the 16th century, a union, both politically and through marriage, was created between the two countries and there needed to be a central place for the governments to meet and Warsaw just so happened to be that place. And the rest, as they say, is history.
3. Much of our American Constitution is based on what was going on in Poland at the time. We basically turned our Constitution into a “let’s not become like Poland” list. We took ideas like having our President be born in our country and the idea of a veto from the Poles.
4. Universities in Poland pre-WWII and during the war kept lists of all Jewish students and made them sit segregated from the rest of the students in class. All separate facilities for these students.
5. Polish people really like maps. Our host professor used about ten maps in the course of 90 minutes to demonstrate his points. And there were more he could have used. So many maps!!
After our lesson, we took a tour of the university’s campus. We saw the Regent’s Palace (hey President Aoun, your house on Beacon Street is looking a little shabby now) as well as the school library. They have a living garden on top of the library. What?! It was absolutely beautiful. Leaves and trees and ivy growing everywhere, taking over everything. I felt like I had just walked into a fairy tale. And you could see so much of the city from atop the roof – church steeples, the river, rooftops. I would love studying up there every day if I went to Warsaw University.
Then we took a nice hike over to the Old Town in Warsaw. All rectangular buildings painted in warm colors and of course, absolutely pristine. Even though much of it had to be rebuilt after the war, it feels as though you are walking back in time over the cobblestones alongside the horse and carriage riding along next to you.
We saw the President’s Palace, which is a giant white house (sound familiar?) with guards and statuettes all in front. Unlike the US, you can walk up super close to the building with no visible security in sight. We were let free for lunch in one of the market areas with artists selling their pieces right there in the center square. I’d like to say this is when the pierogis appeared in my day, but alas, not quite yet.
After lunch we walked more around the Old Town and into the New Town, which has also been redone since the war and looks almost the same as the Old Town. Here I learned that there are almost no Jewish temples left in Warsaw, there were all destroyed in the war and have not yet been rebuilt. This was very strange to me as I assumed by today there would be a few that rebuilt and were functioning again.
A few more stops along our tour — the Polish Supreme Court and the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising. Then it was an hour on the public bus back to our hotel and I’m lucky I didn’t pass out or fall our the door of the bus (the driver would barely stop the bus to let people off, more like a slow down and hop off). We survived and it was time for dinner and you’ve got it, my pierogis!
It’s been a long day here in Warsaw and I’m not completely adjusted to the time yet. More class tomorrow. If there’s anything interesting, I’ll let you know! Thanks for reading!