Monday, June 16, 2008

Saved by 5 złoty

Złoty is the currency of Poland, of which I had none when I arrived in Warsaw this morning on the overnight bus from Vilnius. This was a problem because I could not find a single functioning ATM at the bus station and I needed money to purchase another bus ticket to get into the center of Warsaw (since I was deposited at the bus station outside of the center of town). Then I realized that I did in fact have złoty - a 5 złote coin to be exact (this is about $2). A backpacker I met in Riga had given it to me since she didn't need it and knew I was headed to Poland. This coin was enough for me to purchase a bus ticket to another train/bus station in the center of town. It was around 6 AM and I can't check into my hostel until 2 PM, so I stored my suitcase in a locker and headed to the city to explore... for 8 hours. I like Warsaw so far. It reminds me a bit of Moscow - large, sprawling, with big buildings and wide streets. Pictures and more on the city to come. For now, here's a map of Poland.

p.s. the ł in złoty is pronounced like w in English; Polish w sounds like our v.

I haven't written much about Vilnius because I'm not sure what to say (maybe it's a city that's easier to show in pictures than describe in words). I really wanted to like the city, but didn't find it to be a particularly welcoming place. It was practically impossible to get service at restaurants and bars in English, and only slightly easier when speaking Russian. In all fairness, I only spent about three days there and did mostly touristy things, so perhaps I didn't get a real sense of the place. The Vilnius KGB museum did make an impression on me. It chronicles not only the devastation by the Nazis (who killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Lithuania), but also the subsequent 50-year occupation by the Soviet Union. During Soviet occupation, many Lithuanians died either as part of resistance movements or when deported to labor camps in Siberia. Sorry about all this depressing stuff, but it's very relevant to the Baltics & Eastern Europe and a bit difficult to avoid.

As far as links to their more distant past, I found only a bit more (possible) evidence of pagan traditions alive today. The girls in the picture were at some sort of ceremony or festival near a church in the Old Town wearing elaborate, clearly hand-made dresses. I couldn't understand what was going on, but guess that it was somehow related to the upcoming summer solstice. So no, the persisting pagan traditions in Lithuania don't include anything scary like animal sacrifice, but rather include the celebration of old holidays, dancing, and probably singing too. I don't think that any of this is seen as incompatible with their religion - Catholicism.


Sandra said...

What an absolutely awesome picture! Those girls seem to be having a blast... and the costumes! Wow! Will you look up some ancestry while you are in Poland?????

patentexaminer said...

Wow... That 5 zloty coin would've been burning a hole in my pocket because I'd be too busy panicking. Nice save!

A similar thing happened to me in Paris. I found myself in a closed shopping mall at 1am after a French security guard sent me (vaguely, in his bad English and my non-existent French) to the lone ATM in the area. But victory was had!

cg said...

I am really loving that pic you took of the festival girls! Kind of reminds me of the photojournalist who took our wedding pics...lots caught in the moment shots like this! I take it you found a shiny, new camera before you left? :)

iwanagain said...

Other CG here. You are so lucky about the coin. What a good way to start off in a new country. Good vibes.

Are you going to attend a Polish mass or are you sticking with the pagans?

Julia M. said...

Well, I believe the ancestry Q was answered, and as of now so is the Polish mass Q (thanks for the suggestion, Chris, it literally hadn't even occurred to me until you suggested it). And yes, my tiny, shiny new camera has been providing you with all the lovely images so far!