Don’t hate me because I’m tan!

28 02 2010

Sailboats on the Mediterranean Sea, Costa Blanca, Spain

Can you guess where this picture was taken?  No, it is not Gdynia 😉  This is a view from my balcony on the Costa Blanca, Spain.  That’s what I left there this morning, and this is what I arrived to in Gdynia this afternoon:

Snowing on the frozen Baltic Sea, Gdynia

So, can you really blame me for packing it up right after Christmas and hightailing it to sunny Spain for 2 months?  Churros and hot chocolate, paellas and sangria and – what I really miss in Gdynia in wintertime – the sunshine.  Every morning, everyday, all the time!

La vida es buena!


Happy Holidays!

23 12 2009

Some of my warmest memories growing up in Poland involved the legendary group Czerwone Gitary.  Summer camps, school dances, the first kiss – the Polish version of the Beatles were there to enhance the experience.

And here they are again, singing a beautiful Christmas carol “There is such a day…”

Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!

The first Thanksgiving

16 12 2009

No, not the one with Indians and Pilgrims on Plymouth Plantation in 1621, but our first Thanksgiving dinner right here in Gdynia, November 26th, 2009.

To be honest, I did not plan on celebrating this most American of holidays, because I believe that “when in Rome…” and the Poles already have quite a few occasions to party, anyway.  But as it tuned out (right after one especially “spirited” dinner en familia), I seem to have offered to host a Thanksgiving feast at our place!

Don’t get me wrong – I love entertaining.  But being unfamiliar with Polish terms for most Thanksgiving ingredients (yams? pumpkins? cranberries?) and given the size of my convection oven, I knew it would be a challenge.  And indeed it was. We could not find an indyk (turkey) small enough to fit into the oven unless I sat on it to squash it (an idea that elicited a warning from my sister in Florida:  make sure you don’t sit on a wish bone!).  The locally grown borówki (cranberries) were bitter and hard and did not want to pop during cooking.  And the local rynek (farmer’s market) was all out of pataty (yams).

But this is where my Poles-can-do attitude came into play –  I built a turkey!  Yes, you read correctly; I purchased a large turkey breast, a couple of thighs and wings,  marinated it all overnight and roasted it in a bag.  The results were f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c and the family loved it as well as the rest of the (improvised and polish-fied) dishes.

And isn’t that really what’s it all about?  The family?

Święto Niepodległości

22 11 2009

To an American, Independence Day is synonymous with parades, backyard barbecues and late night fireworks.

Polish Independence Day is celebrated  on November 11th, so we can safely rule out the backyard barbecue.  And due to the financial crises and serious budget cuts,  the city of Gdynia eliminated the fireworks part.  So we are left with a parade.

Now, I know that this particular holiday was mainstreamed only in 1989.  And that the Poles have a deep aversion to parades, stemming from  many years of compulsory participation in the May 1st celebrations.  And that quite a number of Poles consider “patriotism” an unpopular concept  in the modern world.

Still,  the main route of the parade in Gdynia was lined with spectators (3 deep),  hours before the noon commencement.

And what have we seen?  One marching band, 2 pre-war Citroens and a bunch of youths representing their respective Lyceums.  The parade was over in 29 minutes.

Piłsudski would’ve been nonplussed.

Wash day

5 11 2009

Our Samsung washing machine is a beauty to behold, quiet as a church mouse and plays a happy tune when the wash is over.  The only problem is – it can barely fit 1 sheet set at a time.  Or 3 towels.  Or 5 T-shirts.  So the term “wash day”  in our household is a misnomer – we do washes every day!  It has become a part of our daily routine:  get up, eat a buttered rogalik, turn on the washing machine.

What is harder to get used to is…the scratchy undergarments.  Since there is no dryer (and no dryer sheets), no matter how much softening liquid I add to the washing cycle, my jeans end up standing in the corner of the closet.  By themselves.

I tried to research the “no dryer” clause in the Polish ConstitutionIMG_1514.  At first I assumed that it was the space constraint, but in my bathroom, and most others I visited here, the machine stands alone and there is plenty of room for the dryer on top of it.  And drying the wash,  spread out all over our living room, certainly takes up more room.

Then I remembered the fresh smell of line dried clothes from my summer vacations in the country, right outside of Warszawa.  Yes, it was lovely and undoubtedly the greener choice, but it is snowing and 5C outside right now!  So, it can’t be the sentimental reason.

Finally I asked my Polish friend.  “Tumble dryer?  It shortens the life of material and besides, it costs a fortune in electric bills!”

Ahhh.  Mystery solved.

In like Flynn!

30 10 2009


view from our window – Gdynia port

We are in!

After a truly frustrating and tumultuous month of searching high (Gdynia centrum) and low (Redłowo) for a suitable apartment, we finally hit the jackpot!  For privacy reasons I will not dwell on the building’s address; suffice it to say, we are in the best location imaginable – next to the beach, the famous Kościuszki Square, the port, and the epicenter of Gdynia.

The apartment itself is a spacious (for European standard) 62m2 one bedroom,  fully equipped and totally furnished.  The young owners (Ken and Barbie look-alikes) live in Warsaw and bought this place as a vacation retreat, like most  Warszawiaków who spend their summers on the Baltic coast.  Our landlords were eager to negotiate the (very inflated initial) asking price and were visibly happy to rent it out to a “stable pair” (read: mature).

No more living in limbo.  Finally I can “nest”.

Loved and lost – the misadventures in real estate

17 10 2009

I expected the process of finding an apartment to be stressful (knowing my proclivity for perfection), I just did not count on having my heart broken.  Twice.

The very first place we saw, we went gaga over – super location, spectacular views,  French country decor and the price was right.  Our hearts sang – yes, we’ll take it!  The agent ( freshly baked, by-the-rule young lady), informed us that the lease has to be signed – in person! – by both owners of the property. First obstacle – the owners live in the south of Poland.  She placed a call to the owner, to relay the happy news. She reached her in a sanatorium, recovering from a procedure (read:  face lift) and the owner assured us, that if we can only wait a couple of weeks, her husband will fly them (in their private jet) to Gdynia to do the deal.  If the weather is fine.  And if she feels OK.  And the plane is back from being serviced.  Yes, I know, the bells should have gone off, but I was so drunk with the vision of me on the balcony, feeding the seagulls and breathing in the salty Baltic air – I was not thinking straight.  So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  After 2 weeks of restless nights, living in limbo and stalling our current landlord, the young agent called to inform us that the owner changed her mind – she wants to sell her property rather than rent it.  In this market?  Well, now we know for sure we were dealing with someone just a few french fries short of a Happy Meal.

Second heartbreak came a month later.  We were still making our rounds of the real estate offices and viewing many apartments in the center of Gdynia, our target area.  Many of them totally remodeled, well furnished and quite reasonably priced.  However, most of the buildings in the center of town go back to the middle of the last century and it shows.  So even if the apartments inside are  testament to the new wealth of the Poles, the outside and the common areas (especially the entrance and the stairs) are in disrepair, with broken elevators (if any) and reeking of urine.  Not all, but most.


Grand Hotel, Sopot

And then we saw an ad on classified: Center city, new luxury building – are you ready? – penthouse apartment.  With a circular terrace overlooking entire city of Gdynia.  And the Baltic Sea!  We contacted the listing agent and literally ran over there in the pouring rain to check it out.  The owner we met at the apartment – young business type – wasted no time telling us that being independently wealthy, he did not need to rent out this apartment.  Well, that should have been our first clue.  After agreeing on the price and him supplying some extra furnishings (there were no closets in the entire place!), he walked us to the door saying:  “I’ll sleep on it and let you know tomorrow”.  Clue #2.  We waited an entire day, finally contacted the agent.  “Yes, I spoke to him.  He needs more time to decide – he really loves that place!”  Clue #3.  Well, after 2 more days of stalling, he finally decided to take it off the market.

Is it us?  Or are the Polish nouveaux riches plum crazy?