Spring Break 2006!!! Hot times in cold Poland.

Trip Start Jan 02, 2006
Trip End Dec 12, 2007

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

While most of my classmates headed off to Spring Break locales with warm weather and cool people, I headed off to a place with freezing weather and warm people, Wloclawek, Poland. "Why?" you ask. "Why else?" Because of a man.

Wloclawek, pronounced, "Vwoats waa vek," is where Pete has been playing basketball for the past four months. Spring Break was the first chance I had to visit him.

After about a 20-hour flight, I touched down on Polish soil for the first time. It was a two-hour drive from Warsaw airport to Wloclawek, which went pretty fast because my life was flashing before my eyes the whole time. Polish drivers are, shall we say, adventurous. Pete had practice in the morning, so the team driver, Pawel, picked me up. He taught me very quickly that, when driving in Poland, staying in your lane, and especially staying on the road, is optional. Passing the car in front of you, no matter how fast it is going, is mandatory. But the whole drive was worth it to learn that Pawel thought that KFC stood for "Kentucky Fricken Chicken."

Eventually, Pawel got me to Wloclawek safe and sound, and to Pete, so no complaints there. As for the town, being no stranger to Eastern Europe, I surprisingly felt quite at home there. Wloclawek is a small town of about 123,000 people, located northwest of Warsaw on the Wisla River. The atmosphere is an intriguing mix of former-Communist neglect and future-Capitalist progress, featuring abandoned, boarded-up buildings next to shiny, new restaurants and shops. It has that dynamic mix of old and new that is characteristic of most Eastern European towns...that kind of exciting, kind of uncomfortable feeling of a place in flux.

During the day when Pete was at practice, I enjoyed venturing out and wandering through the town, taking in the cute pedestrian zone lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes, and scoping out the impressive cathedrals that you can find in this part of the world. Of course it was only possible to wander for about two hours before the biting cold started to destroy my will to live. But hey, I'd be a liar if I said I didn't miss winter, living out here in California.

I was fortunate enough to see two games during the week that I was there, one at home in Wloclawek and one away in the nearby town of Torun, a beautiful, medieval town (German influence) where Copernicus grew up. It was amazing for me to discover that Pete actually is a basketball player. In fact he dribbles, shoots, jumps really high, gets fouled, takes foul shots, makes them, has fans, a coach, teammates, cheerleaders, etc. You know, you can hear about someone's life all you want, but you never really get it until you see it in person. I feel very fortunate that I got to see Pete in action, doing what it is he does for money over there in Europe, and looking damn good doing it too.

What else can I tell you about Poland? Because it was my Spring Break, and I needed to unwind from the semester, we didn't do any traveling or sightseeing while I was there. On Sunday, Pete's one day off, we considered going into Warsaw, but decided to stay home and relax instead. We went to church in the morning, which was an experience in itself. On Sunday morning, church is the place to be in Poland. We arrived a little late, and not only was there standing-room only, we couldn't even get in the door. The church was so full that people were standing outside, holding the door open and peering in. And the mix of people was impressive too...small children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged and old people. Everybody. Not surprising, I guess, for a Catholic country that produced the last Pope.

Other than that, we cooked a lot, went out to dinner a lot, and otherwise just hung out. We did go out dancing one night with a few of his teammates to a club in Torun, which was a lot of fun and involved maybe one too many shots of vodka for my post-Penn State tolerance, but hey, when in Rome... It was a good opportunity to get to know his teammates and to observe Polish people at play. I found everybody I met to be friendly, funny, and very, very welcoming. I hope I get to go back and visit again someday.
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