Monday, December 29, 2008

Polish Christmas and a Trip to Vienna

Ok so there is a fish in the bathtub. It's true and pretty funny!
On Tuesday, December 23 Remi's father, Remi and I went to the fish farm to collect Christmas dinner. There was a holding reservoir with easy targets for the guys with the nets and there was a pond. We actually fished in the pond and scored a lovely trout. From the reservoir the fish guy netted us six more fish. Carp and trout were the pesci of choice. Most of them flopped around as they waited to face their fate in a room where a lady with a big knife did the deed. One carp was left intact and chilled in a bag until we got it to Remi's Grandmother's house where he was put into the bathtub to live out his remaining few days. Grandma stays with Remi's parents most of the time so nobody's grooming and hygiene routine will be disrupted by the fish's residence in her tub. Normally the fish would have been axed and eaten by now but we have had plenty with out his sacrifice so he's still swimming around in there. I have to say as a vegetarian I was/am a bit squeamish about the process. But I respect their traditions and their dietary choices just as I expect people to respect mine. So we shall see when the fish will be called to the table. Perhaps for New Year's dinner...

The family gathered on Christmas Eve for dinner and the exchanging of presents. Presents and the big dinner happen the day before Christmas in Poland. The meal starts with a chorus style grace and then everyone takes a wafer. The wafers are very thin, similar to a Communion wafer. Then every one goes around and wishes each other well in the new year and shares their wafers. Then to the food. A procession of soups start the meal. Beet soup with mushroom dumplings, fruit soup made of dried fruits and served with rice, then mushroom soup served with bread stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Of course the famous fish makes an appearance and a couple of salads one with fish and one that is a kind of potato salad with carrots and corn involved. Very tasty!
After dinner the exchanging of presents commences. Santa Claus doesn't come on Christmas Eve in Poland. Santa comes earlier on in December on St Nicolas Day, December 6th. Sometimes he comes secretly in the night but more often he comes to the children in person. Presents are not left under the tree, they are handed out to the deserving children. Warnings to the naughty kids do not come in the form of a lump of coal but rather all children get a birch branch attached to a bag of candy and a warning that if they are not good next year it will be just the birch branch and no other treats and parents may take to using the birch branch to enforce a little discipline! So Polish kids: be good!

Family and friends are very important in Poland. People visit with each other during the 24th, 25th and Boxing Day the 26th of December. I can't tell you how many people I have met. All kinds of relations and loved ones have visited and called and we have gone knocking on a few doors ourselves. I need a directory with photos please!!

Christmas day was pretty low key. Visits with family and friends continue. We went to mass in the evening. First we stopped by the church graveyard. Here we weaved our way through closely plotted graves. The graves have a raised platform made of stone as well as a headstone. These platforms play host to a sea of stunning lanterns. Nearly every grave had one or two lanterns of colored glass glowing in the winter night. It was an amazing sight. We stopped by Remi's Grandfather's grave and lit a Christmas tree shaped lantern made of green glass and left it there for him. Then off we went into the little church. The chapel is beautiful with scenes from the Bible painted on the ceiling and an ornate altar at the head. Remi and I stood at the back and listen to the Roman Catholic mass given in Polish. Then back home to rest up for more visitors!
That pretty much wraps Christmas.

I got to see a few sights in Remi's home town of Kudowa Zdroj and nearby Czermna. He took me to see their famous moving nativity scene. This mind blowing piece of art is up all year round and was hand carved and installed in the artist's home where his decedents still live. This nativity is a wall to wall display of a town and its people. Some figures are doing their chores and some are making their way to Bethlehem (and back in time) to pay their respects to Baby Jesus in the manger. Shepherds are moving sheep, a friar is pulling a bell, a girl is getting water and Jesus is rocking in his cradle. This same craftsman also hand made a pipe organ which is also on display. After this we stopped by the Chapel of Skulls. Construction on the chapel started in 1776 and finished in 1804. It contains more than 30 thousand human bones and skulls that belonged to victims of local wars and plague epidemics. These skulls hang from the ceiling and line the walls of this chapel and there are more under the floor. I have never seen anything like it.Wow!

Yesterday we went to Vienna. We drove down to the Czech Republic/Austrian border on Saturday and stayed at a hostel on the Czech (much cheaper) side. The hostel was awesome. The man running it could have been a poster boy for the Czech tourist board. He had a shaggy beard and wore a vest and hat and welcomed us with shots of I don't know what, some kind of alcohol. We went out to dinner and I had a typical Czech meal of fried cheese and tartar sauce. It was really good! Sunday morning we went in to Austria and on to Vienna. Vienna was gorgeous. The architecture is brilliant and although it has been around a while something about it is fresh and crisp. Perhaps it is the colors. Most buildings are light; white or pastels. And the detail on many of the buildings is phenomenal. We started at St Stephen's Cathedral where mass was in progress but we were able to go in and stand at the back. We saw the Ankerhur Clock do its procession of figurines at noon. We stopped by Hofburg or The Imperial Palace, visited Mozart's monument in Burggarten, swung by the museums, the parliament building, city hall, Votive Church, Schonburnn and finished at the Prater. It was one full day! After all that we got in the car and drove the five hours it took to get back to Remi's house in Poland. I will have photos to post as soon as I get back to Glasgow.

That's more than enough for now. I'll fill you in with more adventures next week.
Happy New Year everybody!!


Angel said...

*cue It's a Small World* You are not going to believe this but...I was at mass at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna last Sunday. Mom and I went to Vienna for a couple of days while she was here and one of her treats was to attend mass there. Now how is that for weirdness!?

dj harmon said...

Sound like your having a great adventure. Can't wait to see your pics.