From Pasties to Pierogi/Maria Sliva

As was made obvious in my last column, I have been fortunate to have been involved in a number of various travel experiences during my exchange in Poland. In fact, I am currently in the midst of another such experience as I explore the Polish Table Mountains with my host parents and younger host brother Kuba. My other host brother Maciek stayed behind so he could concentrate on studying for his Polish University Entrance or “Matura” Exams as well as write his SATs.

We began our journey around noon last Saturday, piling into the car for an at least 5 hour long ride. Within minutes, I was faced with an incredulous Kuba who could not seem to understand why I hadn’t brought my laptop – the sure source of our would-have-been entertainment with its seemingly endless supply of movies and games. I told him to calm down and listen to music or read a book, to which he responding with a dour face and unceremoniously whipped out his Nintendo DS. At least I tried.

Ten-and-a-half hours later, we reached our final destination, having stopped to walk around in several small towns along the way. We were renting a small apartment complete with a bedroom containing four twin beds, a bathroom with a decent shower, and a common room containing a couch, table and kitchenette. It was attached to one of a small cluster of houses, situated in a small valley nestled between the mountains in such a way that it had a nestlike appearance.

The following morning, we awoke at 7, much to my host mom’s dismay, whose idea of the perfect doesn’t begin until 10 a.m. at the earliest – suffice it to say, she is not a morning person. After a quick breakfast, we set out on a short drive to a popular trailhead that just so happened to be next to a dinosaur park.

I’m not sure which I find odder; the idea of a dinosaur park (in this sense, a mix of technicolor plastic dinosaur models bearing name tags with brief description framed by an all too juxtaposed background of ordinary deciduous and evergreen trees with a decided lack of prehistoric-esque vegetation) or the fact that they exist in several locations around Poland.

After a 3-hour hike with a stop for gofry (Belgian waffles with anything and everything sweet on top) and coffee, we returned to the bottom of and at the urging of Kuba, entered the dinosaur park, where I not-so-secretly admired the purplish rendition of my all-time favorite stegosaurus.

Later that evening, after a thoroughly Polish dinner out, we returned to the apartment and decided to play a game of Monopoly. I was excited, as Monopoly has long been a favorite in the Sliva household and I hadn’t played since well before I left.

We played (my host mom won) and although I had fun, I couldn’t help but be slightly confused and disappointed. The game had been relatively short and entirely amiable with no shouting matches or angry outbursts – where was the at-least-four-hour-long-unapologetically-cutthroat game I was used to? I recall childhood Saturdays entirely consumed with Railroads, Chance, Boardwalk, Park Place, outrageous taxes, and deals being struck involving not only monopoly assets, but tangible deeds such as bed making, back massages, and of course who had to babysit yours truly. Perhaps it was just the Polish version, or maybe that’s not how most families played…

The next few days passed smoothly, with more hikes, sandwiches and exploration than one could hope for when visiting such a beautiful place. It’s times like these that I’m extra thankful for having grown up how, where, and with whom I did, as I am apparently a rarity in the exchange student category as I’ve yet to complain about sharing a room, long hours hiking, or peeing in the woods.

On Saturday morning, we’ll set out for home, in time for my final week of high school in Poland. After that, I’ll have about a month and a half of pure, unadulterated, Polish summer. I have a feeling that it has the potential to be one of the best month-and-a -halves of my entire life and I plan to see that it is.

Editor’s note: Maria Sliva is a member of Houghton Rotary student exchange program.