Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Winter Arrives

Winter Arrives

The weather finally caught up with the calendar here in Poland, and after early winter weeks with relatively mild temperatures (40's Fahrenheit, around 10 Celsius), Christmas brought with it a polar air mass that has settled in for an apparently long stay. When classes resumed Monday, 4 January, my morning commute by tram and on foot was on a 9-degree Fahrenheit morning (-13 Celsius), and we've had only slight warming since then. We've had a few light snowfalls including a 2-inch event overnight last night. The cityscape is beautiful, but because we only walk and take public transportation, the going gets a bit challenging.
The view from our apartment this morning, 6 January 2016
After a short break, I'm back in class with about three weeks remaining in this semester. Grading papers and preparing to wrap up the classes with final presentations and exams is just as demanding as it is in the U.S. I still don't have my teaching schedule for the semester that begins in mid-February, so flexibility is key. An additional challenge is that nearly all my students are Erasmus students -- exchange students from other countries. Often their home universities operate on a conflicting schedule with the university here in Poznan, so I need to make allowances for students who must leave early to begin the spring semester back home. Again, one must be nimble.

We're now nearly four months into our 10-month stay here in Poland and still enjoying the experience immensely. Two of the reasons for that are highlighted in this post: a Christmas Eve gathering and a trip to Riga, Latvia.

International Christmas Eve

We are delighted to interact regularly with so many international students here in Poznan, both through my university here and through Poznan International Church. Knowing that some of these student would not be able to travel home over the Christmas break, we planned a gathering at our apartment for Christmas Eve, inviting those international students who would not be with family. It was a tremendous success and an overwhelming delight.

Robin did a brilliant job decorating the apartment given that we brought no materials with us in that regard. She and a couple international friends superbly planned a delicious and extensive menu, and all participants seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. The photos below capture the spirit of the occasion.

Robin explains the rules of the gift exchange - a new experience for all the guests.
Guests watch anxiously as one student unwraps her surprise gift. In this photo, Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Vietnam and Singapore are represented. 

Three guests, representing India, Nigeria and Namibia (a business student and two medical students), enjoy food, beverages and the company.

Riga, Latvia

The day after Christmas, 26 December, Robin and I traveled to Riga, Latvia, several hundred miles north from here, because Poland just wasn't cold enough. Actually, we had been advised that Riga was a beautiful city, and we were not at all disappointed. We took the Intercity Express train from Poznan to Warsaw, then a tram to the airport and a 1-hour flight to Riga. We spent six days in this splendid Baltic capital, including two guided excursions into the countryside. The weather was frigid, and we did most of our exploring on foot, so it was, as my British friends describe it, "bracing." 

The most striking feature of Riga is the splendid architecture, particularly from the Art Nouveau period (roughly 1890-1910). Magnificently preserved and/or restored buildings in this style fill block after block in the extensive old part of the city. A number of outstanding museums add to the city's appeal, and our visit was made more delightful by the open-air Christmas Market in one of the old squares. Add superb food and warm, friendly people, and Riga should be on your list of must-see European cities.

The photos below convey some of the beauty of Riga, but it really should be experienced firsthand. To view our entire array of photos (brace yourself -- there are around 300!), visit this DropBox site: RIGA PHOTOS

The day after Christmas found the train to Warsaw nearly empty -- a rare event.

Celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary in Riga.

A guild hall in Riga.

Latvia is extremely proud of its prowess in bobsledding and related winter sports. This is a view of the bottom of the worldclass course in Latvia where their top athletes train and where international competitions are held. 

An athlete prepares to start a run down the course on a luge sled.
An example of the whimsical design of windows that often characterizes the Art Nouveau style.
An Art Nouveau facade.

Cold fog over the Daugava River in Latvia.

Even our hotel was an architectural masterpiece.

Display of a 19th century dental office in Riga's excellent Medical Museum.
Robin and our Latvian guide, Agrita, about to explore Rundale Palace.
The ballroom of Rundale Palace.
Robin reading displays in the Museum of Latvian Occupation. Latvia was occupied by the Russians in 1939, the Nazis in 1941, and the Russians again in 1945, becoming independent again only in 1991.

A typical commerce street in the old district of Riga.

Looking upward through the center of a spiral staircase in one of the Art Nouveau buildings.

The view from our hotel room.

Night shot of one of the magnificent buildings in Riga.

The edge of the Christmas Market in Dome Square, Riga.

I think you get the idea -- Riga is a fantastically beautiful city, certainly among the most splendid cities I've seen. Although the weather was daunting, I understand the streets and attractions are far more crowded in the pleasant summer season, so there was an advantage to our timing. 

That brings you up to date. Thanks, as always, for your visit. I welcome your comments below. Do widzenia!