Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

The Pitfalls of Being in Your Twenties

In Canada, Europe, Poland, rambling editorials, United States on January 25, 2013 at 11:42 pm

hello pitfalls

I was short on inspiration to write for the bigger part of the month, and that is mostly because of the very exciting new addition to my life.

No, I’m not pregnant! My US work authorization arrived in the mail around mid-December and once the Christmas festivities ended, I really had no more excuses to postpone my plunge into the not-so-handsome job market. In other words, January brought the lovely pitfalls of being an immigrant looking for a job fresh out of college.

It’s been a while since I first heard my friends’ hysterical stories about the dreaded prospect of turning your hard-earned degree into a minimum wage job (also probably stolen from a high schooler). Working an unpaid internship, and running tables at a nightclub over the weekends,  juggling several part-time jobs 7 days a week for months at a time. While these may be very common stories, they come from some not so ordinary young people who lack neither poise nor brains to succeed, but just like me, chose to do a degree that doesn’t translate into a sellable set of skills.

We made our choices way before the prestige of a solid university degree began to crumble. If we only knew! Newsweek‘s Joel Kotkin hit the note just right when he dubbed young Americans the Generation Screwed.

“The unemployment rate for those 18 to 29 is 50 percent above the national average, and even those who have landed jobs are often overqualified and underpaid. They’re swimming in debt, recording unprecedented levels of stress, and most will never be able to achieve the economic status or lifestyles their parents enjoy.”

Maclean‘s Chris Sorensen and Charlie Gillis followed in the footsteps publishing an article on emergence of well-educated, smart Canadian underclass. The article took facebook by storm and I took note – I’m neither American nor Canadian but that is now also my reality.

I was an international student about to complete my degree in Canada when the European economic crisis reached its peak. It seemed unrealistic to count on a decent-paying job back in Poland when I could do financially better staying and working a minimum wage job. There may be nothing to be ashamed trying to get by working odd jobs, but that’s probably not what I imagined when I decided to invest in overseas education.

There is a high price my generation is now paying for being hoaxed into thinking that higher education open doors, when in reality the market pushes us to “rebrand” ourselves in order to become “sellable.” Because the degree itself is not. Something we could have done without enduring the ridiculousness that happens at top-tier universities. What I’m referring to is a psychological toll of stress, academic rat race and unrealistic expectations for the future – things that university students feed off, and are being fed by academia.

If you are in your twenties, you have to be prepared to let go of the high hopes and your shortcut to success. Get ready to start from scratch, again and again. Expect nothing, be ready for anything. So there is that, but there is also more freedom to explore non-traditional paths to making a name for yourself – and that will require a lot more creativity and drive than any college degree can offer.


Enchanted Island: Christmas on Madeira

In Europe, Portugal on December 28, 2012 at 7:43 pm

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Porto Moniz, Madeira

There is something inherently enchanting about living on an island, even more so if it is a paradise of lush, fragrant tropical gardens engulfed by steeps ocean cliffs. Portuguese island Madeira (the biggest in the archipelago) is quite like nothing but Garden of Eden, except for better because it is a livable one. Spread halfway between the Canary Islands and coast of Africa, the archipelago is a set of volcanic islands with Mediterranean climate and little beautiful patches of what used to be an indigenous subtropical forest. Apart from intoxicating views and fragrances, it is not only rich in rare flora and fauna, but also in liberties and economic opportunities – Madeira is a politically autonomous region which ranks 2nd wealthiest in Portugal. The local history was virtually spared from colonial violence as no indigenous inhabitants were found when first discovered by the Portuguese in 1419. The legacy of this period, however, is the depletion of soil due to sugarcane production which was only possible by cutting the original dense forest (madeira stands for wood).

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W życiu na wyspie jest coś niezmiernie fascynującego, tym bardziej jeśli mówimy o wypie gdzie spośród morskich klifów wyłaniają się bujne i pachnące tropikalne ogrody. Portugalska wyspa Madeira (największa z archipelagu) przypomina biblijny raj, z tą różnicą, że jest to prawdziwy raj na ziemi. Archipelag rozciąga się on na wodach oceanu atlantyckiego w połowie drogi z Wysp Kanaryjskich do wybrzeża Afryki, i podobnie jak one charakteryzuje się naturą wulkaniczną; natomiast klimat jest łagodniejszy, śródziemnomoroski. Upojne wrażenia dla zmysłów, eksplozja słodkich zapachów i zapierające dech w piersiach widoki mamy gwarantowane. Oprócz tego znajdziemy tam również wiele rzadkich gatunków flory i fauny, a także solidny ustrój demokratyczny i spore możliwości ekonomiczne (Madeira jest regionem autonomicznym oraz drugą najbogatszą częścią Portugalii zaraz po Lizbonie). Co ciekawe, brak tu czarnych plam na historii bo w momencia odkrycia archipelagu przez Portugalczyków w 1419 wyspa zdawała sie kompletnie dzika i pozbawiona śladów po rdzennych mieszkańcach. Jedyna negatywna informacja jaką udało mi się znaleźć z okresu kolonialnego to wzmianka o wyrębie lasów (madeira to po portugalsku drewno) na rzecz uprawy trzciny cukrowej co doprowadziło do problemów z wyjałowieniem gleby.









La Gomera (one of the smallest of Canary Islands) was the first far-off destination I travelled to as a child. Being on Madeira was strongly reminiscent of that first pristine experience of accelerated heartbeat when you live on an island and your mind becomes slowly captivated by the four elements that are bursting full of life everywhere around you. As your senses start to align with the natural world, you enter a state of heightened peace and quiet excitement as if you were arriving home after a long, long journey. It was the last trip and the very last Christmas my family spent together so my heart will always ache for the utmost magic, happiness and an intrinsic Christmas bliss I felt on that trip.

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Gomera (jedna z najmniejszych Wysp Kanaryjskich) była w dzieciństwie moim pierwszym odległym celem podróży. Czas spędzony na Madeirza bardzo przypominał te pierwsze oznaki otumanienia tętniącymi wokoło siłami dzikiej przyrody. Przyspieszone tętno, poczucie, że na nowo przypominamy sobie co znaczy współgrać z naturą, kiedy przepełniamy się uczuciem takiej cichej ekscytacji która  zazwycyaj towarzyszy powrotom do domu po długiej podróży. Marzy mi się, żeby kiedyś wrócić i jeszcze raz poczuć świąteczną magię w tak błogiej postaci jak podczas tych ostatnich Świąt Bożego Narodzenia spędzonych z rodziną w 2009 roku.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

In Photography, Poland, Weekly Photo Challenge on December 14, 2012 at 11:52 am





Blowing dandelions in Zakopane, Poland.

Last days in Poland

In Europe, Krakow, Poland on July 21, 2011 at 12:07 am

Until my parents divorced – that is over the initial two years in Canada – I split time and commitments more or less evenly between the two opposite sides of the ocean. There was a sense of stability in the constant back and forth, at least until the moment circumstances forced me to deliberately skip my return flight home and  stop visiting for what turned out to be two years. I spent the first of many Christmas Eves in a strange, solitary way. When I finally got around to booking a return flight home it was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. This wasn’t just a regular trip because everything I had known as my Polish home wasn’t there anymore. I also wasn’t the same person after many months of PTSD. Unfortunately  have this tendency to give in to other people’s expectations and my visits to Poland usually turn into a tight and hurried schedule of family events, doctor appointments, last-minute shopping and catching-up with a dozen of friends. It is something to enjoy when you are bursting with energy, but now I sought a a simple experience of home. Life spins faster when you have more weight over your shoulders. Homesickness became less about clinging on to a romanticized memory of life at home with both of my parents, and so much more about keeping alive a sense of home in whatever shape or form it remained. My home – no longer a physical place, but a space in heart that needed to be filled with a special kind of energy. Taking part in the most ordinary of your family’s everyday routine, acting as if there were no changes, no barriers drawn between us, and no rush. This I had to pretend because what used to be our family home was now an abandoned apartment and many bitter-sweet memoirs. I had to accept there will be no coming back, only the possibility of building something new and the long process of adjustment. As to friends, there is an upsetting sensation that life has put us on opposite tracks and there is little we can understand about one another expect for the past we share. Nevertheless, my last days in Poland were filled with great joy as we hosted a friend from Ethiopia. Same time last year we were driving around Addis Ababa when she told us she was admitted to Stockholm University and there is a chance we will see each other in EU.

2 Days in Vienna

In Austria, Europe on July 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Rose Garden in the Volksgarten

European cities are bustling centers of art and culture, each with it’s own unique charisma and magnetism. But it so happens that its true character is usually hidden behind the touristy facade, making the search of the authentic beat of the city a difficult task. Hundreds of thousands of tourists rushing through museum galleries in a cutthroat marathon to tick off the major artworks may ruin the experience for those longing to live the honest authentic, local experience.

How much could one understand about such a grandiose place as Vienna within 2 days? – I asked myself realizing I can’t afford a trip longer than that. But to our pleasant surprise,  our host (art history student and a childhood friend) knew very well how to save us frustration of feeling like desperate tourists. A perfect combination of sightseeing and lazying around – long strolls across the city, art exhibits (HR Giger, Hundertwasser in Kunst Haus) and the culinary exploits. I can say with confidence that we absolutely capitalized on the overnight train Kraków-Vienna to show Nathan a piece of Western Europe .

University of Vienna


Vienna Culinary Memoirs

In Austria, Europe on June 26, 2011 at 2:58 am

We arrived to Vienna shortly after 6am, got a short nap and proceeded to Naschmarkt open market were we had a wholesome, flavorful breakfast with a cup of coffee – something we absolutely needed to give our first day a kick-ass start. Our pick was omelettes with a Middle Eastern twist in one of the cafeterias across the market.



In Grinzing (a district of Vienna characterized by forested ridges and wineries), we enjoyed salads with chicken schnitzel, potatoes, onions and lettuce. The following day brought us to a Pakistani buffet where you eat as much as you wish, and pay as much as you can. Finally, we sampled Spritzer – a wine-based thirst-quencher, and a dazzling piece of cake in one of the famed Viennese cafes.






Morskie Oko

In Europe, Poland, Zakopane on June 16, 2011 at 4:59 am

On our last day in Zakopane the weather was chancy so instead of hiking up to Morskie Oko (literally Eye of the Sea) we decided to take a horse-drawn cart. Morskie Oko is the largest lake in the Tatra National Park, and one of the most recognizable outdoor destinations in the area as it provides a multitude of hiking trails suitable for all and  breathtaking views. The pond is not only beautiful engulfed by mist and snow-covered peaks, it also emanates mysterious charm which can probably be attributed to a certain folk legend claiming Morskie Oko is in fact connected with the sea via underground passages.

Art in the Tatras

In Europe, Poland, Zakopane on June 9, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Zakopane is not only the capital of Polish mountaineering tradition, but also a place where 19th and 20th century artists thrived inspired by local folklore and wild nature. During the most recent visit to Zakopane I had a chance to explore an wonderful exhibition of artworks  linked with the Polish highland region Podhale, created between 1880-1939. It’s a blend of contemporary European aesthetics with the local imagery and folklore.

The exhibition of 20th Century Art is held at historical Villa Oksza, currently a property of the Tatra Museum, which in itself is a 116-year old historical landmark reflecting a unique architectural style developed by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz at the end of 19th century, with hope of creating….

(…) a home which would settle all existing doubts about the possibility of adapting folk architecture to the requirements deriving from the more complex and sophisticated needs of comfort and beauty (…) that it will possess the full range of comforts yet simultaneously be beautiful in a fundamentally Polish way.”

I’m not very familiar with other names that have shaped art which once blossomed at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, but I’m greatly fascinated by the persona of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (also known as Witkacy) who as versatile, hot-blooded and a mysterious character keeps inspiring fondness for Zakopane’s intriguing folklore and invites its visitors to ponder on the influence of wild nature on humans. His works – photographs, paintings, plays – are ignited by a genius ability to exaggerate and underscore the oddities within his subjects.


In Europe, Slovakia on June 3, 2011 at 12:09 am

As the rain was pouring down, we went on a short window sighting trip to Slovakia. We passed emptied and abandoned border control buildings which reminded us how blessed with are with the freedom of movement brought about by with European integration.

Slovakian highlands are not as densely populated as the Polish ones; they delight with impressions of seclusion and mystifying wilderness.

Summer in Zakopane

In Poland, Zakopane on May 30, 2011 at 10:56 pm

We spent four days breathing fresh crispy air and walking down the trails. Though it was no recluse experience – we were constantly surrounded by crowds of amateur hikers;  it was nice to be one step closer to wilderness and experience the last traces of the authentic local folklore. I must admit, I struggled quite a lot trying to capture the alluring charm of Zakopane as I hold on to in my memory, unspoiled by vendors selling plastic souvenirs and tacky ads flooding the streets. The reality of the people is a harsh one, their livelihood being heavily dependent on the tourism economy and the ability to make compromises. It is the challenge of preserving the vigor of regional traditions while re-imagining it for the sake of salability.

Folk Wedding in Podhale Region