perjantai 20. lokakuuta 2017

Busy town, busy life

In these past weeks I've had some really busy days. Not because of the assignments, but because of the general rush to everywhere. I do not have even that much lectures, actually only on Mondays and on Wednesdays - but there is so much to see and to do here that staying still seems like an impossible task! Yesterday I took a day-off and finally read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Unlike I thought, I was not disappointed, not at all. I actually cried a bit (terribly lot) while I was reading it, so if you feel like opening the old wounds, you should read it too.

The thing I really miss here in Warsaw is playing piano. I started to play the piano again last summer, after several years of break. Now when I don't have a chance to do it, I've realized how much I actually enjoy the playing. It should not be a problem to find someone from here to give me the lessons though, after all Warsaw is the home town of Frédéric Chopin. The only problem could be the language-barrier between me and my teacher. So where to find a piano that I can play? I do have some plans about sneaking to an airport, I'm even willing to give free concerts - especially if and when people want to hear bit-unrehearsed-and-probably-quite-awful piano covers from Game of Thrones.

Few days ago I attended an event which was held in the memory of Chopin. The event took place in the Holy Cross Church. They played the whole Requiem from Mozart as a tribute to him. Oh and the concert - it was amazing. 55 minutes well spent.

I'm planning do an own blog post later explaining more from the courses I am attending here. I want to mention the names of the classes I'm taking part to, so you'll get a better vision of my studies. The courses I'm taking on this semester are,

1. Asymmetric threats,
2. History of European Integration,
3. International Migration,
4. Political and Economic Geography,
5. International Relations in Central Europe and
6. International Protection of Human rights.
I will still have to do some selection, since I am only allowed to do courses worth for 30ECTS, and these six in total are more than 40..

I went to the Museum of Modern Art one day since it is only five minutes away from our University library where I am spending lot of time. They had an interesting art exhibition there, it was a nice and relaxing way to spend a rainy afternoon. There are still lot of museums to see, next I want to go to the National Museum and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

We finally visited the sightseeing terrace on top of the Cultural Palace with Nathalie last week. The views were striking - you could really see how big city Warsaw is in fact. Afterwards we went to an Israeli restaurant (because hummus is life), and we got enormous amount of food for free after we had ordered our meals. It seems it was somehow included to the offer - anyway, good deal, I would say. For those who'll visit me, I will take each and every one of you to eat there!

One day my friend Robert decided to cook for us. We have a "deal" that we cook to each other by turns, and he started it in an excellent way! I am still not that sure what we ate, but I know it tasted wonderful. He was a good friend and made me a vegetarian version, even though it was not the "correct version". Speaking of food, I have a new favorite lunch restaurant here! It is called Wegetarianski Bar Mleczny, and as the name says it is a vegetarian restaurant, with Polish food. I have been there probably eight times during the last three weeks, so they pretty much start to know my face. Everytime I go there I'm trying to speak more in Polish and less in English. The staff there is really friendly, and food tasty and cheap!

We had a nice evening last week in a pub called Kufle i Kapsle. They are offering 16 different special beers there, and they have a deal that you can taste four of them with 20zlotys (~5€). We basically went through the whole list testing every beer, and rating them from 1 to 5. They were not the best beers ever - I swear some of them tasted like coffee which is not, surprisingly, a good combination. I am not actually sure which beer we chose as the winner, so we'll probably need to go back to re-do the test.

Few weeks ago we headed to the Łazienki Park with Tuuli. We chose a nice, sunny day to go there and we got to experience the golden autumn of Poland. The park is full of wildlife - the cutest ducks, some scary swans which were coming really close to us and lot of friendly squirrels looking for food. Łazienki park was one of the most beautiful parks I've seen here so far.

I ordered some photos from Empik to cover my empty walls. Now I have a collection about selected moments from last year, now my room starts to feel like home. It is crazy that there are only two months left of this year, and then it'll be 2018. I have some nice plans for christmas, and before it we are planning to do a trip to Krakow. Also, we are planning to go to Amsterdam in November with my friends from Finland, so if someone has good tips what to do there, let me know! Let's see what trips I'll invent before these and/or after - I really do have troubles of staying still.

Do widzenia,
- Iiris

lauantai 7. lokakuuta 2017

Tramhunting in Hungary & Romania

As said, I had a chance to join the group of dedicated public transportation fans from Ostrava to their trip to Hungary and Romania. The idea behind these trips with the transportation group is to explore the public transportation of a target city, and as a big part of it - to photograph the vehicles. I have become a bit familiar with this crazy hobby, after I met a certain someone called Ivo.

The point of joining the trip was not only to enjoy the company of my dear Ivo (who is studying in Jyväskylä right now) but to visit two countries where I had never been before. I had a little knowledge about Hungary and Romania before the trip since the desicion to join was made two days before the departure, but sometimes spontaneous trips are the best ones.

All information about the trip I had was the place where I need to go in Ostrava if I want to have a free bus transportation to our destination, Szeged (HUN). So my task was to purchace a train ticket from Warsaw to Ostrava. It was not possible to do it in internet though, since I was crossing the border of Poland to Czechia. I went to Warsaw's railway station and bought the ticket, it was appr. 30€ (+-0). It would've been cheaper to students, but because my Polish student card was not valid yet, I could not get the discount.

My journey from Warsaw to Ostrava was without troubles. When I reached Ostrava, I had few hours to spend there before the bus departure. It was my fourth time in Ostrava and I feel like I'm starting to know my way around there already quite well. (Speaking about transportation, no city yet have had so user-comfortable way how to buy a ticket from the vehicle than in Ostrava. You simply show your wireless debit card to the machine, and you have the ticket after that. So simple, so easy to use, full points from me!). I found my way to a tearoom where we had been with Ivo few times before. Luckily they had a menu in English since my Czech is still in the level "mluvíte anglicky" - and they even let me to pay with euros, since I hadn't have time to withdraw any Czech crowns.

I moved to the home of trolleybuses, from where the bus was going to leave. The organizer of the trip Petr was there. Luckily he was able to speak in English and explained me about the schedule of our trip. This was my biggest concern, because I knew that I will lack the common language with the group. Few of them were able to speak English, some of them bit of German but mostly just Czech. Well, at least I got some practice speaking my very basic "nemluvím česky ale trochu rozumím" Czech!

The bus was leaving at 11pm, and we spend the first night in there. Luckily I have some experience of sleeping in buses (thanks Onnibus), so I knew that the key is to put lot of warm clothes. I slept the night as comfortably as possible and on the next morning I woke up in Hungary! There we met Ivo, who had took a flight from Tampere to Budapest, and from there a train to Szeged. This was probably one of the weirdest way to be reunited again, but as we are adventurous souls, proč ne?

Szeged is the third largest city in Hungary and it is located in southern Hungary. We spend the first day there discovering local transportation system, traveling with historical vehicle and enjoying the local treats, such as Fröccs (wine mixed with soda) and Langos (deepfried dough with smetana and cheese). There was a surprising moment when I happened to see a tram with a text "Turku" on it. (Turku is a city in Finland, and not just an ordinary city - my place of birth and home for several years) We did some research about the tram, and got to know that in fact Szeged and Turku are sister cities! The world is so small.  In the end of the day we continued to Romania.

Since Romania is not a part of the Schengen-area, a border control came in to our bus to check the passports from all the passengers. After this formality, we were allowed to continue towards our second destination; Arad. We arrived to our (quite luxurious) hotel and went to explore the "folklore" of the city by going to a pub.

In the next day we had again some programme with the local transportation company. We had the opportunity to explore old trams and to go for a ride with an old train. It was actually really cool since it was only for our group to use. We felt ourselves like very important people while traveling towards our destination - by using common railways with our special train.

Next day we went to Timisoara, another city in western Romania. There we were supposed to go to the tram-museum, but when we got to the place we noticed that there was another event going on. The event was called Art Expo, they had a modern art exhibition - which I really enjoyed. There were also trams in the area, so our group was more or less satisfied even though one tram was "ruined" with art.

After three intense days with trams, trolleybuses and beer, it was time to head back to Czechia. We left Ivo near to the airport of Budapest and started our journey back to Ostrava. On the way we stopped at the border of Hungary and Slovakia, which was divided by a huge river.

On next day I traveled back to Warsaw. I had a straight train connection all the way from Ostrava to Warsaw, but I had three different tickets to this journey. As my Polish discount is only available when traveling in Poland, it was wiser to buy few separate tickets. First ticket was from Ostrava to the last station in Czechia. Second ticket was from the last station in CZ to the first station in PL. Third ticket was from the first station in PL to Warsaw.

I had really nice time in the trip, and afterwards I have to say that I changed my opinion of their crazy hobby. It is not that crazy, it is actually quite fun to travel somewhere to travel with local transportation! It is an effective way how to see the city where you are, and to enjoy the culture and the company at the same time. I am thankful that they took me to their trip, and shared their passion towards their hobby. And, I think it was not the last time I'll attend a trip like this!

Till next time,

torstai 5. lokakuuta 2017

Summary of my first weeks in Warsaw

Cześć, and greetings from Warsaw!
I was thinking how to share my experiences from here as easily and detailed as possible to many people at the same time. I came up with the idea of having a blog, since it is quite comfortable way for me to write what I've done and share pictures at the same time. (Un)fortunately, this blog will be written in English. Partly because writing in Finnish does not seem so natural after a day using only English, mainly because I will share the link with my friends from other countries. My dear Finns, I am absolutely sure that you'll be able to read English without any troubles. After all, we are one of the countries with best English skills (fact!)

Some of you might think why I chose Warsaw to be the destination of my Erasmus-programme. For those, I do not have a spesific answer. Poland was already a bit familiar to me after my visitation to Krakow last January, and my second visitation to Wroclaw/Sompolno/Poznan this summer. I have Polish friends and I want to explore more of Central Europe. (This is important to know, that Poland is in fact concidered to be Central European country based on historical and cultural reasons.)

University of Warsaw is the biggest University in Poland with over 50 000 students. It was founded in 1816 and offers studies in over 18 faculties. They had an interesting study programme from the field of international relations in, so I decided to give it a try and apply. The courses I'm taking here are varied - from European History and World politics to sociology and contemporary ideologies.

Warsaw is the capital of Poland with approximately 1,7 million citizens. There are lot of activities here; several art museums, stadiums, football matches, concerts, theatre, cinemas - something for everyone! The city is divided by the river Vistula (pl. Wisła, fi. Veiksel) and my home is located to "tois puol jokkee" (Proverb from Turku, meaning basically "other side of the river"). 

The programme of my first two weeks here has been busy. When I arrived to the airport, my mentor Sonia was there to pick me up. She was sweet to take me all the way to my home, and she told me essential things about my neighbourhood and about Warsaw in general. I am living in area of Saska Kepa, which is a nice, calm area. I share a private flat with my two roommates; local Polish guy and an exchange student from Spain.

I like my neighbourhood here, I have everything essential close to me, such as a grocery store and the famous restaurant/bar street Francuska. Even though there's not a straight metro, or sadly even a tram connection from my home to city centre, there is a bus stop just opposite side of street of my home, and straight line operating to my Uni. The buses are operating also at night, so to get home from pub is not a problem here. It is easy and cheap to travel with student's reduced ticket (we'll get 51% discount of transportation in Poland with our Polish student cards). Ticket for three months in Warsaw costs 140zlotys (~30€).

During my first week I found a nice place where to go for running. Since I live close to Wisla, I can run alongside it. I also applied for gym membership; they have a system here where you'll pay 59 zlotys in month (around 13 €) and with this price you'll able to use over 60 gyms in Warsaw. The nearest one is just opposite side of the street, so there should be no excuses for skipping the gym day!

And talking about gym days, they will be necessary because of the food here. Polish food is usually heavy and/or unhealthy. It is relatively cheap to eat outside - a meal in a restaurant costs usually around 5-6e, including drinks. Polish cuisine is rather meat based, but Warsaw is luckily one of the most vegetarian friendliest cities in Europe. Normally there are at least few options for vegetarians. So far pierogis are my favorite dish from Polish cuisine!

My studies started already on next day from my arrival. I had applied for intensive Polish course, which turned out to be useful. We had a small group of nine people, and we were learning basic phrases, communication skills, and in general things what would be useful to know while living in Warsaw. People do speak English here occasionally, but especially with older people it is usually better to use Polish. After my intensive Polish course I know how to greet, thank, and say goodbye. I know how to order food (and most importantly, beer!). I know how to take a taxi, and I actually once already did, but actually everything I had to say, was my address and thank you (and then I fell asleep to the taxi).

I got to know people from my Polish group and I've been spending time with them outside the classes. They found a typical Polish restaurant near to our Uni (these restaurants are called Milk Bars which is a literal translation from Bar mleczny), and we've been there having a lunch for few times. Menu is only in Polish but luckily there is a Polish speaker in our group - he is able to save me from guessing which meals are vegetarian. The food there is very tasty and cheap, the whole meal is around 3-4e.

My friends are living in dormitory, which seems to be like a prison based on the first look. You cannot enter the dormitory without resident card. However, if you wish to visit your friends you will have to leave your ID to the angry doorman, and hope to get it back after your visitation. You are not allowed to stay over 10pm, afterwards there will be "consequences", as we were once politely told. After few visitations to their dormitory, I am glad that I live in private apartment and I am allowed to come and go as I please. And my visitors can actually sleep at my place without paying... :D

Drinking culture in Poland is one of a kind. They love vodka, and apparently drink it whenever there's a possibility or reason for it. It is also typical here to drink vodka and eating a pickle with it: this combination is tested by me with bad outcome, (by felling asleep to a bar... and that taxi....) For us exchange students there are infinite amount of parties offered, everyday of the week. So, unlike in Vaasa where you had to plan your week based on an occasional party - here you can attend one if you have time or will. One funny thing I've noticed while I've been traveling in Europe, is that they sell Finlandia everywhere. Not only in here Poland but also in Czechia, Hungary and Romania. It is apparently concidered to be Premium vodka? My friends from abroad find it funny that I've never even tasted it - but that is because of the high price of it in Finland. I guess I need to try it here, where I dont have to spend a fortune to taste a vodka from my own country!

On my first week I visited the cultural palace. It is the tallest building in Poland, and inside there is a theater, a cinema, a restaurant and lot more. We went to movies to watch "the Square", a Swedish satirical drama film. It was an experience to watch a film with Polish subtitles and actually understand more from Polish than from Danish, that the main charachter was speaking (which, sorry, is so hard to understand!). I also visited our University Library and the outside gardens - located to the backyard and rooftop of the library. Gardens are free to enter for the public, and definitely one of my favorite spots from Warsaw so far. The library itself is super comfortable, otherwise than to study - you can relax or actually even sleep there.

On the second week I had the opportunity to join the trip with Ostrava's transportation group to Hungary and Romania. I will write an own blog post from that because it was quite adventurous trip, and I had an interesting way how I reached Hungary and Warsaw on my way back!

So overall, my first weeks in Warsaw have been pleasant and full of activities. The actual studies started yesterday, and so far so good - the field is interesting and seems to have the contents I was looking for. I will be back soon with the post about my trip, and I'll keep you updated of my adventures in Warsaw and elsewhere! 

Do widzenia

All good here

Long time no hear! I have been extremely busy while settling back to life in Finland. Obviously so busy, that the whole January just passed ...