Poland’s cross-country phenom, Justyna Kowalczyk, has added a gold medal to her silver and bronze this Olympics, this time in the grueling 30 km mass-start classic! She is the second person in Poland’s history to win a gold medal in a winter Olympics- the first was Wojciech Fortuna who won gold in 1972 for ski jumping. Huge deal over here!!

Norway’s Marit Bjoergen put up a good fight ’til the very end, but lost in a nail-biting finish. Kowalczyk pushed ahead in the last 5 meters, winning by the length of a ski, or .3 seconds. Her finish time was 1 hour, 33 minutes and .27 seconds. Aino Kaisa Saarinen of Finland won bronze.

Associated Press

And, in an unexpected finish, the Polish women’s speed skating team won bronze in the 3000m relay in Vancouver! Katarzyna Bachleda-Curuś, Katarzyna Woźniak and Luiza Zlołtkowska finished ahead of the American team to win the medal. Germany won gold in the event, and Japan took the silver.

Kowalczyk’s gold and the speed skaters’ bronze have brought Poland’s medal count up to 6 for this Olympics and the overall total up to 14!

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When my family invited me to go skiing in the Czech Republic, of course I said yes! My uncle’s family is from Nysa, a city in the Southwest of Poland (near the Czech border) and he’s been crossing the border to go skiing since he was a kid. And since everyone’s home for winter break, we packed up the car, made the 2.5 hour drive to Nysa, dropped off stuff at my uncle’s family home and then made our way across the border to go skiing!

Right after we crossed the Czech border, my uncle asked me, “So Monica, do you feel any different now?” And I jokingly said “absolutely.” But there was some truth in it… there were two major differences I noticed right away: the roads were better and the architecture was different. In terms of architecture– Polish houses in the mountains have a very particular look, with pitched roofs, even a specific range of colors. And maybe because of the angled roofs, the houses appear more… delicate? I don’t think that’s the right word, but compared to Czech houses or even Slovakian houses, they are optically lighter. Here are some Czech houses I snapped a picture of from the car.

It was so sunny and clear on our way to the mountains, but once we started driving up the windy roads, the fog set in.


The trees were incredible– all covered in snow and ice. They looked like hunched-over figures, ironically reminiscent of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s abakans…. but covered in a white blanket of snow.

The first day, we checked out Červenohorské sedlo… really nice trails, but it was so foggy! You could barely see 10 feet in front of you. But it was absolutely gorgeous.

The second day, we decided to switch it up and ski on another slope–Ramzová. I really liked this slope, too.

All was going well until we skiied down to the bottom of the slope and found that the chair lifts were temporarily closed … a tree had fallen on the line!!

But about 30 minutes later, everything was back up and running.

To ski down the longest trail, you first had to take the chair lifts up, and then hop on a poma the rest of the way. It was so beautiful up there, with the sun just starting to push through the fog.

It was a great two days!

Adam Małysz got another silver medal, this time in Men’s Large Hill Individual ski jumping. That brings the grand total for Poland this Olympics to 4 medals– 3 silver, 1 bronze. Simon Ammann of Switzerland received the gold medal and Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria got bronze.

Snow.

February 20, 2010

I thought I would dedicate an entire post to… snow– and the insane amounts that have come down in Poland this year.

My entire family is convinced that I’ve brought the snow with me, since they can’t remember the last time they’ve had a winter like this. To which I say, excellent. I like cold weather: the fresh air, the gorgeous white snow, the incredible quality of light, the motivation to get places quickly and efficiently, the layered clothing… I even like dogs that like this kind of temperature. I can go on and on. As long as you make the best of it–go outside, ski a little, plow some snow, and not sit inside all winter long, it’s really a great time of year…. although a tropical climate never hurt anyone.

The eastern part of Poland, along with areas around Warsaw have seen the most snow this winter. To be more specific, the Mazowieckie and Lubelskie provinces of Poland got absolutely walloped.As I’ve mentioned before in my posts, my dad’s family lives just outside of Warsaw, in a town called Józefów. The amount of snow they’ve gotten this year is incredible. My aunt even decided to buy a snow blower. I took some pictures this past weekend just to give you an idea…

Plowing snow from the driveway.

The beautiful dogs that live across the street, intently watching me plow snow.

Justyna Kowalczyk won 2 medals for Poland this week: silver in the Individual Sprint Classics on Wednesday and bronze in the photo-finish 15 km pursuit Friday! Kowalczyk has contributed 2 to Poland’s 3 medals this Olympics / 11 overall winter Olympic medals. *Written before Adam Małysz got another silver medal, making it 4 total, 12 overall.

One lunge can make a difference: Kowalczyk ousting Kristen Stoermer Steira (Norway) from the bronze metal position in the 15 km Pursuit

Individual Sprint Classics: Norwegian skiier Marit Bjoergen took gold and Slovenian Petra Majdić (broken ribs and all) took the bronze.

15 km Pursuit: Norwegian Marit Bjoergen took gold (again) and Swedish Anna Haag took silver.

Adam Małysz– Poland’s pride and joy– got the silver medal in ski jumping today! Big deal over here.

He jumped 103.5 m and 105 m- 269.5 points. Simonn Ammann from Switzerland got gold jumping 105 m and then 108 m – 276.5 points, Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria got bronze with 101.5 m and 106.5 m – 268 points.

On Sunday, February 7th I took a train from Łódź to Warsaw to spend some time with my grandma, since it was her birthday/nameday (imieniny). On Monday night, fellow Fulbrighter Micajah McGarity dropped a Skype bomb: he, along with Catarina and Tristan were going skiing in Slovakia and wanted me to come along. Caught totally unawares, I didn’t think the whole thing would actually materialize on my end. The main reason: I didn’t have my ski clothes with me– they were back in Łódź!! Well, Micajah quieted my fears, saying I could borrow his ski pants and a jacket. With nothing else standing in my way, my aunt drove me to the train station the next morning.

After almost missing the 9:15am train to Kraków from track 3, because we misread the timetables, thinking the Kraków train leaving from track 4 at 9:06am was the right one, I made the 2.5 hour train ride (getting massively [artisically] inspired along the way) to Kraków and met Micajah at the bus terminal. For the second time that day, I almost missed my ride: this time it was the bus to Zakopane. Granted they run every 20 minutes, it still would have been a nuisance to have to wait. But we made it, and about two hours later, we were in Zakopane– the second time in 3 weeks! I bought some badly needed ski gloves and warm skiing socks, plus provisions for the ride to Slovakia.

Unfortunately, third time’s a charm: we missed the last bus to Łysa Polana, a Polish town on the Slovakian border from where we were supposed to catch another bus to Ždiar (heading in the direction of Poprad). However, we hopped into a taxi and asked the driver to get us to the Slovakian border. A little chocolate got him to drive us across and all the way to Ždiar… he even took off the little taxi sign on his roof, so that we wouldn’t get pulled over. A little shady, but we got there hassle-free and in only about 45 minutes!

Slovenská republika!

We finally made it to Ždiar, Slovakia!!

We walked up to the Ginger Monkey Hostel and checked in;

were greeted by Wally, the owner’s dog;

suited up (I looked ridiculous in Micajah’s borrowed ski clothes);

took the free ski bus over to Strachan; met up with Tristan and Catarina who were already there; rented skis; and skiied!

Strachan is a small slope. The skiing was nice and easy– perfect for the first day. Lovely views of the mountains, too. After getting back, we headed over to Pizza Rustika for dinner. It’s a local favorite and the closest thing to a pub in Ždiar.

After hanging out with some of the people at the hostel later on that night, Day 2– predictably– began quite late. We headed over to Bachledova, another slope, around noon-time and got to skiing, since they close the trails at 4pm!!

The trails at Bachledova were great. The views were incredible, too. However, to be honest, Zakopane has much more in the way of variety of slopes/ski facilities. It might have more people, but it’s worth it. It’s also less expensive… since Slovakia uses the Euro. Ždiar is definitely more hidden in the mountains– sort of a secret getaway if you’re into that. It was completely enjoyable to ski there, though. The free ski buses were great, too.

Anyway, since Bachledova closed at 4pm, we took the ski bus back over to Strachan, and switched in our skis for snowboards, just to try it out for the rest of the day. It was almost everyone’s first time on a snowboard, so it was pretty hilarious.  There aren’t too many pictures from that night… needless to say, we were totally consumed by falling and the pain that came with it.

After a long night’s rest, we got up considerably earlier the next morning and headed over to Strachan to ski/snowboard until it was time to go home. Since I couldn’t feel my butt anymore and my hands/wrists are indispensable in order to make art, I decided to switch to skis. The rest of the bunch kept at it with the snowboards.

Waiting for the ski bus…

Since Strachan is such a small slope, they don’t have chair lifts. There are only pomas, or drag lifts, that pull you up the mountain.

Day 2 began with being overcast, but the sun started coming out while we were skiing/snowboarding!

Really great restaurant right by the slope.

We left Ždiar at around 4pm and got a ride all the way to Kraków from Sean, a guy who worked at the hostel. A good time was had by all.

*By the way, can I just say it is so cool that you can cross over into a foreign country that has a different language and understand pretty much everything they say. And they can understand everything you say. So each one can speak his own language, and know what the other one is saying! Slovakian is also a Slavic language, so there are many similiarities between it and Polish. However, this doesn’t always hold true. When the ski rental/ski bus driver asked me what it is that I do, and I said that I’m an artist (artysta in Polish), he thought I can do flips and play with tigers. Apparently, in Slovakian an artista is a circus performer. weird huh.