Archive for the 'Eastern Europe' Category

Auschwitz, Katowice, and Prague

January 5, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Today has been a big day. I woke early to pack and got picked up from the 8:15am to visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and death camps. My driver was Patrick, a really sweet kid from Krakow and on the hour long drive we discussed funny things about the Polish and English languages, and the weird things different people do in his car. Polish is known to be the most difficult language to learn (for English speakers, maybe for everyone).


We drove through some pretty tough weather and after an hour arrived in Auschwitz, “Oświęcim” in Polish, which is not just the site of over a million murders, but also a town with a mall, a cinema, houses, etc. I had the tour of the camps Auschwitz I and then Auschwitz II and Birkenau. 

wp_20170105_11_15_25_proIt was interesting to finally visit after learning about the Holocaust and especially this site all my life. The heaviest places on the tour for me were the Birkenau death camp with its wide open spaces and train tracks running into the camp (pictured below), and the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz, where I saw the very distressing evidence of torture on the walls (not pictured).

wp_20170105_12_08_23_proI already knew about the atrocities, so most of what I learned from this tour aside from what it was like to physically be there were things about logistics and history. Which people went to Auschwitz and when, what parts were built when, what was different about the attitudes of the SS officers towards the prisoners after the Red Army victory in the battle of Stalingrad in 1943, and what happened to Polish people and Jewish people after the camps were liberated. It was freezing on the tour and very windy and snowy at times, but it was obvious that whatever discomfort we felt was nothing compared to the cold the prisoners had to deal with for months on end.

wp_20170105_16_09_46_proAfter the tours, which lasted about 4 hours, Patrick drove me to Katowice, a town about an hour away from Auschwitz and the departure point for my late afternoon bus and train journey to Prague. I had about two hours in Katowice, so walked around a bit and found a family-run pierogi restaurant.

wp_20170105_18_27_46_proI had not tried real pierogis yet in Poland so it was time. I had a nice glass of mulled wine, a mix dish of pierogis (mushroom was my favorite) and then it started snowing really hard so I had another glass of mulled wine and read in the restaurant until the bus.

wp_20170105_21_49_04_proThe bus was more like a little van and the ride to Ostrava, Czech Republic, was about an hour away. At the station in Ostrava, I found an earlier train to Prague. and arrived at 9:30 instead of 11:30 pm. on the train I wrote most of this blog and cleaned out some computer folders. I walked to my hotel from Prague main station and “Czeched” in. The room is very comfortable.

The guy at reception told me a little bit about Prague, helped figure out a plan for walking around tomorrow, and gave an awesome recommendation for a “beer and snacks” place in the old town called Lokal. I walked over there and had a Pilsner beer and one sausage with mustard and rye bread, and cabbage salad.


So Czech food is very similar to Polish food, maybe even heavier. I noticed on the walk through the town that Prague seems a little “shadier” than Krakow or Warsaw with some people on the streets doing strange things. There are also a lot of drunk students. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep and another big day tomorrow.




January 4, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are doing well!! The past two days have been really fun and unexpectedly social!

Yesterday I took the train from Warsaw to Krakow. Took about 3 hours, and was a nice train. I read and dozed off. We passed a lot of trees and farmland. The hotel here in Krakow is nice and the location is fantastic.

wp_20170103_15_16_43_proAfter unpacking, I walked up to Wawel castle area to get some views and that was freezing, windy, and snowy. Then walked around the market square area and drank mulled wine, had some snacks, and went back to my hotel. Then went out to dinner at an iconic and historic restaurant with the guy I met on the train from the airport in Warsaw and his friend from business school. It was a great time!! After dinner we went to a vodka bar and tasted 12 vodkas and shared stories. I’m happy to have these new friends!


This morning I took a walking tour of Jewish Krakow and learned all about the Ghetto in Krakow and what happened here during ww2, about Oskar Schindler and his factory, and about Jews and Judaism in Krakow and Poland throughout history and today. The guide, “Golden,” was fantastic. The tour company was “Free Walking Tours.” I’d recommend them for sure. I almost quit the tour after an hour because it was so cold, but am so happy to have stuck with it.


Then I went to a hair salon to get a hair wash and dry 🙂 it was time. Very good quality and Poland is inexpensive for me, so the whole thing with a good tip cost $15! Then for an excellent lunch at a Polish restaurant. I got more hot wine and cabbage rolls kind of like the ones my Bubbie made 🙂 The tastes from Polish food are very similar to the ones we have at Jewish family events. I really love it!

wp_20170104_11_39_14_proI walked around the rest of the afternoon and then met up with a friend of my colleague’s for drinks, dinner at another great, traditional restaurant, and then more drinks! He’s from Poland but lives in Boston so I’m very excited to have another friend in Boston 🙂 I laughed a ton tonight, and deeply, which is pretty rare when I’m on the road (rare enough that I immediately take note when it happens) so that was really special.

wp_20170103_15_57_16_proTomorrow is a big day. I’m heading to a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau, then to Katowice, where I’ll catch the train through Ostrava, Czech Republic, and finally to Prague for the night.

Love, Annie

Magical History Tour

January 2, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Today was a great day. First stop was the Palace of Culture and Science. I arrived before it opened so went to get a nice espresso and sandwich for breakfast. Then went back to go up to the 30th floor to see Warsaw from above. It was snowy and foggy so there wasn’t much to see but I’m still glad to have went.


After that I took the metro to the Museum of History of the Polish Jews. I found it informative yet very busy. It wasn’t crowded, but the exhibits were not simple, somewhat hard to follow. Jewish people have lived in Warsaw for a long time. wp_20170102_11_20_34_proBefore WW2 Warsaw was 30% Jewish. Now most have either been killed or left. There were about 400 synagogues, but now there are 2. I also learned that Lodz became a major textile industry hub in the late 1800s. Now it makes sense that my ancestors (and a lot of others) worked in the textile industry when they migrated from Poland to the United States in the early 1900s. wp_20170102_13_08_41_pro

After the museum I walked to the Old Town and for a walking tour of “WW2 Warsaw.” It was freezing but great, very informative. I learned more about how the city was leveled, the two uprisings, and the reconstruction. Then ate a late lunch of sour rye soup and sausage. Really delicious!

wp_20170102_10_39_23_proThen I went on a Polish Vodka tour which was fantastic. We tasted seven kinds of Polish vodkas, a few rye, potato, herbal vodka “for your health” a infused, one made with a medieval recipe, etc. I learned about the history of vodka, history of vodka in Poland, and about drinking customs. Our guide was a real badass. wp_20170102_15_52_50_pro

Also learned that the cabbage and sausage dish I ate yesterday is called “bigos” and each family has a different recipe. And that bigos pairs well with vodka.

Tomorrow I’ll go to Krakow, try pierogi, and am not sure what else!  Hope you are great!!



“Cześć” and “Dziękuję”

January 1, 2017

Hi Family and Friends,

Those are two Polish words learned today. “Hi” (cheshch) and “Thank you” (jen koo yeh). They are hard to pronounce. I’ve wanted to visit Poland for a long time and am finally here for a personal vacation! The flights were easy. The first one was in the air when it became 2017 and Swiss Air gave everyone a champagne toast. And no one was sitting next to me so it was comfortable.

wp_20170101_17_12_37_proZurich airport was as I had remembered, nice, easy to tell the time, but none of the bathrooms have enough stalls so there is always a line. The second flight from Zurich to Warsaw flew next to the Alps for an hour, which was a fantastic feast of the eyes. The plane landed in Warsaw in the early afternoon and it overcast but not raining.

On the train to the city, I chatted with a guy I met at the ticket machines who was also having an issue buying a ticket. The train tickets are inexpensive and the machines don’t like large bills. One of the train stops is across the street from my hotel. It was really lucky.

Late afternoon I took the tram to the old town to walk around the Old Town. I ate real grilled cheese (literally grilled cheese only, with cranberry sauce (see picture), walked around while drinking hot wine, and then had an awesome bowl with cabbage and sausage. It was really crowded downtown. They had new years fun things set up like a skating rink, craft shops, local foods.

wp_20170101_19_02_15_proIt was beautiful but really cold. I went to get a cappuccino and almost nodded off while drinking it so went back to the hotel. Tomorrow I’ll do a free walking tour of the old city (to see it in the light this time), almost definitely try pierogis and zurek (sour rye soup), and other things are up in the air.

I contacted an informal group that puts on “vodka tours” so hopefully that will work out. It wold involve learning about vodka culture in Poland with some tastings and food pairings. Just last week I learned that broke students from this area of the world may drink vodka+beer+seltzer because that’s a great way to get drunk when money is tight.

Happy new year and hope you have a fantastic, fun, and productive year. “Na zdrowie!” (cheers!)

Love, Annie

A Transylvania Halloween!

October 31, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are well. Happy Halloween! For the festivities, and because the timing worked out well, I headed to Transylvania to see Dracula’s castle. 20131031_110557I started my journey by waking up at 5 in the morning. The train to Brasov, the town nearby, takes almost three hours and I arrived just before 10:00 AM.  At the train station, I got a homemade pretzel with sesame seeds on it and coffee because that’s what everyone was eating. Pretzels  are a thing here. On the train, I dozed a little and read my book Rules Of Civility. I got to Brasov and used the nearby mall bathroom. Train station bathrooms are usually terrible. It seems I had the right idea, because I recognized a bunch of people from my train at that bathroom. I found a taxi that was the right price, and luckily, the driver spoke English.


Doral became my driver and guide of Brasov. We first went to Bran Castle, Dracula’s castle. It was cool because there were great views, but it was very touristy. Yep, that’s a stray puppy. I know. I found this puppy hanging out in the souvenir section of Bran Castle. 

After that, we went to Poiana Brasov ski resort to check it out. Unfortunately there was no skiing (none until December) but we got to drive through the woods in the Carpathian mountains. I really wanted to get a pullover or hat that said “Poiana Brașov” on it because I’ve started a collection of ski wear from obscure mountains but they didn’t have any. Boo! 20131031_121627Doral even helped me search for the gear shop. It was closed for renovations. In the third picture, you can see the view of Brasov from above. Near is the old town, and further is the new part of town.

 I got dropped off in the old part of town, and walked around and lunched before it was time to get back on he train to get home to Bucharest. For lunch, I had a delicious home made pasta dish (caprese pasta) from a fancy Italian restaurant. It was the fanciest meal I’ve had yet this survey. 20131031_112250I ate outside. At first I ordered some other pasta and a side of veggies and the server did not let me order it because she said veggies did not go with it. I took her rec and it turned out for the best. The ride home was just shy of three hours. I finished Rules of Civility and started the Joy Luck Club. Lev and I have decided to read the Joy Luck Club “together” this week. I think it will be so nice to do that and feel like we are having a shared experience, something we don’t get to have right now, so I was very excited to start it. And become more educated in Chinese Culture.


At Gara de Nord, the Bucharest North train station, I tried to get a taxi outside and it took me some time to find a guy that wasn’t going to rip me off. They saw I was not a local and offered for me to pay 30? 25? No way. I told them I’ve been here before and know that It costs less than half of that but still many drivers refused to take me if I wan’t going to overpay. 

20131031_110309I ended up paying 9, with tip, when I finally found a guy that would use the meter. He asked me what the deal was because he saw me get in and out of a bunch of cabs before his. I got back to my hotel safely, collected my laundry (one of the best things about hotel living is getting my ironed underwear back in little plastic bags) and had some dinner and wine. I’m definitely excited to keep moving on with the survey, but slightly sad to leave Bucharest, I Loved it here!!! Time to catch up on Nashville 🙂

Love, Annie 

TIL: The 2nd Largest Building in the World is in Bucharest!

October 30, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

The Peoples Palace, or Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. It is the heaviest building in the world. 20131030_144828I went there today and took a tour! The lighting is horrible in this first picture, I know. It was so cool so I had to put it anyway- it’s taken from the front balcony. Even though the tour was almost two hours long, we saw under 5% of the building. Apparently, most of the palace “looks like office building built in the 80s,” because that’s kind of what it is, so I imagine I got to see some of the most glamorous parts. Before this, I woke up early and went to a meeting. A driver picked me up from the hotel so I felt very important. 20131030_132129I finished my work and then headed to the Palace. I stopped for lunch and sat outside and ate an omelette. My time at the Palace was kind of work too because I’m assigned to report on it. Cool!!!

There’s not much I can tell you that I learned that you cannot read from Wikipedia. It took me 20 minutes to walk not around the building but from one end to the other. It’s very heavily guarded. The tours cost 45 Lei, which is about 15 dollars. If you want to take pictures they tell you it’s another 30 Lei, 10 dollars, but they never collected. I wanted to tip the tour guide at the end but she seemed to run away from the group when the tour finished. 20131030_154150I asked some romanian people if It was customary to tip the tour guide and they said, yes, but maybe not for a tour of parliament, and it would be more customary to tip for a private tour and not so much a large one. After the tour, I went into the museum of national costume which was also in the building. It was like 100 examples of the  same costume. You’ve basically seen everything with this one picture I have provided. That’s Romanian traditional dress for you.

20131030_143136I forgot to say, the other day in the supermarket, they played K’naan’s song Waving Flag. A long time ago, my brother took a video of our dog Sophie and put it to that music. The song makes me SO happy and want to dance around and sing it. Supermarket music is always really a treat. In Ukraine, the highlight in one of the markets was Queen’s Radio Gaga. We spend so much time in the supermarkets in this job so the music everyone hears on survey is always a fun conversation.

Tomorrow, I’m waking up early in order to catch the train to Brasov, the town right near the Dracula’s Castle! I wish you the best!!!!!!

Love, Annie


More Work and Choral Synagogue #2

October 29, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are having a nice week! Bucharest continues to be awesome. I did notice however that the area around my hotel, the old city and city centre, is the most beautiful. 20131029_164856Outside of the city, the buildings aren’t as grand and that old timey important feel that’s sensed in the old city is not there. Yesterday I woke up early and worked and today I did the same. I’m basically done. I have another meeting tomorrow and will finish up some small things. For lunch I ate at an italian restaurant and had caprese salad with avocado and prosciutto – very satisfying. I took a cab after lunch with a rigged meter and had no choice but to overpay so now I know how that feels.


This afternoon I went to visit the Choral Synagogue. The pictures from this blog are from there! This choral synagogue was grander than the one in Kiev. However, It was closed, which was pretty sad. I’m not sure why it was closed because I could not read the sign. After some “por favors” and some pouting the guard let me past the front gates in order to take some a pictures. On the wall there was an inscription about the holocaust but many of the letters and words were gone. On the walk home, I went in to this store and the woman was snooty to me because medium “M” was the biggest size they had and she told me I am too big for them.


I wanted to hit her. My colleague told me it’s because my diet consists of food, not just cigarettes and tuaca (Romanian plum brandy). Still, though… She didn’t seem sorry about it either. I tried on the skirt anyway… it zipped! Just not comfortably. After that, I worked and ate at the hotel. The last picture is of one Romanian guy playing with a street dog! It was cute. There are an estimated 65,000 street dogs here in Bucharest.

Love, Annie

Day Off Postponed to Thursday

October 27, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

I’ve done this because I’d really like to take the holiday off (the Halloween Holiday). Hope the weekend was nice for you. Today I woke up naturally at 10:00 AM and it felt great. I had a good breakfast and worked for the rest of the day. There is very strong coffee at breakfast. I’ve done this because I’d really like to take the holiday off (the Halloween Holiday). 20131027_165127In the taxi to the mall in the morning, the driver and I discussed music and why people don’t buy American cars. He used to have a Jeep, but it ate up too much gas.

Going home from the mall, I found a taxi driver who didn’t want to use the meter and asked for 40 Lei for the ride. I said Not a chance, I’ll pay 20. Because with the meter on the way over it was 20 including tip.  We settled on 25 which became 30 because he said it was Sunday… and he wanted to get a coffee… fine. It’s a bit over 3 Lei to the dollar.  We ended up speaking to each other in Spanish during the ride!

For dinner I ate Lebanese food in the old city. Fattoush and a pita with beef, tahini, onions, tomatoes and pickles. I think it’s pretty easy to find tasty Lebanese food in many cities.

Love, Annie

Welcome to Bucharest!

October 26, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are having a nice weekend. I’m writing from the hotel in Bucharest. Its in the center of town and small and comfortable. I used three different currencies today, the hryvnia, the euro, and the lei. Its 1 Leu, 10 Lei. I arrived at the airport on time and they had free wifi there, so I had a nice video chat with Lev. He made fun of Ukrainian people’s accents (and is really good at it) so it was a good thing I had headphones.


The people at the airport were wondering why I was laughing so hard. I miss him a ton.

I arrived in Bucharest after a layover in Munich in the early afternoon. I dozed off on both planes :). I did not get ripped off by the cab driving me from the airport to the hotel. At first, the meter was not pointing towards me, so I made sure the driver pointed it to me and I saw it the whole way and calculated the per kilometer cost as we went. It’s a thing in Bucharest that the cab drivers rig their meters. 20131026_144254The driver pointed out all the buildings to me. “Lady this is hospital. Do you understand?” Lady this is __.” I didn’t understand everything he said.

I unpacked and showered and then set out to explore and work. The hotel is in walking distance from the old town so I went there and had a late lunch.  At the restaurant, I had an omelet, some polenta (which is used as bread in Romanian cuisine — who knew), and salad. I over ordered but wanted to try some new dishes and also wanted to ensure there were vegetables. I sat outside because it was so beautiful out, but everyone was smoking at me. 20131026_144108I kept shifting my table so it wouldn’t get in the way of the smoke and that kind of worked. The buildings in the old town are really incredible, very statuesque.

Then I walked to the Carrefour and spent the rest of the afternoon collecting prices. Back at the hotel, I tried some romanian cheeses at dinner. Fresh cheeses are a big deal here. I thought some were better than others. I drank zero coffee and only tea. I’m alive! 20131026_145251I’m just pointing that out. I’m not swearing off coffee because Turkish coffee is coming up, and I really like that stuff. Tomorrow I’m going to sleep late, and then i’m not sure! If i had more time, I would go to Dracula’s castle. Maybe I’ll go for Halloween? If I work tomorrow that might be a possibility. Hmm! That would be a really awesome way to spend Oct 31! Each day as I walk around by myself I appreciate it so much more after spending last survey not doing that at all. Until tomorrow!

Love, Annie

побачення Київ

October 25, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are doing well! That means, “bye, Kiev” in Ukrainian. Good thing for google translate. 20131025_152625Today was awesome. I woke up and finished my work. It was raining all morning but then it got sunny out just as I began my half day of tourism. When that happened I realized I have not seen the sun since I left Boston! It’s been a cloudy week! I took the subway, which is of course, way better than the T, to the old district, Podol, in search of the choral synagogue.


It felt really nice to walk around this part of Kiev because it’s not everyday you get to explore the city near where your great grandfather is from!

It’s a lot quieter in the Podol district than it is downtown. After the synagogue, I walked around Podol for a bit more. I watched some doggies in a park play fighting over some space in a hole that they had dug.

20131025_135044Their owners were right near by. It was a very pleasant afternoon to be in the park.

After having my fill of wandering, I took the little rail back up to downtown (Kiev is on a serious hill), I went to eat at a Crimean food restaurant. I had Manti and salad and baklava.

I believe I ate turkish food but it’s all in the same area. Just a preview of what’s to come! The manti served were the big kind of manti I tasted first in Kazakhstan. They were delicious but I prefer the small kind. At the restaurant, There was this group of people sitting next to me speaking in the Weirdest language! Maybe they were from one of the places I am going to next. Turns out, nope, they were speaking Swiss German!


Yesterday was pretty boring. I woke up early and ate breakfast before the crowd. I was very stressed about having three back-to-back meetings. All in all, they went okay. I was on time for all of them, which is more than can be said for the others.


Between the meetings, I had a cup of corn, which is a common street food here, and some coffee. The other things I ate yesterday were Pizza and Chicken Kyiv. Not the healthiest day.

I made up for it today though with many fruits and vegetables. Just green tea and some toast for dinner because I had a late lunch and If I eat again for a late dinner I’ll never get to sleep. That happened yesterday. It’s important to get to sleep soon because I have to get up very early for a 6:40 AM flight. See you from Romania!

Love, Annie