Friday, August 28, 2009

Poland so far

I've been a bit silent for a few days, so here are some of the things going on in Wroclaw. I'll post pictures later (aside from the ones that are already in the photoblog) once I return to Oxford on Sunday.

1. I found a restaurant named "PRL", which you can already see in my photoblog.

2. Before I even arrived, I had it in mind to get some good perogis, and this trip has not disappointed. I have twice gotten beef perogis---on the first night where they unexpectedly came with bacon bits and last night at a Jewish restaurant called "Sarah" (though I was unable to find the mezuzah).

3. My hotel's restaurant was a Chinese restaurant, which I did not expect. I ate there one night when I was feeling lazy, and I was awarded with an epic fail.

4. Bicycles are big in this town, as are walking down.

5. Another thing that is huge here are the small statues of gnomes. I have been told that there are over a hundred of them, but a blog entry with an excellent description of their origin incorrectly claims that there are over 15. (Some of the students here claim to have taken pictures of over 20 of them.) You can find pictures of some of them on this website. I've taken pictures of two of them, and I will post them in my Wroclaw photo album.

6. I found a really nice hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse where I have been getting iced lattes and nice pastries, chilling out, and reading.

7. I also found a decent dessert place, which had a really nice environment right outside the shop on Sunday morning before other people showed up with their kids. I was outside with a blended coffee drink (this was before I found the other place, which I like much better for coffee) and was reading and enjoying the weather. I noticed some pigeons with a neat flocking pattern. Whenever the pigeons were disturbed, they would fly up from the ground and then they would make one or two cycles of a consistent size, and then they would return to their feast. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good picture of this. However, I was wondering why there was usually one cycle and on occasion two (and to a lesser extent about the specific, consistent size of the cycle). When I was sitting there, it made me think of some lazy weekend mornings playing chess with Vito Dai outside of a coffee place---Vito with his tea and me with my coffee. I really felt the urge to be playing chess at that moment.

8. The 'old town' (marketplace) area is really cool---there are a lot of neat restaurants, places to sit, an awesome fountain, a plaza where live music could easily be done, etc.

9. Radiohead apparently is having a concert (or has had a concert) here during my trip. Leonard Cohen played in Vienna while I was there, and I slightly regret being lazy and not going to the concert. (I was feeling rather tired and a bit lazy at the time.)

10. Many of the churches here (unsurprisingly) have very similar architectural styles to each other.

11. Naturally, I got horribly lost while trying to find the university for the first time on Sunday. That was inevitable. Because of this and my prior explorations, I did a ton of walking on Sunday and my feet are still hurting a bit as a result of it. After lots of circling, finding my way in the wrong part of town, and going back to the hotel, I finally made it to the university and I even took a reasonable route (starting from my second time at the hotel, so ignoring/pruning the long closed-loop excursion)---although not the one that I had initially attempted. I got slightly lost again on the way back---though I quickly realized that I was on the route that I had attempted initially. It evidently got completely foiled by just one epic fail of a decision on that particular street. I knew where I was because I noticed the "W. Kruk" store (though I later found another one of those even closer to the hotel) that I had marked in my head earlier in the day because it made me think of the baseball player John Kruk. In general, the way I follow directions doesn't rely on cardinal directions because I get disoriented really easily---it takes me several days of being in a new city to do a decent job of where north is, and then if the sun is in my eyes, I go all deer-in-headlights and my internal compass just goes completely haywire---so I rely on "landmarks" that I have noted for some reason (large or interesting buildings, prominent signs, or whatever else) and also relative directions and distances a la logo. Ah well, I got back without any real delay.

12. One of the modelling week problems is how to climb (by foot) a mountain. It uses data that comie from a mountain by the name of "Wank" (yes, that is apparently the real name of the mountain). So the problem then becomes how to climb Mount "Wank". (It's not quite "Climbing the Mountain of Conflict", but it will do.) Another problem is called "Improving the Efficiency of Prick-tests", which I think could use a better name.

13. Food is extremely cheap here (though not at the level of Taiwan). My meat perogis with bacon bits + a drink + a tip cost me 35 Polish zloty, which amounts to roughly 7.5 pounds. My meat perogis + a drink last night + a tip cost me 20 zloty.

14. The first restaurant that I've now mentioned a couple of times served some food in tinfoil that was shaped like a bird. It reminded me of R.J.'s---may that restaurant rest in peace!---though in this case it wasn't for leftovers being taken home. I definitely felt the pangs of nostalgia when I saw that.

15. I had dinner with some of the students on Monday night. Among the crowd were 3 of the 4 Oxford students attending the meeting (so, along with me, we had all of us except one person) and a few students from other places. The waiter was facetiously trying to get the women among us to order vodka. One of them ordered "half a liter of water", and the waiter pretended to misinterpret: "Half a liter of vodka?"

16. I was using my digital camera to get screenshots of whiteboards to help with the note-taking.

17. My students worked really hard and did an excellent job. The problem I gave them to study was ranking American football teams, and my goal was for them to come up with a different way of doing it than I had done in my prior research. (After a couple of days, I showed them what we had done.)

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