AU in Krakow

6 American University students, 1 coordinator, and 1 professor--in Poland. This should get interesting.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Experiencing the Highlands

This weekend I observed a different Polish culture. Although I knew that Polish highlanders (thanks to Agnieszka we now know that the “real” highlanders are the peoples of the Tatra mountains, not the smaller mountains nearby) spoke a “funny” dialect and had some different words from mainstream Polish, I had never really reflected on what a distinct and interesting culture they really have. Not only is their vocabulary and pronunciation slightly different, they also have their own customs, history, music, food items, and architecture.
              After Agnieszka explained to us what a traditional highlander wedding is like, several of the girls in the group instantly expressed interest in marrying a highlander as a result of that very detailed and animated description. 
              She also informed us that during World War II, the Nazis decided that the highlanders (or the “goralenvolk”) were deemed “different” from the other Slavs and were therefore to be spared the treatment inflicted upon most other Poles. I had never even heard of such a thing until this weekend.
              The highlander music was a lot of fun. Although most songs were hard to understand and many were a bit dirty in content, the music was really enjoyable and very unique.
              As for the food, well I tried the traditional highlander goat cheese “Oscypek.” Smoky in taste and apparently very long-lasting (can be stored for up to a month without refrigeration), it was served hot with lingonberry jam.
              And lastly there was the architecture. The houses in the mountains were all made out of wood with very steep A-shaped roofs and elaborate wood carvings. I am sure that during the winter the scenery looks like it was out of a fairly tale. There was a very rustic and cozy feel to the inside of the houses as well, something we got to experience when Agnieszka’s father was kind enough to throw us a party in his home on Saturday night. Actually, the houses reminded me a great deal of the summer cottages and ski lodges in Scandinavia.
Overall, the weekend in Zakopane was wonderful. After a long, beautiful and in retrospect rather painful hike (we are now feeling the effects of a 15 km hike up and down mountains), two failed attempts to go out and experience the nightlife (we did go out but yours truly was too tired to really participate), and meeting many very kind and sincere people, I have promised myself to return to Zakopane again as soon as I can. Only this time I would like to explore the ski slopes.


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