Wednesday, June 26. Warsaw-Kraków
I wake up early to check if the (habitually late) non-stop LOT flight from LAX will actually land on time. Relief! LO22 is only two hours late today—it will touch down around 3 pm. Rush to breakfast and then to Warsaw Central train station to buy tickets for the express to Kraków. Since it’s “all reserved seats” – I must decide which train we’ll take. The 5:46 p.m. may be too early… but hopefully we’ll collect luggage and make it to the Warsaw Central Station in time for the 7:05 p.m. express to Kraków. Stepping out into the early morning sunshine, Warsaw feels like Miami. Hot and humid with temperatures in the low 90s. And it’s only 9 in the morning!
The Hadsalls arrive in Warsaw and eventually emerge from customs at the Chopin airport. Noelle and Holly, the 2019 participants in the Paderewski Festival Youth Cultural Exchange, are in good spirits, and their parents—Jeff and Gloria (our intrepid chaperone)—also look happy and excited. It’s an auspicious start to a two-week-plus program. We board a local airport train for a 25 min. ride to Warsaw’s Central Station. Since there is enough time to have a meal before our Kraków departure, we head out to a hotel restaurant near the station; it turns out that the visitors love filet mignon! Gloria is interested in the traditional sour rye soup and it becomes her favorite everywhere she eats in Poland.
After dinner, we walk back to the train station and board an air-conditioned carriage from a subterranean platform. What a relief! The afternoon temps flirted with the century mark. We are on our way to Kraków.
Less than 3 hours later we’re in the old Polish capital. Although it’s 9:30 pm, the sky is still inky blue and crowds are out en masse in the huge plaza on another hot summer night. We try to find two taxis to take us to Villa Decius, the Renaissance palazzo where we’ll be staying for the next four days.
Thursday, June 27. Kraków
The night was extremely hot and short—daylight begins at 4 am. The old building’s walls are thick, but weeks of incessant heat had finally penetrated the centuries-old stone. Nobody slept well. Holly needs a cold shower to keep her from fainting. Otherwise, our rooms are quite comfortable—each comes with its own bath en suite, in a private corridor outside of each room.
Breakfast is served in a 15th century vaulted brick Gothic cellar that is pleasantly cool. Ahhh! A truly sumptuous buffet is on offer—from a variety of veggie salads and tons of fresh fruit to eggs cooked to order, assortment of cold cuts and cheeses and freshly baked rolls. These are a huge hit with Noelle and Holly, especially.
By mid-morning, we stagger out into another blazing hot day outside. Villa Decius is on the outskirts of Kraków, so we walk down the shaded park and take a bus towards the Old Town. We’re planning to buy 3-day passes for city transport—it’s the best way for five people to get around.
Once we have our tickets, it’s time to explore Kraków. Wait! We have to stop the headquarters of Polish Music Publishers (PWM), where I need to drop off some documents and meet with the director. This requires changing buses near the National Museum. Everything works out nicely. That done, we’re ready for the sights or… Now the group is hungry. It’s 2 pm and Poles have obiad (dinner) around this time. It’s their main meal of the day. We go native only partially: in a hotel restaurant across the street from Kraków Philharmonic everybody orders hamburgers and fries. Thus fortified, we go to the Main Market Square, examining the mediaeval Sukiennice, or Cloth Hall (now a shopping mall filled with booths selling souvenirs of all kinds), and admiring the stunningly elegant 18th century architecture that surrounds us, with the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica towering above. At the top of the hour, we wait for the trumpeter of Kraków to play taps from a high turret window of the Basilica.
Dinnertime comes quickly. The bus takes us back to Villa Decius. The air-conditioned ride is OK, but the farther away from the centre we get, the more potholes we encounter. The bus bounces, empty stomachs turn. The sun is setting and we need to find a place to eat.
Fortunately, we get a great tip from one of Dir. Kasprowicz’s staff at Villa Decius and try a neighborhood Italian restaurant. It’s only a short walk down the Villa’s park, shaded by magnificent old linden, poplar and oak trees. Portobello turned out to be one of the best Italian restaurants anywhere. A bottle of great Italian primitivo graces our selections. Noelle and Holly love exotic dishes, including seafood. What wonderful surprise it is to see young ladies with such a refined palate.
Friday, June 28. Kraków
This morning we stay in. With open windows overnight and a slight breeze, our rooms stayed a little cooler. Breakfast is the usual feast and fresh rolls vanish quickly.
Prof. Piotr Różański from the prestigious Kraków Music Academy arrives by mid-morning to give a piano master class. Cheerful and gracious, he takes Noelle and Holly into the Villa’s grand salon, where a Blüthner grand is waiting. The weather is still stifling, the terrace windows of this piano nobile salon are wide open to the beautifully tiled outside loggia. Not a wisp of a breeze comes through. Piotr, undaunted, his crisp shirt matched by his exacting demeanor, works patiently with Noelle on the Mozart Sonata and with Holly on Ravel’s Sonatina. Noelle and Holly’s four-hand repertoire awaits the arrival of Prof. Grzegorz Mania, who will work with them on the duets by Dvorak and Vandall. This done, by mid-afternoon we depart to sightsee more of Kraków.
The bus arrives as scheduled and we go on to explore the Wawel Royal Castle and then the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. It’s basically a leisurely walking tour—we nip into old doorways, alleyways and courtyards to see the hidden charms of Kraków. We also visit an exhibit in Kazimierz on the history of some prominent Jewish families from Kraków. What a nice surprise to discover that the Lauterbach and Taube families are featured—I’ve known them both in L.A.
As we walk back from Kazimierz, we spot a restaurant, Pod Wawelem. It’s one of my favorite haunts—the food is plentiful and simple, and beer comes in large steins. Jeffrey and I order two 1-litre magnums; his daughters look as if we’ve gone off the rails and joined the dark society of underground alcoholics. Fortunately, Gloria has a few sips alongside her favorite sour rye soup and Noelle and Holly are temporarily mollified.
As the night falls, we walk along Planty—the “planted over” moat that used to surround the Old Town. The sky is velvet blue, the night is warm; youngsters lounge on park benches, with some dates kissing passionately. It seems somewhat shocking to Noelle (10) and Holly (14), but hey, this is Europe…
Saturday, June 29. Kraków
Another day of sightseeing around town with some practicing at the Villa. All sights and concentration are focused on tomorrow—the first concert of the Exchange Program.
Sunday, June 30. Kraków
As requested, we sleep late and have our breakfast at 9 so that everybody is rested for the big day. Noelle and Holly are in good spirits and the sound check is fine. Professors Piotr Różański and Grzegorz Mania arrive in the early afternoon hours for a brief rehearsal in the hall. Everything looks good, except the temperatures that still hover in the mid-90s.
The concert is full. There is a scramble to get extra chairs and set them in the adjacent salon; with the double door open, the audience seated there will still be able to witness the concert. The Villa is filled with young political hopefuls from all over Central Europe—they are here to attend the annual Visegrad Youth Conference that begins on July 1.
Noelle begins her program with the Mozart Sonata, then goes on to Chopin Waltz. Holly starts with the Beethoven Sonata and follows up with the Ravel Sonatina. Then both of them perform their 4-hand repertoire: Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance and Vandall’s Jubilation. Everything goes very well and the audience is enchanted by the performance. To finish the program, Piotr and Grzegorz perform Paderewski’s Tatra Album, a suite of 6 pieces for piano 4-hands, based on Polish Highlander folklore. This concert, after all, is commemorating Paderewski’s death anniversary (he died on 29 June 1941 in New York City).
After the concert, the performers—Noelle, Holly, Piotr and Grzegorz—as well as parents move to the (cool and comfortable) cellar restaurant in the Villa. We are joined by the Peterson clan—all 11 of them, also traveling in Poland at the same time. Joel Peterson served as Paderewski board member in Paso Robles for many years; he is now on the Advisory Board. His grandmother was one of the Paderewski Festival founders in Paso in the early 1990s. This summer Joel brought his family (wife and 2 daughters), his parents and his two brothers with their families to Poland. I think they cheered the loudest after the concert and we’re happy they could be with us tonight.
Monday, 1 July 2019
Things get even more exciting today. We’re traveling to Łącko, a little hamlet about 70 miles south of Kraków, for a week of piano master classes at the Talent Academy alongside some of the best young musicians from all over southern Poland.
My phone rings at 9:45 a.m. It’s Grzegorz—our driver who was recommended by the first taxi driver in Kraków a few days ago. I asked him for recommendations—we needed a man with a van, able to transport five persons with five large suitcases. He gave me the number. Grzegorz turns out to a charming fellow who speaks good English and drives a luxurious Mercedes 9-seat van. It’s air conditioned, quiet and comfortable. Everybody is happy and very close to the scheduled 10 a.m. departure we leave the friendly Villa Decius after bidding our goodbyes to Dir. Kasprowicz and her great and very helpful staff.
The once infamous “Zakopianka” – the highway south from Kraków to the Tatra Mountains resort of Zakopane (a kind of Polish Aspen) – is now a pretty modern divided highway. As we leave Kraków suburbs, the hills grow in stature; soon we are in erstwhile mountain environment. To reach Łącko, we take a side road that winds along the rocky mountain streams; many old wooden dwellings are replaced by rather opulent residences, all with solid brick-and-mortar walls, well-tended gardens and German cars in driveways. Yes, Poland’s membership in the European Union (even if initially opposed by the country folk) has brought some tangible benefits to the area. No need to complain about the EU!
We arrive in Łącko about 2 ½ hours later. Our first stop is at the local music school. That’s where we meet Ola Kuzemko, the young lady who has her firm hand on the pulse. Everything that happens during the Talent Academy Week is coordinated through Ola. She is simply indispensable. Ola climbs into our van and Grzegorz takes us to the pension – a 1970s large villa with guest rooms and shared bathrooms on each floor. It feels a little like a time warp: some kind of a summer camp, but then again—that’s exactly what we’ve signed for.
After getting settled, we march along another bubbling brook to the music school and, further down the road, to the “Karczma” (“Roadhouse”) where we’ll have all our meals. Along the way, on a narrow bridge spanning the brook, Noelle and Holly spot a dead toad on the roadway. Probably a victim of a passing car, the toad was almost one-dimensional and desiccated by the incessant sun. From that point on, everybody began to call the spot “The Dead Frog Bridge.”
Tuesday—Sunday, July 2-7, 2019
Our days in Łącko go by quickly. The routine begins early—the order of taking showers carefully choreographed—and we leave the pension by 7:45 am for a 15 min. walk to the Roadhouse, where we’re served breakfast. Afterwards, Noelle and Holly have daily hour-long lessons with Marek Szlezer, professor at the Kraków Music Academy and they are also working on composition, harmony and arranging with me. The project is a Polish folk song that they will perform in a 4-hand arrangement on the final concert. Meals at the Karczma, especially at midday, are something the Hadsalls seem to look forward to. Soup is always served as the first course and it’s followed by second course with lots of potatoes. Noelle loves these; Holly after a few days of unbridled enthusiasm begins to think of her figure and is more circumspect with the size of her servings. Breakfasts and suppers are basically the same—cereal, rolls, bread, and cheese with cold cuts. Initially “breakfast sandwich” and “supper sandwich” were a novelty but, by the end of the week, they became decidedly less exiting to us all.
The adults, including the Talent Academy faculty, often gathered for a large stein of beer at the end of the day. But the Cultural Exchange Program after midday dinner invariably opted to decamp for a local ice cream/bakery parlor, which offered simply irresistible treats… daily!
There were several concerts to attend throughout the week—some at the local early 17th century church (with excellent acoustics) and others at the local sports complex that had an upstairs conference room that served as a small concert hall, with seats for about fifty.
The Messages String Quartet, also based in Łącko as faculty for the Talent Academy, are giving classes to young string players and perform in concerts with their pupils. It is a great way of mentoring, showcasing and providing the young musicians with real concert experience.
Noelle and Holly keep practicing all the time. Outside of their lessons, they signed up for piano practice slots available in the Łącko Music School classrooms. After a few days of paying close attention to their daughters practicing, Jeff and Gloria decide to take some time off and go for a scenic hike on a trail leading into the nearby forest and mountains. The town is small, charming and hiking is one of the attractions.
One evening, after a day filled with practicing, lessons, and composing, we are invited by Col. Strączek, director of the local music school and the director of the local military band, to dine at his house. Fortunately, it is only about 200 years from our pension. The amount of food served was staggering and exceeded only by the liberal dispensation of stronger liquids (no minors were involved here!). As the evening went on, the temperature in the garden gazebo of Colonel’s house plummeted. Guest huddled together on benches; the calories from food and drink were evaporating nonetheless. Mountain evenings can get chilly, even in July. The Colonel—still smiling and in short sleeves—dragged out parkas and blankets for everybody, brought out more “spirits” for the adults, and—finally—introduced the main attraction: the “fire water” a.k.a. the Łącko slivovitz made from the locally-grown plums. Begging to be excused, the Cultural Exchange Program was able to extricate itself from this last and dangerous offering, and safely retire to beds, whilst merrymaking in the gazebo continued well into the chilly, moonlit night.
On Wednesday, July 3, we decided to take a day off and travel to the nearby town of Stary Sącz. These days, there is no public transport between little towns, villages and hamlets in Poland. Government-run transit went out of business decades ago and was replaced by a system of privately owned jitneys. So, after their morning hike in the hills, the Hadsalls emerged onto a large, sun-baked plaza in Łącko that once had served as the local bus depot. Various 12-person vans with handmade signs in front windscreen kept pulling in—each heading to a different local destination. Apparently, one of those would come at 11:30 and take us to Stary Sącz. Amazingly, at 11:28 a.m. a non-descript and slightly worn white Mercedes van pulled in. I approached the driver. “Stary Sącz?” I asked. “Hop in,” he barked. “I have friends with me,” I added, realizing how redundant was my remark. He merely waved us in. It’s a cash transaction and there are no tickets; the driver issues paper receipts from a small calculator-like machine. It cost us about $2 each to get to Stary Sącz, a town about half hour away on a road along the famed Dunajec River, where rafting and kayaking the white water rapids is a popular sport.
Deposited right in the beautiful Old Town Square with 16-18th century architecture all around, we headed out to the Marysieńka Restaurant—an old standby with a large second floor balcony loggia overlooking the square. Gloria ordered her rye soup; the girls had pierogi and couldn’t eat them any faster than they did. Thus fortified, we went on a walk about town, looking into a few ancient churches, visiting a local museum (it included an Ada Sari exhibit!), and stopping by a local ice cream shop. In fact, one of the common denominators of the entire trip to Poland was studying the quality of local ices. Noelle and Holly were very keen on this and their parents, slightly embarrassed at first, gladly joined in the research.
The return trip to Łącko was exciting only because it was late afternoon. The stop in the Old Town Square (unmarked, but otherwise known to locals) was full of people waiting for rides back home after their workday. Jitneys came by and left. All of them were full and we quickly discovered that elbowing in is the best way of hitching a ride. The first van going towards Łącko was at capacity—or so I thought; nonetheless several people waiting at our stop managed to get in. Given the situation, I had to issue orders to my charges: “We’re taking the next one!” When another, slightly beaten-up white Mercedes came, we discovered that this 12-person van could hold easily twice that number of passengers. The driver (quite unexpectedly) was the same as the one who took us to Stary Sącz in the morning. He happily collected our fare and, this time, did not bother with the formality of handing me a receipt; the Hadsalls were squished well into the interior, standing room only, finally getting one seat toward the end of our ride. Amazingly, Gloria and Noelle were able to share this tiny space as they travelled, shell-shocked, in total silence.
Saturday afternoon, July 6 was the first of Talent Academy’s closing concerts. The sports complex conference room was air-conditioned. The piano, a brand new Kawai, was little hard to play, but the Noelle and Holly had made quite an impression on the crowd of their peers. This was especially true for the Dvorak and Vandall duets. Later on that evening, as the sun was setting, we climbed up a local hill to the amphitheatre, where string and wind students presented a concert of music by various baroque, classical and romantic composers. Afterwards there was a chance for Noelle and Holly to take some photos with professors Marek Szlezer and Jan Kalinowski as well as Col. Strączek, under whose auspices the entire Talent Academy Week was taking place in Łącko for the past five years. He is one of those rare musical educators who can work well with local politicians. As a result, plans are afoot for a new and very modern music school in Łącko—with proper practicing facilities, concert halls, classrooms, recording studios and even guest rooms. Col. Strączek shared architectural designs with us on his laptop; perhaps in two years, when we’ll think again of returning to Łącko, the new music school will be just about ready to open its doors…
Sunday, July 7 featured one last (and quite magnificent) concert by the Messages String Quartet in the local church. The superb acoustics made their performance of Penderecki’s quartet simply scintillating. A lunch (or dinner, as per Polish custom), followed at 2 p.m. We were packing all morning (trying to squeeze souvenirs acquired along the way into our suitcases) and were quite ready for Grzegorz, when he promptly arrived in his black Mercedes van at 4 p.m. to collect us and our luggage, and take us back to Kraków.
As it turns out, returning to Kraków on a Sunday afternoon is an adventure. LA traffic jams have nothing on those one encounters approaching Kraków from the south at the end of a mid-summer weekend. We crept in stop-and-go traffic for seemingly endless hours; meanwhile Jeff and Gloria face-timed on the phone with their son, Nathan, who opted to stay in Santa Barbara to attend a baseball camp. Dazed, Noelle and Holly were mostly asleep throughout the journey, lulled by the cool comfort of their leather-backed seats.
We arrived at the Europejski Hotel, where we spent two pleasant (air-conditioned) nights. Noelle and Holly were ecstatic to have a large room of their own. Jeff and Gloria were equally happy to have their own suite after a week of rather cramped quarters in Łącko and dealing with shared bathrooms on a daily basis.
Dinner in an Italian restaurant in the Old Town Square was much appreciated by all. Dining options everywhere in Poland were not only excellent but also inexpensive. A late evening walk through the winding streets and crossing the Planty Park on the way back to the hotel assured us of being pleasantly tired and ready for bed as soon as we collected our keys from the hotel reception.
Monday, 8 July 2019
It would be a relaxing, late morning, followed by a quick warm-up session in early afternoon before the concert at the Paderewski Institute of Musicology at Jagiellonian University. As always, we were welcomed by Dr. Andrzej Sitarz, who has partnered with the Paderewski Festival on the Cultural Exchange Program from the very first year it was run—2009—ten years ago already. With a program that was given at Villa Decjusza and in Łącko in the weeks before this recital, Noelle and Holly’s performance went very well and was warmly received by the audience. It was particularly nice of Dr. Piotr Różański and Dr. Grzegorz Mania to come and hear their young charges. After the concert, they had a chance to pose for a photo next to the Paderewski monument at the Institute (see photo above). Another surprise was that my old-time London friends, Dr. Andrew Szydlo and his wife, Dr. Lidia Tyszczuk, were in town—just passing by on their way to their summer home in Kościelisko. They too, came to the concert and joined the sightseeing tour of the Institute, given by Dr. Sitarz. It was wonderful to see Paderewski’s manuscripts, his library of books, and the collection of photos and other memorabilia.
Another gourmet dinner in one of the Kraków Old Town restaurants (with the sour rye soup for Gloria) capped this eventful day and evening.
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Express train to Warsaw. Fast, comfortable, and air-conditioned. The dining car staff even serve light meals and tea! Very civilized indeed. Noelle and Holly want to travel everywhere by train. First class, of course.
We get to Warszawa Centralna on time and quickly transfer to the Mercure Hotel nearby. The weather has changed. Warsaw skies are cloudy; a chilly wind whipping around the high-rise buildings and drops of rain swirled in the air. We take a quick stroll through the center of town and, by early evening find a restaurant on Nowy Świat specializing in pierogi. We also stop by on a street corner with a special plaque: it’s the… Winnie-the-Pooh Street! Everyone is ecstatically happy.
Wednesday, 10 July 2019
This is a day when the Hadsalls visit the Chopin Museum, while I’m meeting with our partners in the State Archives. This is about the Paderewski exhibit we’re jointly planning to open in Warsaw in November.
After the meeting, the Archives provide me with a car and driver—I’m taken back to the Chopin Museum a few hours later, just when Noelle, Holly and their parents finish their sightseeing. After a very quick lunch, we go to the nearby Steinway Salon, where we spend a few hours on practicing and a have a master class, getting ready for tomorrow’s two concerts out of town.
Thursday, 11 July 2019. Otwock Wielki and Warka
The invitation to visit and perform at the grand palace in Otwock Wielki came from its director, Dr. Anna Feliks several months ago. This branch of the National Museum is dedicated to displaying interior furnishings and artwork. It also has many historical objects, including pianos… including Paderewski’s own Steinway concert grand that once sat in the salon of his Swiss residence, Riond-Bosson. Dir. Feliks sent a chauffer and a van to collect us from the hotel and take us about 30 miles south of Warsaw to Otwock. This small hamlet was one part of a mighty estate, with the old palace and its extensive grounds in the centre. We are welcomed with tea and delicious cakes and have a chance to try the piano.
The concert is very well attended. What’s especially sweet is a huge group of schoolchildren, coming from a local summer camp. They were enchanted to hear their peers—Noelle and Holly—performing solo and 4-hands in concert. Many photos, including a huge group photo were taken to a mutual delight of all parties.
More refreshments and ice cream were served after the concert by the ever-friendly Dr. Feliks. Then it was time to leave—our van and driver were waiting and our adventure continued.
About 45 minutes later we arrived at another 18th century palace. Warka—the town and the eponymous palace—is the birthplace of Casimir Pulaski, a cavalry general and a warrior in the War of American Independence, who died at the battlefield in Savannah. Here, the Polish-American links and friendship were on full display—inside the main manor house with the portraits of the general (as well as portraits of Paderewski and his wife, Helena) and outside, where an exhibit highlighting Polish-American history was on display.
We were welcomed to the palace by its able director, Iwona Stefaniak, and led into a modern auditorium, where the concert would take place. After a quick sound check, Noelle and Holly were ready for their well-rehearsed program of solo and 4-hand music. Their encore—a 4-hand arrangement of a popular Polish folk song, made during their stay in Łącko—elicited standing ovation from the audience.
After the concert, in fading daylight, we had a tour of the palace. Deputy Mayor of Warka, Teresa Knyzio, joined us as well. Then, another surprise! After sightseeing, Dir. Stefaniak led us upstairs to a chandeliered hall, where an elegant meal of several courses was served. Fortunately, after two weeks in Poland, Noelle and Holly had their table manners down pat and this formal supper (capped with a fabulous meringue Pavlova desert) was probably the highlight of their social and culinary experience.
Well into the night, we were driven back to Warsaw in two cars by the Warka museum staff. What a wonderful day!
Friday, 12 July 2019
Finally, a day of freedom! No concerts, no sound checks, no practicing! After breakfast, we raced (by bus) to the Grand Theatre, Polish National Opera where, thanks to our friends in high places (including Marcin Fedisz and Iwona Witkowska) we were given a fantastic tour through the back stages of this largest theatre in Europe. Costumes and props were a highlight, including one giant tarantula that Noelle and Holly were (at first) rather reluctant to touch. The girls also had a brief stage appearance and sang a duet version of Star Spangled Banner to a very select audience of parents, your correspondent, and Natalia, our charming backstage tour guide who was deeply touched by Noelle’s and Holly’s pianistic and vocal skills. Two hours later we walked to Warsaw’s Old Town. Moving along the old city walls and narrow streets, we reached the heart of Warsaw’s Old Town Square, where Noelle enjoyed drawing water from an age-old public well and Jeff and Gloria bought some artwork from one of the many artists plying their wares in the square. Then, after a brief stop at the Warsaw Cathedral, we went to the Royal Castle and took a long and fascinating tour through of its elegant chambers and picture galleries.
Emerging from this experience, the appetites were fully awaken. A restaurant on the perimeter of the Castle Square was quickly found. It served pierogi. Cold beer was available. The weather was again quite hot, so this is exactly what was needed.
The next sightseeing stop (after another bus ride) was the Łazienki Royal Palace. A huge and shaded park that surrounds the palace was a welcome relief as we strolled down to the lake. After taking a few photos of the palace in the afternoon sun, it was time to sit down and reflect… Oh! There is a café! They serve ice cream…
Back at the hotel, we decided it’s best to have a meal in the excellent restaurant—the same where we ate just after the Hadsalls arrived in Warsaw on June 26. It would be a perfect circle to their experience in Poland, including dining.
Saturday, 13 July 2019
Early breakfast at the Hotel Mercure. A hotel-reserved luxurious Mercedes van takes the entire family for their 11:20 a.m. on-time LOT non-stop flight back to LA. What a wonderful trip it has been!