As I write this I am sitting in a pretty cool hostel in the 1st District of Vienna, Austria. I've spent the past few days exploring and just loving this place to death. I didn't expect much (stupid me) because I had such a good time in Budapest, but Vienna has proven me wrong!
The day I arrived here I took a very nice train (Amtrak - why can't you get yourself together?!?) and found my hostel easily after mastering the local public transit (I love maps). Then I just started walking around! I ended up at a place called MuseumsQuartier, a place suggested to me by my hosts in Budapest, and it was AWESOME. Imagine this great courtyard with a whole bunch of museums and places to hang out/get food. And it's open all the time! I just spent a couple hours milling around there (okay, and they had free wifi). Later, I walked through a pedestrian thoroughfare and saw some really cool street performers do their thing. Amazing!
On Thursday I spent a good chunk of the day exploring Jewish Vienna. I went to a large synagogue housed in a building that does NOT look like one. The tour guide gave us a good explanation for all the various Viennese reactions to the Jews - in the 13th century they sort of liked us, then kicked us out. In the 17th century, it repeated. Then in the 19th century we were pretty assimilated until again, we were kicked out. Then there was World War II which decimated the Jewish population here. And now Jews are here and treated fine by the government but still maintain strong security at synagogues (there was a whole police van down the street).
After the synagogue I went to Judenplatz and saw the underground remains of the synagogue from the 13th century along with some artifacts. VERY cool. The rest of the afternoon I spent getting ready for a Mozart concert I went to at night. I went to Mozart Haus, one of the residents of the famous composer, and learned a lot about his history. Some stuff I knew from watching Amadeus in 7th grade, other stuff I learned along the way. Sufficed to say, it was a great museum and when I saw the concert, I LOVED it.
That takes us to Friday. I woke up and went over to the Architecture Museum in MuseumsQuartier and loved it as well! All this stuff about communal spaces created in the first half of the 20th century, and then the development of private residences afterward. Very cool. In the afternoon I went to the House of Music which, at first, seemed like it would be a museum just about the Vienna Philharmonic (which was interesting, but not worth 9 euro) but NO. On the 2nd and 3rd floors there was this AWESOME exhibit on the interaction of sound and humans. So many interactive displays where you change the tone of a sound wave until you can't actually hear it and then compare that to other animals. I took a few pictures of graphs I'm going to use in my class.
And last night I stayed up until 2am hanging out at Moishe House Vienna. They threw this great Shabbat dinner that I thoroughly enjoyed (both taste-wise and intellectual-wise). I randomly ran into Yehudit, this girl I met at Limmud in the UK, and had a great conversation with a very religious Jewish girl about the definition of the Jewish people and the interaction of Reform and inter-married Jews. It was awesome.
Well, tomorrow I'm leaving very early for Israel. I'm hoping to take a bit of a vacation and go to the beach (also, I haven't consistently seen the sun out in 3 weeks so that will be a nice change). I will have a cell phone but don't have the number just yet because, unfortunately, my old SIM card found its way back to the States without me :) I'll let you all know soon if you want to talk to me.
After traveling for about 3.5 weeks throughout Eastern Europe I think I have enough experience to say that Americans truly keep themselves ignorant. Maybe it's out of a sense of narcicism, maybe it's just total lack of knowledge or curiosity removed when we are younger, but I have seen and talked to VERY few Americans over the past few weeks. You would think there would be more of us marching through the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow now that we can. But no - we like to keep ourselves blissfully unaware of what's going on outside our own borders. More ruminations on that after a small update on what
I've been doing. If you are only interested in pictures (no offense taken), please check them out here
. As a tribute to the ignorance that I personally had until this visit to Budapest - I had no idea there were two cities here once upon a time: Buda and Pest. They joined together in the 1800s with the building of the chain bridge (not made of chains - just called that because it chained together the city).In any case, I've walked around this place SO much over the past few days. I visited Castle Hill, the location of famous churches and the central government offices. I went to the Budapest History Museum and learned that Jews actually have been in this area since the 1300s. Who knew? I participated in a Jewish walking tour of the Jewish quarter and went into the Dohany Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe (2nd largest in the world behind the Emmanual synagogue in NYC). And I took a night stroll with great pictures to that effect.Probably the coolest thing so far, though, was the first night I arrived. I got into Moishe House Budapest at around 6pm (thanks again for hosting me!) and participated in Kabbalat Shabbat services with people from all different backgrounds, including a French girl, Romanian man, former resident of MH NOLA Gill Benedeck and his sister, and my friend Jenny with her bf Sham. It was great! The tunes were almost all the same and I felt totally welcome. I even thanked the leader who then asked me to do Kiddush. Of course, I put on a little flare to it and I think everyone enjoyed.This whole experience, though, served to underscore the point I was making earlier. Americans are just not out there enough to notice commonalities in thought, experience, life, etc. The fact that I can go halfway across the world and have a common experience with someone who has one part of his/her life the same as me is important. Also, the fact that there are people over here who WANT to talk to me even if we have NOTHING in common is also important.One of my major goals this year as a teacher is going to be exposing my students to things in this world they have never seen before. I am brining back numberous pictures of numbers in different contexts (with different languages around them) in order to share what I've seen. I think it will be good for teenagers in Philadelphia to think outside of their city (or neighborhood even) to explore the world. I am hoping that my connections over here can be strengthened so that some of them will be in touch with some people over here as well. If any of you reading this live in another state/country, please let me know if you are interested in that as well.Tomorrow I take a train to Vienna and then Israel on the last day of July. If you are reading this and feel like letting me stay with you in Israel, let me know!
For those who may be insulted by the title of this blog post, pleae keep in mind that my concept of Canada is that it is a nicer, cleaner place with people who are more willing to help you. That was definitely the truth when comparing my experiences in Russia and Ukraine so far. Basically, when I arrived in Ukraine the people there were much nicer overall to me. Maybe it was because I was staying at Moishe House or maybe it is because they are just less aggressive people - I don't know.
In any case, Ukraine was quite cool. I spent my first day there just walking around the entire city from west to east. I stopped off at a hotel to pick up a map from the concierge and she suggested a path I could take that would lead me around some great sites and cool architecture. Of course my camera was close at hand so I will post pictures soon (just not right now). In fact, as I was walking down a long, winding, sloping road, I had to detour because of some movie being filmed.
Eventually I looped around and took a wonderful (and cheap!) funicular back up the hill to catch the beginning of a free walking tour. Again, something that Kiev has that Moscow and St. Petersburg never did - a tour run by locals for zero dollars. They had a clever button asking for tips which I thought was totally appropriate. At the end I had made some friends on the tour and learned a lot about Kiev. In fact, at the tourist office we stopped at, 3 others and myself booked a Jewish tour for the next day!
Fast-forward to Tuesday, then. I spent some time finding and going to the Chernobyl Museum, which has a fascinating and detailed account of what happened at the nuclear reactor in 1986. Since I've never learned in detail what the story was I was very interested. Then I hopped on the metro to get back in time for the Jewish tour we had booked. We drove and walked around for about 3 hours visiting various sites (house of golda meir, site of babi yar executions, local synagogues, etc.). It was really interesting to find out all about the Jewish history of this town.
Finally I came back to Moishe House Kiev and helped out with a wonderful event: Mojito Night! Nothing too difficult, just cutting up lots of fruit and preparing drinks. I had some great conversations with locals, including a person who turns out to be friends with someone I know in Philly! What a small world.
Thank you to Lena for taking great care of me in Kiev! My last day's breakfast was especially good!
Now I am in Budapest and am enjoying myself thoroguhly. I will update you on those stories and more soon.
We arrived in Moscow on the morning of July 16th and found our way to the Moishe House there. We were greeted by friends of the residents and allowed to shower (a very welcome experience after the train) and take a rest. Since it was Shabbat we decided to relax and do very little. We ended up playing a Ukrainian/Russian version of Clue with multiple translations that was very confusing. Sufficed to say I lost. But I was close in the end! The rest of the day was spent reading, walking, and just relaxing.
On Sunday it was quite rainy in the morning so Jenna stayed in while I went out to explore the Museum of Cosmonautics. It was a great museum with all sorts of relics and models of the Russian space program. Yuri Gagarin's name was all over the place (for those ignorant of space history, he was the first man to orbit the Earth). You can see a picture of the monument to space exploration in my photo album
on facebook. Later on in the ady it got nicer and Jenna and I met up with a Philadelphian who resides in Moscow (shoutout to Rebecca Reber!) and her friend Vasily for a tour of the Tretyakov State Museum. Since Vasily is a historian we had some interesting lessons on painters and sculptures. That night we dined in a really cool restaurant called FAQ Cafe which had good food, paper and pencil on the table for drawings, and tables near the ceiling for which you had to climb ladders!
Monday was equally as interesting and a bit more local in flavor. After spending the morning and early afternoon exploring Red Square and the Kremlin, we met up with one of the residents of Moishe House, Mityai, and he connected us with all sorts of his friends to spend time in Gorky Park and then we all went to dinner in a Ukrainian-themed restaurant. The highlight, though, was the bonfire we mae on a former boat dock in a residential neighborhood where we hung out and made sausages. Staying out until 1 in the morning would not have been possible without the help of the natives :)
Tuesday went by fairly quickly with packing and organizing ourselves. Mityai took us out again and we went to a few parks, including Victory Park which houses a mosque, church, and synagogue all commemorating what happened during World War II. Later on we explored some of the Jewish neighborhood and ended up dining at a restaurant on the roof of another synagogue! Quite amazing for one day. As night came, they all brought me to my train where Jenna and I parted ways. I was a little worried about visa issues leaving Russia but those worries were unfounded entirely. They followed my train for a bit and then I whisked off to sleep by the rolling of the train car.
I am now leaving Kiev for Budapest but will update you on the Kiev experiene soon. Fear not!
Full disclosure: I am currently writing this blog from Kiev. I will save the story of how I got here for later, though.
It has certainly been a while since my last post - I apologize for lack of computer access. It's a bit impossible to update this with an iPhone :) In any case, I am doing my best to try to find interesting numbers in various places to showcase different types of math in the real world in different languages. Click here
to see my pictures so far including some examples of that.
In any case, Jenna and I left Vilnius by plane and headed to Helsinki, Finland in preparation to take the new new high-speed Allegro train to St. Petersburg. We had about 24 hours to walk around Helsinki and saw a lot. There was a boat trip around the various islands (there are 180,000 in Finland, we saw about 12), seeing a free concert in a park, and having traditional Finnish food (deer meat-balls - very good). It was quick stopover but really worth it. The Finnish are very nice people and speak a good amont of English - very helpful for us.
We took the train and arrived in St. Petersburg just fine. The new cyrrilic language was quite confusing but we decided to learn eventually and master it (and by "master" I mean we could recognize the symbols - not the actual words. The biggest problem was the change in attitude of the locals. Instead of wanting us to be there and us taking part in their services, we were sort of brushed off a lot. Not the nicest thing but we got through it as best we could. In St. Pete's we went to Peterhof, the summer palace, and marveled at the art collection, the fantastic rooms (gilded with gold, a lot of them) and the huge park with numerous fountains (including some trick ones).
We also explored the Peter and Paul fortress on the banks of the river Neva. There was an amazing cathedral, a beautiful an well-explained museum on the history of St. Petersburg, and a cannon going off at noon! Right outside the walls there was a classical music concert going on, a bunh of sunbathers on what consisted of a beach, but more importantly was the sand castle competition. Check out the pics to see some examples - they are SERIOUS.
The biggest thing we did was on the last day when we visited the Hermiage, the winter palace of Peter the Great, filled with thousands of works of art, sculpture from all over the world, decorations and room layouts you could never imagine. We spent about 5 hours just walking through the halls (which was good payment for the 1 hour we spent waiting in the rain). You can see a lot of the works they have online
. Thank you Leo for the great suggestion!
Finally we got to take an overnight train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It was so cool to arrive at the train and one of the conductor-people had our names on a paper! Good to know some things are organized here. There was one guy in our compartment who spoke a bit of English so we chatted with him, got some sleep, and arrived in Moscow!
Our experience in Moscow was quite amazing and I'll explain it more in detail later because I want to end this blog post and I have to give this computer back. Before I do, though, I want to say something exciting about some lesson plan ideas I have. Here is a quick summary:
- use pictures of various numerals and ask what they represent (clothing store discounts, payment for services in different languages). I think this will help the kids understand how to use their knowledge to interpret mathematical situations.
- I want to put the numbers 0-9 around my room with the words for each underneath in different languages. Another way of exploring the world.
- How much water goes through the Peterhof fountains every day?
- How many people can a metro line hold in Moscow?
- The probability of having your bus ticket actually checked in Warsaw.
If you have any thoughts, please share!
When we last left our heroes.... we were about to get on a train to Lithuania. I am happy to say we got to the Central Train Station in Warsaw on time and took the 9 hour journey in stride. Well, as much stride as can be. About 6.5 hours in they switched us to buses because there was track work before the border. Then we got on the Lithuanian train which was waiting for us (I guess on purpose?). It was a nice long journey through the countryside with some GREAT views of farmland. I think I understand where most of the oxygen in the world comes from now - the rich, green farmland of Poland and Lithuania.
In Lithuania we spent time in two cities: Kaunas
. I'll give you about a paragraph on each just to make it simple.
Kaunas is cute and easy to navigate. A small city of about 300,000, there are nice buses (even electric ones) that go all over the place, and a main pedestrian thoroughfare with free wifi throughout! There used to be a strong Jewish community but all that's left is a museum and a synagogue. I actually got a chance to go to shul on Friday night with the 10 other Jewish men (and the 12-year old boy) who still live there. The second day in the city we got a chance to rent a car and visit the hometown of some of my ancestors: Krekenava. It was about an hour away by car and in the middle of nowhere. We eventually did get a chance to see the old cemetery and on our way back stopped off another town called Kedainai for some more Jewish visits. The end of the journey led us to the Ninth Fort
, a WWI defensive position around Kaunas that was used by the Nazis to kill more than 30,000 Jews.
Vilnius has an amazing history dating back 700 years. The Jewish community has always had some kind of vibrancy, sometimes being kicked out, sometimes being asked back in. The Vilna Gaon, an amazingly intelligent Jewish man lived here and had much influence on the Jews across the globe. In fact, when Hassidism, a sect of Judaism less concerned with traditional learning and more concerned with activating secular Jews in their religion, he fought back. My kinda guy. I got a chance to go to the historic synagogue, a structure built in 1903 and very well kept. The whole city is walkable with SO much history - I highly recommend checking it out.
If you would like to take a look at any of my other pictures, please check out this link
. There are comments below the pictures as well!
I have been to Poland one other time in my life - when I was 18, visiting during my half year in Israel between January - June of 2004. We went at the beginning of my trip so you can imagine how cold it was. The day we landed it was snowing. The next day it was snowing. In fact, it didn't really let up.
So you can imagine my slight agitation when I landed in Warsaw on Monday morning and it was RAINING. I had hoped that coming during the summer months would lead to some nice days, which apparently it does often. Just not when I am here.
The silver lining, though, is that I have started my trek to visit five of the seven Moishe Houses in Eastern Europe. I arrived at Moishe House Warsaw and put my stuff down so I could walk around town for a bit with a visitor named Tomek.
The first few days of travel have bee a mix of relaxing/getting to know people/getting over jetlag/stressing. Jenna arrived about 7 hours later than she should have due to plane issues in Philly. And her bag did not. Suffice it to say that the first day I was here (July 4) I did not feel very independent to walk around - instead, I tried to find Jenna and help her get her bag. I walked around a bit Tomek who is also staying at Moishe House Warsaw.
After many trials and tribulations, Jenna arrived and we had a chance to rest and eat dinner with some other Polish friends - Matilda and Clementina. Wonderful.
July 5th was much better as we retrieved Jenna's bag from the airport and explored what is called "Old Town." Since everythnig in Warsaw was pretty much destroyed during World War II, it is sort of a misnomber. The buildings were reconstructed to how they WOULD have looked at the beginnings of Warsaw's history. They are beautiful, however, and very European. We even got a chance to visit the Royal Castle and eat a late lunch on a wonderful square listening to two gentlemen play baroque music no their accordians.
So, I am doing well. Jenna is doing well. Moishe House Warsaw is a wonderful headquarters to have. And we are leaving for Lithuania tomorrow. More adventures to come!
Oftentimes critics view teachers as people who only work 10 months out of the year and do nothing for July and August. To them I would respond accordingly: 1) if you had my job, you would definitely need a break and 2) I am not doing "nothing." I am taking two months to explore how I can better educate my students through introspection and experience.
I am about to leave Philadelphia for a trip to Eastern Europe and Israel. While I'm gone I will be blogging about my experiences and reflecting on how I can incorporate them into my teaching in the future. I will try to keep them succinct mostly because I won't want to spend THAT much time in front of a computer instead of walking around a new city. I hope to find some intriguing architectural wonders, artistic expressions of awesome, and just generally have a good time, too.
For the curious my travel plans are: Philly->Warsaw, Poland->Lithuania->Helsinki, Finland->St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia->Kiev, Ukraine->Budapest, Hungary-> Vienna, Austria->Israel->Philly.