This weekend I headed to Poland for the annual congress of the Polish Dendrological Society. (Translation: a society for people who love or study trees, especially old ones.) A recent member to the society, it was my first chance to present my master’s research at a scientific congress outside of The US. Lucky for me, Thorsten was willing to play dendrologist for the weekend and attend with me. To his credit he drove most of the way too.
It’s about a 10 hour drive to Warsaw, so we stopped on our way and spent one night in the former Breslau, now Wroclaw.
A beautiful old city with a lovely botanic garden in the middle of the downtown. The food could not have been better. I ate as many Pierogies as I could manage and we tried Kielbasa of course. I want to give a shout out to the weather because it was perfect. Sunny, breezy, 70-something farenheit… the weather made walking though the city like being in a movie. Even better, some artist has scattered sculptures of tiny elves or dwarves throughout the old city. We saw lots of people on a sort of scavenger hunt trying to find them. – As a bonus most people in Wroclaw could speak enough English or German and when in doubt we could just point to what we wanted. We walked though a marvelous farmers market and after more Pierogies we headed to Warsaw.
We arrived in Warsaw around 9:30pm. We were greeted by two very jolly people at the reception desk. Unfortunately neither of them spoke English or German. I was having a time even explaining what I was doing there but then Thorsten appeared noticing a list behind the desk and luckily both our names were on it. We were given the keys to a two room suite and welcomed as part of the Dendrological Congress.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the “hotel” was actually in a dorm building on the university campus and that we each were assigned our own room in the “suite?”
When “a friend” appeared overnight and didn’t seem to want to leave we decided to move to the other room. In the end I guess it was good that we had two rooms to choose from….
Luckily the congress itself was a hit! The keynote speaker was the Curator of the arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and a tree expert whose willingness to be a case study helped me complete my thesis last spring.
Right away one of the board members of the society said “Oh I’ve been looking for you!” He introduced me to the president and the secretary of the society and my nerves were calmed.
After the sessions we were whisked away for a behind the scenes tour of the restoration of the Wilanów castle and gardens that was especially for the three of us English speakers.
We met up with the rest of the group later for a dinner at a restaurant where they formally introduced us to the way Polish people celebrate: Vodka.
In this case, specifically, Żubrówka, and you chase it with apple juice. Some of you might be familiar with formal dinners where the wait staff comes around refilling your wine glass whenever it looks empty. In Polish culture they do the same thing except with vodka and as the evening progresses the cheers of “naz drowie” come more and more often with less and less time in between. I did hear of one person stashing a bottle of water under the table and refilling his glass each time with water instead of vodka before anyone noticed…It was great fun however and it does seem to be true that if you stick with vodka and don’t mix it with other alcohol you’ll feel fine in the morning.
The next day, we drove to what felt like the middle of nowhere but when we arrived we saw a tree almost unmatched by any I’ve seen. Said to be 800 years old, it is 9.5 meters around. Some type of oak, no one was sure which species. After that we experienced a typical and delicious Polish lunch and visited a family owned nursery and garden with an unbelievable selection and display.
The last night of the conference we were invited for a garden tour and barbeque of sorts at the country home of one of the members. The bbq was a gorgeous spread with delicious sausage made right before our eyes. All the fruits and vegetables were grown in poland and the pierogies were certainly the best we’d tried. Salads desserts, and a type of chili/goulash grilled inside zucchinis. Then we were invited inside for a contest. The time had come to try the various flavors of nalewki (I think this is what it was called) it was vodka homemade with botanical ingredients. The contest was to guess with which plant each vodka was made. My favorite was made with a Lonicera species. Needless to say we were never hungry or thirsty and we had so much fun we forgot to take pictures!
Our final highlight was the Pawiak Prison and it’s famous “Tree.” At once exciting and somber, it was truly an honor to get to see this place in person. More on this tree to come.
For more details on the thesis research please see Becoming a Gardener
All photographs are property of Being an American, Becoming a Franconian and cannot be used with out written permission.