Tara in Poland

Tara is an SMU Distinguished Scholar and a junior majoring in computer science and math. This summer, she is one of five SMU students interning with Sabre Polska (the Poland office of Sabre-Holdings). She is working in Airline Solutions on the Crew Recovery Project.

Home from Poland

The past 2 months spent in Poland were quite exciting and fun, but I sure am glad to be home now. It was a bit difficult getting back to the US, though. The airline we were using, Lufthansa, went on strike the week before we were supposed to leave. Our original flight, Krakow to Frankfurt to DFW, was canceled, so they gave us a new flight: Krakow-Dusseldorf-Paris-Atlanta-DFW, for an extra 9 hours of travel time.

When we arrived at the airport at 4am, the airline had scheduled a better flight for us from Krakow to Dusseldorf to Chicago to, finally, DFW. Even better, they had bumped us up to Business Class for the long flight; that was an incredibly comfortable flight.

We stayed busy our last week in Poland. We went to Prague, Auschwitz and a little town called Zakopane. We took an overnight train and spent only 1 day in Prague. The train experience went much smoother than our Vienna trip.

We first toured the Prague Castle, which is just huge. In the center is St. Vitus Cathedral; it was the largest and most extravagant cathedral we had visited yet! It would have taken a couple days to explore everything at the castle, so we left at lunchtime to walk over to the famous Charles Bridge.

It is close to the castle and connects right into Old Town over the Vltava River. There are statues all along the bridge, along with stalls selling jewelry and art. The artists were very talented based on their work displayed, and they would draw your portrait right there on the bridge.

We ate at an underwhelming Italian restaurant on the other side of the river, and then we started exploring Old Town. We watched the medieval Astronomical Clock at 3pm. It shows the sun, moon, and the months, and on each hour it shows “The Walk of the Apostles” (figures of the apostles rotate through the windows above the clock, while a skeleton pulls the cord to ring the bell). One myth about the clock is that the clockmaker was blinded after its construction so that he could never make another like it!

After souvenir shopping we headed back to the hostel to take a nap before dinner (we’d been up and walking around ever since our train got in at 6am). We later had a nice steak dinner at a little place called Sherwood down the street. Everything was so much cheaper in Prague! Even though it was momentarily startling to get my dinner bill for 450 korunas, it was actually only $30.

Our last weekend before we left, we went to St. Mary’s Church and Auschwitz concentration camp on that Saturday. I studied the altarpiece in St. Mary’s last semester in an art history class, so I was really excited about seeing it in person. It was even larger than I had pictured it (about 43 ft tall, 36 ft wide); each figure is over 8 feet tall! While St. Vitus Cathedral was much larger, St. Mary’s was even more extravagantly decorated. Every wall, ceiling, and column had gold leaf or carvings or some amazing decoration.

After St. Mary’s, we took a 2-hour train to Auschwitz; it started storming on the way there to set the solemn mood. I was surprised to see young children visiting, as there were quite graphic pictures everywhere. While it wasn’t the most pleasant of ways to spend the afternoon, I am glad I went. Actually being there and seeing it in person made it more real than just reading about it in the history books.

On Sunday we went to Zakopane, a town in the mountains near the southern border of Poland (2 hr bus ride from Krakow). It is the perfect little ski town right between the mountains with streets lined with shops and stalls. We hiked up the closest face, me taking many breaks along the way. At the top is a paved road that runs along the ridge a long ways, lined with shops, restaurants, and even an amusement park.

We went tobogganing when we first reached the top. It was so much fun and a good cool-down from the hike. We browsed the shops and had dinner with a beautiful view. I definitely could have spent more than one day there.

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Dr. Pepper has come to Krakow!

tara-drpepper.jpgGreg’s family found a few cans at the grocery store and brought some back to the apartment for us. It must have just come out because I shop there frequently and would have definitely noticed Dr. Pepper on the shelves. I went to the store the next day to get some, and there was only one beat-up can left! I snatched it up, and Dr. Pepper officially sold out in one day. Of course it would come to Krakow toward the end of our trip. I hope they restock some soon.

Last weekend we all went to Galeria Kazmierez to try to catch The Dark Knight. However, we found out when we arrived that it won’t be coming to Krakow until September 8. We decided to see Wall-E instead. We went into the theater, taking up a whole row with me, Austin, Greg and Greg’s 6 family members, and settled in for a cute movie.

However, we noticed in the first 10 minutes that the signs and labels in the movie were in Polish … so we ended up watching Wall-E in Polish. It was still very enjoyable, though. If there was a movie to see in Polish, that would be it since it’s mostly just robot communication.

Work is going well, though there are 5 people out of 9 from my team on vacation. I actually did something useful for the project I’m working on. I helped change the way some databases were set up and reduced the total running time of the program by 30 percent (it took about 30 minutes for this program to run, and they have to reduce it to less than 1 minute before it can be released).

I figured we interns would be working on parts that wouldn’t really affect the actual product. However, Sabre has let us dig right into its work. Hopefully I can accomplish something else useful before I leave.

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Trip to Austria – and a lost train

Last weekend, our managers gave us the 4th of July off, so we went to Vienna, Austria. We took a sleeper train there (7 hours) and arrived at 6 am.

Tara-schonbrunn.JPGAfter dropping off our luggage at the hostel, we walked to Schonbrunn Palace. The palace was really amazing and ridiculously extravagant. We toured 40 rooms with an audio guide. We learned much about Maria Theresa, toured where Napoleon slept, and stood where Mozart performed as a child.

Tara-JohnInMaze.JPGNext we walked the gardens, went through a hedge maze and then through a labyrinth. We played games and obstacles while going through the labyrinth. First, Greg solved a math hopscotch, then Austin climbed a pole to ring a bell. We made songs out of musical stones, and John worked a see-saw mechanism to operate a fountain. It was so much fun!

Tara-romanFountainAtSchonbrunn.JPGWe then walked up a very large hill to enter the Gloriette, which is a viewing building for the whole palace grounds (incredible view of both the palace and the city). We enjoyed ourselves so much, that we returned on Sunday to explore more of the gardens. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip.

Next we took an underground train to the city center, where all the shops and whatnot are. After shopping a bit, we walked to this humongous church called Stephansdom (one of the world’s tallest churches) that we had seen from the palace hill. It was incredibly ornate inside, and there were organ pipes bigger than any I’d seen.

By this time, we were exhausted from all the walking we’d done, plus the 6am arrival. We did so much walking that day, I think our feet were about to fall off, so we took a train back to the hostel to relax.

On Saturday, we went in search of Zentralfriedhof, the cemetery where famous Austrians are buried (Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, etc). Well, we got out of the subway station, looked at the map, saw a quaint cemetery just around the block, and assumed that must be it. So we go there, spend 30-40 minutes looking for these graves (no directory), and nothing.

After a second look at the map, we see this massive cemetery about 1.5 km from where we were. We finally make it to the right cemetery, and it is beyond huge. We spent 2 hours looking for these people! Eventually we figure it out and find them all together, take pictures, and leave.

Tara-theride.JPGNext, we headed over to the Prater (famous amusement park). Austin and I found a new favorite ride; I don’t know what it was called, but man, I want one! John and Greg were a little scared of it, so they decided just to watch us and take video. It had a very long and tall middle connector to 2 sets of seats (4 each), and it spun around on its central axis causing the seats to come around very high in the air while the sets of seats flip/rotate too, and then it brings you whooshing toward the ground flipping, only to be brought back up into the sky at incredible speeds (it displays how fast it is going, & Greg said we made it up to 120 km/hr). It was so exciting and fun, but the girl behind me would not stop screaming.

Next, we found the trampolines. However, John is the only one who would participate with me. When he saw me doing flips, he thought they looked easy (however, I used to be a gymnast, and he did not), and so he tried, too. He face planted, head dived, and all that good stuff, so funny, and all on film. Luckily he did not hurt himself.

Everything went so smoothly during the trip, the train there, navigating the subways, and finding good food. However, nothing can ever go perfectly; we had quite an adventure on the train ride back to Krakow. Apparently, the train conductor on the way to Vienna only gave us back 2 tickets when we left the train, so we tried to convince the conductor on the Czech Republic part of the trip, but ended up having to pay him for 2 more tickets. Then, we had to pay the Polish conductor once we crossed that border!

The most exciting part, however, was a stop in a middle-of-nowhere town in the Czech Republic. John, Austin, and I left the train (it had a 20 min stop) to see if we could talk to someone in the station about our ticket situation. However, after being redirected to 3 different people, we discovered that not one person spoke even a little English. When we returned to the platform, the car we were on was gone! Ours was the last car on the train, and it was no longer there, along with Greg who was in it. We ran to every platform, and attempted to communicate with people, but could not locate our train car.

A few minutes later, we see it rolling back up to the platform. They had to attach it to another train because it split routes here. Relieved, we see Greg hop out of the car and motion for us to get on. However, on our way down to the car, it started leaving again! We ran, but could not make it, and Austin did a classic chasing after the train scene; I really wish I’d had the camera. Now, freaking out about what to do, we just start cracking up. During all this, Greg had tried pulling the emergency brake twice on the train, but nothing happened. What a good friend – he tried.

After another few minutes standing around hopelessly, the train car came back yet again. Apparently, they had to rearrange some more. Finally we made it back onto the train and vowed never to leave it until we were in Krakow. Oh, and to top it all off, the train’s windows didn’t open, and the air conditioner was broken for the 7-hour ride.

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Euro Cup Soccer adventures

Note: See more of Tara’s photos from Poland.

Today at work, Piotr & Mariusz invited me to come to their bi-weekly English lesson with them at the office – haha. I wasn’t doing anything particularly important at the moment, so I went. The teacher was a funny British guy who made frequent cracks at America. He asked me how I liked the spelling when he wrote the word “humour,” haha.

I also found another spider in my bathroom today! I bought some Raid. Greg is cooking again tonight – chicken fajitas and pierogi. I really miss Mexican restaurants. There is one on the Square that we tried, but it was underwhelming. The nachos were good. Greg has been cooking for all of us frequently – who knew he could cook? It’s a good thing – I’ve been spending too much money eating out. I’m slightly addicted to a local pierogi place on the Square. They also serve chocolate pancakes!

Polish lessons
My co-workers invited me out to a cafe last night. I met with all of them, including my manager and his wife (yay, another female to talk to!). It was so much fun, and I learned a lot of interesting things from them:

– The wedding ring goes on the right hand in Poland.
– “No” can mean “yes” in Polish (that could cause some important miscommunications)
– Polish people (at least these people) think highly of our tolerance for race/foreigners in America – i.e., Michal was surprised at how people did not mention his thick Polish accent and were patient when trying to communicate with him on his visit to Southlake, Texas.
– They don’t mind standing extremely close to people in a line or in public.
– Drinking and driving laws and practices are much stricter in Poland compared to America.
– In Poland, it’s common to put juice in a beer.
– It’s also common to put ketchup on your pizza.

Another interesting thing about Krakow – the beggars. In the Square, beggars dress up in costumes and pose for money. There are lots of them out every day. We’ve seen a knight, a tree man, a grim reaper, Darth Vader and plenty that we had no clue as to what they were. Those are some motivated beggars.

tara-euro1.jpgSoccer fans
A couple weekends ago, Greg, John, Austin and I all went to this outside area with a big TV to watch the Euro Cup Soccer final. It was so much fun. We decided to root for Spain (over Germany), so we bought red and yellow paint and painted our faces. I had 2 flags, one on each cheek. John completely covered his face in paint, and wore a yellow towel for a cape (and no, he was not the only one wearing a cape)! This face paint made us a lot of friends.

John and Greg went earlier to get seats and met a guy and his kid from New York. He said he’d buy them food and drinks if they’d save 2 seats. He was very cool, and his little boy (9 yrs) was adorable. He painted his hands red and yellow, haha. Other people also wanted face paint, which we had with us. We made a lot of friends at that game.

The game was good, and we had good Polish sausages. When Spain scored, we all jumped up and cheered, of course, and a guy from the crazy table next to us was jumping and yelling and jumped/tackled John a little in his excitement, haha. They crashed into me and I was almost knocked over (bruise on my leg). There was so much singing and yelling in Spanish, it was great. We sang along, pretending we knew what we were saying. Then, when Spain won, that was NUTS. The guys next to us broke the really sturdy table into 3 pieces by jumping on it!!

tara-saltchandeliers.JPGTrip to the Salt Mines
Also on that weekend, we visited the Salt Mines, which were pretty cool. We went 135 meters underground to the 3rd level (there are 9 levels). That’s a lot of stairs to walk down. The air down there is great for your lungs. They advise people with asthma to visit, and even stay the night. They have rooms made out of salt that you can sleep in! The most amazing part for me was the chandeliers made completely of salt crystals. They were huge and very intricate. Luckily, we got to ride a cramped, speedy elevator back up, rather than taking the hundreds of stairs we took down there.

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Adventures in Poland

tarawithbeggar.JPG Czesc! Our first couple weeks in Poland have been quite an adventure.

The 10-hour flight to Frankfurt wasn’t that bad. (Jon did fall asleep into someone’s lap though – haha.) At the Frankfurt airport, my shoes (just simple little flats) set off the metal detector, and I had to sit over on the side while they took my shoes away for a little bit. Apparently, they decided I wasn’t bringing any harmful objects with me hidden in my shoes, so I got to go on.

Arrival in Krakow
In Krakow, we were first taken to our corporate apartments, which are nicer than my apartment in Dallas. However, I did find 2 spiders in my bathroom, agh! I had the other guys come and take care of them. The apartments are in an amazing location, just off the Market Square (where just about everything is).

Magda (in charge of expats) then took us to get lunch at a small Polish restaurant on the Square. I had my first taste of real Polish food, a pierogi. Pierogi are basically flour dumplings stuffed with many different things. I just had the meat pierogi, which were delicious! Later that night we had dinner with our soon-to-be managers, though we weren’t too lively because of jetlag. Well, Jon is a different story. He hit up the town that night while the rest of us crashed.

Tara-StMarys4.JPGOur first weekend, we took a walking tour of the city. We went through the Market Square, learning its history, into a university building (they are scattered all over the city), down to Wawel (“vavel”) Castle by the river, and over to Kazimirez (the Jewish District). There is such beautiful, old architecture in Old Town (the Square and surrounding streets)!

Tara-clothHall2.JPGThis was one rare place that was not destroyed in the war (take a look at Warsaw, everything is completely new). The churches are amazing. We went inside the Franciscan Church; it had the most decorative ceiling I’ve ever seen. We also went to an art museum, where we saw a small Da Vinci painting. Lastly, we went to Cloth Hall (photo left). It is the center building in the Square, filled with small shops inside. I’ll definitely be going back there.

Meat and potatoes, but no Dr Pepper
On to food: Grocery shopping was interesting. We had one of our managers there to help us, but it was still difficult to figure out what exactly we were buying. I accidently got ketchup-flavored cheetos, and ground beef was hard to come by. Some things are the same though; they have Cheerios, Pepsi, & Fanta (Fanta is very popular here), but no Dr. Pepper!! How will I survive? They do have McDonald’s here, though, and I like it better than in America. The burgers are juicier. The rest is pretty much the same. The KFC here is missing my 2 favorite sides, biscuits and mashed potatoes. It’s just not the same without a biscuit.

As for more Polish food, we tried kebabs (they are served all over the Square), which isn’t anything close to what we call kebabs. It’s more like a pita. Greg is hooked on them; he’s had them the past 2 days now. Overall, I really like the food here. Most of the dishes include lots of meat and potatoes, mmm, but I could really go for a juicy Snuffers cheeseburger and their awesome cheese fries with a Dr. Pepper (heart attack on a plate?).

First day at work – with a detour
So Greg and I had an adventure on our first day of real work. We had taken the tram the day before with Tracy (a Sabre manager), so we knew we needed to take the #8 or #10. We walked to the tram stop that we had gotten off at the day before, knowing the #10 stops there.

The 10 arrives, we get on, and sit with relief, knowing we made it past the hardest part of the day, getting on the right tram. However, after 30min, we notice that nothing around us looks familiar, and the ride is only supposed to be about 15min to the office.

Our logic seemed so good at first, the 10 definitely stops at Buma, we took it from there the day before, and we got on it as it was going the direction that the #8 went to take us to Buma earlier. What we didn’t realize, is that the tram stop we used today, was in a different spot than the one we took to Buma before, and therefore needed a tram going the opposite direction. So, not knowing what any signs said, the tram driver speaking only Polish, and now being the only ones left on the tram, we were lost. We finally came to the end of the tram’s line, where the driver yelled at us in Polish, what I can only assume, “Get out of here!” We got off the tram, waited for the 10 going the other way, and finally made it to our first day of work 2 hours late.

I am working in the Airline Solutions department, on the Crew Recovery project. I am running tests and manipulating SQL statements to try to make this program run faster (it’s currently at about 30 min, down from 1.5 hrs). I had never worked with SQL or manipulating databases before, so I am learning many new things. I really like my team, though 3 of them have the same name (Marcin), and I am the only girl in the entire section of the building!

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