There is no question that Tucker and I have been extremely fortunate this year. It honestly feels like a dream. I’ve talked a lot about Fulbright, the University of Łódź, and all the amazing experiences I’ve had with such wonderful people and organizations supporting me, but I’ve not really discussed the places we’ve been able to go. I have always loved exploring new places, comparing them to what I’ve read or heard from others, and my time in Europe has allowed me to do that and then some. Traveling is an incredible luxury, and unfortunately, it’s not something everyone can do. I hope in the future international travel becomes more accessible because I have learned and developed a great deal through it, and want more people to be able to do the same (if they want to). Anyway, since several friends and family members have expressed interest in our travels, I’ve decided to share some of our experiences this past year: the destinations, of course, but also some lessons and laughs we had along the way.
One of our first mishaps in Poland (of which there have been many) occurred on our second day in Łódź. We were on our way to meet my supervisor at the university for the first time, but had a slight issue on one of the trams. We really thought we were ready; armed with złoty (Polish currency) and a chipped credit card; however, Poland is both too outdated and too modern for either of those means of payment! On the tram we could only use coins or a tap-and-pay card to buy tickets, neither of which we had. Oops! Normally this wouldn’t be a much of a problem. We would just get off, buy some tickets at a kiosk, and get back on, but (of course) with our luck, the secret transportation police (who seem to follow me) were on the tram watching us as we failed. Once they were sure we had run out of ideas, they yanked us off and gave us a 140 złoty fine ($35). Needless to say, we were late to the meeting…
Gdańsk and Sopot, Poland
In December we had some time off thanks to the holidays, so one weekend, we impulsively decided to visit Poznań, a city about 3 hours from Łódź. We didn’t know much about Poznań, so on the way there we googled the main attractions and read several suggestions to see the goats. Waking up the next morning in Poznań, it was snowing (yay!), but I was sick (boo!). Runny nose, streaming eyes, chills – it was awful, but I was not going to let that stop me. We bundled up, braved the cold, and walked and ate our way around Poznań. Eventually, it was time to see the goats. We were super excited as we crowded around the Town Hall in the main square with about 50 other goat-seekers. As the clock struck noon, the tiny, mechanical goats slowly came out of their little doors at the top of the tower. They turned towards each other, butted heads a few times (among oohs and ahhs, of course), and then retreated to their home. What did we just witness? Why goats? Is that all they do? So many questions left unanswered.
Bergen, Voss, Gudvangen, Flåm, and Myrdal, Norway
Lisbon and Porto, Portugal – Madrid, Spain – Rome, Italy – Vatican City:
Traveling to new countries can be a tad confusing at times. There can be different ways of doing things or different laws that must be upheld – many of which are unknown to tourists. We experienced a bit of this when we got to Rome. We arrived fairly late, so there was no one to let us into our room. Luckily they left a post-it note on the door with a number to call (odd). We called, and eventually a guy showed up and took us down the street to a different apartment building (also odd). He showed us the room, gave us the key, and then asked for money because Italy imposes a “special tax” on renting rooms. What?! We had already paid for the room, and I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place with the right person anymore – should we really be giving him more money? Well, we did (with no receipt or proof of any kind). But luckily he wasn’t a scammer; Italy really does impose a tourist tax for each night you stay in the country, and it’s generally paid after you arrive. Weird.
Szczecin, Gryfino, Płoty, and Resko, Poland
Wieliczka and Zakopane, Poland:
You know what Atlanta doesn’t have much of? Snow. Obviously, Tucker and I had a few things to learn about Polish winters, but on our trip to Zakopane, a mountain town in the Polish Tatras, we proved to be slow learners. Our goal while in Zakopane was to hike to Lake Morskie Oko. We had a few difficulties getting to the starting point of the hike due to the time of year, and once we were there, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I thought someone had told me it was a two kilometer hike, but it seems they might have said it was a two hour hike. Oops. We also failed to take into account the fact that elevation changes the weather a great deal, so we left to hike 18 kilometers (11 miles) uphill, in the snow…in gym shoes. I’m pretty sure we almost lost toes. After about 20 minutes our shoes were soaked and soon we couldn’t feel our feet at all. That made walking up the steep mountain extremely difficult, not to mention all the slippery snow and ice. But at least now we will forever understand the importance of boots!
Brussels and Ghent, Belgium
Prague and Turnov, Czech Republic
Sieradz and Burzenin, Poland
Częstochowa, Miedźno, Katowice, and Oświęcim, Poland
Minsk and Mir, Belarus:
One of the coolest experiences we had during our travels was riding an overnight train from Warsaw to Minsk. It was such a great trip for so many reasons, including, but not limited to: our amazing travel companions and the breakfasts we shared, the traditional Belarusian dinner with many, many toasts, and the experience of being lifted into the air as they changed the train wheels at the border. However, by far, my favorite part occurred on the way home. We took another overnight train (this one was a bit older), and upon entering our compartment, it seemed we were missing a bed. We searched around the tiny room looking for the elusive bed until we spotted what looked like a door. Thinking this must be the last fold-out bed, we yanked it open and unexpectedly found ourselves looking at the gentleman in the next compartment, who rather promptly and enthusiastically said “Hello!”. No one could stop laughing!
Reykjavik, Selfoss, Hella, and Vik, Iceland – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK) – Galway, Cork, Blarney, and Dublin, Ireland
Gdynia, Hel, Lębork, Łeba, and Malbork, Poland
Tallin, Estonia – Riga, Latvia – Vilnius, Lithuania:
I like to be early: early for class, early for appointments, early for buses/trains/planes, etc. However, sometimes it’s just not possible. Particularly when you accidentally add an 8 hour “snooze” to your alarm for the morning (why is that even an option?!). Before our trip to the Baltic States, we were graciously invited to an Independence Day party at the US ambassador to Poland’s house. We didn’t get home from the party until fairly late, and had to catch a bus the next morning at 4:50am. Before going to sleep, I responsibly set my alarm to make sure we woke up with enough time to shower, pack our things, and get to the bus station. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. At 4:34am Tucker woke up to get a drink of water, and realized (much more calmly than I would have) that we were late. Beyond late. He woke me up, and we legitimately threw our stuff in our bags and ran out of the hotel and all the way to the station. Only 16 minutes from waking up to the bus pulling away! We were sweaty, unshowered, and shaking (okay that was just me), but somehow we made it. Now we set alarms on both phones.
Stockholm, Sweden – Skopje, Macedonia – Bratislava, Slovakia – Budapest, Hungary – Vienna, Austria
Berlin and Potsdam, Germany
Rzeszów, Poland – Lviv and Kiev, Ukraine
So, this is where we’ve been this year: 21 countries, 66 cities, collecting endless memories!
I have truly tried to take advantage of every opportunity I’ve been given this year, and traveling in and around Poland was a big part of that. Throughout this process, I know my posts and pictures have been endless, but I hope they have never seemed discouraging or boastful. I wanted to document everything we did this year, so one day Tucker and I can look back and remember all the details of these stories and places, which will surely escape us as time passes. The places we’ve been and the people we’ve met during our travels this year have definitely changed how we view the world, and that is exactly why I love to travel. Here’s hoping this is only the beginning! 🙂