Last month I finally decided to move my writings from our time in Poland off Facebook and onto my blog site as individual posts. (Sorry to those of you who got email updates before I remembered to turn off the notifications!) This was a long time coming, and although the process was a little tedious, I thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing about all our trips and experiences in Europe. Therefore, for this month’s blog post, I thought I’d do a little countdown of some of my favorite photos (and the memories that accompany them) from our beloved Polska. Enjoy!
#12 – St. Jakob’s Orthodox Church, Częstochowa
We had never heard of Częstochowa prior to moving to Poland, but after visiting, we fell in love with this highly-organized city of international pilgrimage fame.
#11 – Orłowo Pier, Gdynia
The Tri-City area of Poland might just be our favorite because it is filled with all sorts of unexpected sights and activities! For example: intriguing pirate ships, beautiful sandy beaches, and a lovely ferry to Hel and back.
#10 – Słowiński National Park, Łeba
The sand dunes of Słowiński National Park are also high on our list of incredible (yet unexpected) sights in Northern Poland. Is this even Poland? Tak, to jest Polska.
#9 – Market Square, Wrosław
Some cities have something so unique that they will always stand out in your memory. For me, I will always remember Wrosław for its legion of tiny dwarf statues.
#8 – Town Hall, Poznań
Poznań was another city of surprises with the legendary goat dance and the highly revered rogal świętomarciński, a pastry with its own museum. Smacznego!
#7 – Countryside, Silesia
Our main method of transportation around Poland was Polskibus (something I miss dearly). Views of the beautiful countryside from the windows of a double decker bus will forever be etched in my brain.
#6 – Wawel Royal Castle, Kraków
We were lucky enough to visit Kraków several times, but the bar crawl we did on a whim one night gave us more stories than any other singular event in Poland. My head still spins at the memory.
#5 – Oświęcim
Oświęcim, the Polish name for Auschwitz, was a sobering reminder of the horrific events that occurred here and the fact that those who do not remember the past are surely condemned to repeat it.
#4 – Motława River, Gdańsk
Another part of the Tri-City area, Gdańsk, has such an interesting history and local flair. Reflecting on it now, Gdańsk is probably the most likely candidate for a long-term return (other than Łódź, of course).
#3 – Tatra Mountains
Truly a Winter Wonderland, hiking in the snowy Tatras was utterly surreal. As was the fact that we traversed the 16km trail thick with fresh snow…in gym shoes. I can still feel my frozen toes.
#2 – Malbork Castle, Malbork
Europe has such a knack for making you and your life feel small in the face of so much history. This was certainly the case in Malbork, exploring the largest Teutonic castle in the world.
#1 – Główny Rynek, Kalisz
Regardless of destination, the memories (and photos) that mean the most often have to do with friends and family. For me, walking around one of the oldest cities of Poland with my parents falls directly into this category.
What an incredible country! I love reminiscing about all the things we did and saw while living in Poland (thanks for humoring me, by the way). One of the most shocking things about this little project was realizing that this was 7 years ago! We’re clearly long overdue for a trip back. Fingers crossed it happens sooner rather than later! Naprawdę tęsknię za Tobą Polsko.
It’s December! Only a few days from the official start of winter! You might already know this about me, but I absolutely love this time of year. Of course, I know not everyone feels the same way, and I also know that this year is different (in about every way possible). Typically, during the holidays, Tucker and I do some traveling: we disconnect, explore someplace new (often somewhere we can play in the snow), but alas, 2020 has kept us pretty tethered…in Florida of all places. So, for this month’s post, I ask you to humor me as I look back at some of my favorite winter destinations of years past. I’m aiming to turn this pining into planning, and I invite you to do the same. There’s always another winter coming!
Tatra Mountains, Poland
This is the trip I always find myself looking back on around this time of year. Magical is the best word I have to describe our snowy hike in the Tatra Mountains. It felt and looked exactly like a fairy tale (well at least until our inadequate clothing choices had us pondering the effects of frostbite). Zakopane was the little mountain town we based our trip around, and the mulled wine, grilled oscypek (a mountain specialty), and the handmade wooden crafts in the local markets made it all the more beautiful.
Even if you don’t like the cold, you should still be able to appreciate the incredible Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin, China. I’ve never been to the North Pole (or any city that associates with it), but I definitely got Santa’s Village vibes while we were there. Snow sculptures as far as the eye could see, entire buildings and playgrounds made of ice, and, if I recall correctly, there was even a VR experience with penguins. Definitely worth the icy eyelashes!
New York, USA
A post about winter trips must include New York City. It’s truly lovely any time of year, but bundling up on a ferry crossing the Hudson, drinking hot chocolate while watching the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, and feeling the fierce winds tunneling through the skyscrapers are some of my favorite memories of this iconic destination. I also feel pretty strongly about the fact that it smells much better in winter – no baking garbage or sweaty subway seatmates. Bonus!
We actually booked our trip to Bergen on a bit of a whim because we found cheap tickets from Warsaw and we had the time off. In hindsight, I can’t believe we hadn’t already had such an amazing place on our travel list. We loved strolling down the snowy cobblestone streets and the fjords and scenic train rides were absolutely breathtaking. If you ever find yourself in Norway debating whether or not to do one of the “Norway in a Nutshell” tours – do it!
Perhaps a somewhat surprising winter location, but as Chengdu is known as one of the “Furnaces of China”, I vowed to stay away in summer or anything summer adjacent. Thus, we visited in January and had the most amazing time! Pandas are adorable year-round, and I found the outdoor tea houses and consumption of extremely spicy food much more enjoyable in cooler temperatures. The mountains (and yaks) just outside the city were also extremely beautiful covered in a pristine blanket of fresh snow.
Just for fun, let’s say you’re like me and would love to have TWO winters in a given year. A trip to Australia can grant this wish! The Southern Hemisphere, of course, has their winter from June-August, so one year, we spent July in “wintery” Sydney. It was a mild winter to say the least, but the general vibe was there as we walked by ice rinks and snowflake décor all around the city. Like NY, Sydney is an amazing place to visit any time of year, but the less touristy off-season was perhaps even more enjoyable.
Another, slightly warmer location we really enjoyed one winter was Lisbon, Portugal. The city is incredibly gorgeous, but really hilly, so we were very happy for cool weather/less sweaty hikes. The local wine and food we had was also very fitting of the season: thick stews, warm egg tarts, and strong vinho verde, just to name a few of our favorites. I’m also a big fan of quiet oceanside walks in winter, and Lisbon’s coastline did not disappoint.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
And finally, because I realize many people take vacations to hotter climates in order to escape winter, I’ll include Chiang-Mai on this list. We were there in January one year, and let me tell you, it can definitely be considered a “hotter climate”. While Bangkok and Phuket might be the more famous of Thailand’s must-see destinations, Tucker and I fell in love with CM. The temples, the mountains, the food (omg), and the small-town feel with some of the friendliest, calmest locals we’ve ever encountered, Chiang-Mai is a great place to relax during one of the most stressful times of the year.
So many memories, so many possibilities! My mind is spinning thinking about future winter trips! But for now, I’ll make do with reminiscing and enjoying a quieter, calmer winter. Happy holidays everyone!
It’s Christmastime once again, and I find myself pining (see what I did there?) for Poland. This time last year, Tucker and I were decorating our apartment in Łódź and brushing up on Polish Christmas traditions (of which there are plenty). This year, while I’m very excited to be celebrating Christmas with my family, American-style, there are definitely many things I’m missing about life in Poland. For example:
Drinking Tea with Friends
I miss Polish tea culture! In the United States, coffee is generally the warm drink of choice, and, unfortunately, I really hate coffee. In Poland, I was gradually forced into drinking some form of hot liquid (especially on cold mornings), and eventually, I learned to love hot tea. Although at first I fought it, now I find myself missing the constant drink (and snack) offers at every Polish gathering (from dinner at a friend’s house to a meeting at work) as well as always getting the choice of coffee or tea. In the past few months I have done my best to bring this tradition to my life in the US, but sadly all I’ve done is become known as the weird, coffee-hating, hot tea-drinker.
I’m very sad that I will not get to use my well-practiced “Wesołych Swiąt” this year (or the even more challenging “Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku”). Instead, I have to waver with the very difficult “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” debacle. Not only am I missing Polish greetings, but I’m also missing the intensive grammar practice. I know that sounds crazy to most people, but I loved it – and it’s just not the same outside of Poland. I’m really doing my best to continue studying the complex Polish language, but it’s not nearly as gratifying without the unsuspecting strangers to practice with.
I miss not having to worry about driving. Weather, distance, gas prices: there are so many things we consider when deciding if it’s worth it to leave the house in the United States. However, in Poland, I never worried about that. I had trains, trams, buses, sidewalks…plenty of methods at my disposal; thus, we found ourselves out and about much more often. I used to think having a car meant having freedom (and to an extent in the US it sort of does), but it’s definitely a limited freedom. Access to a good public transportation system is real freedom.
Proximity of Destinations
Somewhat related to public transportation, I also miss the nearness of points of interest. Poland (and Europe in general) has so much to see (mountains, castles, seas, etc.), and it’s not nearly as spread out as the United States. It was easy for us to go to a different region of Poland or even a different country just for the weekend. I miss being surrounded by the diverse histories and cultures of Central Europe. It’s only a 2.5-hour flight from Warsaw to Rome, Athens, Paris, or London. Location, location, location!
Where do I even begin when talking about the food? I miss everything about Polish food. I miss the buffets at the university cafeteria; I miss the cheap ham sandwiches sold at train stations; I miss the home-cooked feel of everything we ate in Poland. The żurek, rosół, pierogi, kotlet schabowy, kopytka, even the surówka, I miss it all! This is another aspect I tried to bring back to the States, but alas, it’s just not the same. Atlanta doesn’t even have a Polish restaurant where I can get my fix! At least when I was in Chicago I was able to get some fresh kabanosy and wash it down with a cold Żywiec.
Perhaps most of all, I miss the people. I miss my Polish friends, and I miss the friendliness of Polish strangers. Poles are very genuine, and in my experience they make great friends and mentors. I miss the conversations we had – always very intelligent and rarely superficial, and I miss the interest they took in learning anything they could about US culture and the English language. After spending some time back in the US, I’ve witnessed so many differences that I didn’t realize existed, and I love sharing them with the people I left across the Atlantic. I have a feeling I will be making realizations about Polish and American culture forever!
Of course, there are many other aspects of Polish life that I find myself missing – seriously, I could go on. Fortunately, I have been able to incorporate a few Polish customs into my American life. Things like drinking beer with a straw (and on occasion fruit juice), not taking off my jacket as I shop for groceries, wearing slippers around the house, and you better believe we’ll be watching “Home Alone” on Christmas Eve! 🙂 In short, my time in Poland changed my life. I’m still so grateful for that opportunity and am ready for my next overseas adventure (soon to come)!
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! 🙂
This week my Fulbright grant came to an end, and all the “lasts” are starting to hit me. I taught my last class at the University of Łódź, we had our last conversation club meeting at the American Corner, and this past Friday was the last Fulbright event. With these milestones behind me, I’m find myself treating every experience as the last – the last time we eat at this restaurant, the last time we buy znaczki, the last time we see so-and-so, etc. It’s always difficult to say goodbye, but for so many reasons this experience has been much harder to let go of. Tucker and I have had an incredible time this year. We’ve seen and done more than I could ever have imagined, and the experiences we’ve had and the people we’ve met have truly changed our lives forever. Let’s reminisce!
We arrived in Poland last September jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, but it didn’t keep our jaws from hitting the floor when we were taken to Sarnia 2, m.23, which has truly become our home. The city and the apartment we live in are absolutely beautiful. This has been our view for the past year, and I will sorely miss it!
Next we met the other Fulbrighters in Warsaw, and perhaps finally realized that this was real. We got acquainted rather quickly, getting lost in the underground passages of Centrum and having shots of hazelnut vodka while learning people’s names. Now I feel confident that there’s no amount of vodka that would allow me to forget their names! Hopefully. 🙂
Eventually, we returned to Łódź and got down to business: meeting my new colleagues, beginning classes at the university, studying Polish fervently, etc. Throughout the year we attended many conversation clubs and other events at the American Corner, we visited primary and secondary schools across the country, and even gave conference presentations in Minsk.
Through each of these experiences I’ve been able to develop as a teacher, a presenter, a researcher, and as a person. There is always so much to discuss and even more to learn! Tucker and I participated in everything possible, and we have never been disappointed. We looked into our futures on Andrzejki Day, we marched in support of women’s rights on Piotrkówska, we shouted “POLSKA! BIAŁO-CZERWONI” at a hockey match, and we even attended a party at the US ambassador to Poland’s house.
In addition to all of these amazing events, we were also lucky enough to spend our free time traveling around Poland. We hiked the Tatras near Zakopane, visited castles in Kraków, Malbork, and Łęczyca, walked along the Baltic sea in Łeba, saw the legendary goats of Pozńan, took a ferry to Hel and back, and so much more! Poland has incredibly beautiful and diverse geography – there is so much to see, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
And while we were busy completely immersing ourselves in all things Polish, we also had the privilege of making some of the most incredible friends! We really cannot thank everyone enough for welcoming us into your homes, your lives, and your cultures. We have learned so much from you all! I have no doubt we’ll be friends for life, and Tucker and I can’t wait to host you in whatever country we end up in next!
So, what is next? Fulbright is over, but we still have a month left in Poland. And that can mean only one thing – travel! We have three more trips planned, plus as many events as we could squeeze into our last few weeks in Łódź. After that, who knows? Many people have been asking about our plans for the future, but for now, we’re happy to be mulling over our options. We do know that we’ll be back in Atlanta for at least August and September, but after that, it could be anywhere!