The 74th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Today, April 19th, is the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during World War II. There is a fantastic museum in Warsaw dedicated to this uprising and it’s a Must See if you’re in Warsaw. I found out yesterday that there’s a memorial to this uprising in Riverside Park at 83rd Street. I’m going to go pay my respects before work. If you feel like watching The Zookeeper’s Wife or The Pianist. There’s a movie about the Jewish Uprising but I can’t remember the name (comment if you remember it! It’s the street address of the secret meeting place!) Here are a few photos from the museum.

The original mermaid that stood in the Old Town before the Germans bombed them as punishment for the uprising.

They used the sewers to get around and deliver messages and weapons. This is what you’d see under a safe exit.

The symbol of the uprising.

The flags of the uprising.

And around the city you’ll see several monuments dedicated to those who fought:

The Littler Uprising Monument – dedicated to all the children who helped sneak past guards with messages and weapons. 

The Warsaw Uprising Monument

passport-life:

Warsaw | Poland

This photo makes me nostalgic for Warsaw. Out of the three cities that I visited in Poland in October, Warsaw was my favorite. Warsaw had history spilling out of every corner. 

Krakow was beautiful because it was basically untouched by the Nazis (and Russians) during WWII so it’s all original and old AF. But Warsaw was completely decimated during the war. The photo you see above is the Old Town Square. After the Polish attempted their first uprising, the German’s, who’d left the Old Town alone for the most part because it was treasured (obviously, look at it), gave a big middle finger to the Polish people and destroyed it.

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This is what the Old Town looked like after the Germans destroyed it. 

After the war, the Russians and the Poles rebuilt the Old Town. The Russians wanted to show the world what fine work they could do and that communism was great. On the other hand, 500 feet away stood the Royal Palace which took twice as long to rebuild because a palace didn’t exactly align with Communist principles. But the brilliant rebuilding and duplication of the Old Town is why it’s an Unesco World Heritage Site now

Warsaw has so much more history than just the Old Town Square and that’s why I loved it so much. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing about them soon. 

New Year’s Things

I just did 5 yoga classes in 3 days. I am sore and took today, Friday, off. I’m going in for one more class before the final holiday of the year tomorrow morning, which should kill me. My knee is acting up but I think it’s strained from overdoing it in King Arthur pose on Wednesday night so I’ll have to go easier.

I was thinking about New Year’s resolutions and I didn’t know what they should be. J said that because I’m doing yoga teacher training, and that’s a big commitment, that I should basically be absolved from making other ones, but I still wanted to think of something. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Volunteer more – this will likely be in the realm of volunteering with cats, something I’m already doing, but let’s do it some more, shall we?
  2. Go on Facebook less – like 15 minutes a day or less. If I have a question about something, I’ll just have to Google it or reach out to actual human people I know. Facebook is a super fucking waste of time and it makes people depressed, so let’s cut it out. 
  3. Read – I read 14 or 15 books this year. Let’s do it again in 2017. Or make it 20. Why not.
  4. Be healthier – Cook more, eat out less. Get back to drinking once or twice a week and no more. Basically try to feel good. 
  5. Make a vision board – I keep meaning to and then I’m like, “Ooh, NVM, let’s watch My Cat From Hell…”
  6. Figure out what I want to do – I don’t think a 9-5 desk job is for me (unfortunately) so I need to figure out WTF I want to do instead. 
  7. Rock teacher training – Duh. Maybe I’ll be able to master a headstand, too, finally. But hey, just because someone can do a handstand doesn’t mean they’re a good teacher.
  8. Watch less Netflix – This goes for HBO Go and Amazon Prime too. I want to watch less TV so I can read more. 
  9. Be more patient – with my partner, my friends, family, and especially strangers. I currently have no patience, so cultivating any patience would be a miracle. 
  10. Be less judgmental – I would like to look at someone that I’ve never met and not make 10 assumptions about them based on what they look like or what they’re doing. 
  11. Travel Somewhere New: One new city in America (we’re planning on Denver, at the very least) and three new cities in Europe (ideas that have been thrown around: Reykjavik, Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Budapest, Bucharest, or wherever they film the Bond movies in Croatia).

I think that’s good for now. What are your resolutions? 

The Badass Polish Street Cats of Gdansk

Before I arrived in Gdansk, Poland, I still hadn’t seen a single cat on the street. There were lots of dogs, but not cats, but little did I know what a street cat population Gdansk had. The first one I saw during my first morning in Gdansk while exploring the Old Town and it looked wet and scared and a bit muddied. I hoped that it had a home to return to because it ran way when I tried to approach it.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I saw at least 8 other cats in the Old Town. And on my walk back from the Solidarity Center in the northern part of the city, I found a longer-haired version of Playbill. Needless to say, I was excited. I purchased cat treats at one of their local drug stores and gave them treats when they’d come near.

The little tabby cat (first photo) was the most adorable and very friendly. He was wearing a collar though so he was just hanging out on the Long Street (actual name!) before heading home. I gave him treats anyways. And on my last morning, I gave the rest of the treats to two cats who were hiding from the rain underneath a car (fourth photo). 

Apparently it’s not illegal to feed stray cats so you’d often see little empty cat food trays on the top of the stairs (like the stairs in the final photo). 

While exploring, I met a woman who was feeding a few of the street cats near her apartment and she gave me a flyer for an organization named KOTangens (’kot’ means cat in Polish) in Gdansk that’s trying to control the feral cat population (basically their version of our TNR programs). You can find them on Facebook here (if there happens to be any Polish people from Gdansk reading!).

Needless to say, I loved interacting with some of the streetcats in Gdansk. Definitely an unexpected surprise of my trip to Poland. 

Auschwitz / Birkenau-Auschwitz II

After America voted Hitler v. 2.0 into office, today seemed like an appropriate day to write about my experience traveling to the Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau-Auschwitz II extermination camp while I was in Krakow last month. I hopped on a bus outside the city walls early one morning and made the trip an hour and forty five minutes to Oświęcim, Poland, with a tour group and guide. It seemed appropriate that it was pouring rain, and freezing, that day.

In Auschwitz, there are various brick buildings, former SS buildings, that have different exhibits about who was brought to the camp, when the camp was built and why, how many people died, among many other things. There’s one haunting room with a glass case the size of my apartment filled with human hair of some of the 1.5 million victims. The Nazis sold this hair to companies to make stockings and socks, and this was the hair that hadn’t been sold after the camp was liberated. We walked through the barracks, seeing the claustrophobic bunks where political prisoners were kept before being executed, and then we viewed the execution wall, which is adorned still with flowers all these years later. We also walked through a gas chamber that was reconstructed with the remains from a gas chamber at Birkenau, since the Nazis started trying to cover up all the evidence of their actions once they knew the war was the lost and the Allies were coming.

Afterwards we were bused a mile or so down the road to Birkenau-Auschwitz II extermination camp. This camp was built, obviously, after Auschwitz and it was an extermination camp more than a work camp. Eight to ninety percent of the prisoners who exited the trains at Birkenau went straight to the gas chambers. Birkenau was mostly destroyed by the Nazis so a lot of the camp is eerily quiet with grass, barbed wire, and wooden guard stations along the train tracks. 

At Birkenau stands the International Monument, in memory of the 1.5 million victims who perished there. The monument is black stones of various shapes (I don’t remember what the meaning is of them) with plaques in many different languages that say, “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and child, mainly Jews, from various countries in Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945.” It’s located in between the ruins of the second and third crematorium at the end of the train tracks where most people disembarked the train to die.

For our last stop, we walked through one of the prisoner’s quarters that several hundred Jews were packed into at a time. They were dark, damp, cold, and dirt floored. 

When we exited the brick gates of Birkenau, our tour guide told us that now that we’d visited the camps we were witnesses of the crimes and atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust. He was very passionate, pressing us not to let anyone try to lie and deny that the Holocaust happened because if we forget, or deny, history has a way of repeating itself. That said, let’s have other’s backs as the new president elect comes to power next year. If his cronies start coming for one group, your group will be soon after. Let’s be better than this. Let’s be nice to one another and prepare to stand up, if need be. 

If you ever have the change to visit Auschwitz, I highly encourage it. Let’s remember so history doesn’t repeat itself. Photos after the jump.

Auschwitz

Eye glasses that were collected from prisons before they were killed.

Execution wall

Barbed wire covered path

A crematorium reconstructed from the remains of a crematorium at Birkenau.

The brick entrance way to Birkenau-Auschwitz II

The end of the train tracks where most prisoners walked from to their deaths in the gas chambers.

The International Monument at Birkenau-Auschwitz II

The remains of a demolished crematorium.

The chimneys still stand even though the wooden houses where prisoners lived were destroyed. 

A prisoners house that’s still standing. 

Along the train tracks in Birkenau, an original train car that used to transport Jews to the camp sits on the tracks.

What I Learned This Time

I thought I should run down what I learned while traveling abroad by myself this time. It’s worth writing it down here in case anyone else here is a solo traveler or considering a solo trip. Because they’re the best and you should totally take one.

Really look at your accommodations. I can remember that after my trip to Scandinavia, I decided to really vet the hostels I was staying in, or not stay in hostels at all. I decided this time to stay in private rooms in hostels because a private room in a nice hostel is way better than a single room in a cheap, shitty hotel (probably located near the airport). I spent weeks (and I mean weeks) looking on hotels.com and hostelworld.com at different accommodations. It paid off because I stayed in a great hostel and an amazing hostel in Krakow and Warsaw, respectively. Unfortunately, my painstaking vetting fell short when it came to Gdansk. The room was very nice but the build itself was located in an area that I wasn’t really keen on. Or maybe it was just the time of day I arrived? That leads to the next thing I learned….

Arrive during the day. Don’t arrive in a new (especially foreign) city after dark. Check the time for sunset and arrive an hour before. On my walk back from the Solidarity Monument in Gdansk, I ended up walking past the hostel that I’d abandoned 30 minutes after arriving and saw that the area actually wasn’t too far from the Old Town. It was actually quite close to the old town but in the dark, it just looked scary. To my credit, there was a lot of construction around the doorway, reception only until 8pm, and little light near the doorway, hello, rapist?

Don’t schedule to the minute. I’d started planning my days out last year in Scandinavia a month before I got there based on when my travel book said things were open. These travel, regardless of when they were published, will almost always be wrong. My Poland travel book this year said Schindler’s Factory was only open on Saturdays. This was not true. At all. Don’t plan your days before you arrive. You never know what will happen and then you’ll be frustrated. Just go with the flow.

Hello and Thank You. Learn a few phrases in the native language of the country you’re going to. Don’t be a typical fucking American who expects that everyone speaks English because We’re #1 (if you’re one of those who believes that). I tried teaching myself Polish using the Duolingo app, but I retained almost none of it. I did retain the words for cat, cookie, milk, and apple, though (you know, the important words to know). Upon arriving in Poland, I was alerted to the fact that Polish is the 2nd or 3rd hardest language to learn in the world, so I didn’t make myself feel too bad about it. But while I was there, I picked up the words for hello/good morning, thank you, you’re welcome, fine, yes, and no. Not much, but I was told they always appreciate it when the Stupid Americans ™ at least try.  

These are, at least, the most important things I learned while abroad in a country that is very, very different from the United States. Everyone should definitely travel by themselves, at least once in their life. You learn so much about yourself and the world in the process. Any questions? 

Photo is of a picturesque street in the Old Town in Gdansk, Poland.

Game On.

Long time, no post! Apologies if you’ve noticed; I’ve been abroad. I knew that when I was in Poland for 10 days that my meditation practice would pause. It did when I went to Scandinavia last year and I made the decision to change my expectations and not to beat myself up over it. The last time I meditated was the morning was on the flight from Frankfurt to Krakow and I was OK with that. I was a little anxious that I would have trouble sleeping without meditation. But aside from that one day when I drank three cappuccinos (damn you, caffeine), I had zero trouble sleeping thanks to walking 12 hours a day (and the mulled wine, and pierogi, etc).

I started meditating again yesterday morning and it feels totally easy to slip back into my two 20 minute meditations a day. Six to seven AM are my time to meditate, check my email, and pet my cat again.

I’ll get more posts and photos up about my travels, but if you need to see photos in the meantime, you can head over to my Instagram

(Photo is of a church in Gdansk, Poland.)

Apps You Must Download If You’re Traveling

Without a few apps on my iPhone, the trip definitely would’ve been a lot harder. (Thanks, Kristen, for telling me to download two of these, btw.)

Triposo: This app was awesome because it let you pick your destinations and suggested popular things to see and tours and places to stay and basically everything you could ever need to know. The maps also work offline.

Tripomatic: This did basically the same thing as Triposo except it looked a little cleaner. The reason for downloading Triposo was for the purposes of using the offline maps. It helped me plan out my journey day by day.

Currency Exchange: Any old currency exchange app will do. This helped me not freak out when something in Stockholm cost, say, 650 kroner. I would’ve died without this. 

Yelp: Duh. You know this is the best for finding all of the best places to eating and other random things too. This helped me find places to eat often.

With these four apps, you should be good to travel solo in a country where the language looks like a Scrabble board threw up and your breakfast costs 300 krone.