Westerplatte (Gdansk, Poland)

On one of my last days in Poland, while I was in Gdansk, I got on public transport and after traveling for 45 minutes in the wrong direction, I hopped off, got a kebab, and caught the first cab I saw back in the other direction to Westerplatte, a peninsula where the German’s fired the first shots of World War II and invaded Poland. 

People often make fun of Poland because of how easily they surrendered to Germany at the beginning of WWII. But there are reasons why they fell so quickly. They were a young country, having just received a place back on the map after WWI. They lost about 6 months of militarization because they joined the alliance with France and England and when they asked if they should start to mobilize, England said, “Don’t worry about this Hitler person. We’re going to sit down and have a civilized talk with him.” And third: when Germany did attack, the Allies did nothing. So, yes, they lost their freedom rather easily.

Anyways. All that’s left at Westerplatte are destroyed bunkers and a monument dedicated to everyone who died fighting there. The monument is pretty cool looking, and it’s surrounded by flags from many different countries. The white words at the end of the flags (photo 3) say “Never Again War,” in Polish (so I was told). 

It was a cold day when I went and there was barely anyone else there when I arrived. It was quiet and eerie. I took in the beautiful and freezing views of the Baltic Sea (photo 2) before making my way back to the bus stop to head back to the Old Town. 

Despite getting lost and it taking forever to get there, I’m glad I went to visit such a historical and haunting piece of the world. 

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. 

Kinder Surprise!

I saw these in the airport in Gdansk and debated long and hard over whether or not I should try to smuggle these babies into the country. It only cost about $10 USD, and I ate one in the airport, so I said fuck it, let’s do this and live on the edge. There’s a $2500-per-egg fine if you’re caught trying to smuggle Kinder Eggs into the country but I’m pretty sure that only applies if you’re trying to smuggle thousands.

Let’s back up: These things are a European delicacy that was banned in the United States (or rather, chocolate candy with inedible toys inside were banned, not Kinder Eggs specifically) because apparently American kids are too stupid not to differentiate between an obviously edible chocolate egg and the plastic toy inside of it. A couple of kids choked on these little toys and ruined the fun for everyone.

So, I bought a box of 5, wrapped the box inside the bag from the airport store, and buried it in the top of my suitcase. I put chocolate bars on top of it in case there were chocolate-sniffing dogs at JFK, I could be all, “What? Yeah, those are chocolate bars.” 

To a totally anti-climactic ending, US Customs never even attempted to open my backpack. There were no chocolate-sniffing dogs. And I didn’t even get fined $10,000. I got my contraband into the country and gave a couple to friends and ate another one. 

Worth it? Totally. That chocolate is GOOD. 

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.)

Poland Excursion

Remember how I said my next foreign vacation would be Poland? Well, it will be! A couple of months back, I found a super cheap (relatively speaking, $670-ish) flight to Poland and I booked it. I’m going to Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk. I’ll be there for 9 or 10 days in October. 

Why Poland? It’s not a place that people often go to but I hear it’s awesome. One of my long-time yoga teacher’s is from Gdansk, so she’s always raving about it. My dad’s grandmother is also from Poland, in Radomysl, which is near Warsaw, but I can’t find any public transportation to it. The building she lived in is gone anyways. 

I also love World War II history, so this is going to be exciting, albeit a bit depressing (as fuck). I know I said no more fucking hostels, but booking a private room in a good hostel is the same price as booking a small room in a shitty hotel. So, that’s what I’m doing. I always love meeting people from other countries, too, in hostels. It’s part of the fun!

I bought an amazing travel backpack that I got to try out in San Diego this weekend and I’ve decided to take the train in between cities. No city is more than 3-4 hours apart and they run pretty regularly, so that’ll be nice. I’ll get to see the countryside, I guess! (Honestly, I’m pretty sure trees will look the same in Poland.)

I was looking for packing blogs and backpacking blogs about Poland and I didn’t find a whole lot. I know Poland is far from a tourist destination, but I didn’t know just how far. Apparently, it’s pretty far down the list. But the blogs I did find say Poland is AWESOME. Here’s what I’m planning on doing in each city….

Krakow: I’m definitely going to do walking tours around Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter) and Old Town, as well as the Wawel Castle, Rynek Underground Museum, Royal Way Walk, the Barbican City Wall, and the Main Market Square. There will also be a half day spent in Krakow across the river at Schindler’s Factory Museum. I might try to take a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, too, because I hear those are super neat, but there’s a lot to cover in Krakow.  Did I mention how cheap Krakow is? Super cheap. Very exciting. There will be a half day trip to Auschwitz, of course. 

Warsaw: They have a Royal Walk Way, too, so I’ll walk up that. I’ll also go to the Royal Castle, Old Town Market Square, Warsaw Museum, and possibly the Chopin Museum. I’m going to do walking tours in the Old Town and Muranow (the Jewish Ghetto), and visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Museum of the History of Jewish Poles

Gdansk: Just to be consistent, I’ll go see their Royal Way Walk,. I’ll go to the Historical Zone of the Free City of Gdansk, the Gdansk Historical Museum, and take a few hours to go to Westerplatte where the first shots of World War II were fired. I have to go check out the other two cities in the Tri-City: Sopot and Gdynia

I’m going to eat lots of perogies, go to all of the Bar Mleczny (milk bar), and drink lots of beer and vodka. I’m going to try to see a bunch of the palaces (though I’m not sure which will be accessible or open). I have a bunch of other things on my list of things to see but I didn’t want to list out every possible little thing. 

I wish I had more time to also hit Wroclaw, but you can’t do it all, I suppose. I might squeeze in a day trip from Warsaw to the Bialowiezka Forest – an UNESCO site and a forest that dates back to Medieval Times, which is kind of cool. It’s also the forest that Daniel Craig & co. travel through in the movie Defiance. And I take a day trip to Treblinka from Warsaw, but I will already be seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau, so I’m not sure how many concentration camps I really need to see on a short trip. I’ve been learning Polish with Duolingo, so I might recognize some words and say them, but I have zero chance of writing anything out. 

Is there anything off the beaten path that I’m missing? Anything else I should do or see that I wouldn’t necessarily find out about from my Lonely Planet guide? 

Where to next?

I will not, even if it kills me, let another 7 years go by before I go to Europe again. There are too many cheap ways to travel for me to stay here and only venture to “convenient” places. But where do I still want to travel to? That’s easy:

  1. Ireland/Scotland
  2. Iceland
  3. Poland
  4. Ukraine
  5. Turkey
  6. Russia
  7. New Zealand
  8. Australia
  9. Vancouver 

I imagine I won’t make it to New Zealand or Australia until later when I am making more money (fingers crossed) but the others shouldn’t be too hard. I learned recently that it’s pretty annoying to travel around Turkey as a solo female traveler. 

Despite the order of this list, I’m pretty sure Poland is at the top of my list.

I know what you might be thinking: But what about all the cities in America that you haven’t been to yet??? I went to Chicago and New Orleans this year. Those were big cities to check off my list. I want to visit Austin, Madison, Des Moines, Charleston, Savannah, and Memphis, maybe. Those could all be weekend trips though; they’re not for-real traveling. 

I think I definitely want to go to Poland sometime this year. Maybe towards September again. I want to go to Warsaw, Krakow, and one of my yoga teachers (who’s from Poland) said Gdansk is pretty awesome. 

We’ll see what the year ahead brings.