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. 

Field Trip to Greenpoint

I found the only reason to ever venture on the dreaded G train and it’s the above chocolate, E. Wedel, a well-known chocolate from Poland. I brought back a bunch of it from Poland last month and people (like myself, for instance) ate it and it’s gone now. So, I Googled where I could buy it in NYC and found a store in Greenpoint (of course). 

I took three trains with J to get to Greenpoint this afternoon to find a store named Slodycze Wedel on Manhattan Avenue. But unfortunately it was out of business. Of course. 

BUT I wasn’t going to be dissuaded so easily. I scoured the pharmacies and general stores on Manhattan Avenue and I was thrilled to find a few different kinds at Rite Aid. Surprisingly, the imported chocolate cost under $2 a bar. Score.

So, I’m set for the winter now. Seriously, this chocolate is the. best. ever. Better than any of the shit we have in America and it’s totally worth the ride on the awful G train. 

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. 

Making Pierogies in Warsaw, Poland

When I arrived at my hostel in Warsaw (Dream Hostel – best freaking hostel ever, seriously), I was informed that there was a pierogi making class that night in the hostel’s kitchen. I’ve never been one to partake in group events at hostels, but since it was cold and getting late, I decided WTH and signed up. Fifteen zloty later, I was signed up, and after a couple of hours walking around Castle Square and the Old Town, I headed back to the hostel, put on my yoga pants, and got ready to learn how to make pierogies.

It was actually stupid easy. The most work involved is probably the preparation of the fillings (which we didn’t do). We made potato-filled pierogi and meat-filled pierogi. We rolled out the dough, cut circles using a glass jar, further rolled out the circular dough, filled the centers, and then wrapped them up. 

As per usual, appearance of food isn’t my concern or forte, so mine looked a little weird, but they all still tasted good. The most fun part of the evening were my pierogi-making comrades. In the group was a mother who was traveling with her young son and daughter from France, a guy probably around my age from Brazil, and a guy who was around the same age, I believe, from Germany. I thought it was so cool that the French mother was traveling with her children in hostels instead of, you know, Grand Hyatts. 

The class was totally fun and worth it. We were all stuffed and happy by the end of it. I’m planning on making pierogi on my own very soon. 

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.)

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?