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. 

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. 

Sleeping Like a Baby

This is the view from the doorway of my extremely cozy and pretty-much-perfect hostel room at the Dream Hostel in Warsaw, Poland. There was a heated towel rack in the bathroom, for fuckssake. I’d recommend staying here even if you have the money to afford some fancypants hotel. This hostel was awesome, but this isn’t about that. It’s about how well I slept here. With the down comforters and the lack of noise outside on the main street at all (activity near Castle Square really dies down after about 9pm), plus my ear plugs and eye mask, I was basically a zombie for 8 hours a night. Saying I was sad to leave this hostel is an epic understatement.

But now that I’m home, in my own bed, I’m sleeping like a baby again. Better than I slept in my bed before I left. I don’t know what it is – the complete one-eighty from sleeping in strange beds for 10 days straight, or the new MyPillows that I bought, or maybe it’s knowing that it’s my bed and everything on it is perfect.

Side note: Not all was copacetic on my first night back. I went to bed stupid early because hello, jetlag and when I woke up around 11:30pm, I forgot where I was and freaked out when I saw someone come into my room and go into the bathroom. That someone was my boyfriend and he was in my room because, well, I was home. But did my heart stop for a split second? Yes. Oops.

I’ve been going to bed earlier, sleeping more soundly, and through the night. It’s lovely. I hope it keeps up because, although I used to say I could get enough when I was dead, sleep is actually a very lovely thing. 

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.

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? 

Weezer @ Warsaw, 3.30.16

Two weeks ago I ventured to the border between Greenpoint and Williamsburg to a little venue called Warsaw for an intimate night with one of my favorites, Weezer. I love their music but admittedly, I don’t follow them as closely as I do Green Day and sometimes I’m not happy about that (I know, #firstworldproblems). I saw them play an epic concert with The Flaming Lips in 2011 and hadn’t had the chance to see them again since. 

Warsaw felt smaller than Irving Plaza. Ben and I stood to the side near the front the entire time. There was another fan next to us who was probably in his late 30′s and was likely in college when the Blue Album came out. He looked like he probably asked his wife to watch their first born for the night so he could relive his college memories. 

They played for an hour and a half and they played all their hits (no, really, look at this setlist). Including Beverly Hills! This was the one song they didn’t play in 2011 that I wanted to play. Weezer is a trip down memory lane through grade school and now through my 20s.

I didn’t get home until 11:30 on a “school” night, but it was worth it. 

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.