I’ve saved my favorite country for last—Poland! With the help of many organized trips through student groups, Erasmus networks, and the Fulbright Orientation I as able to experience Poland at its full splendor.
Warsaw was the most visited city I traveled to, mainly because of Fulbright conferences, presentations, and ceremonies. Each time I experienced the city, I would always notice something new and felt much more directionally oriented when exploring. The Old Town District in Warsaw was my favorite place to visit, regardless of the time of year. It was always filled with an undeniable energy and offered amazing views of the city. There was also a favorite restaurant in the Rynek area where I enjoyed the most delicious pierogi ever!
One of the best things about visiting Krakow three times was getting to see the marvelous city at three different seasons of the year. The first trip was towards the end of summer with a group of Erasmus students and we had an absolute blast exploring the city during the evenings and learning about the city’s historical background during our day tours. The second trip was again with another group of Erasmus friends during the middle of November. I spent one afternoon walking around the entire greenbelt of the city, which had turned into a golden oasis, as the autumn colors were so brilliant. During this visit, I was so excited to meet up with my friend Sofie and her brother-in-law Brady for the evening. I knew Sofie from my time as an intern at the Indiana State House as she was serving as a Legislative Assistant. Currently, her husband, Brett, is working at the U.S. Consulate in Krakow and Brady is studying at Jagiellonian University. It was so wonderful to spend time with them and hear about their Polish adventures and how they were adjusting to the change of culture and living. After visiting the city for a final time this past spring, I finally realized what my favorite part of the city was: the market hall. Each time I went to Krakow, I made sure to visit the market building in the middle of the Rynek, which is the largest medieval market square in all of Europe. Not only did I spend a part of each trip in the market hall admiring all the items for sale, but I bought some great gifts for my family here too!
I’ve always had a strong interest in World War II, and even more specifically the Holocaust, but visiting the concentration camps piqued my interests in that part of history even more. On a cold and rainy October afternoon my tour group visited both Auschwitz and Birkenau and experienced such an eerily peacefulness as we saw showcases filled with piles of shoes and suitcases, entered the living bunkers and bath houses, and even walked through the gas chambers. I would highly suggest that anyone who visits Poland and is interested in learning more about this part of history to absolutely visit the concentration camps and embrace the message of turning memory into action.
Of all the dozens of churches I visited these past nine months, the one I loved most is right here in Lower Silesia in the town of Świdnica. “The Church of Peace”, which has been distinguished as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is amazing not just because of its magnificent structure, but also because of the rules governing its construction. In 1648, the Roman Catholic governance allowed the Evangelical church to be built outside of the city fortifications, but it had to be completed within one year. Furthermore, the only supplies that could be used were wood, clay, and straw; the structure could also not have a steeple or church bells. Despite these harsh regulations, the house of worship boasts amazing architectural features and some of the most ornate woodwork I have ever seen.
Though it was unseasonably cold for April, this city on the Baltic Sea was quite charming. I enjoyed seeing how much the city relied on the sea and its ports for its industry and even how that trickled over into their daily culture. Though Gdansk saw much destruction during World War II, many of the main sites were rebuilt to their original splendor. However, hundreds of grain bins and mills were never rebuilt, but the ones that are have been converted into uses such as upscale restaurants and hotels!
Gdynia and Sopot:
A day trip to Gdansk’s sister towns, Gydnia and Sopot, was accompanied by upsurges of rain, hail, snow, and sunshine. While in Gydnia we got to climb aboard the Dar Pomorza Boat Museum and visit the wonderful sea side aquarium. It was nice being able to feel like a kid again and even pet some of the fish and make faces at them while they swam in their tanks. Once our bus arrived in Sopot, I was already chilled to the bone and the incessant snow outside lead me to choose to stay on the bus and warm up. I was able to admire much of the city through the bus window and snowflakes, and even caught a glimpse of the “Crooked House”!
After sleeping through the night on a charter bus as our tour group headed back from the Baltic Countries, we stopped in the northern Polish town of Suwalki for the day. As we walked through the parks, ate some amazing (and cheap) ice cream, and sat in the outdoor patio enjoying our lunch, I felt as if I was at home in Bluffton, Indiana! The town had one main road running through it with only a handful of stoplights. The main attractions of the quaint town are its lake and the Czarna Hańcza River. As we cooked out and played cards next to the lake, it was as if Bluffton and the River Greenway were serving as the host for our evening BBQ. I love these little reminders that home is never far away!
Polski how wonderful you have been! Dziękuję bardzo : )