Peeling Back the Layers in Poland

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned through our travels so far, it’s that my understanding and perspective of a place evolves over time. By the time we leave, I see things in a different light than when we came. At first, there are the things that stand out as different. There is an excitement of the new place, and the elation from the novelty of it all. Then slowly, we become more familiar with the place, we get to know the area, and the finer details come to the forefront. Through researching, exploring, chatting with locals and spending time with people, we understand more about the “why”. Why things are the way they are. We often learn great tidbits, like say where to get the best Pierogi’s in town, or what the place was like 20, 40, 50 years ago. That’s the good stuff. =) It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion. friends

Now it all worked out, but our introduction to Poland had a bit of a stall.

I just have to share this because it was an unforgettable experience. Our first night here, Caleb’s health seriously took a dive. We had been travelling for 3 full days, didn’t know anyone in Poland, didn’t have phone service yet and ended up needing to go to the emergency room. Thankfully, our Polish neighbor answered the door in the middle of the night, spoke English, and was willing to help us get an ambulance. He unexpectedly, came with us to the hospital, translated for us, and waited to see what happened.

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Between him and our Airbnb host, we were able to get the care we needed, in a hospital where no one spoke much English and they were in no rush to help us. From our experience, the helpfulness to strangers (us) that we experienced from our Polish neighbor and our host is above and beyond what is ever expected. Our gratitude is beyond words. I really don’t know what would’ve happened without their help. When thanking them, their response was that they hoped we’d do the same for them. Caleb recovered over the next two weeks, he’s a trooper, and we were able to explore as we planned.

Now, as our first month in Poland is coming to an end, we have truly enjoyed our time here so far (aside from the emergency room). When first touring the city, I was blown away. Gdansk is unlike any place I’ve seen in terms of the character, architecture, and the quaintness of it all. Keep in mind, I have never been anywhere else in Europe yet! The cobblestone paths, massive structures, clock towers, churches, statues; they are like a dream, or a movie scene. I couldn’t believe that people just go about their daily lives in a place so grand.

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Speaking of people, they carry themselves with such class. Most- from young to old- are dressed very nicely. They seem healthy. The women are mostly in high heels, nice shoes or boots, with scarves, some in pants, others in skirts and pantyhose, and nice coats. The men are just as classy in nice shoes, coordinated scarves, hats and coats. Men and women walk together arm in arm, old men slowly stroll down the sidewalk with their hands behind their back, seemingly observing it all. I also see a lot of women together with striking resemblance to each other, but a clear age difference; seemingly mothers and daughters or sisters. There is just a different, but pleasant, vibe to the people.

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As we began to shop, live and play in Oliwa, there have been some subtle differences that I’ve seen. Most stores don’t give you plastic bags for the items you buy, although you can buy them , most people either walk out with handfuls of stuff or bring their own bags. There were also people walking everywhere, lots of  families, and I have seen just as many men alone with strollers as women.

Another difference is that the lights automatically turn off in buildings when no one is there. I will never forget getting off the elevator on the 4th floor when we first arrived in Warsaw and it being pitch black. Ready to navigate to our room by cell phone light, the lights flickered, and then turned on a few seconds later. Same thing at our flat in Oliwa. Talking about the differences between Poland and the U.S. with our Polish neighbor, his response was “I guess America is too rich to care about the world’s problems.No offense” None taken.

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We’ve learned that just 25 years ago,under communist rule, Poland’s store shelves were empty and food was rationed out to households. Since the fall of communism, the country has been developing and has come a long way, but the memories clearly aren’t gone. The country has developed implementing measures including banning GMO’s, energy conservation and recycling. They also seem to have great infrastructure for water, electricity, transportation, and goods and services.The parts of the country we’ve seen so far are very clean and very beautiful. There are a lot of parks. Many beautiful places to enjoy a walk, sit on a bench, and enjoy being in nature.

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Due to the rough start here, we have decided to stay another month. We will be moving to another place tomorrow in the heart of Old Town Gdansk. This will grant us more time to do a bit more travelling here in Poland, before heading to Italy in December. I’m looking forward to continuing to peel back more layers in Poland and see what else we find. Hopefully, no more hospital visits!

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