Poland:If These Walls Could Talk…

Our 2-month stay in Poland is coming to an end tomorrow, and we will definitely be back. We have had an amazing time here, but what is really on my mind, is the story behind the Poland we see now. What the walls would say if they could talk. I’ll start with this picture…DSCN8967.JPG

You will notice many different colors and varying ages of brick. This is the side of the Malbork Castle, which was 50% destroyed during WW2. I’d read history books, but walking through it has a different effect. The scars from destruction on buildings, and stories from locals, planted many questions in my mind about why people (my ancestors included) left here, what life was really like and what has happened. This led me to study more about the history of Poland while here.

Discovering in detail the sheer brutality and oppression that has occurred on this land, in the not so distant past, is hard to comprehend. Families just like mine, just like so many I know back home, suffered to the full extent of the word.  My family lost track of relatives during WW2, and I am sure this is the case for far too many other families. With 6 of the 8 death camps from WW2 being located in Poland, this country experienced millions of people lost; brothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, uncles.

I learned that those who did survive, were then under communist rule by the USSR until 1989, and were on food rations and strict surveillance. A photographer captured photos that speak volumes from the time when martial law was enforced, though he wasn’t able to develop them in Poland at the time due to the socialist surveillance system. 1989 puts Poland with 26 years of independence now.

We noticed how others our age are very aware of current events and their history here, and I can understand why; such harsh  events happened very recently.

It is a good thing to see families abound in Poland now, businesses thrive, store shelves overflow and buildings are being constructed everywhere. I am thankful that despite horrible tragedy and violence, there is now independence, freedom and growth.

A few of our favorite things about Poland were:

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Baltic Amber

Delicious Food and Great Drinks

Great Architecture and Beautiful Churches

Lots of Birds

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The Castles

Great Public Transportation

Malls with Good Products

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Beautiful Parks and Landscapes

and Friendly People

Now we travel on from here. Tomorrow we will pack up our bags, check out and head to our next destinations in Italy. We are very interested to see how it is…

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Take-away from Poland: A life where food is sufficient, a house is available, and a person is free to go about daily life as they choose, is truly something to be thankful for. Many people have had these basics of life taken from them, and longed to simply hear their child’s laugh again, have a warm home, or have a full plate of food.

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My 10 Favorite Shots by Jr. Photographer Slade Regier

Slade Regier is 7 years old and loves to take pictures as he travels. He took over 200 pictures in Old Town Gdansk, Poland and chose his 10 favorites to share with you.

These are all SHOT, EDITED AND WRITTEN ABOUT by him. I’ll hand it over to Slade from here…

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This is the pirate ship in the Old Town and I like all of the details on it.

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This is amber. You can find it at the beach here on the Baltic Sea, but it is kind of hard to find. I like amber because it looks super cool carved into stuff.

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This is the sunset in Old Town Gdansk and we get to see it every night. And, sometimes, we go out on this bridge that’s outside and take pictures.

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I like this picture because it’s a picture of me and my stuffed animal named Sharky.

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These are swans, you may have seen these before, but there are a lot of them here!

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This is the picture of the sun reflecting off of the water. We went down the bridge to take this picture.

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This is a picture of leaves, but I edited it so it looks way cooler.

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This is a picture of the bridge that we took the sunset picture off of.

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This is a picture of bricks. They are piled up outside about 13 steps away from our house.

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This is a picture I took of a bright red door that looked super cool.

Thank you for reading this if you did read it!

-Slade Regier

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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