Poland

Ah, Poland. Before I start blabbing I’ll give the summary.

Thursday, May 5th: Travel to Yerevan, spend day there
Friday, May 6th: Fly from Yerevan at 5:30 a.m. 2 hour layover in Vienna. Arrive in Warsaw at 10 a.m. local time. Take bus to train station. Take train to Poznań (3 hours). Go to Stęszew.
Saturday, May 7th: Go to a nearby castle, see the oldest trees in Poland, and see the town.
Sunday, May 8th: See the rest of the town, have bonfire with Aga’s friends
Monday, May 9th: Ride bikes, go to Poznań, see the old market, come back, walk around Stęszew.
Tuesday, May 10th: Go to Poznań, watch the famous rams butt heads in the old market at noon, see a church, brewery tour, come back.
Wednesday, May 11th: Go to Poznań, see Aga’s high school and uni, go to the biggest shopping center in Europe, watch movie, go out with her sister and roomie
Thursday, May 12th: Train to Warsaw at 7:45 a.m. (3 hours). Train to a town where Aga’s aunt has a house. Go back into Warsaw, see Uprising Museum, go back to town
Friday, May 13th: Train into Warsaw, meet Ula, go to the big square and old town, lunch and beers, go to airport. Fly to Vienna at 7:50 p.m.
Saturday, May 14th: Arrive in Yerevan at 5:00 a.m. Wait in airport for 3 hours b/c there is no way to get home that early. Marshrutka to Vardenis, arrive home at noon.

First, I must say that my experience in Poland is coming from the lens of a guy who has lived in Armenia for a year. I don’t know how much it would vary if I was coming from the U.S, but the sense of refreshment and luxury might not have been there.

First impressions: Wow, it’s so clean. Wow, everyone is so happy. Wow, they’re tall here! They’re not staring at me. This road is really smooth. Do they have any problems?

I’m a bit tired and out of sorts, so I’m not going to write about each day. At least not now. I’ll try to just give some general info about my trip and share what the country is like.

The way I see it, I really had a mini Peace Corps experience in a developed country. I stayed with Aga’s family. They welcomed me so warmly it was hard to believe. I was immediately at ease despite a new culture and a language I have no grasp of. Maybe part of that is getting used to being uncomfortable throughout my time in Armenia, but I think the disposition of her family helped a ton. So from this perspective, I really really loved this “vacation” because I got to experience some of their lives rather than living out of a hotel and only touching their culture in a tangential way. I ate with them, drank coffee and beer with them, went to church with them, rode around with them, and had a great time doing it all.

At first, I thought Aga’s mom was randomly similar to an Armenian in terms of hospitality. She was very empathetic to the weary traveler. She tried to speak English with me. She made tons of food and wanted me to try everything. When I could eat no more, she would look at me with sad eyes as she pulled an apple pie from the oven, saying, “Please! Please!” Later I learned that this kind of hospitality is very common in Poland. So that is a nice similarity to Armenia. The people on the street were so helpful to us in finding our way too. One guy overheard us speaking English as we stumbled through the castle, and he gave us an impromptu tour even though he wasn’t a guide.

It's no Giant Sequoia, but gnarly nonetheless


Poland is a beautiful place. The people take care of it well. Recycling is big – you can see big bins for sortable refuse on many street corners. The areas we were in were flat, but they do have mountains in the south. Several people told me with pride, “We have mountains and a sea.” Right now it is green and lush. Streets, especially in Aga’s town, are manicured and very appealing. The houses are pleasing, save for a few that made bad color choices. The typical house is squarish, 2 stories, and made of a stone material with some sort of plaster on the outside. The plasters have wonderful colors, anywhere from earth tones to bold reds and calm yellows. This was a big change for me because here everything is gray, gray, and gray.

As you can see from the summary, we took a lot of public transportation. There are lots of trains available. The big cities have trams and buses. There are no marshrutkas like in Armenia. You see bikes but they aren’t as popular in some other European countries. There isn’t really any special consideration for bikes there like bike lanes. All of the public transport uses a ticket validation system. You buy a ticket ahead of time at a machine or in a store. Then you can validate it on the bus or tram. Similar to St. Louis, there usually isn’t someone on board to check tickets. In fact, I think they have it calculated perfectly to allow enough time between ticket checks for people to get lazy and stop buying tickets. The first 3 days I never saw one. Then, on a train in Warsaw a guy got on and caught a couple of people riding it hot. So, it was cool to use public transport, but it’s a bit annoying to always be concerned about bus and train schedules. I would rather have a bike and use that to limit my reliance on the public transport.

Why take the bus when you can buy one of these bad boys for 50 euro?

Several supermarket chains take on a critter for branding

Economically speaking, it felt like I was back in America. It felt like the land of plenty. I knew it would be a western country, but I was a bit surprised at just how much they have embraced it. The malls were incredible and would be considered nice by any American’s standards. Brand labels were everywhere, and besides a few Euro trashy haircuts, you wouldn’t notice much of a difference between the Poles and Americans. McDonald’s is worth a mention due to its huge popularity there. It was always the most crowded restaurant. Even at a food court with a Burger King, Subway, and KFC, the McDonald’s was relatively overflowing. It is what it is.

Moley moley moley!

So, I basically saw three different places. A small town, a regional city, and the capital. Stęszew (think “stay chef”) was my favorite. It’s about 6,000 people. Poznań, at 500,000, was next. Warsaw seemed too big and a bit overwhelming for the amount of time we spent there. I think it would be a great place to take a trip, but you need several days there, if not a week. The one day we spent there was simply not enough. Its size was a turnoff. It made me appreciate Yerevan and how walkable it is. Poznań was nice because it is relatively intact from olden times. The outskirts appear modern and nothing special, but in the center is a gem of an area than gives you the classic European feel. Tiny cobbled streets, beautiful buildings, and a big square with lots of cafes and a church. We ducked into a non-descript church and I was blown away with the beauty and intricacy. But Stęszew was my favorite just because it was a quaint, gorgeous town. You could easily live there without a car, although most of the people there work in Poznań I think. Maybe living there long term would get a little boring, but the peacefulness I found there was just what I wanted.

There were a few funny things I found. Check them out:

The only thing funny is the name


Don't you just want to sink your teeth into a Corny BIG??


Why do all mannequins now have nipples? At least censory is alive and well in this market, in the form of pasty price tags!

It was definitely a trip of luxuries forgotten. Poland was the first time in a long time I…
Showered every day
Drank delicious beer
Flew in an airplane
Watched a movie in a theater
Was in a mall
Stayed in an American-style house
Sat around a bonfire
Rode a bike
Went on a brewery tour

The Lech brewery tour was great. I highly recommend it! In my book it was cooler than the AB tour in St. Louis. We had a great guide who kept it informative and fun. It was fascinating to see how they process the refundable bottles. And at the end of course you get a pint, which you can enjoy outside on a really nice patio under the shade of umbrellas.

Lech is part of SABMiller

But the thing most refreshing about the trip was the feeling of riding a bike for the first time since leaving America. I didn’t ride bikes all that much back home. It’s not something I can say that I missed. But for some reason, it felt so liberating, so wonderful, to pedal a bike into the countryside.

One other thing about the trip, on several occasions I got a sense of what some Poles think of our country. “Wait, you’re American? Why aren’t you fat?” “You’re from the Midwest? So that’s the place that is completely devoid of intellect, a large hole in between the East and West coasts, right? And you have lots of rednecks there.” “Your people spend more money trying to lose weight than other countries spend on food.” “You know nothing about the rest of the world.” It was alarming for me to hear that some of them have such a strong opinion of my country. Some of the criticisms they have are true – maybe we are too focused on ourselves, maybe we don’t know a lot about the world. But it was odd for me to sit there and listen to these complaints while everything I saw and lots of what I ate was American. One girl listed off a handful of things that bothered her about my country, and then finished it by saying, “and it’s also the only other place I want to live besides Poland.” So I’ll carry that enigma around with me for a while and chew on it. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I feel lucky to be an American. If I’ve learned anything so far on this journey, it’s that we all have more in common than we think.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Poland”

  1. Peter Says:

    Yes, our foreign friends have no problems explaining to us how dumb we are on Motorola Cellphones or computers than run Windows or mac as well as how fat we are after we dominate either olympics 😉

  2. icenugget Says:

    Exactly!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: