An Academic in Poland

I love travelling on my own, because it means that I get to do what I want, when I want. But solo viajes can get a bit lonely at times; there’s nothing better than having someone to be able to say, “Oh my gosh, remember when . . .?” to. So when two girls I met on the Morocco trip sent me a message on Facebook and asked if I was interested in taking a trip to Poland, I agreed. Sure, I wasn’t really interested in Poland as a travel destination, and I would have never chosen to visit on my own, and I didn’t even really know what there WAS to visit, but I’d be making memories, man!

Despite my agreement, I flip-flopped so many times on whether I was going to actually go or not. First I looked up flights from Madrid to Poland, and they were way more expensive than I had hoped. Then I had a problem with my bank card and I couldn’t purchase tickets anyway until I went to the bank to straighten it out, and it was Saturday. Then I had an online job interview, and I was up in the air about whether I would have to turn around from Madrid and go straight to the US to meet with the hiring committee. So many times I decided to go, then not go, then go . . . finally I just bought my ticket so that I would have to go. I didn’t want to be that person who says, “Yeah, I had this great opportunity, but it wasn’t perfectly what I wanted, so I didn’t take it.” Those people drive me insane.

So, bus to Madrid and plane to Poland. The most interesting and most apparent thing about Poland when we landed after 2 and a half hours of flight was how far to the east it is. Most of Europe is all on the same time zone, and Spain is the western-most country in said time zone. Even the UK, Portugal, and Morocco are an hour behind us here in España. As I have said many times, I am not used to being on the west of anything, and it confuses me every morning when I wake up at 8 am and the sun is still not fully up. Well Poland, being the eastern-most country of our time zone, has the opposite problem. The sun gets up at 6 there. It was a refreshing change, to be honest!

Another thing that I didn’t know was that Poland is like the UK in another way: it is a member of the EU but it doesn’t use the euro. Even after 4 days I couldn’t pronounce the name of the money, so I will just have to tell you that one euro is worth 4 Polish moneys. Even taking into account the advantageous exchange rate, everything in Poland is CHEAP. The first meal we ate in Krakow was probably 30 per person, which is less than 8 euros. The BEST meal we ate in Poland, which was homemade perogies with cheese, more homemade perogies with mushroom and cabbage, and kielbasa and sauerkraut, shook out to be 10 euros . . . total. TOTAL. 3 people ate full meals with drinks for 10 euros!!!! We also saved food money by heading straight to the Carrefour after checking into the hostel and stocking up on fruit, bread, and more sauerkraut.

We spent a lot of time in Krakow eating cake and pretzels, but we also did some touristy stuff too. We walked down to the river to see the castle, and then we cut over to the Jewish Quarter and had an awesome dinner (and more cake). We also went into St. Mary’s church, which was the most colorful church I had ever seen. We listened to the bugler bugle at the top of the hour and we climbed the clock tower, which was an experience itself. It was built back in the day, although which day I can’t recall right now. The day in which everyone was very short, definitely, because there were times I took up the entire stairwell. We also got out of town and visited the oldest continuously-running salt mines in the world, and we went to Auschwitz. That was tough, but I’m glad we went even though I felt weird about taking pictures. And of course, we shopped in the old Cloth Market, which sells more than just cloth.

In all, I have to say that Poland was not what I expected. For one, it was over 80 degrees every day, and you tend to think of Poland as cold and snowy. I also didn’t expect so much of a language barrier. By the end of the trip I was feeling more comfortable, but I didn’t really realize how accustomed I had gotten to speaking to people in Spanish. At the end of the first day I was tired and frustrated by my efforts to correctly get the bus from the airport to the center, read signs, find the right streets, ask policemen why a certain street was closed . . . eating in restaurants was generally OK as people spoke English, but not always! Our perogie lunch was acquired through pointing at a menu and nodding a lot. I also didn’t expect so much homogeneity, and I don’t really know why it surprised me. Not only did everyone look the same in Poland, they all looked like me and my family members (we are ethnically Polish, but not culturally. Maybe that’s why I was surprised). More than once I caught the eye of a passerby and opened my mouth to greet them in English, and then realized that they wouldn’t understand me.

My recommendation? Go to Poland! You won’t regret it. Not convinced? Take a look at these.


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