Warsaw or Warszawa in Polish is the capital and largest city in Poland. It sits on the Vistula River in the east-central part of the country with a population of about 1.8 million residents. If you take into consideration the greater metropolitan area, it comes in at 3.1 million people.
The first time I came to Warsaw was for 3 cold grey days in November 2014. Knowing little about Poland and even less about Warsaw, I booked a hotel that was on the outskirts of the city about 15 km from the center. So how do I get to the city? I knew I wanted to go to Old Town but knew little else. I don’t think I had a clue about Uber, let alone an app. I don’t recall much English being spoken, but somehow, I managed to find out I could go to a bus stop near the gas station next to my hotel. I made it into the city and exited the bus near the Palace of Culture and Science. I honestly don’t remember how I got around other than I used public transportation. Not speaking Polish, I somehow figured it out, got around the city, and made it back to my hotel each night.
February 3, 2020, I arrive in Warsaw for a second time having committed to working for English Wizards teaching, you guessed it… English. This time for a bit longer than 3 days. Actually, I had no idea how long I would be staying…18 months was my guess at the time. Who knew a global pandemic would stop the world and that I would love Poland and decide to stay for an indeterminate time? With a bit more luggage than my last visit of three days and armed with a smartphone and the Uber app a car quickly pulled up and whisked me away to my temporary Airbnb digs in the Warsaw suburb of Ursus. Walking distance from my flat I was able to stock up on the “bare necessities of life” (sung in your best Baloo voice). I would be in my temporary residence for 3 weeks which would give me time to firm up a job offer and find a flat to rent long-term. I had a job interview for a language school that first week.
Still not familiar with the public transportation system, I took an Uber to my interview. I was offered a job in the office that day. Next step finding a flat in the city center as I would be teaching Business English at several companies in Central Warsaw. I decided I better ask about public transportation. Even though Uber is reasonably priced, it can add up rather quickly. I got the best piece of advice before I left the office that day…download an app called Jakdojade – https://jakdojade.pl/lista-miast.
Jakdojade is a public transportation app that provides detailed directions and transport options for most cities in Poland. I have used the free version for almost a year and a half and haven’t felt the need to upgrade to the paid version. The paid version has no ads. So, how do you use it? Since it is a mobile app, you will need an Android,
Windows or iOS smartphone and an active data connection. After downloading the app, you will need to create a profile and set up a payment method(s). There are options to put funds in a wallet, use BLIK (through my local bank), google pay, or add a card. I have all 4 options set up. Now let’s go somewhere….
Open the app…it will ask you, Where are we starting? and Where are we going? You can choose the current location or physically enter a starting point. Then enter where you want to go. There is also an option to choose from on the map. After putting in the starting and ending points there are some other options available. You can change the time if you are looking for a future departure or if you prefer a certain mode (bus, tram, metro or train) you can select those now.
I’m usually looking for something at the current time and although my favorite mode is the tram, I leave all options open and usually choose the quickest and the one that has the least walking to and from the stops. Now you will most likely see an ad and below that an arrow. Touch the arrow and you will be shown available options. Once you choose the option that best suits you, you will see a schedule of stops on the way to your destination and if you have to change trams or bus to tram, etc. It also tells you how soon the departure is. Next, you will choose Buy Ticket. It will also show you the price of the ticket because depending on your destination you could need a 20-minute ticket or a 75-minute ticket (there is no in-between). You will be asked if you want to validate the ticket. Only do this if you are already on the bus/tram. In Warsaw, it has recently been changed so you must validate the ticket when you board the vehicle. This is done by scanning a QR code inside the tram/bus. This can be tricky and has caused complaints from users. If you don’t scan in a certain amount of time, the application locks you out for a few minutes. QR Codes are often placed high and above the handrails that you hold on to. Yes, I have been locked out and have just waited until it unlocked and then re-scanned. I keep my fingers crossed the transportation police don’t decide to board and check tickets while I’m locked out.
Once onboard, you will also find signage showing the entire route and you can follow the stops. There is usually an announcement (in Polish) telling you the current and next stop. On the main page when you open the app, along the bottom is Trip, Schedules, and Tickets. It defaults to trip which is where you can enter starting and ending points. You can also view schedules that take you to a page and you will choose, tram, bus, metro, or train and then the route number you would like to view and it will show you all the stops from start to finish.
Finally, if you know your route, you can just press tickets and you will have the option to purchase 20 minutes, 75 minutes, 90 minutes, one day (zone 1 or 1&2), three days (again with zones), weekend and group tickets. Warsaw transportation has two zones. Most likely you will only need zone 1 which covers Warsaw and several municipalities. Zone 2 consists of towns and villages outside of Warsaw. When you choose the ticket option in the app, it will also show if you have any previously purchased and unused tickets. If you do, you will have the option to validate them here.
If you use the app to purchase a ticket to use the metro, you will be given a code in the app to scan before entering the metro station at the turnstile. Also, if you aren’t traveling alone, you have the option to buy multiple tickets at once.
It’s really not as complicated as it might sound. If you haven’t set up any payment options or choose not to use mobile payments, the app is still great for checking routes and getting directions. If you just use it for directions, tickets can be purchased at machines located all around the city and in the vehicles themselves. These will need to be validated after boarding. I will cover how to purchase these tickets and also the Warsaw Card (for long-term usage 1-3 months) in a future post.
I have found Warsaw transportation to be very user-friendly and quite convenient. I mostly use the Jakdojade app during the winter months when I am not out and about as much. In the nicer weather, I use my Warsaw Card and usually purchase 1 month at a time. Once in a while, I can’t get a mobile signal and need to purchase a ticket at the machine or onboard. My personal favorite are the trams.
In the summer months on weekends, they even run the historical trams on a “tourist route” (line 36). If you choose you can leave me here as I am just going to tell you some useless but interesting information on Warsaw Trams.
The Warsaw tram network is a 132-kilometer (82 mi) tram system serving a third of Warsaw and serving half the city’s population. It is one of the largest in Europe operating over 750 cars. The history of tram transport in Warsaw dates to 1866 when a 6-kilometer (3.7 mi) long horsecar line was built to transport goods and passengers. In 1899 the entire tram system consisted of 30 kilometers (19 mi) of tracks with 234 tram cars and 654 horses operating 17 lines. By 1903, plans were drafted to convert the system to electric trams, which was done by 1908. On August 1, 1944, with the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, the use of trams was suspended and the cars were used to build barricades.
In 1965, Warsaw saw the introduction of two-car trains and in 1977 three-car trains were added to line 36. On June 23, 2005, the city launched the first water trams on the Vistula. This summer the first 2 new trams will be arriving from the Republic of Korea with an additional 121 arriving between the beginning of 2022 and April of 2023.
Women have been working on the Warsaw Trams for 76 years. They were employed for the first time as conductors in 1942 when the men were taken to work by the occupiers. After the war, in 1949, the first course for a tram driver was organized. Since then, the employment of women in the Warsaw Trams has increased. Of the 1,400 tram drivers, 294 are women. There are 36 women in traffic supervision. The entire company employs 748 women, which is approximately one-fifth of all employees.
If you made it this far, thanks for humoring me and my fascination with the trams in Warsaw. If you find yourself intrigued, you can read more about the trams here: https://tw.waw.pl/
Foodie: a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not only out of hunger but due to their interest or hobby and is passionate about food.
I guess that makes me an itinerant foodie. I took my first trip of a mere 350 miles when I was 3 days old and rumor has it that as a baby/toddler I ate anything put in front of me. My palate was not picky. Then came the pre-teen/teen years. Can you believe I would eat spaghetti/noodles only with butter and I didn’t like pizza? I had taken an aversion to tomato sauce. Obviously, that isn’t an issue today, although I still don’t eat raw tomatoes. My love of travel has stayed with my gypsy soul and my palate became more sophisticated. I often see those surveys on Facebook, give yourself 1 point for everything you won’t eat. If you have followed my journey, you might say I am eating my way around the world and there are few things I haven’t tried, at least once.
Currently, I am located in Warsaw, Poland. I have flatmates from Belarus and India. Our common denominator is food. We often spend Friday evenings cooking together, not only Indian, Belarusian, and American fare but whatever someone suggests. Mid-week, we make a shopping list, a plan and have at it…. cocktails included. For instance, we made margaritas the night we did nachos.
Someone, Barb Doster that would be you, suggested I should write about my culinary adventures. My hope someday is to write my story. I have many stories that revolve around food, so who knows, someday in a similar vein to “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” my book could be reminiscing and recipes. For now, how about a short (or maybe long) blog about a few food adventures with some recipes tossed in for good measure?
I’m not even sure I know where to begin, so let’s start with when I moved to Paris. Paris which stole my heart. Living in the La Ville Lumière is a whole different experience than being a tourist. The first thing I noticed was there were no giant supermarkets…no Giant Eagle, no Kroger, no Publix…I did eventually find a Carrefour, but for the most part, everyone shopped at small specialized markets. One place for fruits and vegetables, another stop for meat, one for seafood, a bakery, a pastry shop…no supersize anything. You bought what you needed for that day or maybe two and everything was fresh. Living abroad for the first time was a thrilling experience and I wasn’t quite into the food scene. I spent my days just wandering the city, visiting museums, and café hopping. Weekends were often spent taking the train to nearby villages and towns. I did have restaurants and cafes that became favorites. I dined on many French dishes. But if I think about my Paris life in regards to food, I will always think of crepe fromage (ooeey, gooey, cheesy deliciousness wrapped in a warm, thin crepe) from a small street stand a few streets behind Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore. I have eaten crepes throughout Paris, but these were my favorite. I always take friends to this crepe stand when in Paris. Even before my first trip to Paris, I had learned to make “clătite”. Clătite is a crepe, it’s just the Romanian version that I learned to make for Tom. Basic crepes are actually quite simple but it does take a bit of practice to get the thickness correct. The batter should be thinner than you think it would be. Get the batter correct and then have a quality pan and you’re all set. Tom liked them filled with cream cheese and blueberries or any other fruit. I like mine savory, so crepe fromage is the favorite for me.
1 ¾ to 2 ¼ cups whole milk
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, melted plus more for the pan
Once in a while, I added a drop or two of almond extract to the batter. Everything went into the blender and whirred away. The batter should be thinner than traditional pancake batter. Over medium-high heat, heat up an 8–10-inch nonstick pan (I purchased a crepe pan) spread some butter around when the pan is hot. Pour ¼ cup of batter into the hot pan lifting from the heat and swirling the pan so the batter forms a thin circle. When the edges start to lift (about a minute), peek underneath. If it is nicely browned flip over; cooking until the center is firm. Then slide onto a plate…of course if you are making crepe fromage the cheese will need to go onto the crepe after the first flip. Fill with whatever your heart desires and enjoy. Nutella filling was quite popular in Paris.
The first crepe I usually botch (it still tastes good, just looks ugly) since I don’t make them that often, but once you get the hang of it…yummo!
After living in Paris, I moved to China. I would call China home for 4 years. You might be saying to yourself, “oh, I love Chinese food”. Well let me tell you, Chinese food in the US, or even in Europe, is not the same Chinese food you get in China. You can read more about “real” Chinese food here. Moving to China, I spent 2 weeks in Beijing before moving to the rural village of Xiashan. When you live in a village of about 4000 people compared to the 21.5 million in Beijing, there is no Western food to be found. You also aren’t going to find egg foo young, General Tso’s chicken, or egg rolls and forget about fortune cookies. After Xiashan, I lived in Changning, a city in Hunan Province of about 750,000 (still small by China standards). From Changning, I moved to a coastal city of Qingdao which had a population of 9 million. After Qingdao, I spent my last 2 years in China in Dong’e, the population for the whole county was about 350,000. Dong’e being the largest city in the county. In Changning, we had a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but that pretty much covered it in the way of Western food. Qingdao had a little bit of everything and in Dong’e I was back to having just a KFC, which I rarely ate.
If I had to choose 1 food to define my time in China, it would be dumplings. No matter where I lived, dumplings were a part of daily life. I have been a part of many dumpling-making sessions and could probably whip up a batch. Although, I know I could never make them at the speed of my Chinese friends. We would get together and 300 dumplings would appear in no time at all. Aside from bugs and spiders on a stick, chicken feet, animal innards and grubs, and grasshoppers on the dinner table, I grew quite fond of food in China. Dumplings may define my China life, but my favorite food was Lanzhou LaMian/Niuro Mian or beef noodles. I could eat them every day with a little chili oil. My Chinese friends also loved BBQ. BBQ in China is usually meat on a stick seasoned with plenty of cumin and grilled over wood or coals.
Then there is the Chinese hamburger or roujiamo, which is really a pita-type bread stuffed with pork or lamb that has been stewed with cumin and hot peppers. Another favorite was jian bing which is basically a crepe stuffed with a variety of ingredients of your choice. I usually had chicken, lettuce, egg, and a spicy sauce. No matter where I traveled in China, I knew I could also find baozi which are meat stuffed steamed buns. I liked to dip them in brown rice vinegar and garlic for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Chinese have a way with vegetables I can’t explain. I can’t think of a dish I didn’t like, from cabbage to lotus root, eggplant, and marigold stems. A popular side dish was cucumbers in garlic vinegar and chili sauce. One of my favorite vegetable dishes was gān biān sìjì dòu 干煸四季豆 or dry-fried green beans. I became quite proficient at this dish and that is the recipe I have chosen to share and I took it from Red House Spice which I have found to have to have the most authentic recipe base.
Dry Fried Green Beans
350 g green beans, 12oz
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorn
6 dried chilies, or to taste
80 g minced pork, 3oz,
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1.5 tbsp Chinese olive vegetable 橄榄菜
1 tsp light soy sauce
Roast the beans
Wash green beans and trim both ends. Pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Put all the ingredients from Group 1 into a resealable plastic bag. Rub around to evenly coat the beans.
Place onto a roasting tray (large enough to avoid overlapping). Cook in a preheated oven at 220°C / 425°F (Fan 200°C / 400°F or Gas 7) for 12-15 minutes until the beans become lightly blistered and brown.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok/deep frying pan over high heat. Fry Sichuan peppercorn and dried chilies until fragrant (do not burn).
Stir in minced pork and Shaoxing rice wine. When the pork becomes pale, add ginger, garlic, Chinese olive vegetable, and soy sauce.
Put in the beans then fry for 1 minute or so. Sprinkle salt and stir well. Serve immediately with plain rice and other savory dishes.
You will most likely need to find the Shaoxing rice wine and Chinese olive vegetable at an Asian specialty store. I believe the wine can also be found on Amazon. The Chinese olive vegetable can be replaced by any preserved vegetable such as Sui Mi Ya Cai (Chinese preserved mustard green), Zha Cai ( Chinese pickled mustard root) or all else fails just use some chopped up black or green olives.
Living in China, I was able to easily visit several countries on the Asian continent. I traveled to Seoul South Korea on many occasions but never discovered a favorite Korean dish although I often went for Korean BBQ. In Japan, I was introduced to yakitori which is skewered chicken cooked over charcoal and served with a variety of sauces. In Tibet, I think I ate every dish known to man that could be made from yak…yak burgers, yak stew, yak butter, yak cheese, you get the idea. In Vietnam, of course, pho is my absolute favorite. Pho is a type of Vietnamese soup that usually consists of bone broth, rice noodles, spices, and thinly sliced meat (usually beef). Though “pho” technically refers to the noodles and not the soup itself, most people consider the dish a singular unit. It’s often topped with herbs and bean sprouts. A popular street food in Vietnam, pho gained popularity around the world after refugees introduced it to other cultures after the Vietnam War. When in Vietnam, I generally eat pho every.single.day! I also prefer pho from the south of Vietnam over what I have eaten in Hanoi and the north. Here in Warsaw, I have found a pho shop and easily eat it weekly. Just for the record, pho DOES NOT rhyme with “toe”. It is pronounced more like “fuh” similar to “duh”.
Onward to the southeastern country of Indonesia and the island that has stolen my soul, Bali. Sitting 8 degrees south of the equator, I discovered a new world of food. The great thing about Bali, I was able to enjoy both Balinese and Indonesian dishes. My first trip to Bali landed me in a homestay in Peliatan which is considered the Ubud area. My hosts at the homestay were Koming and Ketut. Lucky me, Ketut had been a chef at an Ubud hotel before opening their homestay. I was fortunate to have many cooking experiences with Ketut during my stays in Bali. On my last visit, I spent 4 months living at their home and became part of the family. You can read how I “tumbled down the rabbit hole” to have Bali and Kenari House steal my soul here. As crazy as it sounds, my Paris life and my Bali life are connected just like my heart and soul. As you may have figured out. I am a noodle maniac. Naturally, I had to find a noodle dish in Bali. I first discovered soto ayam which is a chicken soup. Then Ketut turned me on to mi ayam which was as addicting to me as pho. Yes, I ate this dish almost daily. I became quite spoiled living at Kenari House with Ketut, Koming, and their children, Kirana and Kiera. They immersed me in Balinese life. They often included me on trips to the night market for sate kambing (goat sate, marinated meat on a skewer and grilled) and other Balinese foods. I attended Balinese ceremonies that often involved food.
Nasi Campur was a typical dish at gatherings. Nasi means rice and campur means mixed. You would receive a dish with rice accompanied by sides of meat, vegetables, peanuts, egg, etc. often served on a banana leaf and eaten with the right hand. Other popular dishes are nasi and mi goreng (nasi = rice, mi = noodles, goreng = fried). Then there is pisang goreng. You already know goreng means fried so add the word for banana (pisang) and you have fried bananas, a typical street food. No trip to Bali would be complete with trying baba guling or suckling pig. Then there is gado-gado or mix-mix. It is essentially a vegetable salad with long beans, corn, egg, bean sprouts, tempe, tofu, cucumbers, or any other combination of ingredients. It is bathed in a classic peanut sauce and devoured. I quickly discovered that many foods in Bali are served with sambal. Sambal is an Indonesian chili sauce made from a variety of chili peppers mixed with shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallot, palm sugar, lime juice, etc. Each sambal can be individual to the person preparing it. I for one never found sambal I didn’t like. Some, I couldn’t tolerate the heat as well as others, but I never passed trying the sambal.
Perkedel jagung or corn fritters is a popular Indonesian street food. I had perkedel at Kenari House and also at another homestay I lived at while teaching at Yayasan Widya Guna school for special needs children. Before leaving Bali, Ketut showed me how to prepare perkedel as it had become another favorite and I was always looking for it at the street stalls. Perkedel Jagung is the recipe I have chosen to share from my Bali life. Since we didn’t use a recipe when making the perkedel with Ketut, I took the recipe from here.
3 ears sweet corn, (or about ¾ cup per ear) or use 2.5 cups canned or frozen ear corn
1 carrot, (very small diced)
2 tbsp minced shallots
1 tbsp minced garlic
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp chopped green onion
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2-3 cups oil, (fill at least ¼-inch deep in a large frying pan)
Cut the corn off the cob.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg with a fork until the white and yolk are combined, add chopped shallots, chopped garlic, chopped green onion, chopped carrots, salt, and pepper. Mix well until well combined, then add corn kernels, flour into the mixture, stir to combine everything thoroughly.
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet at high heat. Once hot, reduce the heat into medium heat.
Drop fritter batter by spoonfuls into the hot oil. Flatten them lightly with the back of the spoon, try to make them roughly the same size. Continue frying, and don’t forget to flip them as to cook them to a nice brown on both sides. Depending on the thickness, you may need to cook the fritters for about 2-4 minutes on each side.
Remove the fritters from the heat and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate.
Repeat the process until you finish the batter.
Serve and Enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce.
Of course, I love eating them with sambal. A nice acar or Indonesian pickled cucumber pairs nicely on the side.
So much of my journey has gone hand in hand with food. I learned to make Thai green curry while staying at Muchshima House in Phuket, Thailand.
I’ve eaten nearly every part of a whole roasted sheep while living in a yurt in Inner Mongolia. I’ve eaten gyros while sipping ouzo with locals at a taverna in Mykonos, fresh calamari on the seaside in Barcelona, street food in Mexico, amazing pizza in Naples and sipped Limoncello on the Amalfi Coast. My culinary journey in Poland is still developing. Coronavirus/lockdown measures have been a small bump in the road but I have still been able to enjoy traditional Polish fare in my excursions around the country and in Warsaw.
I have discovered bigos (hunter’s stew) which has become one of my favorite dishes.
While in Zakopane, I was able to have oscypek, smoked sheep milk cheese served warm with cranberry jam. There is also gołąbki (stuffed cabbage), rosol (chicken soup), żurek (sour rye soup with sausage), zapiekanka (Polish pizza), placki (potato pancakes), pierogi, and of course, kielbasa to name a few.
When I started this blog, I had roommates from Belarus and India. As of this writing that has changed to Belarus and Vietnam, so maybe I will learn some Vietnamese cooking. Imagine if I learn to make my own pho.
Yes, I am an itinerant foodie and just like in the USA, I have discovered gathering in the kitchen to cook, share a beverage, and socialize is universal. I am going to end with a quote from Guy Fieri, “Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.”
Now, I am going to go to the kitchen and prepare beef carpaccio for lunch. As we say in Poland, “smacznego” or “enjoy your meal”.
I have struggled with this blog. Most people would give the big FUCK YOU to 2020, but as I look back over my year, I have much to be thankful for, a lot of happy memories and good experiences. I think we can all agree that 2020 was, well, different…2020 the year the world stopped turning…but perhaps Charles Dickens explained it best over 160 years ago… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
The theme of duality in “Tale” certainly carried through 2020. While Dickens’ characters simultaneously reflect the mirror images of good and evil, the story also shows us how human emotions, religious intensity, and a political situation set apart 2 countries. These same themes in 2020 not only set apart countries, but we saw families tore apart and friendships shattered, not just in the USA but across the globe.
The struggle being, how do you talk about 2020, a year in your life that was pretty damn good without diminishing the trials and tribulations it gave to so many? November 17, 2019, I had just returned to the USA from living abroad and celebrated the holidays with family and friends I hadn’t seen in nearly 2 years. I started the new year new decade also surrounded by family and friends. My brother and sister-in-law gave me one of the best nights of my life in January. In February, I moved to a new country, Poland, to live. I have a job. I have been travelling. I am healthy. Meanwhile, I have family and friends losing businesses and jobs. I know people who have quarantined themselves for 10 months. I know people who have been sick and people who have died from Covid-19, yet I am saying 2020 was a good year…the struggle is real and no 2020 wasn’t always, “the best of times” but it certainly wasn’t “the worst of times”, for me. With no further ado, my year in review:
December 31, 2019…I have been back in the USA for about 6 weeks. The first time in 6 or 7 years I have been spent the holidays on “home” soil. I had a beautiful condo overlooking courthouse square in my hometown. Family and friends had helped me move in and make it mine. My cousin Bob pointed out that It would be the perfect place to gather to kick off a new year, a new decade. Well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but it was the place to be to welcome 2020. I had an early dinner, which turned into a longer than planned dinner, with family and friends at a beautiful wine bar on the river in Warren. While I was wining and dining, my good friends, Teri, and Michael were preparing my place for the big bash. I finally arrived home and soon my place was wall to wall people. Some ready to put 2019 behind them and others talking about plans for the new decade. 00:01 January 1, 2020…. champagne is flowing, laughter, hugs, kisses, pork and sauerkraut, shots, reminiscing about Y2K and here it was 20 years later, excitement for the new year, and most of all happiness and joy.
Soon it would be January 9, 2020. The reason I was in Warren Ohio…the Grand Re-Opening of The Robins Theatre. I came because my brother Mark and sister-in-law Lori had turned a dream into a reality. The historic Robins Theatre in our hometown…opened in 1923…. closed in 1974….sat vacant for 45 years….was re-opening. The night was like the Oscars. The marquee was lit and flanked by spotlights seen for miles. The red carpet was laid because all of Warren, Trumbull County, and NE Ohio were the stars. Swag bags were passed out by the high school football players. It was a black-tie night, and I was in my gown. I live just around the corner from the theatre, a one-minute walk at most.
At about 6 pm, a white stretch limo pulls up and Mark, in his tuxedo, gets out of the car and walks to me. He puts his arms around me, and I immediately start to cry. This is the night he has been waiting for. He escorts me to the limo and once inside, pours me a glass of champagne and says, “here’s to mom and dad”. The limo pulls away and drives around the block and Mark, Lori, and I, along with our family and friends walk the red carpet to the most amazing night of my life.
January flies by at warp speed. Over a year prior I had committed to working in Poland (that would be in Europe, not Ohio). As much as I loved my new condo and being home for the festivities, it was time to move on.
I left for Warsaw, Poland on February 2, 2020. I left with a commitment to a company called English Wizards. I arrived in Warsaw February 3rd and checked into my Airbnb I had rented in the suburb of Ursus for 3 weeks. I arrived with no job placement and not knowing what city I might end up in. Within the first 2 weeks, I had 2 job opportunities in Warsaw city center teaching Business English. I decided I would stay in Warsaw so now I needed to find an apartment closer to where I would be working. Little did I know that by mid-March, it wouldn’t matter my location as my work would become remote. By the 3rd week of February, I was teaching Business English at 3 different companies and had found a flat in the Wola District of Warsaw, walking distance to all my classes.
March 13, 2020…Poland announces it will close its borders and go into a strict lockdown for 14 days. This means all my classes will now be remote. Hello, Zoom…not familiar with video conferencing, I had no choice but to be a quick study. I thought I would hate remote teaching, but I soon discovered it wasn’t that bad…until you have Wi-Fi/internet issues. Remote teaching also gave me the opportunity to pick up more classes than if I had to travel between companies. The last two weeks of the month weren’t anything to write home about, just teaching, walking to nearby restaurants for carry-out as they were closed to dine-in and trips to the supermarket…until March 28th when I learned that a person that was once near and dear to my heart was in ICU with coronavirus. April 1st, coronavirus claimed the first victim that I knew personally, someone that I used to love…. A virus unknown to the world until a couple of short months ago. A couple of short months that changed the world. A couple of short months that changed me.
I never dreamed I would see Vatican Square in Rome…vacant, Times Square in the city that never sleeps…silent, or the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris…empty. What I did see was YoYo Ma virtually offering a daily song on his cello, yoga instructors offering free online classes, museums giving virtual tours, adults taking time online to read books to children and friends getting together for virtual happy hours. I saw kindness, love, compassion, and joy. I saw people making the best of the times but before the year ends…it would be the worst of times.
April brought a continuation of restrictions in Poland, but not the strict lockdown of March. As I got out and walked around the neighborhood, spring was in the air. It was also encouraging to see restaurants setting tables up outside as indoor dining was still restricted. Even COVID-19 restrictions didn’t let me off the hook from obtaining my Temporary Residence Permit. I got my documents submitted by post and waited. Luckily, since I arrived prior to the lockdown and Poland was considered in a state of emergency, the normal 90-day limit on my tourist visa was extended until the state of emergency is lifted. April also brought virtual happy hours. This meant virtual trivia with my friends at Jacked Steakhouse in Warren, Ohio. It was something I looked forward to every week. Restrictions were eased by mid-April and I was looking forward to May in Warsaw.
Although many restrictions had been lifted, most of the museums were still closed so I spent my days walking around the city. One museum that was open sits on the outskirts of Warsaw. I hopped a bus and visited Wilanow Palace.
I was also contacted by a friend in the states I met while deep sea fishing in Florida. She said she had a friend that was living in Warsaw and hoped we could hook-up. That’s how I met Tamara. My walks took me to Lazienki Park, the Chopin Monument, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Rondo Tybetu which has artwork dedicated to the “Free Tibet” movement painted under an overpass, the Keret House which is the narrowest house in Warsaw, various locations of Mur Getta or the walls of the Jewish Ghetto of WWII, and the outdoor markets. I met Tamara a couple times at the Vistula River where we enjoyed strolling along the river and stopping for drinks at the various bars and cafes along the way. It was announced that most of the restrictions in Poland would be lifted on June 6th.
June often found me heading to the Vistula to meet up with Tamara or just to walk and enjoy the views. Frequent visits to Old Town and since the museums were now open, I visited several, including the Neon Museum, Pinball Museum, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and the Palace of Culture and Science.
I also went to the Warsaw Zoo which played a big role in hiding and transporting Jews during the war and the Jewish Cemetery. I discovered one of my personal favorites, the Vodka Museum. The Vodka Museum also has a rooftop bar, Koneser Bar ¾ which became a regular weekend hangout for me. It was announced that on June 13th Poland would open its borders which had been closed since March 15th. I finally went to a Bar Mleczny or “milk bar” which were popular eateries during communist times. I discovered an Indonesian restaurant in Old Town and the dishes took me back to the flavors of Bali. One of the highlights of June was receiving my first letter from the USA, from my cousins Buddy and Joey.
As you can see, June was a busy month which I spent exploring Warsaw. I also finally took my first trip out of the city. Not far from Warsaw is the city of Lublin. Auschwitz, in the city of Oswiecim, is probably the most well-known and widely visited “concentration camp” in Poland. When reading the book “Lilac Girls” I learned of Lublin and the Majdanek Concentration and Extermination Camp which sat on its outskirts. An easy day trip from Warsaw, I decided to pay a visit. The camp had seven gas chambers, 2 wooden gallows, and approximately 227 structures making it one of the largest Nazi-run camps.
The camp operated from October 1, 1941, until July 22, 1944. It was captured nearly intact because the SS had no time to destroy it due to the rapid advance of the Soviet Red Army. Most of the incriminating evidence of war crimes remained. The building and grounds are now known as The Majdanek State Museum. It is a memorial museum and education center founded in the fall of 1944. It is devoted entirely to the memory of the atrocities committed in the network of camps during World War II and was the first of its kind in the world. Visiting Majdanek is an experience I will not soon forget.
Wow, how did we get to the middle of Summer? July in Warsaw brought beautiful weather and many trips to the river and Old Town where I finally visited the Royal Castle. I discovered the night market which was the happening place to hang out on weekend evenings and a mere 10-minute walk from my flat. I wandered the Praga District across the river and strolled galleries in Plac Konesera, which also happens to be the location of Bar Koneser 3/4, so of course, I stopped in on occasion. I became a regular at the Tapas Gastrobar next to my house.
I found out that Poland had beautiful lavender fields and took a day trip to Zyrardow to visit a lavender farm. I still didn’t have my temporary residency, so it would have been difficult to travel outside of Poland in the EU because of my “expired tourist visa”. This turned out to be a good thing because I was able to visit so much of this beautiful country.
August 1,1944 5:00 pm…the “W” Hour – the codename for Operation Tempest in German-occupied Warsaw. In Warsaw, the month of August kicks off with remembrance of the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising. Every year at 5pm alarm signals and sirens blare, public transit, buses, trams, cars, and pedestrians stop in silence. It was quite the experience to witness this. Also celebrated in August is Polish Armed Forces Day. I got to hear President Duda speak and had the opportunity to walk around the displays and meet current and former military personnel.
I treated myself to a birthday lunch at the Michelin rated U Fukiera in Old Town. I dried lavender I got at the lavender farm in July and infused some gin and made lavender simple syrup. I took a day trip to Sochaczew and visited the narrow-gauge rail museum which included a train ride to the Kampinos Forest and a picnic. On the coronavirus front, Poland banned 45 countries from crossing its borders.
September found me on a “class trip” to the city of Lodz. A trip organized by my students at AXA Insurance. What a great day we had touring the city, eating, drinking and even a tuk-tuk ride. The first weekend in September, I caught a train to the northern city of Ketrzyn. From here I took a taxi to Gierloz, the location of Wilczy Szaniec or Wolf’s Lair which is the abandoned site of Hitler’s Eastern Front Headquarters. I stayed on-site in a renovated bunker and explored the area for a day and a half. Then I returned to Ketrzyn for another day of exploration. Here I visited a Christmas Bulb factory and accidentally crashed an office party at my hotel. After crashing the party and a few nips of vodka, I was led on a 20-minute trek to see some street art. Piotr told me it was a Banksy…not likely, but it was a fun evening. Before the month’s end, I had discovered Kilometer Zero in Warsaw, went to a Viking Festival and sampled mead, visited the POLIN, and viewed “The Poisoned Well” at the National Museum.
The Poisoned Well was a controversial temporary exhibit featuring Pope John Paul II holding a massive rock and standing in a pool of red water. Tamara and I spent a rainy Sunday eating hot dogs and watching the Warsaw Mets play American Football. I also took on several more classes to start the fall semester. Most importantly in September, I voted and took my ballot to the US Embassy to be sent to the Trumbull County Board of Elections.
Welcome to October and the 4th quarter of 2020. October started out with a fabulous trip to the Baltic sea. The tri-cities of Gdansk, Sopot, and Gdynia kept me entertained for 5 days. I enjoyed strolls on the beach and sipping wine at cafes in Sopot. I also walked the longest wooden pier in Europe and saw the crooked house. I took a train from Sopot to Hel Peninsula and then a ferry boat to Gdynia where I wandered the waterfront. I spent a half-day in Gdansk Old Town and took a bus to Westerplatte, a peninsula in Gdansk which is the site of the first battle of WWII. I witnessed glorious sunrises over the Baltic Sea and hope to return to the tri-cities. I guess you could also say October took me to “Hel” and back.
Returning to Warsaw my classes were in full swing, and I had new roommates, Valeria, and Nikita from Belarus. Vish from India has been my roommate since I moved in. Well, Valeria had a small incident that ended up bonding us together. She decided to clean the exhaust screen from our stove and figured the best place to do was the bathtub. Next thing I know, I hear someone (Valeria) crying. I leave my room to investigate and she is on the phone to Nikita explaining/crying in Russian that she “broke” the tub. She didn’t really “break” the tub, but whatever combination of chemicals she was using kinda sorta started to make a hole in the bottom of the bathtub. By now Vish has also come from his room and we are trying to tell her not to worry that we will figure it out. Luckily, Nikita works in the construction industry and he was able to repair/patch the area, repaint and seal and you would never know anything ever happened. That little incident formed a bond between us, and we have all become great friends as well as roomies.
But this is where October takes a slight downward turn. We have another roommate, and he came home one day and announced he had tested positive for coronavirus. The only symptoms we noticed were a slight cough. He also informed us that he had to quarantine for 10 days and would turn our phone numbers into the health department. He stayed mostly in his room for the next 10 days and well that is pretty much it as far as our quarantine. No one else developed any symptoms or got tested. I did have one day I felt like I had a hangover, but I did have a couple drinks with the other roomies the night before…so, who knows. I wouldn’t think a couple drinks could give me a hangover. Things in Poland are about to get a little worse as the number of infections took a steep upward swing as it was in most of Europe. Restrictions were once again tightened. Then an announcement regarding a ruling on abortions was made and this triggered protests across the country. It was called a Women’s Strike and marches took place. The largest one was scheduled for Friday, October 30th in Warsaw. One of the starting points was just a few blocks from my house, so I decided to go and check it out. I witnessed a peaceful march but did not go with the crowd to their destination.
November rolls in with controversy. All Saints Day, November 1st is a National Holiday in Poland and people go to the cemetery to lay flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones. With the Women’s Strike protests still going on (they started October 22nd) and coronavirus infections increasing, the government, at the last minute decided to close the cemeteries from October 31st to November 2nd which affected flower producers and vendors. This sparked more protests on November 1st. Protests/Marches continued through December 13th protesting not only the women’s issue but also protests by farmers and teachers, protests against the church, and protests regarding coronavirus restrictions. I’m not sure why or how they finally ended. Between the weather getting cold, the protests, and the restrictions, I had a quiet November. I spent one Sunday afternoon walking around Fort Bema. It was a perfect fall day, and the trees were still changing their leaves. During the month, I also went for a couple massages. I got invited to and attended a Thanksgiving Dinner. We also prepared a turkey dinner in our flat the weekend after Thanksgiving and had a few people over.
November 30th, I returned to Wilanow so I could see the Royal Garden of Light display. It did not disappoint, but oh my it was cold and that cup of grzane wino (mulled wine) sure did hit the spot. Meanwhile, in the USA, the presidential election is turning into the worst of times….
December arrives and it seems like most people are counting the days until they can kick 2020 right out the door. At my flat, we started doing a little Friday night thing. We would pick a cuisine and prepare a meal together and then enjoy some cocktails. Sometimes just us and sometimes with friends. Warsaw was starting to prepare for Christmas and lights and decorations were going up all over the city. I was considering a trip to Istanbul over Christmas, but one day Valeria came home and said, “Let’s go to Zakopane” for Christmas. So, I booked the train tickets, and she booked our rooms. We would take an overnight train and arrive Christmas morning. The first couple of weeks of December were quite temperate, and it was fun getting out and seeing the city become festive. I even saw a Salvation Army Red Kettle and bell ringer.
I made it a priority to get to Old Town to see it in all its festive glory. Of course, I picked the coldest, most windy day we had. Again, the grzane wino was just what I needed. We continued our Friday night cooking and cocktails. We put up a few decorations. I continued my massages.
The next thing we knew, it was time to leave for Zakopane and Christmas. Zakopane was the Aspen of Poland. The mountains were beautiful. We trekked 3 hours up the mountain and back on Christmas day in light snow. I fell twice coming down and the next day thought I had been hit by a truck. Massage when I got back to Warsaw. We had a beautiful Christmas holiday in the Tatra Mountains. Sadly, the week of Christmas, I lost 3 friends. All non-covid.
We finished the year out by having a small New Year’s Eve party…champagne, pork & sauerkraut and old lang syne as we welcomed in 2021.
2020, truly… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
My first visit to Warsaw was November of 2014. It was grey and cold. The short 2 and half days I spent here gave me no clue as to the interesting yet horrific history of Poland. I returned to Poland on February 3, 2020. This time to call Warsaw my home as I arrived with plans of teaching English. Yes, I am teaching English for English Wizards, but I too am a student as I wandered around Warsaw and learned more about WWII, Poland, and the history of Jews in Poland.
One of the first things I noticed were the many memorials to the Polish people and Polish Jews.
Although I am neither Polish nor Jewish, after seeing so many reminders of the Polish and Jewish History, I found myself wanting more information….and so my journey of discovery began…
By January 1945, between 85% and 90% of buildings in Warsaw had been destroyed. It came close to not being rebuilt, but as former residents flocked back to the city, they began the reconstruction process on their own. Warsaw’s Old Town was meticulously reconstructed using original materials gathered from the rubble. It became a UNESCO Site in 1980.
My interest in Jewish Poland and Poland during WWII peaked the more I wandered around Warsaw as I saw monuments and memorials, as I read the books “The Zookeepers Wife”, “Lilac Girls” “The Book of Lost Names” and “The Rabbit Girls” and my friends on Facebook, some Jewish, commented on my posts.
I learned about The Polin Museum. The Museum is a modern institution of culture – “it is a historical museum which presents the 1000 years of Jewish life in the Polish lands. It is also a place of meeting and dialogue among those who wish to explore the past and present Jewish culture, those eager to draw conclusions for the future from Polish-Jewish history, and finally, those who are ready to face the stereotypes and oppose xenophobia and nationalistic prejudices that threaten today’s societies. By promoting the ideas of openness, tolerance, and truth, the POLIN Museum contributes to the mutual understanding and respect among Poles and Jews.” -taken from information provided by the museum
The Museum is arranged in 8 galleries each corresponding to a segment of history. The amount of information available is overwhelming. It is completely interactive and very user friendly. Galleries 1 and 2 are dedicated to the beginning and first encounters. According to legend when arriving in the forests they (Jewish Travelers) heard the birds singing “Polin”, the Hebrew word for “rest here”. Each gallery tells the story of important chapters in history represented on the above timeline.
Gallery 7 represented the Holocaust. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of more than 600 ghettos in occupied Poland, both in size and in population, with 450,000 Jews trapped over the course of its existence (October 1940-May 1943). This gallery was in 3 sections and impossible to capture the emotion. The photos and displays were life-size putting you in the heart of the ghetto.
Outside the museum is Pomnik Bohaterow Getta or the Ghetto Hero’s Monument. It commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and is located at the spot where the first armed clash of the uprising took place.
I live in the Wola District of Warsaw. As I walked around my neighborhood, I noticed markers on the street, signs on walls of buildings, and free-standing monuments. I soon learned Warsaw ghetto boundary markers are memorial plaques and boundary lines that mark the maximum perimeter of the former ghetto established by Germans in 1940 in occupied Warsaw, Poland. The markers were erected in 2008 and 2010 on 22 sites along the borders of the Jewish quarter, where from 1940-1943 stood the gates to the ghetto and a wooden footbridge over Aryan streets.
If you can read the words “Mur Getta” on the boundary marker, you are outside the wall. If they are upside down, you are inside the ghetto.
Early in 1942 to streamline traffic in the most important part of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Germans built a wooden footbridge for the pedestrians over Aryan Chlodna Street. Commemorating this today is a pair of metal poles connected via optical fibers which, after the sun sets, project the shape of the footbridge over the road via light. The memorial also has viewing windows inside the poles where visitors can flip through images of life in the ghetto.
At the intersection of Chlodna and Zelazna Streets and across from the footbridge is a building, Nord Wache, which was a post of the German gendarmerie. On August 3, 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, insurgents successfully captured Nord Wache.
I love visiting cemeteries in different cities/countries. I discovered the Jewish Cemetery was quite near my house. The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery is one of the largest in Europe and in the world. The Jewish necropolis was established in 1806 and occupies 83 acres of land. The cemetery contains over 250,000 marked graves as well as mass graves of victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. Although the cemetery was closed during WWII, after the war it was re-opened and a small portion of it remains active, serving Warsaw’s existing Jewish population. The cemetery is hauntingly beautiful. Many of the graves have been taken back by nature. I am hoping to visit again during the winter months when there is less foliage.
Auschwitz is probably the most well-known and widely visited “concentration camp” in Poland. Not far from Warsaw is the city of Lublin. When reading the book “Lilac Girls” I learned of Lublin and the Majdanek Concentration and Extermination Camp which sat on its outskirts. An easy day trip from Warsaw, I decided to pay a visit. The camp had seven gas chambers, 2 wooden gallows, and approximately 227 structures making it one of the largest Nazi-run camps. The camp operated from October 1, 1941, until July 22, 1944. It was captured nearly intact because the SS had no time to destroy it due to the rapid advance of the Soviet Red Army. Most of the incriminating evidence of war crimes remained.
The building and grounds are now known as The Majdanek State Museum. It is a memorial museum and education center founded in the fall of 1944.It is devoted entirely to the memory of the atrocities committed in the network of camps during World War II and was the first of its kind in the world. I visited the museum during one of the first days that lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic were lifted. I had the camp nearly all to myself which created an eerie, reach down into your soul experience. Many of the buildings are used as exhibition halls. One building houses an exhibit called “The Shrine”. Its aim is to pay tribute to all anonymous victims of KL Lublin. It cannot be described in words, as lights flicker, music plays and voices speak in Hebrew, you are chilled to the bone. Walking through the gas chambers and the crematorium, alone, is an experience I will not soon forget.
A couple of blocks from my house is another museum. Although it is not dedicated specifically to the plight of Jews in Warsaw, much of their history, including the Ghetto Uprising is captured. The Warsaw Uprising Museum in the Wola district of Warsaw, Poland, is dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The institution of the museum was established in 1983, but no construction work took place for many years. It opened on July 31, 2004, marking the 60th anniversary of the uprising.
The museum sponsors research into the history of the uprising, and the history and possessions of the Polish Underground State. It collects and maintains hundreds of artifacts — ranging from weapons used by the insurgents to love letters — to present a full picture of the people involved. The museum’s stated goals include the creation of an archive of historical information on the uprising and the recording of the stories and memories of living participants.
The Warsaw Uprising broke out on Tuesday, August 1, 1944, at 17:00 PM. Every year on that hour Warsaw honors the insurgents and traffic and pedestrians come to a stop and sirens blast to commemorate the victims of the Uprising.
An interactive museum that was difficult to take in during just one visit.
By the time I had been living in Warsaw for 6 months, I was hungry for more and more information especially relating to WWII. As I was scrolling Facebook one day, I came across information about Hitler’s “Wolf’s Lair” or Wilczy Szaniec. Hitler’s abandoned first eastern front military headquarters during WWII and site of an assassination attempt is an eerie reminder of the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Located in Gierłoż in northern Poland, I discovered I could stay on the grounds and explore the abandoned headquarters.
The hotel on the grounds is a restored bunker that was the living quarters for the Reich’s SS Soldiers. I made a reservation for the first weekend in September. To get to Wilczy Szaniec, I took a train from Warsaw to Ketrzyn and then a cab to the site. I arrived a couple of hours before dark and got checked into the hotel. I also discovered that I was the only guest staying that evening. The site, which had developed as a tourist attraction after the fall of communism in the early 1990s, had closed to visitors for the day. Since I was staying at the hotel, I could wander freely around the “Wolf’s Lair” even after hours. I must admit it was ominous wandering around Hitler’s Headquarters and thinking about the atrocities that were planned right in this forest complex. I was chilled walking the same paths that Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring, and other high-ranking officers of the Nazi government walked.
The dusk had made the atmosphere even more sinister when I came upon Bunker 13. Bunker 13 was the bunker that belonged to Hitler himself. Most of the buildings are as they were left, partially destroyed, and now partially taken back by nature, so you are unable to enter them. After walking around Bunker 13 and letting the reality of what I was seeing, cause my arm hairs to stand and my skin to goosebump, I decided to head back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep and I would be ready to walk the grounds the next day. I woke refreshed the next morning and was ready to explore the grounds.
One of the bunkers has been restored and is now a reenactment of the assignation attempt on Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg. I spent several hours just walking and reflecting on what had taken place deep in the Masurian woods where Adolf Hitler spent more than 800 days during the war. Interestingly, the Red Army captured the abandoned remains of Wolf’s Lair on January 27, 1945, the same day Auschwitz was liberated. It took until 1955 to clear over 54,000 land mines that surrounded the area. Pawel Machewicz, a Polish Historian said,
“The scars left by war should be preserved and presented as a lesson, a warning…exhibitions should explain the history, contextualize the place, but not completely overshadow it. With wartime generations dying out fast, original locations like the Wolf’s Lair, can, when their history is properly presented, help younger generations comprehend the evil of and resistance to the Nazi regime.”
In October, I visited the Polish seaside…the tri-cities of Gdansk, Sopot, and Gdynia on the Baltic Sea. It was during this trip that I learned of Westerplatte. September 7, 1939, a peninsula in Gdansk was the site of the outbreak of WWII. It was here the first clash between Polish and German forces took place. The invasion of Poland at Westerplatte was the first battle and thus the beginning of WWII. I took a bus from the city center of Gdansk to the Westerplatte peninsula. The most prominent sight on the peninsula is the Pomnik Obroncow Wybrzez or Monument of the Coast Defenders which was unveiled in 1966. The entire area is now an “open-air” museum with ruins of the defender’s barracks and guardhouses. There is also a small cemetery and a large sign that reads: Nigdy Wiecej Wojny or War: Never Again
Back in Warsaw as I was walking the neighborhood near the Polin, I saw many memorials. Other than being tributes to the Ghetto Uprising, I could not find any information. There were many covering several blocks.
I then came upon a small hill with steps leading up to a large “rock” with many small stones laying on it. I learned that this is “Mila 18”. Ulica Miła 18 (or 18 Pleasant Street in English) was the headquarters “bunker” (a hidden shelter) of the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB), which was a Jewish resistance group in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II. On 8 May 1943, three weeks after the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when the bunker was found out by the Nazis, there were around 300 people inside. Many surrendered, but the ŻOB command, including Mordechaj Anielewicz, the leader of the uprising, stood firm. The Nazis threw tear gas into the shelter to force the occupants out. Anielewicz, his girlfriend Mira Fuchrer, and many of his staff committed mass suicide by ingesting poison rather than surrender, though a few fighters who did neither managed to get out of a rear exit and later fled from the ghetto through the canals to the “Aryan side” at Prosta Street on May 10.
In 2006, an obelisk designed by Hanna Szmalenberg and Marek Moderau was added to the memorial. The inscription in Polish, English, and Yiddish reads: “Grave of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising built from the rubble of Miła Street, one of the liveliest streets of pre-war Jewish Warsaw. These ruins of the bunker at 18 Miła Street are the place of rest of the commanders and fighters of the Jewish Combat Organization, as well as some civilians.
This is just a brief look at what I have discovered in Warsaw and my travels around Poland. I truly commend the people of this country for their preservation and respect of history. Below, I am adding a link to a PowerPoint presentation I put together if anyone is interested in a bit more detail and more photos.
The first time I came to Warsaw was October 31, 2014. I was living in Paris and a friend from the states was in Poland. We were to meet up in Warsaw, this friend will remain unnamed as the meet-up didn’t take place…what can I say…shit happens. I arrived in Warsaw and he ended up somewhere in the mountainous region of Poland training for a fight. I didn’t let this little hiccup spoil my trip. I have no idea where I stayed, other than it was on the outskirts of Warsaw. I took a bus from near my hotel and remember getting off and seeing the Palace of Culture and Nature.
It was cold, grey and gloomy…the city looked as I expected an Eastern European city to look. Now that I look back on that, and I remember thinking that exact phrase about Eastern Europe, it sounds pretty, I don’t know, prejudice. So, I ask you, do you have a preconceived idea of an eastern European country/city? If you do, as I did, let me tell you my first impressions of Warsaw were totally wrong. Also, Poland considers itself Central Europe, not Eastern. Not that I didn’t enjoy the 3 days I spent here, but Warsaw has so much more to offer than Old Town, the Chopin Museum, the Palace of Culture and Nature and whatever else touristic I did during that trip. Don’t get me wrong, Old Town is amazing and even now I probably go there almost once a week. The Uprising Museum is a must see along with the Vodka Museum and the Royal Castle, Wilanow Palace, Lazienki Park, the Zoo and Botanical Gardens. I have visited all of those, but I also like to find the unusual things to do. Of course, this isn’t always possible when you are under the time constraints of a holiday/vacation. Living in Warsaw, I have been able to seek out the unusual. So, with no further ado, here are some extraordinary things to do in Warsaw should you have the time. A couple only take a few minutes while others a few hours.
Kilometer Zero– During my travels, I have discovered that many capital cities have a marker designating kilometer zero. This is a point from which distances are traditionally measured. One such marker, “Milliarum Aureum (Golden Milestone) of the Roman Empire is believed to be the literal origin of “all roads lead to Rome”. I have been to kilometer zero in Madrid, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, and Moscow so I needed to add Warsaw to the list. The kilometer zero in Warsaw is bigger than most and is more of a monument than a marker. It is found on the intersection of Aleje Jerozolimskie and Marszalkowska streets next to the Centrum Warsaw Metro station.
Stacja Muzeum– When you have a friend who worked for the railroad and loves trains that he has a miniature set up in his basement, you seek out interesting things about trains. When he also happens to be Polish, The Railway Museum in Warsaw, also known as Stacja Muzeum is a must. My flat is next to the Warsaw Spire (currently the 2nd tallest building in Warsaw) and I discovered the Stacja Muzeum was a mere 10 to 15 minute walk from my flat. It is located in the former Warsaw Glowna PkP Station.
The collection includes historic rolling stock displayed on the tracks outside the museum, including one of the few remaining armoured railway trains in Europe. Inside the museum are several rooms filled with memorabilia, miniature train setups, a display of old uniforms and even a library that houses books on the Polish Railways. If you happen to stop in on a Monday (which by chance, I did) the normal entrance fee of 12 pln ($3.25) is waived. If you have any interest in trains or the railroad, it is well worth a couple hours of your time. As a side note to the Stacja Muzeum in Warsaw, about 70 km (40 minutes by train from Warsaw Central Station) is the Narrow-Gauge Railway Museum in Sochaczew. This museum also has both indoor and outdoor displays. The entrance fee is 12 pln or 35 pln for a family with 2 adults and up to 3 children. Entrance is free on Wednesdays. The unique thing about this museum is they offer a retro train on Thursdays- Sunday during the months of June through October. The 1.5 hour train ride takes you from the museum to the Kampinos Forest.
Here you can enjoy a picnic and grill your own sausages over a campfire or purchase sausages from the campgrounds. You will spend several hours in the forest and the museum organizes a scavenger hunt for the kids and they can also wade in the creek. My experience was fabulous. I think I was the only solo non-polish speaking person on the trip. The people and families on the excursion were so kind. Offering to share their picnic with me and doing their best to make me feel welcome in their country.
Mur Getta – “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw”; was the largest of all the Nazi ghettos during World War II. It was established by the German authorities in November 1940. At its height as many as 460,000 Jews were imprisoned there, in an area of 3.4 km2 (1.3 sq mi), with an average of 9.2 persons per room, barely subsisting on meager food rations. From the Warsaw Ghetto, Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps and mass-killing centers. In the summer of 1942 at least 254,000 Ghetto residents were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp during Großaktion Warschau under the guise of “resettlement in the East” over the course of the summer. The ghetto was demolished by the Germans in May 1943 after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings which had temporarily halted the deportations. The total death toll among the prisoners of the Ghetto is estimated to be at least 300,000 killed by bullet or gas, combined with 92,000 victims of starvation and related diseases, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the casualties of the final destruction of the Ghetto. (Wikipedia)
I currently live in the WOLA district of Warsaw, much of which was part of the Warsaw Ghetto. Fragments of the ghetto walls (mur getta) are fragments of the walls between properties or the walls of pre-war buildings marking the border between the Warsaw Ghetto and the “Aryan” part of the city. These fragments along with memorials can be found throughout my neighborhood. I believe there are over 20 memorials throughout the former ghetto area. The memorials show the outline of the former ghetto which in 1940 had a total length of about 18km. There is also a line on the sidewalk or street reading “mur getta”. I learned that if you can read the words straight on, you are outside the ghetto and if they appear upside down, you are inside the ghetto. It is interesting, but also sad and emotional to look for the different memorials and remnants of the wall. I do commend the people of not only Warsaw but the country of Poland for the way they have preserved their horrible history and continue to pay tribute to those that lost their lives during WW2 not only in the ghetto.
Neon Museum – located in the Praga district of Warsaw, this is totally off the beaten path. The Praga District has/had a bad reputation. Described as edgy and dangerous (I feel very safe in Warsaw) it is on the “wrong side of the river” and usually considered “off-limits” to tourists. What I have discovered it the Praga District is undergoing a revitalization. I have spent some time walking around the streets, visiting some churches, enjoying the street art and touring the Vodka Museum which is in the area. I also happened to discover the Neon Museum.
The Neon Museum is dedicated to the documentation and the preservation of Cold War era neon signs and electro-graphic design.
A small museum in an old warehouse type building it is worth a trip to the “wrong side of the river”. The museum houses a couple hundred signs, there is a short video to watch and a small gift shop. Several new cafes and restaurants are in the neighborhood and it is a short walk to the Vodka Museum.
U Fukiera – I don’t really know all the details as what it means to be a “Michelin Restaurant” other than if it is 3 stars it is excellent and probably out of my price range. As I was strolling through Old Town one day, I noticed a doorway that exquisitely decorated and took a closer look. I saw a sign above the door That said Michelin 2019. I didn’t see any stars, but I figured it still had to be pretty good.
As I perused the menu that outside, the menu and wine list were indeed impressive. Having just arrived in Warsaw and at this point without a job, it wasn’t in my budget for a meal. A few months later, the weather had broke, it was a lovely spring day and I again passed U Fukiera. There was a small sign outside that said 3 course meal for 35 pl or about $9.25…what a deal. They offer this Monday – Friday during the lunch hour. Of course by now I’m working, but this seemed too good to pass up.
U Fukiera is one of the oldest restaurants in Warsaw. Dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century, Grzegorz Korab built a townhouse in Warsaw market square. He opened a wine store in its cellars. The Fukier family became owners in the early eighteenth century and over the years put aside the oldest and best wines. By the nineteenth century, it had become a collection of the oldest wines in the world. This came to an end in 1939 when Nazi occupiers stripped it’s cellars. After the war, the “U Fukiera” house was one of the first to be rebuilt. So if you would like a delicious Polish meal in one of the oldest establishments in Warsaw check out U Fukiera. Also, you can’t beat their weekly lunch specials.
Old Town Wishing Bell – As long as you are in Old Town, a bit hidden and off the beaten path you can find a large bronze bell cast in 1646. A much-overlooked relic from the seventeenth century it is a key feature in a fairytale with a tragic ending. You can read about it here at atlas obscura. The bell is located behind St. John’s Cathedral in Canon Square. Also, according to local lore, if you circle the bell while making a wish it will come true.
Mermaids of Warsaw – Her name is Syrenka, which means siren or mermaid. She is armed with a shield and a sword. Her life mission is to protect the city of Warsaw. Legend says Syrenka has a twin sister and they lived in the Baltic Sea. Her sister made her way to Denmark (the famous little mermaid of Copenhagen) and Syrenka swam the Vistula River and ended up in Warsaw’s Old Town.
Although she was meddlesome and freed the catch of fisherman, once they saw her and heard her song they fell in love. She was then captured by a rich merchant who wanted her as a prize. The fishermen rescued her from the greedy man’s clutches. She was so thankful that she promised to protect the fisherman and their families. That is how she became the guardian of the city.
The Warsaw coat of arms is a mermaid and her image can be found throughout the city, so keep your eyes open. The most famous is the statue in Old Town on market square. Another statue is on the banks of the Vistula River and one on the bridge of the Stanislaw Markiewicz Viaduct. Whenever you are in Warsaw, keep your eyes open for mermaid sightings.
Cmentarz Żydowski (Jewish Cemetery) – Established in 1806 and covering 83 acres, the Jewish Cemetery of Warsaw is one of the largest cemeteries in Europe. There are 250,000 marked graves in the cemetery, along with mass graves of the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1914, the Jewish population of Warsaw numbered over 330,000. After WWII in 1946 this number was a mere 18,000. The cemetery is one of the few remaining pieces of material heritage of the Jewish people left in Poland.
Unlike other cemeteries in Europe, al the graves have their backs to the cemetery gate. This was because in 1819, a community member was buried with his head rather than feet facing the cemetery gate. To avoid embarrassment, the first Chief Rabbi of Warsaw ordered all future burials should be this way. The cemetery closed during WWII and was partly demolished. German forces used it for mass executions and the burial of victims of Warsaw Ghetto, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, and other mass murders. It re-opened after the war but sadly was left to nature. There are currently about 20-30 new burials a year, but the cemetery looks mostly abandoned even though some renovation was started on the badly neglected cemetery by the Nissenbaum Foundation in the 1990’s. If you have any interest in cemeteries or Jewish history, it is well worth the 10 pln or about $2.65 entrance fee to wander around.
Street Art and the Tibetan Gallery – One of the first things I noticed in Warsaw was the street art. I’m not talking about graffiti, although the graffiti is interesting too, but the art that takes up entire sides of buildings. There are even art walks available on the weekends. Of course, the one I decide to take ends up being mostly in my neighborhood. Why did I choose this one? Well, I read the description incorrectly and they have different walks depending on the season. I didn’t pay attention to the dates and thought I was gong on an art walk in the Praga District, but no, it was WOLA, my hood. There is an app called In Your Pocket, not only for Warsaw, but most major cities around the world. You can access the street art guide using this app.
I daily pass buildings covered in murals, but one day taking the bus to Blue City Shopping Center, I noticed an overpass that had several murals painted on the concrete stanchions. Taking this bus route several times, I noticed a mural of the Dalai Lama. My interest was piqued. I decided to walk the 2.5 km from my flat and check it out. I discovered an entire gallery dedicated to depicting the Tibetan struggle for autonomy from Beijing. There are currently about 30 murals in the collection which was inspired by the Warsaw Council’s decision to award honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama in 2009. If you find yourself wandering around Warsaw, keep your eyes open for unexpected street art.
Night Market – If you are a food lover like me and find yourself in Warsaw anytime June – October make your way to the Train Station Museum (yes, the one I talked about earlier) on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday after 5pm. Why? Because on the old platforms of the former train station you will find a foodie paradise. Started about 5 years ago, neon lights and music welcome you kiosks, booths and food and beverage trucks with everything from Polish, to Vietnamese, Brazilian to Italian and everything in between. Every type of cuisine you can think of and they often change throughout the season. There is a craft beer truck and a wine kiosk where you can sample wines from around the world including a nice selection of Polish wines. Sometimes there is a DJ, sometimes live music, sometimes you can even get a touchup at the pop-up barber and after a few cocktails you may even visit the tattoo kiosk. A fun atmosphere for families too!
Warsaw Palm Tree – The first time taking the tram down Aleje Jerozolimskie, I did a double-take and thought I was seeing things. There was a palm tree in the middle of the street. No, I wasn’t seeing things and no, it isn’t real. I later learned that Aleje Jerozolimskie translates to Jerusalem Avenue and the sculpture is the work of Joanna Rajkowska. After a trip to Israel, she was inspired to bring some of the country’s sunny atmosphere back to Warsaw. Adding to the significance is that Jerusalem Avenue was the site of a Jewish settlement in the 18th century.
Interaktywne Muzeum Flipperow or Interactive Museum of Pinball “Pinball Station” – Searching for something to do one day, I came across a story about a pinball museum. It ended up being walking distance from my flat so one afternoon I headed out to check it out. For someone who was never really into pinball, I ended up spending 4 hours. Once you pay your 40 pln entry fee, about $10 and get your wristband, you can stay as long as you want and even come and ago until the 10pm weeknights and midnight on weekends closing time. The machines are set up for free play. The museum was established in 2016 by 2 hobbyists and collectors. They started with about 30 games and now the collection has grown to over 100 of which 60 have been restored and available for play. They even have a machine from 1933 which was left in Warsaw by the Germans after the war. It is called Bord-Golf and you can even try your skill. They even have beer, soda and water for purchase. So, grab a group of friends and spend a retro evening at the Pinball Station.
There you have it…a few surprises in Warsaw if you find yourself in the city with some extra time. I always knew I would like living in Warsaw, but somehow it manages to surprise me every day.
Note to self: when in shelter-at-home, do not, I repeat, do not leave your cell phone plugged into the charger 23 out of 24 hours in a day!! Why? Because just maybe your battery will overheat, expand, and cause your phone case to separate. Then you must purchase a new phone, which isn’t always a bad thing, but one I hadn’t planned on. So, I purchased a new phone, now I had to sync the phones. Do I really want to transfer all 22,000+ photos to my new phone? Not only that, but in the process, I discovered that not only had I backed up to OneDrive and Xiaomi Cloud, but also to Google Plus. Well, I haven’t seen some of these pictures in years. Do you know how many hours you can waste looking at old photos? Let me just say, it is a good thing we were on lockdown because I don’t want to admit the amount of time spent. What wonderful travel memories they brought back. Having been to 37 countries, I started thinking about my favorite places I have visited and made a top ten list. Looking at my top ten list it included countries, cities, places, and moments. I didn’t think it was a particularly good list combining whole countries with cities and some places. Then, I realized that my list mostly comes down to the memories or moments that were made in these countries, cities, and places. Where in the world are my top ten? I couldn’t decide on a definite number one. Of 2 places, which many of you can guess, Paris and Bali are neck and neck. I have started saying, “Paris is my heart and Bali is my soul”. Starting with Paris, since I am currently in Europe, followed by Bali and then the rest of my list in no certain order, I’ll tell you why they are on my list.
Ahhhh, Paris the city that stole my heart. They (who the hell are “they”? But you know what I mean) say you never forget your first time in Paris. My first time began like this… “It was our first evening in Paris. Night was falling as we entered the metro. Rain was in the forecast, so I had our umbrella. We were headed to a wine taste. A light drizzle met us as we exited the metro station. The sounds of the city and the glow of the streetlamps surrounded us. As we tried to get our bearings, he spotted a street vendor selling crepes. Huddled under our umbrella, sharing a warm crepe… Paris in the rain…I was in love. Was I in love with the city, the man, or the moment? Probably, all three.
As cliché as it is, from “Midnight in Paris”, there is something about Paris in the rain and you never do forget your first visit to Paris. Many more trips to Paris and a short time living there, Paris and more specifically, Montmartre, has my heart. You can read more about my love affair with Paris here.
Bali you are my soul. It is interesting while living in China, I learned the Chinese word for Paris is Bālí. Also, while living in Paris, I met a girl at a café. She told me about her dream of moving to Bali. I promised if she made the move, I would come to visit. It seems these 2 worlds were destined to collide. She moved from Paris to Bali and I planned a trip. Arriving in Bali, I spent several days in Ubud, more specifically Peliatan, before going to visit my friend. I found a random homestay with a local family and my soul was stolen. They included me in their Balinese traditions, took me to special places on the island, and even took me to a Balinese wedding.
Their friend, Made, drove me 2 hours to take one photo at the now Instagram famous, Lempuyang, or the Gate to Heaven. Before leaving Peliatan, they asked me to return in a few months for a special ceremony that takes place once every 3 years in their community, a Ngaben or Cremation Ceremony. Ketut’s mother would be cremated and I would join the family in the celebration of her life and the ceremony sending her to the next life. Those few short days I spent with them learning about Balinese culture and traditions, I knew I would return. I did return that August for the cremation. I spent 8 days going to Temple and experiencing the Hindu religion firsthand. I was with the family at 2 am when we exhumed the body for cremation. Each day sucked me in deeper and I knew my next visit would be for an extended period. When I arrived back in Bali July of 2019, it would be for 4 months. I again stayed at Kenari House which I consider my Balinese home. I also spent 6 weeks volunteering at a Balinese school for special needs children. Although I feel at home in most places I visit or live, I cannot explain the way I feel in Bali. I feel as if I was meant to be there. I’m thankful my worlds collided.
Currently living in Warsaw, Poland, I plan to return to Paris as soon as possible after coronavirus restrictions open Europe to travel. After my time in Poland is up and no, I don’t know when that will be, I plan to return to Bali for another extended period. I need to keep my heart and soul in balance. “Om Santih, Santih, Santih, Om”, I wish you peace in body, speech and mind…until we meet again. You can read more about my Bali life here.
No certain order, the rest of the list…
Lake Placid, New York…this may seem like a strange choice, but it is a place where my adult life revisited a trip of my childhood. We were taking about 2.5 weeks and traveling from Warren, Ohio through Pittsburgh on to Philadelphia, New York, Boston through a small town in Vermont, and a visit to Lake Placid before heading back to Ohio. This was a great road trip, but 2 things stuck with me. First, visiting friends in a small town outside Burlington, Vermont, I experienced darkness, as in nighttime, like I have never seen. It recalled the Eagles song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” talking about a billion stars in the sky. It really seemed like there were a billion stars in the sky, but what stood out, even more, was the silence. The only way I can explain it is that the silence was deafening. The deafening silence and a billion stars made for a night I will never forget, but on to Lake Placid. I was probably 10 years old the first time I visited Lake Placid with my parents and younger brother. I remember being fascinated by “snow” in the summer (homemade but put out on the streets as an attraction). We hiked up Whiteface Mountain and took obligatory elevation photo. Revisiting as an adult brought back all the memories. The “snow” in the summer was still on the street and we made the hike up so I could recreate the obligatory photo at elevation 4867 ft. It is great recreating memories of your childhood, but even better when you can make new ones at the same time. It had started to drizzle (can you tell I love rain?). When we came down the mountain, we stopped at a bar that was doing prime rib outside on a grill…the aroma overtook us and soon we were sharing a bottle of pinot grigio and eating prime rib sandwiches before returning to our hotel on Mirror Lake and our hot tub. I can’t explain why certain trips, when you have taken 100’s, are embedded in your heart, soul, and mind, but this was one of them, so it makes my top ten list.
Talk about seeing a billion stars in the sky…Majorca/Mallorca, Spain, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean where we spent nearly 3 weeks. Palma, the Island’s capital is known for its beaches and is a popular tourist destination for Europeans.
We stayed in a small village across the island called Fornalutx. No cars could get into the village, so you had to park on the outskirts. It was a village of stone streets and stairs. Our home for the visit was a 400-year-old stone house. Our bedroom was open-air room on the top of the house and was the “drying room”. Fornalutux was tucked in a valley and we didn’t see the sun between the mountains until almost 10 am. We would then wander to the center of the village and sip our café con leche and watch the locals go about their business. We took day trips around the island visiting Valldemossa where Chopin met George Sands and they became lovers. My worlds often seem to collide, as I am now living in Chopin’s home country of Poland but visited his home in Mallorca. After Chopin and Sands’s visit, the locals fearing tuberculosis burned most of the furniture and rooms as Chopin had been ill with “a cold”. The museum in Valldemossa has letters, manuscripts, his Majorcan piano as well as Chopin’s death mask and a lock of his hair. We often walked to the nearby village of Soller and caught the tram to the bowl-shaped Port de Soller where we sipped sangria on the sea. Cala Deia became a favorite spot. We had to hike down a small trail to the sea. We lunched on cheese, olives, bread, and wine and then swam naked in the sea. We visited Banyalbutar and Cap de Formentor where we drove and finally had to hike the rest of the way up to the remains of a medieval fortress. But by far, the most memorable night was on the outskirts of Fornalutx. Restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 9pm. We bought a giant pan of paella grabbed some box wine and headed up the mountain. Spread our blankets, ate paella, got drunk on wine, and lay and looked at the billion stars in the sky until near daybreak.
As long as my head is in the stars, we may as well go to “the rooftop of the world”….Tibet! Since I have been a young girl, I have had a dream of meeting the Dalai Lama and seeing Tibet. Now I realize the Dalai Lama is in India and not Tibet, but when you live in China, you can at least realize the Tibet portion of your dream. While living in Hunan Provence, I decided this would be the best time to go to Tibet. Thank goodness I did a little research before I just jumped on a train to Lhasa. An individual cannot enter and tour Tibet independently. You must book a tour through a registered Tibetan Tour Operator. Not being one that usually does tours, I had no choice and found one that had an itinerary that matched my wish list. 2 things were important to me, first, an overnight on Mount Everest Base Camp and second, I wanted to end up in Kathmandu, Nepal. These criteria being met, I left Changning in Hunan Province where I had been living and working and headed to Guangzhou for a sort 3-day holiday before the long haul to Tibet. I chose to travel by train as I read that it is easier to acclimatize to the altitude by train versus flying to Lhasa. I boarded the train in Guangzhou for a 9-hour train ride to Chongqing. This is where the trains to Tibet start in this part of China. I decided to spend one night in Chongqing because the next leg of my journey would be 44 hours on a sleeper train, slowly climbing to nearly 5000 meters ( 16,404 ft) in the mountains before descending to 3,656 ( 11,900 ft) the altitude of Lhasa. The berths were equipped with oxygen and as we ascended, oxygen was automatically pumped in. Honestly, the trip was not that bad, and I would probably do it again should the opportunity present itself. Arriving in Lhasa, the train is met by armed guards to which you much show your passport, China visa, and Tibet travel permit. Then you are escorted to immigration and met by your tour guide. I had arrived 2 days before our official tour began so I could have some independent time in Lhasa. Although nearly everyone had cell phones and homes had satellite dishes, I felt like I was in the land that time forgot. I wandered around Lhasa. I saw the Potala Palace, monasteries, temples, and even met some locals. Before I knew it, it was time to start the official tour. I soon met the 9 other people I would be spending the next week with. I’m not going to get into the whole once in a lifetime trip but just tell you about the defining moment that will forever stick with me. I will say, there was a bond created between our group that was amazing and I’m happy to say has led to friendships to this day. The defining moment for me was base camp Mount Everest or Qomolangma as it is known in Tibetan.
We arrived just before sunset. Sadly, the peak of the mighty mountain was under cloud cover. We got settled in our tent, I was rooming with George and Phillipe, who I had become quite close with during our time together and a French couple who had also hung out with us during most of the trip. It was nice being just the 5 of us in our tent. We were still getting settled in when we heard a bit of a ruckus outside. Dropping everything we went to see what was causing the commotion. I got outside and everyone was looking toward the peak of Everest. The skies had opened, and we witnessed the sun setting on that magnificent summit that has claimed the lives of so many, so many who are still buried in her breast. All I could do was look to the sky and cry. I turned to George and Phillipe and we all knew we were witnessing something amazing. The peak of Mount Everest, a glowing orange triangle bathed in the setting sun. They gave me a squeeze and we just stared in silence. I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt at that moment in time. Later, early morning, maybe about 4am I woke and stepped out of our warm tent into the brisk air and could not believe I was here on the mighty mountain. I was once again filled with awe as I stared up at the shining moon amongst what looked like a billion stars. If you don’t believe in God or a higher being, you might start here. You can read my Mount Everest story here.
Where to next? How about Vietnam. So far, all my choices have had kind of an Ah-Ha moment that defines them. I can’t say that I have an ah-ha moment for Vietnam. I just know I am drawn to the entire country, its people, its beauty, its cuisine. I’ve only been to Vietnam 4 times, but each experience has been amazing. My first visit was only to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. The second time was HCMC and the outlying areas. The third, I started in Hanoi and traveled north to the border of China, stopping in very rural homestays in villages of 400 people with livestock living under the stilted homes. The last time I was there, I spent 3 weeks and traveled from HCMC to HoiAn. I kind of fell in love with HoiAn. Of course, HoiAn is charming on its own, but I meet a young girl who had a homestay next to the one I was in. I wandered over one evening for dinner as they also had a bar/restaurant. I was the only one there and Sen chatted most of the evening with me telling me about her family. Her father had made all the furniture for the homestay out of bamboo and by hand. He also fished the river from early morning until near sunset. Before I left to return to my homestay for the evening, she invited me to take a tour on the river the following evening. She said her father would take us. I didn’t want to impose on her father, but she was insistent and the next afternoon, I found myself climbing into a small wooden riverboat at sunset. Even after working/fishing the river and then selling his catch at the market, Sen’s father proudly and happily toured me up and down the river for well over an hour. Sen and I keep contact and I hope to see her and her family again sometime in the future. How can I talk about Vietnam and not mention my addiction, my crack…PHO. I discovered it on my first trip but became a bit more addicted to every visit and I think I ate it EVERY.SINGLE.DAY during my last visit. Living now in Warsaw, I found a Pho Shop and eat it at least a couple times a week. As much as I love my pho, it is truly the people you meet along the way that create the moments/memories you take with you.
In China, there are 2 holidays that are extended holidays, Chinese New Year, and Mid-Autumn Festival. Living in China makes for easy travel around SE Asia. I decided to take advantage of this, one year during Mid-Autumn Festival and tick a bucket list item…Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Having just been back in the states, I mentioned my whirlwind plans to travel from Thailand to Cambodia and finally Vietnam. People often tell you they want to join you on your travels, but few do. This time, I had a friend from the states meet me in Bangkok and we toured Angkor Wat together.
I chose a rural village outside of Siem Reap for our accommodations. It was definitely rural, and we had also arrived during the rainy season. So rainy, the local children were swimming in the ditches which had also turned the road into a giant pond. The rain, however, changed my plans of watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, but it didn’t deter us from visiting the temple site.
Our host arranged a tuk-tuk to pick us up and escort us to the site. He called his tuk-tuk our BMW. We did have to wade up the road in knee-deep water, which the children were swimming in, to arrive at our “BMW”. 90 degrees and humid we started out in the earlyish morning to the “city of temples”, Angkor. Angkor Wat was built during the Khmer Empire at the beginning of the 12th century. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site and the largest religious monument in the world. Originally a Hindu complex built for Vishnu, it later became Buddhist and went back and forth for centuries. It is now predominantly Buddhist and you can bump into monks around the complex. We also visited Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm (used in the film Tomb Raiders), but Angkor Wat was awe-inspiring. I guess maybe I am drawn to Eastern religions, but places like this I feel in my soul. During the Cambodian Civil War in the 70s, the temple did not sustain much damage aside from the visible bullet holes you see today. Although I have seen the movie “The Killing Fields”, I had forgotten what horrors took place on Cambodian soil. Under the Khmer Rouge Regime (1975-1979) which took over after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970-1975), it is believed that 1.7 -2.5 million people out of a 1975 population of 8 million were killed and buried in what is now known as Cambodian Genocide. The experience of seeing Angkor Wat did not disappoint and easily makes my top 10 list.
The Western world commonly associates “Transylvania” with vampires thanks to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Transylvania is a region in central Romania known for medieval towns, mountains, and castles. It was also the birthplace of my significant other at the time, Tom’s grandparents. Since we were already going to Europe for a transatlantic cruise, we decided to spend a week pre-cruise and tour Transylvania. Right from the start, I should have known this would be a trip to remember. Flying out of New York, through Paris and on to Bucharest, we checked our luggage together, but upon arrival in Bucharest, my luggage was left in Paris. Our travels were looping us from Bucharest through Sibiu, Sebes, Sinaia, Sighisoara, Vinerea, Miklosvar, Brasov, and back to Bucharest. My luggage didn’t make it to Bucharest before we were scheduled to leave, they would send it to Sebes which had a small airport and I could pick it up there. Long story short, that never happened and I traveled Romania for 8 days with what I had in my carry-on, some of Tom’s t-shirts and the 1 shirt Air France provided me. In Sibiu and Sebes, we wandered the streets, visited cemeteries, and ate the local food. In Sinaia, we visited the German neo-renaissance Peles Castle which is now a museum. Sighisoara, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home of Vlad III the Impaler, prince of Wallachia and inspiration for the fictional Count Dracula.
In Miklosvar we stayed in a guest house of Count Tibor Kalnoky dating back to the 1800s and furnished with local antiques. We visited the city of Brasov which consists of 5 villages, one being Bran. Bran is home to Bran Castle. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. These were all wonderful experiences, but the one that stands out the most (well other than the 2 times Tom got pulled over by the Police…thankfully with the name Craciun we somehow worked our way out of the situations) is the visit to Vinerea.
When we arrived in Vinerea, it was truly going back in time. Families were traveling by horse and cart and the village was just getting running water to the homes. Up until then, everyone had a well for their needs. Of course, no one spoke English and Tom knew like 3 words in Romanian, but after showing them his name was Craciun (which means Christmas and is a somewhat common name) someone ran off to the school and brought back one of the teachers who spoke basic English. We had an address that we hoped was the home of Tom’s grandfather. Laura, from the school, led us to the home of Ana and Maria. When they answered the door and Laura explained who we were their faces lit up and they took Tom by the arm and led him to 2 photos which they excitedly dusted off. One was a photo that Tom’s parents had taken when they visited in the 60s (?) and the other was a photo of Tom’s grandfather. We had indeed found his home and these ladies were Tom’s cousins. It was a very emotional visit with a few tears being shed. They invited us to stay but we could only spend the day. We did share some homemade wine they were making from the grapes they grew. Even though it wasn’t my relatives, it easily makes my top ten list. I received a message from Laura after Tom passed from coronavirus and it brought back all the memories of our time in Transylvania.
8 down and 2 to go…Xiashan, China a rural village not even on a map. My first “home” in China and the place that is nearest and dearest to my heart. I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to move to China to teach English. I knew I wanted to stand on the Great Wall. I knew I wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors. I knew I wanted to visit Tibet. What I didn’t know was that a 6-month stint would turn into 4 years and that small village of Xiashan would be the reason. When I first arrived in China, I spent 2 weeks in Beijing for training. During those 2 weeks, I ticked my first bucket list item when we visited the GWC….a magnificent experience! Along with training for teaching English, we had classes on Chinese culture and traditions, including some basic Mandarin. We even had tai chi lessons and a dumpling-making class. At the end of the 2 weeks, I boarded a train along with 2 others who would also be going to Xiashan. The train took us as far as Weifang and then a car took us to Xiashan about 1 hour away. We arrived in the evening, after being treated to a fabulous dinner, we were taken to our apartment and settled in. Waking the next morning, we were met by a representative for the school who would also be our liaison. Alina took us to get something to eat, took us to the school, and showed us around the village…at least we had a nice supermarket. We learned we were an hour and 20 minutes by bus from Weifang which is a fairly large city. We really were in the middle of nowhere. During these next 5.5 months, I fell in love with Xiashan. I loved going to the local market, even if they did slaughter the sheep right on the street or kill the chicken for your dinner right outside the restaurant. Other than a few trips to Weifang, I only left Xiashan once to travel to Inner Mongolia and the Gobi Desert during Mid-Autumn Festival or Golden Week. I didn’t realize how much I loved my life in the village until my contract was over. I wanted to stay on, but my visa was only good for 6 months and I had to return to the USA if I wanted to get another Visa, which I did. Sadly, by the time I would return, they would have had to replace me. Thankfully, they let me keep my things at my apartment until I could return and move to the next teaching assignment in Hunan Provence. I would return just as Chinese New Year was kicking off. Alina excitedly invited me to her family’s home in the countryside, an even smaller village than Xiashan. I would stay at their home and eat a traditional Chinese New Year Dinner. This ended up being one of my most memorable experiences during my time in China. CNY fell at the beginning of February and it is quite cold this time of year in this part of China. Alina picked me up by scooter and it took about 20 minutes to get to her simple home. When I say simple, it is because their home had no running water.
Her mother got water from a well/pump. She boiled the water over a coal-fueled “stove”. She filled several thermos bottles with the hot water. This water would be used for tea and washing. In the morning she would prepare a washbasin with hot water for Alina and me to bathe. The main room of the house served as an eating area and also where her parents slept.
They slept on a concrete slab that was heated by a small coal “furnace” from which a pipe ran through the wall and under their bed heating the concrete. On top of this were mats were they not only slept, but we gathered to watch television. Yes, they had electricity and satellite. A couch and a table and chairs were also in this room as it was the warmest in the house. Alina and I shared a bed in her room with plenty of quilts to keep us warm through the night. So, I am 50+ at this point in my life. Sometimes nature calls in the night. With no indoor plumbing, I had to get up, find my shoes, and find my way outside to a concrete wall, behind which was a hole in the ground to do our business. After you finished, you had to get water from the barrel and flush the “toilet”. The paper goes in a bin, never ever flush TP in China. The morning of Chinese New Year, we woke, and after we bathed, her mom had made baozi for our breakfast. These are the most delicious pork filled steamed buns you will ever eat. She then told Alina to take me and show me around the village as she was making the preparations for our feast. What a feast it was. Her brother came home and that evening we watched the festivities on TV and feasted on more food than you can imagine. At midnight there were firecrackers and we ate dumplings. Other than Alina, her family spoke no English, but we spent the evening laughing, smiling, eating, and celebrating. A defining moment in my China Life. An experience I will never forget! A family who did not know me had never seen a foreigner (a first for her parents), and lived a simple life was proud to share their home, their life, their traditions, and their culture with me.
Finally….if you have made it this far, I commend you. Maybe I should have chosen my top 5, but I don’t know if I could have made the cut at 5. I can’t talk about places that have shaped my life without listing my hometown in my top ten list…Warren, Ohio. Why? Warren, Ohio helped make me and shape me into the person I am today. Not only my family but friends and most importantly the teachers I had in Warren City Schools. I grew up on a small dead-end street that most people never heard of with my parents, an aunt who lived with us, and a younger brother, Mark. I’ve traveled to 37 countries and seen more than most people in a lifetime, but that younger brother gave me the most amazing moment of my life on January 9, 2020.
My parents and aunt gave me not only love and values, but they gave me wings to fly. I played little league and learned to bowl. We had a tree fort and always had friends sleeping over. A neighborhood where we were all family. From showing movies on a building at the end of the street to riding bikes and catching lightning bugs…moments…moments of my life. I get angry when people put down Warren, Ohio. As many times as I say the “world is my home”, Warren is my hometown and I am proud of it. There are too many people who have touched my life and supported my journey to name everyone. The friends who open their homes to me when I blow into town for a few short days. The ones who pick me up at the airport and come bearing Sunrise Pizza. The ones who send me off with care packages. The ones who have a special gathering to welcome me back for the time being. The ones who laugh because I do something stupid and must cancel dinner plans. The ones who day drink because I’m on holiday. The new friends I just met on my last trip home made me feel like I have known them for a lifetime. The teachers who gave me a love of geography, history, and English which pushed me to experience this wonderful world first-hand. It really is the people you meet along the way…..thank you all for following my journey, for your support and most of all your love. I remain Warren Proud!
China isn’t the most popular country on the planet right now, thanks to 2019-nCoV, coronavirus, COVID 19 or the politically incorrect, Chinese Virus. This isn’t the first time China has given the world a virus. There was the Asian flu in 1956, SARS in 2002 and H7N9 in 2012. Being one of the oldest cultures on the planet, many Chinese people still believe in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine. For many Chinese, especially the older generation, this is the first step in treatment when they feel unwell. They will go to the local practitioner and will be treated with acupuncture, cupping, herbal remedies, etc. These treatments are not effective for these viruses, thus allowing the infected individuals to return to the public, infect others and sometimes giving us a pandemic. Although, this coronavirus may go down in history as the one that stopped the world. When the virus first appeared, the world looked on, watching and waiting, not expecting the world to stop turning.
There is a lot of negativity toward China right now. I see hundreds of posts saying China lied to the world…the numbers are fake…it (the virus) was created in a lab for bio-warfare…general hate messages about Communism and the government. I get it. I understand being angry at China. I understand the “buy American” sentiment in the USA and I support it…to a point. China was my home for 4 years and yes, sometimes I got mad at China. Some things about China, I will not miss. I don’t want to turn this into a political post or “I hate China” or anything negative in general because China isn’t all “bad”. During the Han Dynasty, 202 BC-AD 220, China gave of us one of the 4 great inventions of the ancient world, paper/papermaking. Along with paper, they also gave us the compass, gunpowder, and printing (woodblock and moveable type). These 4 discoveries are considered to have had a major impact on the development of civilization around the world. I don’t want to talk about what China has given the world. I want to tell you what China gave me during the 4 years I called it home.
China gave me the chance to see, touch and walk on one of the “Seven Wonders of the New World” The Great Wall of China…With a total length of 21,196.18 km (13,170.70 miles), equal to half the length of the Equator, the Great Wall of China is the longest feat of human engineering. The 2,700 year-old structure is not a single long line but a series of many walls sometimes doubling and tripling itself. I have visited 5 different sections of the Great Wall including LaoLongtou or Old Dragon’s Head where the wall ends in the Bohai Sea. And, just for the record, it is not true that the Great Wall of China is visible from space.
March 29, 1974, some farmers in Xi’an, Shaanxi were digging a well and uncovered terracotta pottery. This pottery was the funerary art of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China (210-209 BCE). This 8000+ army complete with horses, chariots, officials and acrobats was meant to protect and entertain the emperor in the afterlife. To see this massive UNESCO Heritage Site was overwhelming.
Tibet, “Land of Snows”, “The Roof of the World” is still a controversial place when you speak to mainland Chinese. Is it part of China or not? The PRC (People’s Republic of China) claims Tibet is an integral part of China while the Tibetan Government-in-Exile maintains that Tibet is an independent state under lawful occupation. What I know is Tibet is a magical place that I was fortunate to visit. It was like the land where time stopped. I was afforded the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Dalai Lamas. I learned about and experienced Buddhism first hand. I rode a yak, ate yak meat, had yak cheese and butter. When I camped on Mount Everest Base Camp, our tent was heated by burning yak dung. China gave me a dream come true in Tibet.
Food…China introduced me to “real” Chinese food. You can read more about Chinese food here, because Chinese food in China is nothing like what we have in the USA. I have eaten many strange things in China and things that I know some of my friends frown upon. Donkey meat for one. One of the communities where I lived, was known for raising donkeys, not only for the meat but for making Ejiao which is important in TCM. If you are going to immerse yourself in a culture, sometimes you have to overlook your personal feelings. I had no problem eating donkey meat and if I tell the truth, I loved it. I also view it very similarly to countries that raise cows for meat, milk and their hides for leather. If you choose to be vegetarian or vegan, great, that’s your choice! I just happen to be a meat-eater. I also learned that the Chinese do not waste any part of the animal and most everything is consumed. Much of this stemming from years when the country was suffering widespread famine with the most recent between the years 1942 and 1961 during which as many as 45 million people perished. Ahhh, then there are the controversial markets.
Every big city and every rural village has its markets. I have seen animals slaughtered and have purchased the meat. I have seen all the bugs, snakes, starfish on skewers and sold as snacks. Some I have even indulged in myself and most I didn’t care for. These markets don’t only exist in China but all over Asia and SE Asia as I have visited many and have enjoyed more than a few meals at these markets. If you know anything about me, you know I have an obsession with noodles, especially noodle dishes from Asian countries. Thank you, China for introducing me to Lánzhōu Lā Mǐan. Honestly, I mostly thought rice when I thought about China, but I learned that noodles are just as popular. Actually, noodles are popular in the more northern areas of China while more rice is consumed in southern China. Just for the record, I do not like chicken feet. The other thing I learned about food is the Chinese have a way with vegetables that is amazing and I can’t talk about the food without mentioning dumplings. I never met a dumpling I didn’t like.
During the 4 years I lived in China, it gave me some of the most amazing experiences of my life. It is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. Most of all, China has shown me the beauty of its people. They are kind, they are generous, they are hard-working. They are proud of their country. What I want to say here is; we may not agree with their government, their traditions or their way of life, but as a whole, they are good people. I will always consider the people that crossed my path during my time in China as friends, some as close as family. Marlon, my student in Qingdao and his mom are near and dear to my heart. My Chinese co-workers at my first job in Xiashan, the small rural village that made me decide I wanted to stay in China a bit longer. Rabbin and his family in Changning, Hunan that treated me as part of their family. Peter and his extended family in Dong’e that cared for me during my broken back journey. The doctors and nurses that cared for me without prejudice…my “noodle guy”….my “littles”… my sweet Alice…my neighbors…all my students, some I got to know well and some just part of the overcrowded classrooms that I would only see once every two weeks. China, thank you for putting each and every one of these souls in my life.
I’ve heard the phrase, “China is the country you love to hate and hate to love”. During these times when China is the target of much hate, I am choosing to remember the things I love about China. I will choose to buy American when I can.
After all, I am an American born and raised, but I will not choose to hate an entire country that showed me kindness, love, and gave me joy. There are things I did not agree with while in China but those things are not for me to try to change. I can hope that the people of China will choose to make changes in their society. That they and the rest of the world will come out of this stronger and more conscious of how the actions of a few can affect the many. China, thank you for the 4 years of love you gave me.
2020 started like many other years…champagne toasts, noisemakers, and laughter. One difference for me was I was home in Warren, Ohio for the first time in seven years. My home was overflowing with family and friends, my heart was happy, and everyone seemed ready to put 2019 behind them and jump into the new decade with both feet.
I saw family and friends I hadn’t seen in a year and a half, I met new friends and I experienced the most amazing night of my life. But…that three-letter word with big implications…but, I was ready to leave again. Little did we know then, that today, Easter Sunday, we, as in most of the world, would be in quarantine following shelter-in-place rules.
February 2, 2020, I left Warren, Ohio USA for Warsaw, Poland. Packing a bag with only what I can carry and taking off on my own comes easily. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get my bag packed and head off to summer camp. In 2014, I packed a bag, moved to Paris without knowing anyone and only basic language skills. 2015, repeat, except this time I moved to China with no language skills, little knowledge of the culture and knew no one. 2020, repeat and move to Poland and a language someone told me was as difficult as mandarin. That I can’t say I agree with, but they did create a full language using the last five letters of the alphabet…ha-ha. That’s a joke!
After I had been in Poland a couple of weeks, during a conversation, one of my newfound friends commented to me that she knew I was “a loner”. Her comment took me back for a moment, had she touched on my secret? “But”, there’s that word again, wouldn’t being a loner also make me an introvert? Introvert, loner, extrovert, sociopath, psychopath, empath, narcissist…what/who am I? Don’t know, don’t care! I am who I am and have no idea where I fall in the personality type spectrum. If I had to choose one, Angela, I would agree, that I am a loner. Although, I prefer to call myself a nomad.
I grew up in a small, somewhat isolated neighborhood and had 1 best friend a year younger than me. Starting school, Barb was still my closest friend and I didn’t add many more. I usually went home for lunch so I could watch Jeopardy with my dad. I preferred that to staying at school and playing. I pretty much stayed this way right through high school. I did go to football games, but rarely attended house parties or other social activities. My brother, on the other hand, was the host of many house parties, so I guess I got my fill through him. Although, nowadays, I think I would put him in the “loner” category with me. I still require a lot of alone time, which is probably why quarantine isn’t a problem for me. If you know me or follow my travels/blog, you may ask how I can be a loner and have friends all over the world. I will answer this by saying, I think by travelling solo, you have the advantage to meet more people. These people are often like-minded solo travellers…also loners. How is this possible? You can’t be anti-social, a loner, and yet meet and click with hundreds of people around the globe. Think about it. When you travel as a family or even a couple, how often do you reach out to solo travellers? I mean really connect! We aren’t anti-social, I prefer socially selective.
The ability to be alone is an important part of the nomad lifestyle. You meet people you may be with for 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week or even 1 month, but you have to accept the fact you most likely will never see most of these people ever again. Sure there are promises to stay in touch or I’m going to come to visit you in your home country, but…you move on and meet the next person and the next person, you don’t forget those people for they have all left a mark on your soul.
I know this a totally random post, but a couple of things got me thinking this morning. Yesterday, I was chatting on the phone with a friend back in the states, he asked me, “do you wish you were back here during this quarantine?” and last night I was on a Zoom chat/trivia/drinking session with a group of girlfriends who often got together at the local watering hole and restaurant, Jacked Steakhouse, which is right below my condo in Warren. At the end of the session, everyone was commenting on how great it will be to get together once this “situation” is over and “I can’t wait to see you” or “I can’t wait until we are all together again at Jacked”. Both situations made me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because I had to tell the truth and I know the truth hurts. I had to tell Bill, “no, I don’t wish I was back in the states during this time.” I’m right where I want to be. Life may not be as I thought it would be right now, but I’m happy right here in Warsaw. I’m used to being alone and I like it. I live alone when I am in Warren, so it’s not like I would shelter-in-place with other people. Although, truth be told, its easier to follow the #stayhome movement in a city where you have no car and know few people vs downtown Warren where I most likely would sneak downstairs or down the street while attempting to keep social distancing…Then, I had to tell my girlfriends, sorry, I love you guys and when this is all over, I’ll join you via some long-distance video chat while you all get together at the bar, but I want to be right where I am. It’s hard to convey these feelings to people you care about and enjoy their company. I guess I have been training for this moment since I decided to to take on the nomad way of life. It has made me a professional at social distancing. To those, I have met on my journey and I will never see again, I won’t forget you. Family and friends, I had an amazing visit to Warren and loved each minute I spent with all of you…God willing, I’ll see you again. For now, I can share my journey with you from where I am and know you are welcome to join me along the way. Happy Easter!
By the time Easter arrives, I will have been in “lockdown” for a little over one month. Why? Coronavirus, known as COVID 19. I am living through this global crisis, now a pandemic, outside of my home country. Just over three months ago the world was welcoming a new year, a new decade. We knew little of what was taking place on the far side of the world.
It was on December 31, 2019, a city of 11 million people, Wuhan in Hubei Province China notified WHO (World Health Organization) of a strange pneumonia in their city. WHO, once an unknown acronym would soon become a household word. An unknown virus seemed to stem from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. It was infecting people at an alarming rate. On January 7, 2020, it was announced a new virus named 2019-nCoV was identified as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. On January 11th, China announced its first death had occurred two days earlier. On January 13th, WHO reported a case in Thailand. The first case outside of China carried by a woman that has arrived from Wuhan. January 16th, Japan reported a confirmed case. January 17th the second death in China was reported and the US announced that 3 airports would start screening people arriving from Wuhan. Soon more countries had confirmed cases and on January 20th a Chinese expert confirmed human-to-human transmission. Because it was coming up on Lunar New Year in the Asian countries, there was widespread fear of a major outbreak as millions travelled to their hometowns in China. On January 23rd, Wuhan and it’s 11 million residents were placed on quarantine. All air and rail departures suspended. Beijing cancelled events for the Lunar New Year on January 25th. February 2nd, I boarded a flight to begin life in Poland.
For most of the world in February, life went on as normal and the coronavirus was still an Asian problem now affecting South Korea and Japan. That is until the end of the month as reports were coming out of the Middle East and Italy.
On March 11, 2020, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. On March 11th, life in Poland ceased being normal for me. Poland closed all schools and announced borders would be shut down at midnight Saturday, March 14th. This meant that all air and rail traffic in and out of Poland would cease. The border could be crossed in a vehicle at certain checkpoints with medical checks and possible quarantines. I began to receive emails from the US Embassy in Warsaw. These emails updated me on travel restrictions of most countries in the world but more importantly on what was happening in Poland. The US Embassy was urging US citizens to return to the United States immediately, not just from Poland, but from all corners of the world or plan to shelter in place for an extended period of time. It also stated that US citizens living abroad could choose to stay. As I had a job and place of residence and was considered an American living abroad, I forwarded the emails to my brother and we discussed my situation. I decided to stay in Warsaw. A decision I don’t regret.
As I watched my home country from afar and was living by the shelter in place rules of a country where I was considered a foreigner, life was far from normal…here and there. In the USA I saw pictures of empty store shelves and heard of people fighting over toilet paper, not following social distancing guidelines, spring breakers still flocking to the beaches.
Here in Poland, I was working remotely. I witnessed well-stocked shelves, people queuing up at 1.5 meters outside the post office and groceries without being asked. I saw the police driving around the city and heard them make announcements regarding the stay at home orders. I heard from my students of police breaking up groups in city parks and sending them home, sometimes with a fine. I saw pictures on the internet of eerily vacant cities around the world. Around the globe, Easter services would be going virtual. It seemed that the more distant we had to become the more people were connecting through technology. I read something recently that stuck with me, “COVID 19’s legacy will be, not only alone together, but together alone”.
Yet, the reality of this didn’t hit home until after my last 2 blog posts. I said that this will affect everyone sooner or later and that everyone would know someone. April 1, 2020, my reality hit home and it hit right in the gut. My someone, someone that I used to love, lost his battle to the coronavirus. A virus unknown to the world until a couple of short months ago. A couple of short months that have changed the world. A couple of short months that have changed me. I was deeply saddened when I found out Tom had succumbed. My heart ached for me, for his family and our/his friends, but then I looked at the numbers around the world and my heart ached for everyone. I took a lot of time to think. To think about past differences and how when faced with a shared global threat those differences pale.
I never dreamed I would see Vatican Square in Rome…vacant, Times Square in the city that never sleeps…silent, or the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris…empty. What I did see was YoYo Ma virtually offering a daily song on his cello, yoga instructors offering free online classes, museums giving virtual tours, adults taking time online to read books to children and friends getting together for virtual happy hours. I saw kindness, love, compassion and joy.
We don’t know when this will end, but we all have hope that it will. When it does, yes, the rules will change. There will be a new normal. I think we will see the revival of parks, the revival of family time, more voice control technology so we don’t have to “touch” things. We will appreciate the simple things in life and be more aware of our global community. As time passes, it is easy to forget. We forget the pain, we forget the horrors, we forget the isolation, we forget…Let’s not forget the kindness…the love…the compassion and the joy we did witness.
That love, compassion, kindness and joy came to me when I needed it most, thousands of miles away from family and friends…Love in the Time of Coronavirus – 2020 the year that changed the world!
I woke up this morning, with a headache and was nauseous, not sure if I slept or was awake in a bad dream. When I wrote my last blog post just 5 short days ago, I said that sooner or later, everyone would know someone…
After a few minutes of being awake, I remember why my mouth is dry, eyes a little swollen and I have a headache and am nauseous. Little did I know, my someone would be someone I that used to love.
Like I said in my last post when I first heard about this virus, I never dreamed it would affect my life. I was moving to Poland to start a new adventure…I was enjoying the company of family and friends in my hometown…I had nothing to worry about except keeping my luggage under the allowable weight.
Slowly this mysterious virus leaked over the borders of China and started appearing elsewhere, but still, I didn’t know anyone. Not even after spending 4 years in China meeting and making 100’s of friends and Wuhan, China being ground zero…I still didn’t have a someone.
February…I arrive in Poland and go about setting up life in a new country. A month goes by…I have a job, I have a flat, I hear stories from South Korea, Japan and soon Italy, but I still don’t know “someone”. March 11, 2020…I am at my job at a company in Warsaw teaching English. I learn the CEO of the company, who lives in Belgium, has tested positive for the coronavirus, now being called COVID 19. Now I have a connection, but still not my someone. Next thing I know, schools in Poland are closed and Poland is closing its borders. People all over the world are questioning these drastic measures even as China is still battling the disease. As most of Europe is starting to shut their borders and order social distancing to flatten the curve, people in the USA are still going to bars and restaurants, spring break has begun, the weather up north is still unpredictable but “Opening Day” is on the minds of sports fans and many think the rest of the world is over-reacting to this “the flu kills more people than this made in China virus” called COVID 19. Next thing I know, my home state begins to close the non-essential businesses, but people still aren’t staying home. Then I find out my hometown has its first case of coronavirus. Wow, I find out I know this person. Not that many weeks ago, if you would have told me I would know someone that has coronavirus, I wouldn’t have believed it. This “someone” was an acquaintance and not someone I knew well and this someone recovered and went home. COVID 19, although it was the common conversation topic, I pushed it to the back burner again. Other than the stay-at-home orders, working from home and restaurants closed to dining in, my life was still not really affected.
Then, late last week after I posted “Love in the Time of Coronavirus”, I got that text message, “Wendy, call me about “Someone”, he is in the hospital with coronavirus”. I sat and stared at that message for I don’t know how long before making the call. Is this real? I made the call…it was real. “Someone” had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. In the hospital, fever, can’t breathe on his own, sedated, ventilator, the words kept running in circles in my head after I hung up the phone. This was my someone, I knew him well, he was stubborn, he could fight this, he was sedated so the body could heal. I shared the news with my family and a few close friends and went about day to day life which consisted of waking up, dressing, teaching English, eating, reading, all those things you do when you are on quarantine/stay at home orders. You have a lot of time to think when you must shelter in place. No matter the current situation between me and my someone, he was someone I used to love…did that love just go away? No! I smiled as I reminisced about what used to be. More than anything, I would never wish him any ill will and prayed for his recovery.
Several days went by and I received messages of no change and the body needs to heal. Then, last night, the message that “someone” had taken a turn for the worse and his body was shutting down. As of this writing, he is still with us, and I have been overwhelmed with a plethora of emotion. Emotions that were more than I expected. The thought of this outcome has been in the back of my mind but last night my emotions bubbled over, out of my control. The good times all came pouring back. The bad times I buried deep. A reminder that in times like these, it’s the good memories that count. It’s the fun times, the laughter, the trips, the meals, the friends we hung with, all the things that make me smile… that’s what I want to feel…that’s what I want to remember! Because… He is, after all, someone I used to love!