The title of this blog is a little joke between Quinn and I as we were traveling around Poland and couldn't make heads or tails of the signs and menus in Polish. I didn't realize how much German we have learned and how adapted we have become to our lives here until we were thrown into another new language. A few times we were lost and not sure of what to eat and were really missing things being written in German. I even caught myself reading the German translation of the menu when the English one didn't make sense. Weird.
On this grand adventure we drove from our town of Wittlich up to Berlin, over to Gdansk, down to Warsaw, then down to Krakow, onto Slovakia, over to Salzburg, Austria and then a grand race home. It was too much driving and we regretted having so much time in the car, but such is life when you can't decide on seeing just a couple of things. We did this trip over two weeks and it was really nice to have a long vacation. We have done quite a few weekend trips but we haven't had a long trip since Quinn broke his leg which was really just a long trip in the hospital. Prior to that we did a long trip last summer (that was rained out).
Onto the adventure. First stop, Berlin. We hit up an early market and enjoyed a little cafe with some Chai tea and a pretzel croissant.
Then we saw a special kind of park that has been popping up in Europe that I have previously been reading about. Apparently, these are the new (old) thing where kids are allowed to experience adventure and slightly dangerous play by having access to building equipment (hammers, nails, saws) and also fire pits where they can burn things. They also have access to water for splashing and have minimal intervention by adults. Parents are not allowed in the park, but it is staffed by people who are instructed to intervene if there is imminent danger. This is supposed to build more independence and teach kids how to find limits and build self reliance. Seems like a cool concept, but then again I am not a parent. There was no activity while we were there because it was too early but we could see the fire pit and also some little buildings that the kids had constructed.
Some musings from around the city.
Liberal signage around here
Memorial for the Berlin wall. This memorial did a really great job of conveying the enormity of the wall and the "death zone" that was between the two walls and difficulty of escape. They even had pictures of people testing out the wall while it was being built to see if there were different escape strategies.
Disappointingly, Checkpoint Charlie is just a huge tourist trap.
Berlin had a lot of interesting architecture and beautiful buildings. I know a lot of people talk about how they absolutely love Berlin and fall in love with it. While I enjoyed our stay, I did not feel the romance that some report. They did have an awesome burrito place called Dolores Burritos. Quinn and I may have eaten there 3 times in 2 days. Don't judge. Or do. I don't care either way because they have some darn good chipotle mayonaisse sauce.
On the way to Gdansk, there is a crooked forest. It is in the middle of a regular forest but there are about 300 trees that are all crooked. It is believed that German soldiers somehow made this crooked forest, but no one knows how or why.
It was too far to drive directly to Gdansk so we picked a random spot on the map and stayed the night. The name of the town was Kolobrzeg. What a SURPRISE! It was such an awesome coastal town. They had a bike path that went at least 80 kilometers along the ocean. We only road about 40 of it because we had no idea that it even existed and set out in our jeans and tennis shoes. It was so beautiful to see an untouched wild beach with forest all alongside of it. So many of the beaches we have been to in Europe are over developed tourist traps. It was so nice to see one that had been preserved with a beautiful boardwalk and forest.
Of course, we would stumble upon an old Polish air field when hunting for a dog beach. It still had the hangers, bunkers and all. Part of it was operating as a private air strip.
We stayed another night in a little town called Leba because it is a gateway to the sand dunes. These dunes are the only ones of their kind in Europe. Pretty much the whole town is focused on people seeing the dunes, going to the beach, and enjoying tourist activities. Hence, the horribly touristy pirate ship with tons of carnival rides.
We ignored that part of the town and instead woke up at 6 am and rode our bikes out to the dunes before the little tourist trams started running. Officially the park opens at 8:30 but one can enter earlier and enjoy the dunes all to themselves. It was about a 5 mile bike ride to the dunes from the town, hence which, most tourists take the little tram. Since we had our bikes along we were able to get an early start. It was so peaceful and amazing to be here all alone. The pictures really don't capture the enormity and beauty of the area. (editor's note: I tried)
There were areas where people could walk and areas that were off limits. It is pretty easy to see which is which in the pictures. The beach was also incredible with sand as far as the eye could see and not a single building in sight. There are also sometimes seals on the beach but we were not rewarded with one during our stay. Hiking up the hills was a bit tough for Quinn with the sand but he is tough and never once complained.
The town of Gdansk is a super cute little town along the Baltic coast. There was a really cute cafe there that both served coffee and had a little room in the back to watch screenings of old movies. I love the concept.
We were walking along the boardwalk, enjoying the view of the city when we passed an older couple taking each others photo. We asked them if they would like us to take a photo of them together. Then they offered to take our picture. After they took our picture they asked us where we were from and then suggested, Italy? For some reason Quinn and I are frequently mistaken for Italians while traveling. I am really hoping that is for our awesome style and not because we are too loud. Maybe it is a combination of both? (For those of you who might not know, people around Europe frequently complain about the volume of Italians. Guess that is a double whammy for me, Italian descent and American.....yeah that explains it. I will use that as my new excuse!) They also happened to take one of the best pictures a stranger has ever taken for us.
Pictures from around town. The pirate ship picture is for my mom who was really excited about Gdansk having a pirate ship. Turns out, pirate ships are kind of a common thing around Poland?!
This was a cool reuse of an old structure. They turned the old underground station into a pool hall. It had two entrances/exits. What a fun idea.
The first couple days we were having a difficult time identifying what was authentic Polish food so we chose this restaurant that had people in traditional looking dress. Turned out it was Russian food. It was delicious. I had fish and Quinn had venison. Don't let the modest presentation fool you.
One night we went to a couchsurfing meetup group. It was organized by an American guy who recently married a British woman and they are living in Poland for a while. It was at an Irish pub and had a turn out of over 30 people. There were travelers from a dozen countries and a bunch of locals too. It was fun to chat with a bunch of people and enjoy an Irish pint. We also tasted some Polish vodka. I really hate vodka but even I have to say it was good. We bought a bottle of the Bison Grass to take home with us. Come on over to try it!
One last picture from Gdansk. We were staying at a guest house just outside the city center. Ethan made himself at home.
Next, we drove to Warsaw and it was a beautiful sunny day. We were disappointed to be in the car. We chose a little hotel that was some type of converted building, it almost seemed like a jail. They did a modern industrial theme with big heavy metal doors, industrial light fixtures, and finished cement floors. It was a good idea in theory but turned out to be ridiculously loud at night with all of the heavy metal doors opening and closing and the sound reverberating off of the hard surfaces. I will definitely remember this next time I am booking some modern style hotel.
There were a ton of swanky restaurants and cafes in Warsaw and everything seemed to be made of pallets.
We were walking through town and stumbled upon a "free walking tour." We joined in and it turned out to be really interesting and informative.
This is Marie Curie's house. She was originally from Poland although she lived for many years in Paris. She won the Nobel Peace prize twice, one by herself and one with her husband. Her daughter also won a Nobel peace prize and her second daughter married a guy who won a Peace prize. I can only imagine what family dinner conversation was like in that house. Here is the house Marie Curie was born in.
There was an urban legend about these statues that the architect moved them to the back of the building because the bishop from a church across the street didn't want them facing the church because it would bring provacative thoughts to the worshippers. Turned out that the architect just moved them because they had redesigned the building for more office space and they didn't fit in the front any more. Additionally, people made up stories that the women represented love, peace, and justice. Turns out that they represent his mother, wife, and daughter. So much for the fairy tale.
There was also a partial tour of the old Jewish Ghetto. It is very hard to see where the Jewish ghetto, previously the Jewish quarter, was once located but there are some small markers and outlines on the ground in various places around Warsaw. Here was a map depicting the area.
Warsaw was completely leveled during the war at the direction of Hitler. He wanted the world to see what would happen to cities that put up resistance to the Third Reich. Everything in the city had to be rebuilt following WWII.
This is a memorial for the Warsaw uprising against Hitler. It depicts all types of people taking up arms or using whatever weapons they had or could invent. Then on the other side it shows people escaping Warsaw through the sewer system. The uprising was very controversial and still is today because many people believe that it left Warsaw weak and incapable of defending itself from the takeover by Russian Communism.
Since everything in Warsaw had to be rebuilt they used old photographs or paintings to reconstruct buildings. This building was full of sculptures along the top but one was a little curious. It was a monkey eating a banana. The builders were somewhat confused as to why this building would have a monkey statue but they reviewed an old painting and there it was clear as day. Well, it turns out that the painter of that work, many years previously, didn't like the owner of the building and replaced a statue of her with a monkey. It was too late when the mistake was discovered and they decided to leave the monkey statue.
We also passed this art school with this very "interesting" hand. When the headmaster of the school was asked what the hand signified he responded by saying, "it is just a friendly hand waving hello".....uuhhhh, I don't know about that.
Can you tell I was paying attention during the tour? It was very interesting and informative.
We spent the next day cruising around on our bicycles. Here is what we saw.
During Communism there was a lot of propaganda surrounding food and it convinced people that the Polish were a simple people who only needed simple food. Restaurants called milk bars were popping up and they were basically very simple cafeteria style food with little decoration for both the food and furnishings. Recently they have become popular once again and they are the place to eat for lunch. So we did. I had rye soup and Quinn had pancakes stuffed with cheese. The bird watched us. I think this meal was 3 dollars.
Supposedly, the service is unfriendly and short at these places but we did not experience such a thing. Truth be told, we really loved the milk bar food and ate at different milk bars at least another 4 or 5 times during our trip. The best part, it only cost us about 5 dollars (total) for the two of us to eat lunch or dinner.
Dinner- not from a milk bar but from a Vietnamese place.
We also had a really great vegetarian meal from this place. This pic is more for me to remember since we scarfed down the food before we took a picture. While we were sitting at this restaurant, critical mass rode by and there were at least 1000-2000 cyclists going through the city. We were so bummed not to have our bikes with us at this point. For those unfamiliar with critical mass, it is when a group of cyclists "takes over" a city by riding in a very large group, while obeying traffic laws, to raise awareness for cyclists and need for cycling infrastructure. Sometimes people also ride naked (i.e. San Francisco). No naked people at this one.
We also went to a couchsurfing event in Warsaw at a little brew pub. This pub had more than 50 beers on tap and more than half were Polish. The microbrewery culture in Poland is on the rise. We had some really good beers there. We ended up running into another traveler that we had met at the couchsurfing event in Gdansk. Small world. We also met a Korean-German guy who grew up in Munich, is currently studying abroad in Riga, Latvia and was an exchange student in high school in Arkansas for a year. And people think we are world travelers! Hah! He gave us some good intel on the best tents in Munich for Oktoberfest. I also got to chat with a guy who is my age, grew up in Poland and remembers the first time he got a notebook with a color cover. Nothing was printed in color during the times of communism and he was really excited to get a colored notebook. Also, he loved learning English because it was the only textbook printed in color. He also remembers going to the store as a kid and getting fruit as a treat on the weekend. I told him that I was always excited to go the gas station on the weekend with my dad to get a gummy alligator. There were a lot more stories that we shared but I will save them for an in person conversation sometime.
So, that was about the first half of our trip. I will save the second half for another post.