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Poland

Celebrating Our First Year of Marriage in Gdansk, Poland

Derek and I decided to celebrate our 1st year wedding anniversary in Gdansk, Poland. Why Gdansk and not Krakow? After seeing pictures of Gdansk and learning that it was a relatively small, quiet, and charming city, we quickly decided that Gdansk would be the perfect place to spend a romantic weekend together! It’s a quaint and picturesque city situated in a bay on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Historically, Poland and Germany have fought over possession of Gdansk. And interestingly, Gdansk was considered a “free city” in two points in time. For me, this was exciting because I was reading the “Game of Thrones” books and little tidbits such as this was very “Game of Thrones” –like!
After 7 months of backpacking, we decided that staying in a nice hotel was essential. This is the view from our room:

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We celebrated with dinner at a delicious seafood restaurant.
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After 7 months of backpacking during our first year marriage, I can still say that Derek makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world! Cliché but I don’t care – we’ve been in each other’s faces 24/7 for almost 8 months at this point and I am still not sick of this guy!
We lost track of time as we roamed through streets lined with colourful buildings, hopped from cukiernia (bakery) to cukiernia sampling delicious desserts, and enjoyed Gdansk’s watery edge. For us, it really was the perfect getaway.

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We took one day to visit the Europe’s largest Gothic fortress: the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, a short train ride away from Gdansk. The castle was built in 13th century Prussia by the Teutonic Knights. Historically, the Polish and German kingdoms continuously fought over the possession of this castle. Since its destruction during World War II in 1945 it is slowly being rebuilt, restored, and open tourists. I felt like I was walking around scenes from “Game of Thrones”!

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Gdansk is most notable as the birthplace of the Solidarity movement against the communist regime in Poland in the 1980s. Led by Lech Walesa, the shipyard workers risked and sacrificed their lives to claim worker’s rights and social change. Eventually, this movement helped bring down the communist regime from power and ultimately Poland eventually rid itself of communism. The example of civil resistance with non-violent methods used by the shipyard workers against the oppressing communist regime is inspiring. Poland is the beautiful, successful, and bourgeoning country it is today because of these historical events in time.

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Posted by krisses 18:35 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

The Euro 2012 experience - Poland Edition


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

Poland is a great country to visit and probably the best value in Europe. It still has its own currency (the zloty) despite being in the European no-border free-trade zone and this in part has helped it become Europe's strongest economy and one of the few countries in the world not to experience experience a recession in the past 5 years. For backpackers this means helpful people, no major safety issues, great low prices for food and accommodation and all the conveniences of the 1st world. However, the primary reason why we came to Poland at the time that we did was the Euro Cup.

The Euro Cup is the second most attended sporting tournament in the world after the FIFA World Cup and it is as much about Football as it is about having a great party. People from all over Europe, and in fact from all over the world, converge on the host country or countries to cheer on their team or their adopted team and drinks TONS of beer. There are Brazilians cheering on the Portuguese, Mexicans cheering on the Spanish and so on. The tickets to the games are allocated using a lottery system and the drawing is done a full year before the tournament starts. There are special ticket allocations to the Football associations in the countries competing so entire planes/buses full of Swedes, Fins, Germans etc. arrive on the days just preceding the matches to attend the games create a wonderful festive atmosphere in the cities. However, don't worry if you don't have tickets to any of the games, the host cities where the stadiums are all have giant Fan Zones that in some cases can accommodate well over 100K people in addition to giant TV screens, stands, beer booths, souvenirs and even carnival style Football themed games. The best part is the Fan Zones are FREE, there are DJ's and live performances, and the party goes on way after the actual Football matches are done.

Having not been lucky enough to score one of the highly sought after opening day tickets we decided to join over 100,000 other people in the fan zone in Warsaw to watch the opening Poland vs. Greece game:

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Despite the media pouncing on a few incidents and blowing them out of proportion, the atmosphere throughout the tournament was inclusive and friendly even between fans from countries that may not have had the best history or are currently on bad terms. The large majority of people were open to EVERYONE and we didn't see any incidents of fights or hostility between various nationalities. It was wonderful to see so many people from so many places in the world partying and having a good time together.

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The most fun we had was heading our with our Dutch friends to watch the first Netherlands game. We dressed up in Orange colors but unfortunately the result wasn't great for the Dutch.

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I was starting to feel like a bad luck charm! So I picked up a Russian scarf from some Russian fans. After all the next Poland game was going to be against Russia and if I was bad luck then maybe it was going to rub off :)

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We had a great time mingling with fans from around the world and stayed and watched the Portugal vs. Germany game then stuck around for the after-party.

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While it was great fun hanging out in the Fan Zone, we did eventually get a chance to go to the National Stadium in Warsaw to watch a game. I was lucky enough to have bought tickets to the Quarter Final game from an official resale site ran by UEFA and we couldn't be more excited to get to see Poland play on home soil. It was going to be their first Euro Cup Quarter Final appearance except.... well it never happened :( Poland would have played in the game had they beaten the Czech republic in their last round robin match but they ended up losing despite being favorites on paper. So instead we were going to watch the Czech's take on one of Euro Cup favorites Portugal.

The whole Euro Cup experience was unforgettable. I will always remember the excitement that you could just feel throughout Warsaw on the day before the first Poland game. It was clear that the entire city and in fact the country was watching and hoping and wanting to see a victory. The team did not end up delivering the victory but the country sure did. The camaraderie between fans from all over the world, the "Polska" chants and white-red outfits everywhere, hanging out with our friends and the wonderful festive atmosphere everywhere we went all went into creating memories that will last a lifetime. Even if you could not care less about Football/Soccer attending the Euro or the World Cup should rank high on your list of must-do experiences.

Posted by dariusz 10:24 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Warsaw!

Poland is an amazing country. It’s beautifully landscaped with forests, fringed with picturesque mountains, and crowned with a beautiful Baltic seaside. When and meeting Europeans during our travels, many have mentioned how they enjoy vacationing in Poland because of all of it has to offer – hiking in the scenic “Polish mountains”, relaxing by the Baltic sea, unwinding by one its numerous lakes and forests, indulging on delectable Polish cuisine, and exploring its charming towns and cities.

After travelling around Asia for 4 months, coming to Warsaw was quite a relief! We flew from Vietnam to Warsaw with a stopover in Moscow. The journey was about 12 hours long. When we were received by Derek’s mom we were visibly skinnier and haggard. Fortunately for us, we were able to stay with Derek’s mom who had a flat in Warsaw. Derek’s mom nursed us back to our original fat selves through her love and excellent home cooking! Also, we were only a 20 minute transit ride away from the downtown area, and only 10 minutes from the football stadium.

Yes – we came to Warsaw primarily because of the 2012 Eurocup!
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Apart from the Eurocup games and festivities, Warsaw is a great city to visit! It’s modern with wide streets, decent public transportation, beautiful parks, great Polish restaurants, and EXCELLENT desserts! The people can by shy but friendly once you break the ice, and happily willing to correct butchered Polish when attempted! It is such a difficult language!

Scattered throughout the city are reminders and monuments to historical events and tragedies throughout the city. Many of these tributes are in Polish, therefore it was great having my very own Polish translator to translate for me. He happens to be good-looking too! We even had the opportunity to hang out with our good buddy S.A.M who was couch-surfing around Scandanavia and happened to be in Warsaw when we were! It was great enjoying Warsaw’s many beautiful sites with our international-travel buddy!
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For me, the best part about Warsaw was visiting family and seeing the places where Derek and his family had grown up in. We had such a wonderful time visiting family and friends just outside of Warsaw. The suburbs of Warsaw look like Ontario cottage country – many trees, clean lakes, the presence of forest birds and animals, and the serenity of the country side. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, generous, and so much fun to be around! It was fun sharing stories about how Polish customs couldn’t keep a straight face while looking at my passport, and the Polish name that did not match the obviously Asian face!
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And the FOOD! Oh wow – delicious. The best part is that you don’t even need to go to an expensive place to have fantastic, fresh food. The Polish take pride in using fresh ingredients, cooking from scratch, and making sure that it’s so tasty that you want to eat more and more!

One can visit a cafeteria-type place called a “Bar Mleczny” which literally translates to “Milk Bar”. Here, one can find the menu (all in Polish) posted on a wall, a very unpleasant-looking woman behind a cash register, and 2 small windows. Here is a step-by-step description on how to order food here. DO NOT DIGRESS FROM THESE INSTRUCTIONS or else someone WILL yell at you:

1. Know what you want to order: If possible, have a translator present. Or ask someone in line to describe what everything is. But by all means DO NOT ask the woman behind the counter what anything is or else she WILL yell at you.

2. Order from and pay the unpleasant woman who will be standing behind the cash register: she will give you a receipt and expect you to figure out, without any help from her, that you should go to the small window next. If you ask anything idiotic, she will let you know that you are being an idiot.

3. Go to the small window, hand in your receipt, and wait: do not remind the people behind the window that you still have other items outstanding. They WILL yell at you.

4. Take your meal from the people behind the small window: the food is cheap but delicious. Savour all of it, and do not waste any of it. You might want to have more, but you will have to risk going through steps 1 through 3 again.

5. Once finished your food, take your dirty dishes and tray to the second window and place the tray there: do NOT take any pictures of this process. You WILL get yelled at, guaranteed!

I actually had the best roasted duck and apples EVER in the small town that Derek grew up in. The cost of this fabulous meal -- $4! Seriously! I made Derek tell the owner that I would never eat another duck ever again because it is not possible for me to have duck THIS AMAZING ever again!
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Although we spent almost 1 month in Warsaw, it was not enough time to see absolutely everything. But the most significant thing about Warsaw is its history. Until you visit the war museum and Warsaw Uprising museum, you will not appreciate how much Warsaw has progressed since its destruction by the Nazis in the 1940s, then its occupation by the Russians immediately afterwards. It was not only the Jewish people of Poland that were targeted by their occupiers -- it was ALL Polish people. One would not be able to comprehend how this beautiful and upcoming city was literally flattened and then rebuilt to its former likeness by finding old blueprints of the city, by old paintings, old pictures, and the sheer drive and dedication by the people of Warsaw.

Warsaw is an inspirational city to the rest of the world because it is a living example of the positive outcomes that could arise even after a city is devastated by war, oppression, occupation, and other acts against humanity. It is a testament to the power of people working together towards a common goal that benefits the greater good. And once you realize all of this, Warsaw will seem like an even more beautiful place than it already seems…
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Posted by krisses 17:54 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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