Eastward in August

Sunday, December 11, 2016

If I told you there was a place with an incredible art scene, savory food and balmy late summer temps, what bits of the world would come to mind?

...(thinking time)...

I'm guessing you didn't name Poland.

My oil-employed uncle has waxed poetic about Poland for years - The kindest people! The most beautiful architecture! - but I had to see it to believe it. Thus, in mid-August, right before school started, my friend Art Teacher and I took a whirlwind "girl trip" by Student Agency bus through Wroclaw, Torun, Gdansk and Warsaw - and they ended up being some of the best cities I've visited in Europe. It's completely accessible from Prague; if you live in this vicinity, high-tail it Polonia!

Wroclaw - The 2016 European Capital of Culture: 

1 day

Aside from having a gobsmackingly beautiful center the whole place was bedazzled with iron dwarves and wondrous art. We spent most of our time in the ornate Old Town, but wandered over to the Neon Side Gallery for some grit and pierogi. Exhibitions seemed to pop out of the woodwork, like one on 1930s history in the St. Elizabeth Church courtyard or the "Matrimony under Communism" collection at the Pan Tadeusz Museum. I don't think we could've seen more than what we squeezed into 8 hours, and my feet proved it; I had to by a new pair of (leopard print) canvas shoes when the sole started flapping off my boot.

Torun - The birthplace of Copernicus and peddler of gingerbread: 

1 day

This was our quietest stop on the journey, likely because we stuffed ourselves silly at the Manekin creperie and then followed it up with gingerbread and a swing through a wodka bar. We sort of launched our overindulged selves into the cozy streets and let the breeze guide our wandering, which led us to vintage shops, a small Jewish Quarter, the Medieval city walls, the Vistula River and... more gingerbread. 


 Gdansk - Europe's best-kept secret, in my opinion: 

2 days

This port city stole my heart with its dazzling Old Town architecture, maritime vibe and bold street art. Everything about this leg of the trip was idyllic, from our Air Bnb host leaving us fresh eggs from her hens in the morning to being swallowed by a raucously joyous St. Dominic's Fair. I'm kicking myself as I write this for not scheduling more time in this Baltic beauty and am trying to recollect the dozens of things we squashed into two days of touring. Here were my favorites, at least:
- St. Peter and Paul's Church, which had been reduced to rubble in WWII
- Cafe Jozef K (named after Kafka's creation) for a hot drink
- The vibrant murals on Communist concrete flats in the Zaspa neighborhood
- Visiting an exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts
- Strolling along the lovely Motlawa riverwalk
- The Polish Post Office, where postal workers held off invading German SS troups
- Lunching and perusing amber on Mariacka Street


Warsaw - A gorgeous and gritty phoenix: 

2 days

The Old Town was systematically obliterated in WWII and we read about its reconstruction at the Historical Museum of Warsaw. It's quaint now, albeit expectedly touristy. We popped into a few churches and dined on our first Polish steak tartar, then accidentally wandered into the glass-and-steel modern part, which may as well have been any American city. 
The next morning brought us to the city's remnants of the horrific Warsaw ghetto - and we found it unsettling that there wasn't more done to commemorate the atrocities that occurred there against the Jewish population. Perhaps we missed something? Then it was on to the massive Palace of Culture and Science, the Soviet Union's gift to the Polish people. It's not a typical tourist stop, but it should be; it's an Art Deco monument full of museums and cafes, a cinema, offices and even a swimming pool. 

Thanks to my dear friend Art Teacher (below) for being a superb travel crony and BW for holding down the fort in Prague so I could traipse East for a while.

Feeling like I have a:

“W zdrowym ciele, zdrowy duch”
Healthy soul in a healthy body

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