(February 20th – February 22nd)
This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Warsaw, Poland with another Rome Starter, Alejandra and an upperclassman, Mairead. We flew in Friday morning and explored the Old Town district after quite the struggle finding our way into the actual city. Two young Polish gentlemen were kind enough to help us, to our pleasant surprise, and they directed us to the correct train platform and even walked us to our hostel –which I’m convinced would have taken more than twice as long as it did to find without them. We were very grateful for them, and the fact that afterward they respectfully left.. A lot of the Old Town was destroyed during both the World Wars but mostly WW2. That’s why there is an Old Town district and a New Town District, in addition to the many other districts across the river. We loved the colorful buildings all connected to each other and filled with people drinking gluhwein, eating many Polish traditional winter market foods, on the cobblestone streets. It was very picturesque, and felt like we went back in time a couple centuries. These are the parts of cities that I enjoy the most, and it reminded me of parts of Germany I got to travel to last November. We had a very Polish dinner and enjoyed the warmth of the restaurant after a long walk outside. We talked about how different of a language Polish is than anything we’ve studied or heard before. It is most similar to Russian, and so the pronunciation of words and general language rules made it next to impossible for us to decipher anything. I have pictures of “wiking” –pronounced Vikings- one of many that we laughed at, because our little English or Spanish mouths wanted to pronounce it how it’s spelled.
On Saturday we tried to find the Gestapo Headquarters Museum, but somehow failed. No one had any idea what we were asking about, and so we gave up and explored the area that we reluctantly ended up in. It turned out being a really good experience because we were in New Town, which is where the old Jewish ghetto is. Now, there is a brand new Jewish History Museum and a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943) monument. We spent over two hours gradually walking through the museum and learning a lot about the history of the Jewish people in Poland along the way. This was my favorite part of the weekend because I love history, and especially European history during both World Wars. I gained new perspective on all that happened in Poland during the Holocaust, and as heavy and disheartening it was, I felt a sense of enlightenment because of the unique opportunity to be learning about the past in the place where it all took place. Much more interesting than just reading it in a history textbook, this was a trip that I knew would be filled with museums, monuments and streets that had acquired more character than any streets where I’m from.
In one of two of Old Town’s main squares, there was an ice skating rink and because it was so cheap and Alejandra had only skated once before, we decided to skate. Having grown up in Minnesota and (surprise) on a lake, I grew up on skates and although I still cannot stop very smoothly –or effectively for that matter- I was able to help her. We finished the day with another great Polish meal and exhaustedly headed back to our hostel.
On Sunday morning before our flight we went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum partly because it had free admission. I wish we could’ve had more time there, but we had to catch a 2pm flight so we tried to get through as much of the extensive museum as possible. Another newer museum, but equally as complete and well done as the Jewish History one we saw on Saturday. There were dozens of different interactive galleries, and thankfully everything was in English beneath the Polish. This was another museum experience that left our hearts heavy. On our walk to the museum that morning, we passed by a famous, small monument honoring all the child soldiers whose lives were lost during the Second World War. Named, “The Little Insurgent” it was another powerful sight that has stuck in my mind ever since. Poland was a really cool opportunity to experience a new culture, try lots of new foods, and learn a lot about the past. I’m glad I was able to experience first-hand part of our history that I’ve only just read about until this year.