Last Loop of Poland

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Skyscrapers and smog abound, we pull into Warsaw central station surrounded by the jungle of industrialization and communist blocks. We’re thrown from the cute and the calm of Kraków into the big city, and walk through a busy street to our room for two nights. We worry that we’ll be sleeping above the busy street, but our room lies in a square inside a larger building so it’s nice and calm. But I can’t help but wonder if Warsaw will be a severely metropolitan city. 

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This thought leaves immediately as soon as we enter old town.

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Warsaw (and most of Poland) was nearly completely destroyed in the Second World War. Since then, Polish cities have been painstakingly restoring the glamour of the Poland that was. Poland’s old town may have been build in the 1950’s, but you still feel as though Copernicus could be staring down at you from the windows above.

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It’s not the same charm of Gdańsk or Kraków, but Warsaw offers plenty of old town charm underneath the high rises.

We dine on a hummus picnic in the park, and walk across the river to the up and coming Praga neighborhood. Buildings are smaller here, and everything certainly feels a bit more livable.

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There’s a good amount of grunge on the streets, painted on the walls and on the cigarette butts on the streets. There isn’t the same Hobo-chic feeling of some Berlin neighborhoods, but there’s good energy here.

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Some photo creds to Ivana.

Warsaw isn’t the highlight of Poland but it’s worth a stop, and I’m glad to see the industrial side of Poland. The sky at sunset here is bizarre, painted with oranges and purples in a way I’ve never seen before. I don’t know it it’s the heat or the smog, but it’s certainly beautiful.

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Another Ivana photo cred.

The next morning we have a plan of seeing Warsaw’s best museums. Then we read, and find out all museums are closed on Tuesday’s. So we walk and walk and walk, with no general direction in mind.

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We stroll into a neighborhood reminiscent of some streets in Paris, lined with little boutiques of scented candles and hip cafes and plenty of tall trees. We bide our time and enjoy a coffee, since there aren’t any museums open.

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 We were hoping to see the Jewish History Museum and the Warsaw Uprising Museum. But bad luck had us. One museum we were sure would be open was the Neon Museum, featuring a collection of neon signs. The website says it’ll close at 18:00, so we wander there and arrive at 17:02 to see them closing up shop for the evening.

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We re-plan, and head for a bar in an old rubber factory. I love repurposed buildings, so this is a great opportunity. We arrive and get excited by the graffiti and urban feel. We approach and see:

Closed Tuesdays

Don’t come to Warsaw on a Tuesday…

We’re a bit bummed out and hungry. I grab a kebab and Ivana gets some hummus and goodies, which we enjoy in a little park while watching dog walkers and kids on jungle-gyms. We feel a little bit defeated by the day, but I can’t really complain. I don’t mind wandering around cities, even if I don’t end up going anywhere in particular. This is a cliche example of life being about the journey rather than the destination, of course.

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But one thing can certainly cheer us up: cheap beer. We head to a little area of bars made out of a small pavilion. Bars here are small and cheap but lively. We grab a couple good beers and go to one of my favorite chain bars for a good shot of Polish vodka. We feel good, and go back to the garden outside our room to eat some sunflower seeds and enjoy the Warsaw night.

We wake, pack everything up, and head to the train station for our final leg of the journey together.

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Photo cred to Ivana.

The next stop is back to Gdańsk for one last night together, drinking in every moment of Poland and each others company. The train ride is only 2:30 hours, through nature that’s definitely getting a bit more Denmark-y. Marshes, flat fields, plenty of hay, and beautiful forests.

Now, we’ve also made a full loop. It does feel like a good amount of closure to our journey together (geographically, at least).

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We arrive at the familiar station and head to our Airbnb place for the night. We walk through one of the nicest malls I’ve ever seen and arrive in the quiet neighborhood where we’re staying. It’s adorable, just like everything in Gdańsk. We arrive and get inside before absolutely torrential rain and hail thunders down from the sky. It’s one of the craziest out of nowhere storms I’ve seen, creating a river in the street. So happy to be inside.

Now that it’s raining, I’m not certain what will become of our final day in Poland. It’s certainly calm, sitting inside with tea watching the storm. But it does all feel a bit bittersweet as well. I’ve had such a great companion and travel buddy this past year that it feels so odd to part ways so early in my trip. Tomorrow, Ivana will go back to Aalborg to hold down the fort and go for a job interview Friday morning. I, on the other hand, will be flying to Western Norway for the end of my time in Europe until next February. For me, this is just the beginning of a longer half year journey studying in Hong-Kong and experiencing Asia. But for Ivana, life goes on.

The rain quiets down eventually, and we walk across our lot to see some bizarre sculpture work.

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We realize the damage the storm has created. A cacophany of sirens surround us, and we see torn tree branches in streets and an uprooted tree in the park in front of our apartment. Yet even with all of the destruction, everything feels calm as we walk the old streets of Gdańsk. I love this city so much. Everything about it is so charming and perfect. Quieter than Amsterdam, and farm more charming the old town Copenhagen, Gdańsk is one of the prettiest cities in the Baltic Sea, and probably Northern Europe. Even though this is now my third time in the city, it feels strangely prettier than all of the other times I’ve ventured here.

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The city is bustling with people today. There’s an open air craft fair, and little stalls our selling handmade goodies in nearly every street of old town. It’s eclectic and exciting, with amazing street musicians around every corner and the smell of grilled sausages in the air. We keep wandering all evening and catch the sunset. It’s the best atmosphere I’ve felt here, and a perfect way to end our trip together.

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The next morning we linger a bit, enjoying our Airbnb and eating breakfast on the patio. We head out and walk the streets a bit, grabbing the final hummus picnic together for a little while. I don’t want to leave Gdańsk, and the costs of things in Norway scare me a bit too much to make the journey worth it. But I’m excited to see it, and get on my way.

Ivana is nice enough to wait with me for my flight. Her flight back to Denmark leaves about two hours after mine, and I will have landed before she even lifts off. It’s difficult to find someone you can spend 100% of your time with for a month and a half. But we’ve found that, and that’s extremely valuable to me. It’s been a long journey, hitchiking in Polish rain, dealing with hot marshrutkas, and getting stuffed in Slovakia. But it’s been a journey I’ve treasured, one that has allowed me to grow in ways I’m still figuring out. But as I’m still on the go, my reflextion time is a bit limited. I have a flight to Haugesund to think about life and travel a bit. I walk to the stairway, wave and blow my final kisses, and board that plane to Norway.

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