You know you're in Poland when...
... Chopin is played in the train cars at station stops. (Chopin is one of Poland's greatest cultural icons.)
... wedding rings are worn on the right ring finger, not the left. Throwing off all foreign single ladies' game.
... medieval names sound a heck of a lot like heavy metal references. Gdansk's German name was Danzig and an Iron Maiden (seen here) was a torture device. Who knew?
... you realize they're still experiencing the golden age of 80's music and videos. When you've re-learned every word to INXS's Mediate, you know the 80's music is on a constant loop here.
... phones are answered with a quick "Hello? Hello?" like an impatient Lionel Richie.
... you're pulling into a train station and the name of the station looks like an eye chart. Tschew, Wrzeszcz, Przemysl... I rest my case. Also, can you imagine the ease of playing scrabble in Polish? I mean Wrzeszcz alone would be like a million points.
If you're a history buff, Poland is filthy rich with it. I am not a history buff but ultimately realized you can't understand the Poles' humility, resilience, and pride without comprehending Polish history. With all I've learned about the war, the Holocaust, and Communism, I'd put myself up against any VFW hall on WWII trivia night. If you had asked me in week two whether I'd be ready to leave after 6 weeks I would have confidently said yes. However the end of this trip really snuck up on me. The long train rides through gorgeous, can't-take-your-eyes-off-it countryside and forests. The rows of charming, colorful houses. The peaceful trails and scenery of the Tatra mountains. The stunning churches and castles that dot every town's map. Krakow's regal beauty. Gdansk's nautical charm. And even the consonant-crazy language that confused me on the daily. I'll miss it all. I'm happy and gratified to have experienced it. And proud to be of Polish heritage.
One of my reasons for choosing Poland was to find the beautiful, impressive, and welcoming parts that most people don't associate with this country. I believe I experienced many of them and I hope you did too through my words and photos. Through any fears and frustrations that arose during this trip, the acts of kindness from strangers shined through. Like the elderly man in the grocery store whose great patience and smile made me feel proud of my first attempt at speaking Polish. Or the non-English speaking taxi driver who somehow miraculously knew to wait rather than drive off at a middle of nowhere sight-seeing stop and didn't even charge for the 30 minute return trip. Or the group of four British seniors whom I shared a ride with to the mountains who took my phone number and gave me theirs in case I got lost or needed help. Or sweet Ola, the woman in the customer service office at the Krakow train station, who welcomed me everyday for a week with such patience while writing down every detail I needed for my upcoming train trips. For these, and the never-ending growth that comes from these experiences, I am so very grateful.
I've probably said my last enthusiastic "dziękuję bardzo" for awhile (at least one that's followed by a Pole's chuckle), but I'll raise one last shot of vodka and say it again to you. Dziękuję Bardzo! Thank you very much for coming along on this special Polish journey.
Don't miss next week's stop on the Polish adventure or jump on the RobinGoesTo journey now at RobinGoesTo.com.