Back From Poland

Thumbnail image of Poland map, cropped to highlight Gdańsk. Image Source - CIA World FactbookI recently returned from a trip to Poland. It was a tough but enlightening journey. Throughout the years of running this website, I met lots of people throughout the world — but only virtually. For the most part, I stayed in the NYC area. I figured that all of the best stuff in the world is already here. Why bother traveling, especially considering that I hate traveling by airplane? But surprisingly, I found myself on the way to Gdańsk. In doing so, I learned some new things.

One of the things that I didn’t learn is my hate of buses with wings. I already knew that. The plane was even called an “Airbus”. But while flying on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), I got to experience some modernization of air travel. The seats had little monitors in them. I could watch movies, play music or see travel information. I could see the location of the plane on the globe. As the little plane moved over the Atlantic Ocean, it was like one of the slowest progress bars ever. At 39,000 feet, the outside air temperature is much colder than on the ground. At first I thought -70° and lower was a mistake. Yet, I was flying through thin air, at night, over some frigid territory. It reminded me of the massive technology that was required to make this trip happen.

And those jokes I heard about airline food, it doesn’t seem to be true — at least not anymore. I had my Thanksgiving dinner somewhere over Canada. It was quite nice, even though I didn’t feel much like eating. Well, I did get hungry, but it was hard to get comfortable when stuck in a chair for over eight hours. The first flight was filled with several noisy children. I felt trapped. Fortunately, I had a window seat with an amazing view. Even though it was dark, I could see stars and a beautiful display of lights from the cities below.

Since there weren’t any direct flights from New York to Gdańsk, I had to switch planes at Copenhagen, Denmark. This is a lovely airport. I was impressed with the hardwood floors and numerous shopping areas. New York is often called the capital of the world. If that’s the case, then it might be hard to realize that from the airports. I’ve been to the JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. I found it to be much nicer in Copenhagen.

After a short plane ride over the Baltic Sea, I landed in Poland. Growing up in the 80’s, I was influenced by the cold war. We were taught to distrust the Russians and their allies. I didn’t imagine myself traveling to this part of the world. But now that the communistic era for Poland is over, the country is becoming Americanized. I was surprised to hear English on the radio. There were lots of great stores too, like Biedronka. Throughout my travels in the Pomeranian providence, the smiling ladybug store could often be found.

Other stores like Real (kinda like Walmart) and Obi (kinda like Home Depot) are quite similar to popular American stores. The Polish stores seemed a lot cleaner. I was also surprised by cashiers that could sit instead of stand at the register. It made shopping America feel somewhat barbaric. Why do our cashiers have to stand all day… and why don’t the back wheels on the shopping carts turn? The shopping carts in Poland were more maneuverable than the ones I’m used to in New York.

I could find many of the foods that I’m accustomed to, but many items were difficult to find. Cranberry Juice was surprising difficult to locate. The best I could find was a mix of cranberry and some other juice. I couldn’t find Vegetarian Beans, Eggos/Bisquick or Provolone Cheese. But for the most part, I was able to eat the same things that I would in America. To a world traveler, that might seem absurd. Isn’t the idea to experience the local culture? I did try some new Polish food, but I like hamburgers and pizza. I was eating rather well.

I especially liked the chocolate pudding, which is something else that I found amazing about Poland. This was one of the best chocolate puddings I had in my life. It felt and tasted rather fancy, but it only cost about one złoty. That’s like 30¢ in New York. Life can be hard in Poland. With high unemployment, it can be tough to get a job. So while the country appears to be growing economically, it’s still recovering from the darker days.