Warsaw, Poland

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Taking a stroll through the Chinese Gardens of the Lazienki Royal Gardens.

Any time I talked about making my “living abroad” dreams come true, I never imagined that the city that I would come to would be Warsaw. Don’t get me wrong, Poland is amazing, but when you imagine living in Europe, I don’t think you imagine Warsaw, Poland.

The Palace of Culture and Science, constructed in 1955 and was a “gift” from Stalin to the Polish. It is built in the Soviet “Seven Sisters” style, and is often referred to as the “Eighth Sister”. A controversial building because of the troubled history between Poles and Russians, this is where I attend lectures; Collegium Civitas, the university I am studying at for the summer, is located on several of the building’s floors.


My first week in Warsaw was a real life “I Love Lucy” episode. I got lost, everyday, several times a day. I had no luggage for five days thanks to AirBerlin, which, by the way, I am currently in a twitter battle with since their customer service refuses to respond via email to my online complaints. Little do they know how hardheaded this southern belle can be! I quickly learned that English was not a language frequently used like in other European countries, and I also learned that the grocery store was the most intimidating place I had ever set foot in. My flat, as adorable as it is, came with virtually no closet, no dryer, no air condition, no freezer, and some odd microwave/oven appliance that I have yet learned to work despite being given an English instructions manual.

On my second night in Warsaw, I had gone to IKEA (first time ever there, and boy was that an experience! It was hours long of following the Polish yellow brick road, whew.) I lost track of time in the store, which I think happens to anyone who sets foot in that massive warehouse, and by the time I had gotten an UBER back to my flat, it was late. Like, close to midnight late. With my arms loaded down with bags, I went to open the first of many doors to get to my flat, and for some reason, I couldn’t get the door to open. And after about five minutes of trying, I realized that I was NOT getting the door to open.

Now, I will admit that I was a little scared. Here I am, arms loaded with bags, locked out of my apartment in the drizzling rain and dark night. This is EXACTLY the scenario my parents stress about and worry about me being in a foreign country alone.

So I decided I would walk to the back of the apartment complex and enter through the back entrance. So I gathered all of my things and began the five minute walk down the dark and deserted street. And the whole time I am giving myself a pep talk, saying things like, “You are safe.” “You are strong.” “You totally can’t outrun anyone, but you have a solid left jab and can scream real loudly.”

So I get to the back entrance…..and there is a gate. A closed gate. A gate with a gate code that I don’t know. And I stood there with my mouth open thinking WHY DID MY LANDLORD NEVER TELL ME THAT THERE IS A GATE THAT CLOSES AT NIGHT?!

And I am not going to lie…. this is when I REALLY started to get scared. And my gosh, all I could think was that my parents were going to KILL me if I survived the night. So there I am, heart beating fast, and I am telling myself not to panic, and I decided that there was only one thing to do:

I was going to jump that gate and fence.

So I somehow managed to get all of my bags – bags with breakables by the way – over the fence. And looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just jump the fence and then open the gate to grab my things, but hey, I was in survival mode and just went with instincts. So I start to crawl over the six to seven foot fence, and I am mid-leg swing over the gate, when this old Polish man walking his dog comes by. And he is just staring at me with this really confused look on his face, yelling in Polish (it seemed like yelling at the time, but honestly it could have just been a normal tone), and waving his arms. I just sort of smiled real big, as if this was totally normal to be jumping fences in the middle of the night, and politely asked if he had a key to open the gate.

He didn’t. Nor did he speak English.

So I get down, and honestly, I don’t know how I got down without breaking my leg or ankle or something. I grabbed my things and walked towards my apartment complex…… only to realize that I was in the wrong apartment complex altogether. All that work for NOTHING.

So I let myself out of the gate like a normal, civilized person, walked a block down, and finally entered my apartment, safe and sound.

However, despite that minor incident, after a little over a month in Warsaw, I can honestly say that I am the happiest I have ever been. Every day is exciting, yet challenging. And thankfully, I haven’t had to jump any gates since that one night.

 

Old Town Warsaw. Completely destroyed during WWII, it is once again a thriving part of Warsaw.

I love my job at the POLIN Museum. I feel needed and wanted, and I genuinely love to go to work. The courses I am taking are incredible. My two professors, Dr. Zyndul and Dr. Kozlowski, are two of the most interesting and intelligent historians I have ever had the chance to study under. And of course, getting to be with Dr. Alexandra Richie is so wonderful. Weekly, we have a coffee or lunch together; she invites me to functions and places, and every time I am with her, I think of how much of an inspiration she is as a career woman, historian, mom, and professor. She is so kind, so amazing, and I cannot brag enough about this special woman.

 

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In front of their country manor, here I am with Alex, her husband Wladyslaw, her two daughters, Max and Coco Bella, and the adorable dog, Lucy.

Poland is a beautiful country despite its troubled history. Although there are tons of Soviet type apartment complexes and tons of communist/Russian influences from the rebuilding of the city following World War II, there is an incredible amount of true beauty throughout the city of Warsaw as well as the entire country of Poland. One of my favorite things about the city, is the vast number of memorials and monuments throughout the city. You can’t walk a block without seeing a plaque, a statue, a something, commemorating an event or person. My flat is actually located on the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto, so I am walking through history every day.

 

This is a section of the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto. Here, a brick has been removed and is now displayed at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington D.C.

 

 

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A monument outside of the POLIN Museum dedicated to Jan Karski. Karski was a Polish member of the resistance movement during WWII. Karski risked his life traveling throughout occupied Europe, desperately trying to convince world leaders of the horrors that were occurring in the ghettos and concentration camps. Despite feeling as if he failed in saving the Jewish people, Karski is one of the most decorated and honored men following WWII. To read more on this extraordinary man, read his My Report to the World: The Story of a Secret State.

 

Warsaw is so GREEN! There are so many parks and squares and trails, and all of them, and I mean ALL OF THEM, are so uniquely beautiful. Almost daily I discover another place with manicured lawns, blooming flowers, and gorgeous statues. Every morning and evening, as I am walking to and from work, I get to walk through the lovely Krasinski Place. It makes every day quite beautiful.

Poland, bless them, have been getting their butts kicked since pretty much forever. Polish history is incredibly fascinating, and it is amazing to read how the borders of Poland continuously changed throughout the centuries, predominately under another country’s reign. Mainly, its the Russians that have ruled Poland, but Germany has had its control as well.

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The Warsaw Citadel was built in the 1830’s and is 19th-century fortress. Tzar Nicholas I built the Warsaw Citadel to help govern and control the Polish people. The Citadel was a prison and a place of execution for the Poles who revolted against Russian reign.

But Poland’s history is a part of its charm. And gosh, there are just so many beautiful buildings and places to see and explore! I am so afraid that I won’t be able to see it all before I leave! And the WWII and Holocaust history… well, I think I need to write a totally separate post to even give you a fraction of what you can find here in Warsaw.

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St. Anne’s Cathedral, one of Warsaw’ oldest buildings.
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The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world. There are 200,000 – 300,000 people buried here, however, many are not marked. During German occupation during WWII, the cemetery was a mass burial for victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.

As much as I was excited to leave the good ole USofA to go on my summer adventure, there was a part of me that was honest-to-God terrified of leaving my family, my friends, my comfort zone. And right before I left, I went to my dentist for a check-up and teeth cleaning, and Mrs. Ellie, the darling of a woman who has cleaned my teeth for over twenty-five years now, told me that if I got over here to Poland and hated it, I could come home and that would be perfectly okay. I laughed and told her that even if I was miserable, I would stick it out the entire three months.

But I am not miserable. At all. I am gloriously happy. And in all honesty, I haven’t been homesick yet. Sure, I wish I could see my loved ones and hug them everyday, but thankfully, because of today’s technology, I get to FaceTime my family often. Social Media keeps me in touch with everyone. There has been only three times that I wish I could teleport myself back to Louisiana for a few hours since I got here: my sister’s golden birthday, Father’s Day which happens to be the same weekend as my mother’s birthday, and LeeLee’s, my college best friend, baby shower.

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Dr. Richie’s manor outside of Warsaw. The manor was occupied by SS Officers during the Second World War. Battles were fought all along the manor, and to this day, bullets, helmets, and other war remnants are found on the grounds. The gardner once found an unexploded bomb once!
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Restaurants and little cafes line the streets of Old Town Warsaw. Sometimes I will go and sit in one of the outside little seating areas and just watch the people pass by.

Poland actually reminds me a little bit of Louisiana.

Their beauty is unique, the food is incredible yet unhealthy, drinks are always flowing, you can’t understand a word anyone says, the mosquitoes will eat you alive, the weather is fickle, and no wars or awful leaders or natural disasters are going to keep them down.

I didn’t need to come across the world to realize how lucky I am, but every morning that I wake up, I think about how blessed I am that I get to make my dreams come true. I love every moment of this grand adventure, my LUVLY travels.

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Out celebrating a British girlfriend’s birthday, a guy gave me a rose. But when I wouldn’t dance with him, he took the rose away. Quite beastly of him if you ask me.

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