Posted in English, Europe, Poland

North American’s first trip to Europe

North American's first trip to Europe

It’s taken a while for me to get around to writing about our trip to Poland, but here it goes.

Last April, we took time off from work to head to Poland for about 5 weeks.  I had never been to Europe before and had no idea what to expect. Of course Europe, and Poland specifically, is different from North America, but for the most part, after a little internet browsing, there is a general idea of what will be different. Of course there were still a few things that threw me a little bit.
First off is the ‘pay toilets’.  We were walking around Westerplatte, the site where WW2 started, and I quickly zipped off to a public washroom that I saw.  When I exited, nauseous from the cleaner fumes, a fairly stout and stern woman started yelling at me in polish.  On the way in I thought she was just standing around her cleaning cart after dousing the room with bleach, but after she switched to English and repeated “2 Zloty, 2 Zloty, you pay 2 Zloty”,  I realized she was not just the janitor, but the toilet tax collector too.  I had no money on me and tried to tell her that I had to get my wife.  It became apparent that the only English she knew was ‘you pay 2 Zloty’  and she was not going to let me leave.  All I could do was wait for my wife to start missing me and come save me.  I saw her on the other side of a few big trees, and decided to yell to her before the stalky babushka’s rising temper exploded.  She came running over, hearing the panic in my voice, and with a little laugh, paid for me.  Of course when she tells the story, she does an imitation of the panic stricken voice that came out of my mouth, which I am thankful cannot be recreated on this blog.  After that day I became aware that all the public toilets in Poland are pay per use and just for fun my body automatically said to itself that it’s always time to go, which I am embarrassed to say, cost me quite a bit of money one day.

Secondly, are man’s best friends.  Being a dog lover, I’ve never fully understood how so many people from other countries could be so afraid of them.  The reality is that in Poland, dogs are vicious! Every yard is completely fenced in, and most of them have at least one dog running around in it, who’s sole job is to bark and run ferociously along the fence next to passer-byers.  Not one dog that I walked past wagged its tail and just wanted to say hi.  Not one was friendly enough to get within 5 feet or pet.  I have never been afraid of dogs before, but on this trip when a dog crossed my path that was not on an opposite side of a fence, I hesitated on which direction I would go.

I used to compare central Canada’s culture, architecture, and overall vibe with the east and think of it as an unsophisticated toddler with little character built.  I used to smile when people laughed at how Yellowknife’s 70ish year old origins are labeled ‘old town’ and in my head, compared it to a ‘real’ old town like Old Montreal.  Then I stepped into Europe.  Naklo Nad Notecia, a little town off the radar that I spent most of my time in, was given the label of a town over 700 years ago!  Biking through the town, and the surrounding area, it is common to find structures that are well over 100 years old.  They do not have plaques on them designating them as a piece of history, or are protected from demolition.  They are all just buildings that continue to serve a purpose in people’s lives as a house, a farm, or a factory.  For a building to be considered a historical attraction due to age, it’s going to have to be much older.  Malbork is one of those places.

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 Malbork is the largest brick Castle in the world.  The size of it was the first to hit me.  Then, while walking though, it struck me that this castle was founded over 200 years before Columbus sailed to North America.  That realization made me feel pretty ignorant for comparing anything to ‘old Montreal’.

My generation in North America has always been told about WW2; the destruction, the loss, the unnecessity, but always through pictures, books or verbally.  Those history lessons did not do it justice.  Malbork had been in renovations for over 200 consecutive years when it was used as a military base in WW2 and leveled by bombs. It has been extensively reconstructed but nowhere near back to what it was.

Walking though the old Square in Warsaw, I was amazing by the beauty of such an old backdrop, then left speechless when I found out that it was completely leveled in the war and rebuilt. I have read and researched quite a bit about WW2 but it was only after visiting Poland did I look past the statistics, political reasons, and the wartime innovations,  to see how pointless and distressing war really is.  This last thought is probably what shocked me the most about my visit to Poland.

North American's first trip to Europe

b7828-dsc_0131Kanadyjczyka pierwszy raz w Europie

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