Monday Memories: Poland

As I look back on 2019, I am thrilled I did not put off international travel to save money for future trips: New Zealand, Australia, the Arctic and Antartica. On this trip to Poland I had an opportunity to volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity (H4H) in Gliwice, Poland. Once realizing I was flying from western USA to Poland, I decided to travel on my own prior to my H4H responsibility.

I arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spent a few days joining walking tours to learn about and understand Poland’s history. I walked around the city which has so many museums and places to visit, such as the POLIN Museum about the history of the Polish Jewish community and the Warsaw Rising Museum, just to mention a couple of museums. I was glad to return to this city for a couple of days before flying home at the end of this trip, especially to decompress while walking through the Royal Łazienki Park.

Walk the city of Warsaw and see where the ghetto wall held in the Jewish people.

My travel around the country was by train so I could talk with people and see the countryside while traveling. Polish people were very friendly and there were interesting small towns and beautiful fields along the way to Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea. Buildings here were more colorful than Warsaw and the Museum of the Second World War was definitely worth visiting. I took the train to Sopot and Gdynia for a day trip. Sopot was unbelievably crowded and Gydnia’s Emigration Museum telling the history of migrating Poles was worth visiting.

My two favorite meals while in Poland were pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese, cooked in boiling water and not pan-fried, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. I was becoming a critic of the best of each during my 3 weeks in Poland and loved eating it all!

There were so many cities to visit in Poland, yet I hop off the train in Wrocław. As you stand in the main square of this city, you’ll see the Gothic Old Town Hall with its astronomical clock and have plenty of time to people watch. I loved looking for the gnomes around the city … visit to find out the history and importance of these characters.

After a few days I visited Kraków. As you stand in its main square you see the Cloth Hall and the 14th century Gothic church: St. Mary’s Basilica, where I also attended an evening organ concert. The Rynek Underground Museum was interesting and the walking tours about Jewish history were informative. There is plenty to do in Kraków and it is an easy city to walk.

I joined a day tour to learn more about the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against Poles at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau sites. While some buildings are not open to the public, one clearly feels the horror that occurred at these places. The shoes, luggage and hair collected, the sleeping areas, electric fences, cattle cars which brought people in to these concentration camps, and the crematoriums were just horrifying to see knowing now the history. Another day I toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine where all statues, etc are carved into the salt. It was a good way to decompress after being at the camps the day before.

I met the team of Global Village/Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Krakow and we traveled to Gliwice, northwest of Kraków. For the next 5 days we helped renovate some old buildings to eventually house teenagers with addiction issues. We met and had dinner with some of the young people at their current site. Our work during the day was plastering walls or pulling up old flooring. Our hard-working crews accomplished so much in the short time; however, it may be a year before all work is complete … and that was the prediction before Covid-19 became real.

I returned to Warsaw. I flew home thankful for the opportunity to volunteer my time and energy to a worthy project and also visit a country I had wished to visit someday. Now in 2020 I wonder when my international travel will resume. Only time will tell as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

Travel Need Not be Expensive, If You Wish

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the thought of local or international travel is maddening because I cannot get a handle on when the world will be safe to travel within six feet of another person and without a facial mask. I have to hope a vaccine is available in early 2021 so my travel plans for that year are also not on the cancellation list as this year’s trips. However, this is a good time to remind ourselves travel need not be expensive. And when we get back to travel, we have some adventures to plan and get going on!

When I think about any travel anywhere, I want to explore a place, be outdoors where possible, learn about the culture, interact with local people, and feel as though if I do not return I have a good feel for the place; these are my priorities. I know if my list included all-inclusive resort, first class air tickets and other high priced desires during my travel then the trip price would surely soar. Fortunately, they are not my priorities.

So what do I do? Here are some approaches for me to keep my travel price tag to what I can afford and still enjoy my adventure:

  • Ahead of the trip decision to go or not, I research the area I plan to travel so I know what I should not miss while there. If I am interested in the sometimes “tourist trap”, I add it on my travel plan list of options. I also love maps so I will circle areas to spend more time.
  • I take a look at what local companies in the place are visiting and may add some of their interesting places to visit. I also know many cities have free walking tours so I scout them out when eventually in the city. (“Free” means you donate what you wish to the local tour leader.)
  • I love knowing what food is cooked and enjoyed by the locals. Most often I shop in local markets or food stores for my essential snacks. When buying a meal, I usually have a delicious lunch to serve as my big meal of the day. (This is an advantage of solo travel since many enjoy their big meal later. But later for me means cheese and wine and time to relax, journal and watch a sunset.)
Olives piled high in a conical shape at a market with so many varieties of olives.
Love the choices here!
  • International travel allows me more options to consider hostels for my lodging. I am not a fan of paying a high price to sleep. If reviews indicate the hostel is in a good location for foot travel to public transportation, safe and clean, that works for me. I will admit no breakfast is great at a hostel and sometime even with only 4 other people in the hostel room I do not get the ideal sleep, so I will slip in some bed and breakfast or inexpensive hotel room stays during a trip. (Hostels do have single rooms so look for that option too. Others love VRBO, Air BNB, couch surfing … choose what works for you.)
  • Book air flights and transportation yourself. Most often I do not book through third party sites due to the frustration I have with them in needing any changes. However, I do watch for lower prices for travel on “off days”, other discount options, senior specials and would rather have flights with appropriate layover time and the seat I want than simply a cheap air fare price. Transportation within a country is usually on local trains, buses and taxis or I have walked or bicycled various cities to get around. (I carry one backpack to easily maneuver steps to and from places. Rolling bags and more luggage have their disadvantages at times. Keep it simple.)
  • Learning some basic phrases to communicate beyond a smile and hand gestures does help, even from someone like me who finds foreign languages difficult. When in local markets or stores is the best time to discover any special events that are happening. Often evening performances are held at parks or cathedrals and I learn about it from locals.
  • Travelers may cut this cost; however, I buy travel insurance to protect against cancellations, theft, etc and travel health insurance that insures for emergency evacuation for medical and disaster assistance. (Fortunately I was not traveling when the pandemic began, but I was glad to know if I was I had an option for assistance.)
  • There are so many tour companies around the world offering wonderful experiences at various prices. I have been on some tours that will remain memorable and it is possible to include some of your own plans before and/or after those tours. Before the tour it allows you also to recover from jet lag and get a sense of the new area. After the tour, you have gained a comfort with the local customs, food, or know of some places you wish to spend more time wandering about. Do it!
Man wood carving and using his feet to do so.
Revisit him and watch him create!

There you have it or at least how I approach my travel planning. The bottomline is make your plan work for you. Combine your plan with others or an organized tour, if that is what you want. Splurge where you want! It’s your trip to enjoy and at a price tag you are comfortable with so you can travel some more. Your next trip you may want to include that camel ride!

Shadow of people riding camels.
Travel on!

Monday Memories: Solo Bicycling Trip

I decided I was not getting any younger, and I was reading about people in their 60’s bicycling across the USA! Could I do the same? I did not know, but I decide to attempt some distance.

Yes, in June 2018, I did bicycle 600 miles from Prescott, Wisconsin to Rensselaer, Indiana by way of many small towns following most of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route. After a heat spell, I continued on on New York State’s Erie Canal trail for 100 miles before meeting friends in central NY.

People asked why I chose that area of the USA to bicycle ride. Since I typically fly over it, I thought it a good idea to actually see it. I saw many windmills, fields of corn, artwork and rolling hills.

There were sights to see. An Eagle Center, National Farm Toy Museum and the famous Field of Dreams to mention a few. I also stopped at activities roadside, such as this dog competition where they collect the bird that was shot. When I heard about saloon bars similar to an AZ bar, I checked it out as I did often stop in churches for a reflective moment.

Most nights I stayed at bed and breakfast, or motels, and did camp. My goal was to survive so I wanted comfort at the end of the day, especially since you never knew if the next 40-60 miles per day was going to be in the heat or a drenching rain. There is nothing worse than bicycling in the rain; stopping to check the weather radar to discover how many hours you may be sitting and waiting out the weather. Some places were entirely for myself and I would wander into the town to find dinner, and other places I spent hours talking and eating with the owner of the place. I always love connecting with people when I travel. All of my accommodations were wonderful from Motel 6 to some really nice bed and breakfast places!

One of my most fun places was at an old jailhouse. The woman helped me hoist my loaded bicycle up the five steps into the place, invited friends over to have a beer with us, and cooked delicious dinner and breakfast for me. She offered me an additional night, yet I decided to keep on my plan since the weather was good.

Enthusiasm for bicycling is beginning to take off in the USA as we develop the US Bicycling Route System to be added to many Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Routes and Adventure Cycling’s Routes. I did see a bicycle campground and I rode a bicycle path where each rider pays a fee. Men drove on the bike path to collect the fee from me and were pleasantly surprised when I could show them I had my receipt of payment.

I ate plenty of snacks, which I carried in my bag, and always a lunch. I loved Casey’s General Store located in many small towns. I was hooked on white cheddar cheese popcorn, until I broke a front tooth – later repaired in Buffalo, NY. I also bought Arizona green tea and Gatorade to supplement my water bottles. I love chocolate and that meant a Snicker’s bar too.

I discovered I was close to Route 66 so I decided to ride a portion of it, especially since I did not know if I would ever ride its entire distance from CA to IL. Lots of history along that route! The road was so busy at one point there was a passageway for people to walk under the road! Of course, there are still some old gas stations in the area, and portions of the road are grown over with grass in its cracks.

I met many other bicyclists on the road and all going from east to the west coast (I was going west to east). There was only one other solo female bicyclist, yet every single person always stopped at the bottom of a hill to say hello, check-in on how I was doing, and offer ideas of what was coming up in the next town or two. I really appreciated the camaraderie! One guy told me he was sleeping in ditches at night after cycling about 100 miles a day. Another guy told me of a free place to set a tent. A mother and daughter team had stayed at the lodging I was heading to on my 70 mile day. Other people at stores, bars, and their homes were very generous. One family offered their swimming pool to me as I laid on their front lawn, under the only shade tree I think in the county! Another guy brought out bottles of cold water for me as I sat by a church he was renovating for his family home. Another guy stopped in his pick-up truck and asked me if I was okay, and if I knew how hot it was that day. Yes, wherever I could find some shade, I spent time there. I could tell you more, but I think you got the picture!

The heat did me in! To hot to go on, dehydrated and with concerns of heat stroke, I decided to take the heat wave in the US seriously. Unfortunately I have been in hospitals needing fluids pumped into me other times when on hiking and bicycling trips. I knew I did not want that happening here. With the help of great people in Indiana, I rented a car a few days after getting my fluids back to where they needed to be and headed to Buffalo, NY. Along the way and there, I had wonderful friends allow me time to recuperate before jumping back on my bicycle to cycle the Erie Canal trail to central NY where I met other friends. Yes, I shipped my bicycle home and relaxed before planning my next trip. What an adventure this was … and cannot wait to do some bicycle travel again!