Gdansk with the Stars

When I started to plan this trip to Poland I read travel blog after travel blog about the best things to see and do. Knowing myself and how I like to travel, the two non-negotiables on my list of things to experience were culture and nature.

I made up my mind that I would first go north to the city of Gdansk in order to experience what one blogger called “the most charming and romantic city in Poland.” However, as my trip drew nearer I realized that I had booked my flight to arrive over the Easter weekend and that the “charming and romantic” inhabitants of this city were going to be eating eggs and borscht and kielbasa with their families, as I strolled the empty streets and peered into windows of shops whose signs read, “zamkinęty” or “closed.” But I wanted a taste of the city nonetheless, so I started to email anyone that I knew who was Polish to see if they had family who would take me in and celebrate a traditional Polish Easter with me.

No dice.

Two days before I was scheduled to fly I thought that I would send out a few messages via couchsurfing.com and see if I got any replies. I sent out 8 requests and got 7 “declines.” But there was one family who agreed to host me.

At first I only had communication with the father, Mariuscz. According to their profile, they were a family of four–a husband, wife and two daughters. As soon as I accepted the invitation, however, I started to think…I hope this is legitimate. As I boarded the train to Gdansk my thoughts were, this could be great…or this could be a nightmare. Crossing my fingers for my good karma to bring me into the home of a nice Polish family, I got off the train and was greeted with a big hug from Mariuscz and Matilda, their eldest daughter. As we drove back to their house I breathed a sigh of relief as 15-year old, Mathilda, told me that I was their very first couch surfer and that they were so excited to take me in and share their home, culture, holiday and city with me.

When I arrived I met the mother, Patricia, and youngest daughter, Melanie. I settled in and we sat around the table drinking tea and getting to know each other. We shared tales of travels and hiking expeditions. They love to travel and see the world and they have instilled this value into their beautiful, well-rounded and mature daughters.

As we talked I learned that Patricia and Mariuscz met walking on a pilgrimage to the relic of the Black Faced Madonna–a 500km trek by foot from their hometown Gdansk. When they met, Patricia gave Mariuscz the travel bug and they have made seeing their country and the world a top priority for their family. They also told me about a piece of graffiti he did many years ago on the top of the tallest building in Gdansk, that reads “kocham moja Pa” meaning “I love my Pat,”which had become very famous in the city. It’s a symbol of their incredible love, which knows no boundaries, and it’s for all the world to see.

IMG_6903

This morning when I woke up, Easter breakfast was on the table. We had an egg fight and then ate lemon salmon, stuffed eggs, potato salad and desserts until our stomachs couldn’t handle anymore. After breakfast the girls searched for their Easter eggs and then we got ready to go to church.

IMG_2315

Because we knew we had another Easter meal at 2pm, we decided to walk so that we could burn off some of our breakfast. We bundled up and set off in the direction of their church. We had walked less than 300 meters when I stopped dead in my tracks. Low to the ground on a metal highway divider was a trail marker for El Camino de Santiago. To my disbelief, the trail that I had walked 800 km on to Santiago de Compostella in Spain 2 years ago was right outside their front door!

The spirit of pilgrimage came up once the last night, when Mariuscz and Patricia recounted their love story to me. In the back of my head I thought of my own pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, but then quickly brushed it to the side in order to let myself fall in love with their love. This morning, when I saw the marker, however, I was truly astonished. It was like El Camino was calling out to me to remind me that I am always on the way. I felt the magic of the trail once again and my heart swelled. The trail showed itself two more times throughout the day, and I laughed thinking that there was no coincidence. I was meant to be here and meet these amazing people.

After mass we drove to Mariuscz’s mother’s house for MORE food. Seriously, these people have opened their doors and kitchens and hearts to me in a way that is so generous and kind and fattening. I’m going to need to buy some new jeans. I thought I couldn’t be more grateful for their hospitality and sharing of their family’s holiday, but then they offered to drive me into Gdansk and give me a guided tour of their city.

Gdansk is a stunningly beautiful and an amazingly strong city. It was burned to the ground in 1944 by the Russians, who were fighting over the city with the Germans. The devastation was massive and you can still see scars of the war everywhere. However, the rebirth is something like a phoenix from the ashes. It was a reminder to me of the resilience of humanity. Life is not always going to be easy, but sometimes we are meant to be burned to the ground so that we can wear our scars like badges of honor and flourish in the wake of catastrophe.

We arrived back at home many hours later, exhausted from our epic day out. Mariuscz, Mathilda and I squeezed in a workout, and kick boxed against each other in the living room. The end to my perfect day was 10+ punches to the face…and I mean that in all seriousness. This family gets me.

IMG_2347

The gratitude is flowing as always.

Happy Easter to all!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Definition of travel in English:

b6526f09295aea5ae28075bbe54f5225

verb (travels, traveling, travelled)

1[NO OBJECT, WITH ADVERBIAL] Make a journey, typically of some length: 
Example sentence: today I traveled from New York to Poland via plane, train, and automobile.
If you have not had the pleasure of listening to Louis C.K. talk about air travel, your next assignment is to watch this clip: (warning: mature language).
My travel from point A (Long Island, NY) to point B (Gdansk, Poland) actually went something like this:
a. town car to JFK — 1 hr.
b. jet from JFK to Berlin — 8hrs.
c. plane from Berlin to Warsaw–1hr.
d. bus from airport to Warsaw Central train station–30 min.
e. train from Warsaw to Gdansk–3 hrs.
f. car from train station to host family–15 min.
Total travel time from point a-f (not including 5 hrs of layovers) = 13 hours and 45 minutes.
Moving myself from one place to the next was not particularly challenging…especially considering that I “partook in the miracle of flight.” But if I really wanted to, I could complain about the leg space and the middle seat and the general fatigue that these last 18 hours of travel have imposed on my body. Good news though, I don’t actually want to complain about my fabulously pleasant day. Why so fabulous, you ask? I attribute this to two different factors: 1.) the feeling of excitement to be experiencing something novel, and 2.) the people I met during today’s journey.
Traveling alone is one of my favorite ways to travel. In my last post I mentioned that traveling enhances my senses and evokes emotions of living life to the fullest. Traveling alone is an additional push outside of your comfort zone, as it ultimately creates space for you to either panic about or romanticize your journey in your head.
Today I had a few moments of both panic and romanticizing. The former because I was worried about getting lost or taken advantage of as a solo, non-polish-speaking traveler. And the latter, because my journey was spent imagining myself to be the star of a Wes Anderson film, traveling across Eastern Europe in a rail car, my life tinted the color of an instagram filter, listening to a mellow indie playlist, and reading my philosophy book written by Andy Warhol. (Insert obligatory eye roll at this incredibly hipster statement).
Anyhow, today was a incredible journey for me and I met one kind soul after another. The best of whom is the family I am spending the next few days with as a guest in their beautiful home. I promise I will devote an entire post to this incredible family of four tomorrow, but I actually must force myself to sleep, so that I can be up for tomorrow’s Easter feast, mass, tour of the city and second feast!
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Attitude of Gratitude–I Stopped Counting–What Lies Ahead

poland_map_flag

I landed in Warsaw this morning and I am currently sitting in a cafe at the Central Station waiting for my afternoon train to Gdansk. I will be here for the next two weeks on a 50/50 business-pleasure trip and I am looking forward to discovering all that this country has to offer.

Today I will travel north to Gdansk, a city on the Baltic, and spend Easter with a host family that I met on Couchsurfing.com. They have offered to host me through the holiday and share their traditional celebration with me. There are promises of a massive Easter breakfast, which can be compared to our Thanksgiving feast because of the amount of food. And on Monday apparently everyone throws water on each other…? Like a good dousing. Not sure how I feel about this tradition seeing as it’s cold as ice here, but I’m looking forward to the cultural experience nonetheless.

Right now I’m feeling excited and mildly prepared for what’s to come–which is how I like to travel. I like to have a general game plan, but also to let my journey evolve as I go. I don’t need (or want) to follow a set itinerary. I have always found that they best opportunities reveal themselves in the present moment, and traveling allows me to tap into that flow in a way that I don’t get in my everyday life. Traveling requires flexibility and a sense of humor. It can make me feel vulnerable in many ways, but it’s also thrilling. My senses–visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory–come alive and enhance the emotional charge of the moment.

It’s romantic, really.

I’m grateful today for this opportunity to travel and explore a new country from top to bottom. I’m grateful to the new people I will meet who who will share their culture with me. I am grateful for the ability to learn more about myself as a solo traveler and for the myriad possibilities that lie ahead of me in these next two weeks!

Stay tuned for pictures and more stories.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 35–Tax refunds!!

Today I received my 2014 tax refund. I officially paid off one of my student loans and bought myself a brand new computer so that I can stop blogging from an app on my cell phone! Grateful today for this nice bonus!

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 34–Creative Process

The final countdown to Easter Sunday has begun, and I will admit that I find myself a bit relieved. This Lenten promise has been fulfilling for me, but I am curious to know from my readers how they’ve experienced my gratitude writings. Part of my reason for writing comes from an innate people pleasing place. I write because I love to, but I love to because I love what my writing does for people.I love to observe, digest, share and inspire with my writings and recently I haven’t quite felt like I’ve been achieving that.

Last year when I wrote about gratitude during Lent, my life was significantly more interesting. I had just moved somewhere new, I had a brand new job, and I was experiencing so many new highs and lows. This year, I feel like my life is a lot more predictable. I have a schedule that I follow and I can usually tell you where and what I will be doing a week or two in the future. Maybe every once in a while I have some SUPER AMAZING news to share that will make my readers feel inspired, but more often than not, I just living my Long Island existence…A.K.A. kickboxing and drinking wine.

Personally, I have felt a sense of boredom with my own words recently, and while I still give thanks everyday, I have found myself wondering if my little moments of gratitude are thrilling enough for my readers. Even more so, if the repetitive nature of my schedule and the gratitude that follows suit, will keep my readers engaged and interested. I have been doubting my writings because they feel monotonous to me.

So I guess I can say from a place of honesty that this year’s Lenten promise to write about giving thanks every day has been upheld in my heart, but that I am frustrated by the challenging of writing for an audience. As usual, though,it is the most frustrating moments that I am able to find the most interesting things to be thankful for.

This year’s gratitude promise has turned into a true challenge to my ego. The constant furrowing of my brow when trying to come up with a topic that I deem creative and interesting enough for my audience of 400 followers and my mom’s Facebook cohort, has created a few unwelcomed wrinkles on my face. I haven’t felt very in touch with the element of creativity that I need to drive my writing forward in this past year, but then again, is exactly why I renewed my Lenten promise. How can I be creative if I don’t practice?

I am thankful today for the process my writing takes. I am thankful for the moments where I have bursts of creative energy that inspire me and that inspire my readers. I am also grateful for the opposite–the moments that are dull and repetitive–the posts that have already been done before, whether by me or someone else. I am grateful for them because they too are part of my creative process. Maybe I have to write one hundred stupid blog posts to get one really worthy piece of writing. But one thing’s for sure, if I write nothing I will never produce that one worthy piece let alone a multitude of worthy pieces.

In general, I am grateful for my writing, which allows me to observe, digest, share and inspire others. I am grateful that I sat down today and plunked out nonsense until it turned itself into something that I am ok sharing with the world, and I am grateful to this space that the internet provides me to ramble on and on about the things that matter most to me. Last, but not least, I am grateful to those of you who’ve made it this far through my blog today– a gold star for you.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 33–Quality Time

When I left home for college in at the age of 18, I knowingly stepped out of the nest. Poised for a big adventure, I moved from Vermont to California to be a wide-eyed freshman at the University of San Francisco. For four years I would come home to my family during Christmas and summer vacations only. I became so used to the distance between me and my family, that when I decided to move to France after college, I hardly batted an eye at the idea of being a 7-hour flight from home. Morocco would be next on my list, and again I lived with a ocean of separation between me and my family. By this point, the notion of being so far from my nest was so commonplace for me, that a little more distance didn’t seem like a big deal.

Living so far from my family over the years was selfish, though I don’t regret it. I did it for me, and for the opportunities and for the moment in time in which I was beautifully whisked along in. But I must say, a skype call can’t compare to having those you love be physically around you.

When I moved back to the U.S. in the fall of 2013 I crashed landed back in the nest of my ecstatic parents. It had been 6 years since I’d fully depended on them for support, and while it was humbling for me to feel so young and vulnerable again, it was also wonderful to get a chance to become friends with my parents as an adult.

SInce I moved back to the States I have moved again, though this time the distance is much more manageable.I’m now at the maximum an healthy afternoon’s car rude from Vermont and a hop, skip and jump from my dad’s place in New Jersey.

This weekend I drove out to durty Jerzee to hang with my dad. We had a great time together, going for walks, cooking dinner, watching movies and hanging out, and we both acknowledged how wonderful it is to spend quality time together. We get along so well, which is a testament to the unique bond I have with my parents. This weekend I am so grateful to the time I got to spend with my dad, and for the proximity to my family that my new location provides me. I hope that over the next years of our lives we can grow even closer together, strengthening our connection and providing love, guidance and support for each other, as a family does best.

Tagged , , ,

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 32–Me Time

Feeling alone is a challenge for many people. We live in a society where connection can be summoned in an instant by the click of a button. The internet is fantastic and supports connectivity, but it is also a distraction. I am subject to the distraction, and the addiction, if you will, of the desire to connect. I have created a life for myself that requires me to be physically alone during most of my free time, but the facility in which I can access my network of friends and family, and yes, sometimes even complete strangers so that I don’t feel so alone, is astonishing.

This morning during my freetime I caught myself craving connection. I call it a craving because it was ravenous and imbalanced.  My fingers were poised to text message someone, anyone–but when I drew a blank as to who to send a message to, I realized that I might be overindulging in connectivity for the sake of filling a void.

I’ve noticed that recently I have slowly tipped the scales to the side of social butterfly, which is both great and exhausting. It’s great because it means that I am meeting people and expanding my small Long Island network. I also  feel like I am finding out about who I am as a person in relation to the people I surround myself with.

All of this is good, but sometimes being alone in order to reflect is what I really need. Sometimes I want to fall into my own void and see what I come out with–forget everyone else, who am I in relation to me?

Today, I was teetering on the edge of that void craving both human interaction and alone time. Oscillating between the two, I recognized that the pendulum had swung towards social, but that the physics of life was about to pull it back the other way.

Today, after my massage, I allowed the pendulum to swing in favor of alone time. Blissfully content to make a simple dinner, not even setting the table, because really, what’s the point of all the pomp and circumstance when you’re alone? I ate quickly, keen to enjoy the sea salt and caramel icecream I’d purchased for myself at the grocery store, and then I chose a movie–Frida–to watch before bed.

Today I am grateful for “Me Time.” It has been too long since I’ve consciously dedicated myself to the simple pleasure of my own company. I can be alone and I can be social. There is a time for it all, but finding a healthy balance is in my favor.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Attitude of Gratitude–day 31–pay day!

When you get paid once a month it’s a given that pay day = hey day! Grateful today for the check that cashed into my back account!  Woo hoo! 

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 30–Feelings

Most people only like to feel “good” feelings such as happiness, excitement, love, joy, awe, or inspiration (to name a few). But what about “bad” feelings like jealousy, anxiety, fear, sadness, and boredom? Don’t they deserve to be felt too? It’s a natural tendency to want to feel all the good things and to push away bad feelings, but I would argue that it’s important to feel everything, because it provides contrast and reminds us of our human nature.

I am a very sensitive being and I feel things to the core. Today, I felt a sense of disappointment when a friend of mine indefinitely postponed some of our plans that I was really looking forward to. I was moping around, feeling bad and wondering how I was going to give thanks today, when it dawned on me that the thing I had to be grateful for today was my disappointment.

I needed to be reminded today that this feeling is equally as fleeting as the “good” feelings and that if I can give thanks, I can turn anything into something positive. Not only do I feel more human, I also know that when I feel the contrast of this disappointment, it will be so much more gratifying.

Tagged , , , , ,

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 29–Meetup

About a month and a half ago, my colleague from Switzerland, Kerstin, was here on Long Island for a business trip. We spent a good amount of time together, both working and hanging out. We were talking about my life on Long Island and the usual blah blah blah of how challenging I find it to meet people with similar interests as me when she suggested I try Meetup. She explained that Meetup is a website and an app that you can download that you plug your interests into and it finds groups of people in the area who come together around their shared interests.

I’d never heard of the app, and I was curious to find out more so I downloaded it and proceeded to tick off my interests in this order: hiking and outdoors, spirituality, yoga, reading, meditation, politics, and languages. Hundreds of Meetup groups around the area popped up and I could choose to RSVP to any of the gatherings.

One particular group that peaked my interest off the bat was the “Center Reach French Club,” which meets at Panera in the Smith Haven Mall every Tuesday night from 7-8:30pm. It seemed do-able and safe and if worst came to worst I could always get a soup and baguette and pretend that it never happened. I joined the group, RSVP’d, and then didn’t show. The other day on a Skype call with Kerstin, she asked me if I’d gone to a Meetup group yet. I gave her all my excuses and then told her that I planned to go to the French Meetup this Tuesday as long as nothing else came up. Today she sent me a friendly reminder via Skype and so I right then I pulled out my phone and RSVP’d before I could change my mind.

This evening I hopped in my car and drove 25 minutes to the mall, all the while telling myself that I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was welcomed by a small, yet diverse group of francophiles of varying language level, age, nationality, sex and race. To my pleasant surprise, everyone was dedicate to speaking in French, with the occasional Franglish sentence thrown in to make up for lacking vocabulary. We held a lively conversation that touched on subjects such as issues with the Common Core Curriculum, differences between American and French schooling theories, favorite places we’ve traveled, and then the usual stuff, like introductions, occupations etc. I was quite pleased that I hadn’t lost my French completely…though frustrated with how rusty it has become after being back in the US for over a year and a half. But I felt good about my grammar, conjugations and my accent….and in general I just felt SO good to be speaking French again.

Beyond the explicit function of this group being to practice and upkeep our French language skills, there is also a strong element of community involved. This small but mighty group has been in existence for over two years meeting once a week to speak in French. I immediately fell in love the idea of having a weekly friend group consisting of an Indian mathematician, a Guadalupian middle school teacher, an Italian immigrant police office, a retired high school French teacher and a young American woman who was also a former English teacher in France like myself–such a diverse group of people, all of whom shared my passion pour la langue Francaise.

I felt the accueil chaleureux (warm welcome) of the group as a whole, and also an immediate bond with the young woman, Audrey, who taught for a year in a French school near Versailles. We stayed after the group left and ate dinner together, getting to know each other a bit more and sharing our similar experiences teaching abroad in France. It was a monumental moment for me to connect with another female in general, let alone someone that I have something in common with! Honestly, I could snap my fingers and have a date with a dude around here in two seconds, but meeting girls to be friends with is another story completely.

Tonight was a homerun, and I’m super grateful for all of the pieces that fell together to make this night happen so beautifully. I’m grateful to Kerstin for introducing me to the concept and then pushing me to join a Meetup group. I am grateful to have spent an hour and a half using my brain and practicing my rusty (but functioning!) French. I’m grateful to the group for their warm welcome, wonderful conversation and diverse perspectives, and finally I am grateful to have met Audrey, a young, smart, and interesting woman with a brilliant handle of the French language and my newest official friend crush.

Tagged , , , , , ,