A Trip up the Baltic Coast
by Emilio Suarez
Being awarded the Luczkowski-Habash Award for Polish Studies made my experience in Poland this summer so much more fulfilling. In May, I traveled to Poland with family, exploring some parts I hadn’t seen before, despite going there almost biennially. Despite the fact that I was already going to Poland regardless of the award, this award and the thought of this blog post helped me soak it all in, in such a way that I never had.
After an eight hour night time flight from Chicago, we landed rested in Warsaw around noon. Warsaw was one of the only cities I hadn’t seen yet, simply because I only have family in Poznan, Krakow, and Gdansk. However, this time we decided we wanted to see it once and for all. I initially expected it to be another Polish city with relics of the Soviet occupation and remade historic artifacts, thankfully I was wrong. Walking around Stare Miasto (Old Town), I felt an energy I’ve never felt in any other European city.
There wasn’t an unhappy person in sight, everyone was alive and enjoying the sights, music, and smells that flooded the main street. There was an immense amount of national pride, even in such strange political times. The Warsaw Uprising monument was the shining star, displaying the struggle and bravery of the Polish people during the occupations of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. At night, the streets were even busier, with people attending weddings, college students out drinking, and tourists taking it all in. It was truly a phenomenal city, one that I will definitely make sure to visit next year if I have the time.
We drove to Gdansk up north on the Baltic sea coast for a short one day stay. I had already been there many times, but I made an effort to go see a friend I’ve known since preschool who is there studying computer science. My friend showed me all the food places that put High Street to shame. He took me to a shack on the side of the road, that ended up serving the best kebab I’ve ever had. We then had dessert at the Polish Buckeye Donuts, a pączkarnia, a place that cranks out fresh pączki by the minute. Stuffed, we trekked to the Baltic sea coast, where I spent a lot of time as a child. The weather had been cold recently, so not many people were out, which was nice seeing the beach not packed but still lively enough to where it wasn’t eerie. Unfortunately, my friend had finals in two days, so I wasn’t able to get a full feel of the nightlife. However, spending a quiet night in the Baltic city with my family was just what I needed after a stressful year of school.
The next stop was Torun, home of pierniki and Mikolaj Kopernik (a.k.a. Copernicus). We explored the timeless streets, visiting the stores and even Kopernik’s home. The air was filled with the scent of fresh pierniki, a gingerbread only made in that city. We only stayed briefly in Torun, because we had another stop before Poznan.
We made a pit stop in Gniezno, a smaller city with a population of 70,000 people. We stopped here to visit the monument of mother’s uncle, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. It’s inside a massive cathedral on top of hill, it was magnificent. We paid our respects, ate dinner in the square, and headed to my mother’s hometown of Mosina, a town just outside of Poznan. In Mosina, we visited family I hadn’t seen in many years. It was nice to catch up and be regarded as an adult in the family, considering the last time some of them saw me was when I was a child or a high school student. We visited the usual spots, like the town square, the cemetery to see visit my grandparents’ grave, the parks, and surrounding towns. We went out into the country to visit an old friend of my mother’s, who we hadn’t seen in six years. It was a home away from home. Unfortunately for me, I had to head home to start my internship while my family enjoyed an extra four days.
It’s always a good time in Poland, however, with the Luczkowski-Habash Award for Polish Studies, I was able to do more and really soak in what I was doing in my short time in Poland. Without knowing I would write this, I probably wouldn’t take as much in as I normally do on my trips to Poland, since I go so often. It was a great experience and I can’t wait to see what else Poland has in store for me!