My "Souvenirs" of France: Part 2

If you missed the last post explaining my awesome pun, I'll fill you in: "Souvenir" in French can mean that knick-knack you need to buy for family and friends back home to show you thought of them on vacation, but it can also mean "memories." So in light of our near departure back to the US, here's Part II of my mini-series reminiscing about my favorite souvenirs I've acquired during my travels in France.

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Baltic Beauty: Gdańsk, Poland

It’s no mistake that I started to talk about our time in Gdańsk, and then diverted over to the side trips we took to Sopot and Malbork Castle. Every time I sit down to try to tackle what we did and saw in Gdańsk, I get overwhelmed. There was a lot to see and do, yet it was charming and picturesque enough to just sit back and enjoy without an agenda or plan. 

Part of what I appreciated about Gdańsk is that there’s variety. There are boats to see and even ride, museums to visit, churches to wander into, lots of history to study, easy access to the beach, amber to shop for, plus good food and hang-out spots when the time comes just to relax. Let me try to unpack the city a little more by its elements:

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Understanding Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw. I knew I couldn’t plan a trip around Poland without hitting the capital city. Yet as I mentioned before, it seemed to be unpopular with a majority of tourists who didn’t like its modern feel. In fact, it seemed to be unpopular with some of the Poles as well. On our last night in Krakow, upon hearing what our next destination was, our bartender proclaimed Warsaw to be “the most hated city in Poland.” And further elaborated that it was a place where “the uneducated live like kings.” So with that last vote of confidence, we left picture-perfect Krakow to see what Warsaw had in store for us.

At first look, I could see why there’s a lack of love for Warsaw. It was modern and shiny, busy and bustling, befitting of an international capital. Many of its visitors whether Polish or otherwise come for business. Those who come for pleasure seem to dismiss it in favor of smaller, more manageable cities.

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Day Trip from Krakow #2: Auschwitz-Birkenau

I've really hesitated about sharing the other day trip I took from Krakow. There’s nothing cheery or uplifting about this trip, and a bunch of people were surprised that I would go to such a location while on vacation. I hope to share my trip sensitively and respectfully because I can’t write about my time in Poland and leave this bit out. 

It’s one of the reasons I came to Poland in the first place.

I’ve always been interested in WWII history, especially the facets of the war surrounding the Holocaust. When I learned in school about the horrible events that happened, I was intrigued because I had so many questions. How could this happen? How could there be so much evil in one’s heart to do this to another human being? The scale of the operation, the swiftness with which everything was carried out, and the hate behind it just left me questioning how this mass murder of European Jews (along with other minorities) could happen in a blink of an eye.

The way these events played out in my mind when I initially learned about them went like this: Germany was reeling from the heavy loss of WWI, a new party came to power, and as it gained momentum its radical, hateful ideology somehow came out of nowhere and took hold. Now, later on, I’ve realized from my travels in Europe that the discrimination of Jews didn’t just come about in the 1930’s. I've stood in Nuremberg’s main square and enjoyed its famous Christmas market in the shadow of the Frauenkirche. A church that was built from the rubble of the synagogue that stood there, seized and demolished in order to create this square. I’ve been to Prague and have seen the old Jewish cemetery, its tombstones piled up on top of each other because the Jews were contained to a very limited area in the city. I know now that the manifestation of this hatred was a long time in the making - centuries of discrimination built up to the Holocaust.

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All Hype or Just Right? Krakow, Poland

Krakow. Whenever I heard about fellow travelers’ experiences in Poland, this city was one of the first words off their lips, or off the proverbial lips of blogs. Krakow was a clear favorite of many and given these high praises I wondered how it would all hold up in person. I had created high expectations and wondered if they would be met. And perhaps part of me wanted my opinion to differ. After all, had all these people set aside two weeks to travel around Poland? Surely I would prefer less touristy city like Wroclaw. 

There is certainly more to Poland than just the city of Krakow and the country deserves more time of a traveler to experience its diversity. Yet I’m going to admit it - I utterly fell in love with Krakow. It’s a must-visit on any Poland itinerary, and if I were to formally draw up a top 10 of Europe list, Krakow would make the cut. 

Let me try to back my opinion up - if the food alone doesn't convince you, here are some things I did and saw that made me join the ranks with many others declaring Krakow a Polish favorite.

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Bastille Day 2014 Fireworks Show

July 14th marks la fête nationale for France and as you might imagine, the celebrations in Paris are elaborate. And although I didn't make it out to a Firemen's ball (more on what that is in my previous post) and only saw the military parade via the TV, there is one event I wouldn't miss for anything. That, of course, would be the fireworks show.

The last two years have taught me that a spectacle of this nature isn't one to just show up to at the last minute, and certainly not an event to make haphazard plans to meet up with friends. No, this year we sent out a Google map to friends with a small shaded area indicating where one might find our picnic blanket, and arrived just before 6pm to stake out a spot. (Note: The fireworks don't start until 11pm, when it finally gets dark.)

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