World Traveler 2015: Poland & Ukraine Edition

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Salt Lake City ➡ Amsterdam ➡ Warsaw ➡ Lviv ➡ Vienna ➡ Warsaw ➡ Amsterdam ➡ Salt Lake City

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Well, the entire trip started out with the craziest fiasco ever, so hopefully that tells you what an exciting trip it was! Monday, we left for the airport and checked our bags at the carside bag check, and headed inside to print out our boarding passes.... only to find out my dad's passport expired in less than 90 days! Thank you, EU, for having the dumbest rule ever that passports have to be valid for 90 days before entering the country, or they won't let you enter. After getting a flat tire on the way home, having his passport expedited, and delaying our trip (twice), we were able to set out for Europe on Friday afternoon! 

First class... can I just say? Amazing. First class international? I felt like a freaking celebrity. It was glorious. They fed us. They let us watch free movies. Seats that roll into a bed? Yes, please. 

We spent the night in Warsaw, Poland, and had the entire morning to do a little bit of exploring in Łazienki Park before we left for Lviv, Ukraine. What an amazing city! Despite the tension in the eastern part, Lviv was extraordinary and beautiful. There were churches everywhere, tiny narrow streets that made driving a nightmare, historic statues and cathedrals and everything was crazy cheap (One Ukrainian hryvnia was worth $0.045 in the US). We stayed in the Eurohotel across the street from a gorgeous church and just a half mile from the city center.

We also got to eat at a restaurant called "Meat and Justice". Not kidding! It was SO good. Just platters of meat. Oh, we about died. So so so good. 

The competition in Lviv went well, and everyone was so welcoming to the US team! Our S5 team ended up placing 4th in that particular event, and we were able to see old friends and prepare for next year's competition! 

The reserve day was spent exploring bits of Lviv, including hiking up to the High Castle, seeing St. George's Cathedral, and checking out the Lviv cemetary. What an amazing city. I seriously loved it.

That Friday, we boarded and plane and headed through Vienna and back to Warsaw, staying at the Radisson Blu in the central part of the city. 

Can I just say how excited I was to go to Poland? Our great-great-grandparents immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s and I am so extremely proud of my German-Polish history. So I was excited to visit the country of my family! This was a HUGE deal to me, and a HUGE dream of mine! And it did NOT disappoint! 

Saturday, we went to explore Warsaw Old Town, which was mostly destroyed during WWII, but the Poles rebuilt the city to look identical to what it had formerly been. What an amazing (and colorful) area! I could have stayed there forever. We followed a free tour guide around, who spoke amazing English, and who took us all around Old Town and explained the buildings and history of the area. He was so cool! We ate at a local restaurant, and I had the most delicious pierogi with strawberries. And then we had Hard Rock Cafe for dinner! Hooray for American food, though. At least they give you a full glass of soda instead of like 1/4L. 

Guys, I love Polish food. So much.

Sunday, we had the opportunity to go visit Wilańow Palace and Gardens. They call it the "Versailles of Poland" and it was spectacular. It was really neat to be able to go through the palace and look at all the paintings and trinkets and bedrooms and learn about the history of some of the Polish royalty. The gardens were absolutely stunning as we walked through them. 

Monday was our last day in Warsaw, and we didn't waste a second! We spent the morning visiting the Warsaw Uprising museum, just a mile from our hotel (and I saw the missionaries!!!!!). The museum portrays the history of Warsaw rebelling against Soviet/German occupation during WWII and was so interesting. There was even a 3D theater where we could watch a video of what Poland looked like after it had been bombed and destroyed, as well as a large theater where we could watch actual footage and see photographs taken during the war. It was so interesting, and so amazing to see how strong and hardy the Poles are, and makes me so proud that that's in my blood.

After the Warsaw Uprising museum, we headed to Praski Park, where we visited St. Florian's cathedral, walked through the park, and saw the three bears that live on the concrete island within the park itself.  Did a little bit more shopping in Old Town, and then we had dinner at the most amazing Polish restaurant just down the street from our hotel. 

We had to wake up at 3:30 AM the next day to catch our flight to Amsterdam, and then head home, but luckily we were 1st class again, so it went as easily as possible. Seriously, what an amazing trip. I was so glad I was able to go this year and see all of these amazing places! 

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 United States