Armchair Travel: Poland

A Virtual Holiday in Poland

During these times of COVID-19, travel is not even a consideration for me. As someone with asthma, an auto-immune disorder, and enough health problems, I’ve become quite OK with being a hermit until the pandemic is over. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about travel, right? Now’s the time to dream about all the places I’d like to visit some day, and make a plan of how I’ll get there when it’s safe to travel again. One of the many countries I’d like to see before I die is Poland.

I recently wrote a post about Habitica and how this app has some fun challenges you can join. One of the challenges I joined for June was “Take a Virtual Holiday,” which had me researching a country I’ve always been curious about: Poland. In high school, I had a few friends from Poland who were a part of my regular circle. They taught me some Polish and I’ve always been fascinated with the language. While many people find it hard to pronounce, I find it very easy: we have many of the same sounds in Portuguese. For example, cz = ch; sz = j, ł = lh, etc. I would love to become fluent in Polish and travel to the country some day to put my skills into practice, and also to learn more about this country that most people take for granted, but that is quite beautiful from what I can see online.

Anyway, I figured I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about Poland during my armchair travels. I may do more of this eventually, for other destinations also. 

Firstly, did you know that Poland has some gorgeous beaches, beautiful national parks, and is even the site for the Capital of European Cartoons? You can also canoe through a route that will take you to many of Poland’s Gothic Castles, including the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, a medieval castle where “many of the conservation techniques now accepted as standard were evolved.” These are just some of the wonderful things you can do in Poland. I would definitely like to visit for real some day, but for now I content myself with completing the virtual holiday activities.

Armchair Travel: Poland, www.marianamcdougall.com Background photo: a waterfall. Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza, Zakopane, Poland. Photo by Mariusz Słoński on Unsplash

The challenge I joined on Habitica invited us to do the following:

Read a book or watch a film set in your destination (Poland)

I won’t finish the book before the challenge is over at the end of June, but I borrowed Poland: A History from our library. It’s quite a long book so I’ll be taking my time with it. But I also watched “Ida,” a Polish film set in Poland. It was… interesting. The ending left me somewhat baffled. But I liked that it was shot in black and white, and I liked that the silent moments in the film really bring you closer to the characters.

Visit a virtual museum or tourist website from your destination (Poland)

I visited the Polish Tourism website to check out some of the places worth visiting in the country, and I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum’s website as well. Even going through the information and photos on the museum’s website is already a very sombre and heart-heavy activity. I can imagine what it would be like in person. I would one day like to visit Auschwitz. I think that this is an important thing to do for anyone who wants to be reminded of what can happen when we treat others as less than human. For anyone who truly wishes to embrace diversity and be at one with “the other,” this is a place that needs to be visited. 

Cook a dish typical of that destination (Poland)

I haven’t done it yet, but sometime this week I want to make pieorogies. I love pierogies soooo much; they are delicious. However, I’m also participating in a “try vegan” challenge, so we’ll have to adapt the dish a little bit. Here’s a recipe I found for a vegan version.

Other Challenge Tasks

One of the tasks was to make a list of things that you’d do on a real holiday to your destination, ad then find virtual alternatives. So I started looking for things I like to do: got to the beach and hike. Poland has some gorgeous beaches. If I ever did go to Poland, I’d want to spend enough time to really explore the country. I’d want to go to several different places. Here are just some of the places I’ve been dreaming about.

Sopot has a beach that features the longest wooden pier in Europe. It’s also a fun place to visit, with places like the “crooked house” and what looks like a really fun Aquapark.

I would definitely want to visit Warsaw. Some of the places I would want to see is Old Town and its market place, The Royal Castle, The Warsaw Uprising Museum (I also want to read a book about this soon), Corpenicus Science Centre, and more. You can read about each of these in detail in this excellent post by The Crazy Tourist.

I would be tempted to visit all the National Forests, too. Really, I just want to travel to Poland and spend a good few months there, getting to know the country. I do think this is a trip I’ll do solo (or with just Dan or adult children) one day, because many of the things I’d like to see relate to some very dark periods in history, that I don’t really want to share with my very young children just yet. They do already know about the holocaust, but I think facing its details is meant for an older audience—the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum even states that visiting the museum is not ideal for those under the age of 14. So I’ll keep dreaming, and maybe even planning a visit that will happen eventually.

Have you ever been to Poland? Which spots would you recommend visiting?  

Hands Off Our Elephants

Help Keep Hands Off Our Elephants

Ever since coming home from our adventure, it’s been hard to motivate myself to write much about travel on the blog. To be sure, I’m working on compiling our experiences into a travel memoir, but writing about travel here is a whole other thing.

Motivation has been lacking, but when a fellow Simbian asked me to write a post about the plight of elephants on the African continent, I figured it was time to revive my travel section. Hands Off Our Elephants is a worthy Kenyan campaign that needs to be discussed more. So here we are. I love these beautiful animals, and I want them to live on forever. Fortunately, despite the dangers they face, there are things we can do to ensure their survival.

 

Hands Off Our Elephants! Ethical Elephant Tourism in Kenya, www.marianamcdougall.com

Gentle Giants

Elephants are beautiful, intelligent and gentle giants who are still, unfortunately, hunted for their tusks. Although elephant hunting and the ivory trade has been banned in Kenya since 1973, the illegal trade continues—and is thriving. Hands Off our Elephants, however, has helped to significantly decrease this illegal activity, educate the public, and build community around protecting Kenya’s gorgeous wildlife. Hands Off Our Elephants is one of many campaigns by Wildlife Direct, a Kenyan charitable organization that’s focused on protecting Kenyan’s wildlife species—especially vulnerable ones.

Other worthy organizations help elephants too. There are great rehabilitation centers that take in orphaned elephants and nurse them back to health, then re-introduce them to the wild when they’re ready. Such centers often welcome tourists, but in a way that’s easier on the elephants than most other elephant tourism.

Choose Your Elephant Tourism Wisely

Elephant tourism is huge, and seeing these giants is appealing to many travellers. Unfortunately, elephant tourism is often detrimental to the animals. If you know anything about elephants, you probably already know that riding them is a terrible idea… but did you know that safaris aren’t always the best idea either? Large groups of tourists intruding in herds’ spaces can change elephants’ behaviours and make them more aggressive toward other members of the herd. So if you can’t ride an elephant and you can’t go on safari, how can you enjoy the elephants?

If you want to observe these beautiful animals while also helping the efforts to keep “hands off our elephants,” a good option is visiting a rehabilitation center, where orphaned elephants are cared for with great love and where your cash goes towards helping—not hurting—these beautiful creatures. In some rehabilitation centers, in addition to seeing baby elephants up close, you could also adopt an elephant, which helps with costs associated with caring for these large animals. The best part? If a trip to Kenya isn’t in your budget yet, you can still adopt one of these beautiful animals from the comfort of your armchair by sending a donation electronically, and still make a difference.

Help Spread the Word to Keep Hands Off Our Elephants

Unfortunately, there are many people who don’t know the plight of elephants, and you probably know someone who dreams of riding one or seeing one up close in the wild. If you hear these conversations, help spread the word that the best way to preserve these animals is to leave them alone, and donate to the organizations who work tirelessly to stop poaching and to give orphaned animals the best start in life. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and please feel free to share this post far and wide to help spread the word about keeping elephants safe.