Discovering Poland: My Lessons Begin In Flight

GDANSK, Poland – I’m a pretty big believer in the phrase “You learn something new every day.”

So, it should come as no surprise that I’d admit to learning something new today, my first time traveling out of the country (unless you count a one-day hiatus to the British Virgin Islands, and I’m not sure you should). However, I learned perhaps more little random tidbits of useful information today than I ever have before – granted, my day was about 40 hours long.
So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned during my travel day:
Time does go on, even if I’m not on board: Okay, so I was on board. On board an international flight to Warsaw, and then a transfer flight to Gdansk in northern Poland. Yes, I knew it would be a long one. And yes, I knew it would interfere with my sleep (hence my writing this after basically having been up for a consecutive 40 hours).
One thing I didn’t realize? The fact that 737s can plow through time zones smoother than they barrel through those seemingly innocent white fluffy clouds. That’s right – before I knew it, I only had three hours to attempt to catch a few Zs before my red-eye flight to Warsaw landed at 9 a.m. local time. And those three hours happened to concur with the sunrise (“Already?”), the on-board movie screening (of Ice Age, complete with Vietnamese subtitles), and BREAKFAST (“I didn’t even get a chance to start this fast I’m breaking!”)
It’s inconvenient to go Back to the Future: A plug adaptor was the one thing I managed to buy way in advance for this trip. However, it seems that I should have been focusing on buying all new electrical appliances.
Long story short: I may have melted my alarm clock today. Talk about alarming. In my utter elation to have successfully plugged it in correctly (hey, I’m no electrician), it took me a second to realize that the burning smell was not that of someone’s dinner burning to a crisp nearby. (Nor could it possibly have been. We Poles are good cooks, you know.)
So since I didn’t have my Delorean handy, I decided it would be best to unplug the thing and leave the time travel to someone else. However, it seems I landed in another age with nothing to wake me up but the sun (and my grandmother, bless her for having to deal with me for the next dozen or so mornings). Oh well, I suppose I’ll have to shell out my life savings at the airport next time I’m nearby to buy a travel one.
Speaking of life savings … here’s your fun fact of the day: Poland’s currency is the zloty, and the current exchange rate is 2.5ish – 3 zloty per dollar. So that means I divide whatever prices I see here by 2.5 or 3 to estimate how many dollars I’m spending. So that means that everything looks outrageously expensive around here because everything is labeled with much higher numbers than I’m used to. Examples: 8 (zloty) for a soda, 38 for a paperback beach read, 65 for sushi. (More shocking than the price is the fact that I actually found some sushi here.) At least my mental math should improve this summer, since you know I’m not paying for a calculator labeled with a price tag that says “35.”
Liter(ally), a pain: Speaking of mental math, everything is obviously measured in metric units here. Which is cool, except when the airline attendant is pressing me to remove 2 kilograms from my carry-on and I have no idea what that looks like. (For future reference, it’s the weight of one towel and a flashlight.) Or when coffee cups come by milliliter capacities rather than by size. And to think, I just mastered the tall/grande/venti system.
What doesn’t kill you, isn’t a cigarette: I just found this one really interesting. It turns out cigarette companies are required to label their products as deadly and/or dangerous in order to sell them in Poland.
This in and of itself isn’t so shocking, until you see the actual labels themselves. Not only are they huge, but their creator obviously had a knack for the dramatic.
Ranging from point-blank “Smoking is highly addictive, don’t start” to the scientific “Smoking may reduce the blood flow and causes impotence” to the minimalist “smoking kills,” these signs caught my eye, especially when I noticed the scores of people flocking to buy them anyway (it was a duty-free shop, of course). You’ve got me, warnings – I like my heart, arteries, and potential babies just the way they are.
Rachel Glogowski is an Associate Editor for Youth Journalism International.