This has taken me awhile to write this blog post; however, I was finding myself. I wasn’t really sure what to write about or how to write it, but I was travelling, finding who I was and who anyone ever asked me to be—me. And so, I began to travel.
First stop, Wrocław, Poland. Almost destroyed completely during World War II, I found myself walking through the streets of a beautiful city where locks tag the bridges, and steeples dot the sky. Wrocław was the first city outside of Kraków that I decided to travel to and the architecture enticed me immediately. Just by walking into the square, you notice the 13th-century town hall building in the middle of the rynek. Or the picturesque square of colorful buildings. I took in the appreciation for each of these pieces and began to venture further into the city. This was where I found the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Archikatedra św. Jana Chrzciciela). You would not notice by viewing it, but it was almost seventy-percent destroyed during the war. Built during the 13th century, this Gothic structure stands in amazement as the seat of the archdiocese of Wrocław. I was able to view the entirety of the city from the one steeple, from where I first encountered my fear of steep drop-offs. I made sure to grasp my phone tightly as I took a panorama photo of the city.
Next, I traveled to Wieliczka, Poland and began to walk down stairs until I reached 1072 feet beneath the Earth’s surface. Here, I was entering the 13-century Wieliczka Salt Mine. As I made the arduous journey down each of those steps, I found myself again enticed. This time, it was the amount of manual labor, time, and courage these men had to travel further into a hole than I would ever go. Salt was as valuable as gold during the peak of the mine, and so the mine was highly revered by the people of Kraków. Walking through the mines, I began to notice the craftsmanship. Statues made from solid salt, huge carved-out cavities, and a man-made river at the bottom of the system decorated the entirety of the mine. The most beautiful of the cavities was, by far, the chapel which was ordained with motifs of religious figures and salt chandeliers.
Trekking up the tallest peak in Poland, just south of Zakopane, I traveled to the top as the cold breeze was biting through my jacket. Viewing this peak, I stepped out onto the viewing balcony and saw the snow-covered peaks off in the distance. I moved further in the direction of the group, while my hands grew even colder. Stepping off of the viewing platform and onto the walkway, I was looking at a steep drop to my left and a mound of snow to my right. Reminding me of how much I hate ledges, they (primarily the people behind me) told me to go further, as I found what makes me the most uncomfortable, I kept going. Then, we finally reached the point in which I was able to view Poland to the North and Slovakia to the South—6,519 feet above sea level. I was then able to stand in two places at once with my left foot in Poland and my right in Slovakia. In amazement of the view, partially covered by the fog which rolled in, I was able to stand on top of the marker and look out in both directions.
The following week, I boarded my plane, this time, flying 667 miles to the southwest to a quaint, little town—Rome, Italy. Needless to say, it wasn’t little. Entering into one of the most well-known ancient cities in the world, I began to peer out of the cab driver’s windows to see columns and ruins off in the distance as he drove me to my Airbnb. I was on a quick tour of Rome simply by driving to my apartment. The next morning, I had the great opportunity to explore La Sapienza University, where I was able to see one of my professors, Dr. Rennie, present his research on analyzing religion and art. Following his lecture, he and his wife took me into the Spanish Steps and told me of places to visit, including the Trevi Fountain. That evening, I walked until I turned the corner to see the Pantheon omnipotently occupying the square and lit from all angles. Afterwards, I began to walk around the city and made my way to the Colosseum. Walking around this 1st-century building, I began to realize how the preservation of history has been at the forefront of mankind for eras. It amazes me that conservation in and surrounding the Colosseum is still ongoing as they are finding new items each day.
The next day in Rome, I left Italy and went to the nearest country, walking down the pathway to St. Peter’s Square to the Vatican City. I stood there in the square just viewing the porticoes surrounding the interior as many “tour guides” came up to me asking if I would like a tour of the Vatican Museum. Knowing where the Vatican Museum was and that you are not supposed to purchase tickets from those men, I quickly said, “Nie mówię po angielsku; mówię po polsku, przepraszam,” and quickly walked away as they yelled that they knew someone who spoke “Polsku.” (Okay, buddy!…) Eventually, I rounded the corner to stand in the queue for the Vatican Museum, where I met a couple from the USA and a few med students from Canada and the USA. The couple so kindly purchased all of our entry fees to the museum, saying to just purchase them for someone else in the future. Led like cattle through the Vatican Museum, I passed by Raphael’s “The School of Athens”, Rodin’s “The Thinker”, making my way to the another room of miraculous art. Staring up at the beauty that is the Sistine Chapel, you can only hear off in the distance the oh-so pleasant cacophony of the guards screaming “NO PICTURES; HEY, YOU, I SAW THAT; NO PICTURES!” Following the Museum and Chapel tour, I made my way to the tallest point in the Vatican City and all of Rome, the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica, again, facing my fears of these d*** heights (Can’t swear on top of St. Peter’s). After climbing back down the numerous steps, I made my way into the beautiful basilica and was consumed with how large this 17th-century dome structure truly is. Each piece was ornately decorated with gold or fine art.
From the most sacred to the tempestuous place: this past weekend, I entered the gates that characterize one of most atrocious scenes during WWII. Located in Oświęcim, Poland, Auschwitz is one of the most emotionally confusing places I have visited. Walking through the cobblestone pathways between each building, it’s hard to imagine what actually happened where you stand. It was due to this confusion of solemness and sadness that I wasn’t sure how to feel. Characterized by the shooting wall outside one of the buildings, these people were placed in an area where you were not able to move up, down, left, or right without your one action causing your death and the deaths of others.
Totally, I found myself deep beneath the ground level. I found myself high up in the skies. I found myself in complete awe and appreciation. And sadly, I found myself confused and numb. These emotions evoked by the places I have visited have helped me to characterize what means it truly means to be me. Now off to Berlin!