It has been a crazy last couple of weeks. My company is opening a new site in Warsaw, so I went on a trip to Poland, and then spent a few days in Rotterdam at another site with some hiring managers I've worked closely with over the last year. It was an absolute whirlwind, in many ways. I'm now taking a load off in an impulsive half-week vacation in Paris, so I'll try and capture some recollections from the last couple weeks.
Getting to Warsaw was quite a trip. I flew to Istanbul first (first time in Asia!) and was very disoriented upon landing. I had left at 11 PM Saturday night and got off the plane at 1 PM on Sunday. By the time I got to Warsaw, it was the end of the weekend and I was exhausted.
Something I've learned about myself is that I do not do well with jet lag. Naturally I'm a night owl, but when I'm ready to go to sleep, I always go to sleep right away and cherish getting all the rest I need. But waking up in the morning and feeling like a zombie really messes with me, and that's pretty much how I felt the first couple of days. I've also found that when traveling to Europe from the US, I always have the most trouble sleeping the second night, when my circadian rhythm is truly disrupted, and if I have something important to do the next day, this often leads to lots of anxiety that only keeps me up later.
Rewinding a bit, when I arrived, I was already pretty stressed and uncomfortable. I had a sweater on that I couldn't quite fit into my suitcase, and waiting to get my passport stamped was very sweaty. I had a very nice cab driver (though I'm pretty sure he ripped me off), but then when I finally rolled up to my Airbnb, I could not for the life of me open the door with the provided key. No! I wrestled with it for, no joke, 10 minutes, and finally was able to open the apartment building door by forcing the key up while rotating. By the time I hoisted my suitcase up the stairs, I figured I was at last home safe, but even then had further problems, this time with the apartment door. I eventually realized that the key needed to be rotated 3 times before the series of locks within were all released.
AT LAST, I arrived in the apartment, and the first thing I wanted to do was text my parents and Chris and let them know I had arrived, but I could only do this with wifi, unless I wanted to pay $10 for 24 hours of data. Unfortunately, the mini router was not cooperating, and by that point I really was at my breaking point. I ended up activating my data and made a panicked call to Chris over Skype, while I waited for the Airbnb host to help me troubleshoot. It was a relief when it was back up and running, but I will never forget the moment of panic, feeling like I was alone in a different country for the next week without any way of accessing my family and friends back home. I'm not sure I would have been a great world traveler before the 21st century.
Unrelated to travel stress, before leaving, I decided to get a new pocket sketchbook, and boy do I love the one I picked out. It's accordion style, which means drawings can just keep going and going if I want them to. Here are some drawings from the Istanbul airport, the view of the coast of Turkey from the plane, and the plane from Istanbul to Warsaw.
In between long days at work, I tried to squeeze in at least one drawing a day. You can see that when I first arrived, these drawings were only of my apartment, since that's where I felt most comfortable. It also eased the jet lag/sleepless anxiety.
Part way through the week, my coworkers in talent acquisition took me out to dinner and drinks, and there's nothing like having a tour guide to get one more comfortable with a new city or culture. Granted, I only rode the bus with them the one time and opted to walk the rest of the trip. But it was nice to get more oriented. What did we eat? Neapolitan pizza. So Polish. (It was so good though.) We also got drinks at the Panoramic Sky Bar.
There was a lot of working, which was tricky because I was still balancing work in the EST time zone. So that meant a lot of calls between 3-5pm, and a flood of emails at the end of the day during the American business day. I feel a lot more sympathetic of what that must be like day in and day out for our Polish and Dutch teams. There were multiple evenings where I was working until 7 or even 10pm and would just wander into the local convenience store and grab a bunch of junk food before collapsing at home.
I came prepared with lots of snacks. Not the healthiest ones, but comfort food because I wasn't confident in my ability to seek out sustenance with jet lag and travel anxiety, which only get compounded by hunger. I ended up grabbing a strange selection of food upon arrival though. Pierogis, goat cheese, cottage cheese, a veggie sandwich, Nutella, and bread. There was nothing more humbling than a cashier asking me a standard transactional question in a bored voice and me having absolutely no clue what they wanted to know. Every time I went in a store, I would feel prepared, and then it would instantly devolve into unexpected questions that I assume meant "Do you have any smaller bills?" or "Do you have exact change" or "Do you need a bag?" I only learned "Thank you" and "Please" and 'Hello". As a result there was a lot of feeling unprepared and, frankly, rather stupid. A transaction in the Post Office was the hardest, and it took me 15 minutes to realize the office used a ticketing system much like the RMV, or a deli. The postman also took my postcards from me to stamp them himself, and all of my postcards expressed some agitation about their confusing postal system (since I wrote them in the office in an effort to have an activity while observing other customers and the process). Hopefully he wasn't offended.
Whenever I stay somewhere temporarily, I like to document what my accommodations looked like. This was a very modern, spacious apartment with lots of white and extremely high ceilings. I felt very comfortable there after mastering the key situation, and having Skype calls there with my loved ones. I never *fully* mastered the keys, let's be honest, but it got easier.
Some more drawings from around the city. I found the people of Warsaw to be very friendly and helpful. Though I did sometimes feel that because of my Ukrainian heritage, most people assumed I spoke Polish based on my appearance, and so I was often disappointing people when I resorted to apologetic smiles and slow head shakes and this other move where I confusingly bow out of a transaction as graciously as possible without speaking words.
That's enough for one day, I guess. Time to experience Paris! I'll try and write more about the next legs of the trip later.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.