A Travellerspoint blog

One year in Poland. The dice keeps rolling.

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Tomorrow marks the day I arrived in Warsaw, exactly one year ago. I've been picturing this day in my head for the past weeks. I imagined I'd take some time for myself tonight, sit in front of the laptop with a couple of beers near me and start going through the past 12 months. The problem is that there's so much to talk about the past year, so many emotions, so many moments that I really don't feel like going through all of that. Tomorrow I need to wake up at 6am to go give a tennis lesson before work so I really can't spend all night reminiscing. I also don't think I could create some kind of order in my thoughts and transform them into words. Still, I have my beers, my music and life feels beautiful right now, so I will mark the occasion with some thoughts and hopefully make some sense of it all for future recollection.

One year in Waw. Wow! I just came back home from a tennis lesson. Despite the cold, I took a Veturillo from my place to Legia Tennis Club and once more felt like Pedro, the 12 year old kid riding the bike in his village, 20 years ago. Warsaw is now my village, which I like to explore on a bike, often in the night when the city it's quiet and people are hiding from the cold. What a great feeling it is to put my headphones and ride along the empty streets as fast as I can, feeling the fresh wind in my face and experience greatness.

One year here. I love Warsaw and I fell madly in love in Warsaw during this first year. That kind of love that makes you superhuman. That kind of love that floods you with endless energy and turns every day, every little moment with your loved one in something unforgettable. That kind of love that makes you want to do the craziest things. That kind of love that remains in every corner of the city, in every little detail of your life. That kind of love that is so intense that will inevitably and unbearably consume itself in a heartbeat. That kind of love I live for (yes I still love you hopelessly, "Emm"!)

One year away from the beach, from my Maceda. People ask me how could I switch the ocean for this? Well, I love the ocean and I love my beach, but I also love the fact that here I built a life where I have time and mental energy to learn new things. I'm trying to learn polish and also electric guitar. I suck in both so far, but both actually make me happy and every little improvement is a source of great joy. Also, recently I started practicing and playing tennis tournaments again! The amount of great sensations and feelings I have when on a tennis court is hard to put into words. Let's just say that a tennis court is like home to me and every time I play I feel like the kid that wanted to be Word Number One in tennis. The older I get, the more important is for me to keep the child inside me. I believe that the more life fucks you up and shows how hard it can be, the more you need to fight back by keeping the dreamer inside you instead of becoming bitter and cynical about life.

One year in Poland. I have to confess I didn't expect society here to be so close to the portuguese one. People often disagree with me, but no matter what, religion and family are two key pillars of polish society, in my humble opinion. I don't want to talk much about the nationalist vibe that perspires a bit all over the country, especially in smaller towns, because I haven't felt it directly. I rather focus on how much people seem to be dependent on friends and family here. In that sense, and although in Portugal is quite similar, I seem to share a more Nordic approach to life, typically less dependent from religion and generally more individualistic. I think Polish society is still quite conservative and not that innovative. Hope I'm not being too controversial :)

One year has passed. I feel like i've done a million things but ended somehow in the starting point. I wonder where I will be one year from now. Can't really tell. I know what I want but I guess sometimes things are really not under our control. Actually nothing is really under our control. We basically just need to get by during the hard times as best as we can and enjoy the good times when they happen.

One year and TEAM ETCAF still lives! Sometimes I wonder if some people look at me and think that, at 33, I should be in a "better" situation regarding my "career". You know what I mean. I have to confess that I think more and more in that, but I always end up reaching the same conclusion: no matter what society thinks, I feel accomplished enough after building a tennis school from scratch and turning into the beautiful thing that TEAM ETCAF was/is. And I never regret leaving it behind as I did. I sticked to my beliefs and there's nothing more liberating than follow your heart and mind. Oh, and seeing TEAM ETCAF alive and well in Poland is all I could ask for. Great conditions to practice, great students, the same spirit as always! That's rewarding enough! But I surely miss the great people (kids and their parents) that supported my project in Portugal. They're all in my heart, forever.

It's getting late. One year ago, shortly before moving here I wrote a post and mentioned something I had discovered during a concert back then (thank you, Caspian!). A poem from Bukowski. Tonight I will copy it again, because it says it all:

Roll the Dice

"if you're going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don't even start.

if you're going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.

isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you'll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you're going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, it's
the only good fight
there is."

I'll never stop trying and I will keep going all the way.

Much love to all.

Posted by ZackMeursault 13:39 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Tatra Mountains, Poland - sense of wonder still intact

Part I

I'm going to start this post about my 3 day hiking trip to the Tatra Mountains with a conclusion: I feel like it was the most epic thing I have done since my trip to the States in 2012. I have been to many places since then, flying solo or with company and I've had some great times, but one key element was missing all the time. And that was the ability to be completely overwhelmed, to be filled with absolute inner peace and to mentally embrace all the challenges in my life ahead with a stoic resilience. I guess I might have reached some state of mindfulness. It's unbelievable how amongst an insane state of physical exhaustion, my spirit was flying high in the sky. And I just kept going, going, going, feeling all and everything at the same time.

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Back to the start of the trip, I have decided to do it when I returned from Portugal in early September, hoping to explore that part of Poland before the winter. I hadn't been really impressed with any type of landscape here in Poland so far and I was curious to see the Morskie Oko lake and the mountains around. Heard only good things and had seen amazing pictures. I also wanted to do it alone because I believe this kind of trip is more transcendent if we are alone.

I also decided to do this trip in the cheapest way possible. I didn't want comfort or shortcuts, I wanted to endure it fully and completely, trying to be as close to a simple life as possible. In most of my previous trips, I often made choices based on comfort and never stuck to the budget. This time I wanted it to be different, with no easy way out. And so it was.

Sunday the 25th. I left Warsaw at 4pm on a crowded bus towards Zakopane which would arrive there at 11pm. For practical reasons, I had planned to sleep the first night in a hostel in the city and move to the mountain shelter located in Dolina Chocholowska in the early hours of Monday. I have to say that when I sat on the bus and realized I would spend the next 7 hours stuck there I wasn't really excited. My mind was full of noise, full of sadness and I started to wonder if I actually wanted to go on this trip, if I really wanted to be alone for the next 3 days and a half in the middle of nowhere. But quitting would have been too easy and I was determined to fight all those negative impulses which normally happen when our spirit is down and we are about to face an unknown reality. Then the bus took off, there was no coming back anyway! The trip was normal, nothing special to add except for the fact that the AC was right on top of me and blowing really cold air which almost got me sick in my throat. It didn't really help my overall mood to spend 7hours fearing I would get sick even before arriving and there was nothing I could do about it, stuck in a totally packed bus. Luckily I managed to not get sick!!!

As soon as most of people dropped off in Krakow and the bus got almost empty, that's when I started to feel excited! Night had fallen and now I felt I was going to the unknown, I was about to start exploring. There was no safe place to go to and there was no familiar faces to find refuge with, I was on my own and for the first time in this trip, I felt lighter, I felt in touch with life, right there. I had been missing that sensation. I couple of hours later the bus arrived to the main station in Zakopane. I put my backpack on my shoulders and walked to the hostel where I would be staying in a 10 bed dorm. The girl at reception was very friendly and gave me some tips about the trails I should do and other practical information for the next morning. I took a shower and went to bed as I wanted to wake up at 6.30am on the next day. That's when the first magic moment happened. I don't know how to properly explain it but I remember to be trying to sleep and realize there was a lot of noise in my head which suddenly stopped to give space to the most peaceful silence I could imagine in that room, where 5 other people were sleeping. I opened my eyes and I couldn't hear anything, no sound whatsoever. The amazing thing is that I just noticed there was noise in my head when the silence appeared. It was just beautiful, one of those moments you won't forget.

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Monday the 26th. The day started with a quick breakfast in the hostel at 7am before heading to the mini buses are located right next to the train station. The sun was starting to timidly show up in between the clouds and there was almost no one on the streets. Luckily I didn’t have to wait much for the bus and in a second there I was already on the way to Siwa Polana, the entrance point in the Tatra National Park closest to the mountain shelter I was staying in Glade Chocholowska. I knew that as soon as the bus would stop, I would need to walk for about two hours to reach the shelter and was with that sense of purpose that I started walking, with my two backpacks (a smaller one filled mostly with food to carry to the mountains). By this time, the sun was already glowing and those early morning rays were blissful and flooded me with energy. The way to the shelter was quite easy in a paved road which was accompanied by a beautiful water stream.

It was also very peaceful at that time of the day, only a few people walking the opposite direction to probably catch a bus to other valleys. I was very excited at this time, as I started to be surrounded by beautiful nature and I didn’t know what was ahead, I just knew I needed to keep walking.
I managed to make the way in less than two hours but I was drenched in sweat when I finally arrived to the shelter. I climbed the last steps, stopped at the entrance, threw my bags on the floor and started taking off my clothes to cool off. Then I took and moment to enjoy all the beauty around me and was so happy to realize I’d stay in this idyllic place for two nights! I was really amped up and barely couldn’t wait to start exploring the trails! I wanted to go up the mountain, I wanted to go high and marvel with all the promised beauty in front of my eyes. I couldn’t check in yet, so I asked for a map with the trails and sat in the breakfast room putting coffee in my canteen and planning which trails I would do and counting the hours needed to see if I would be able to finish it before nightfall.

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I decided to do the green trail all the way to Wolowiec (2064m) and then return passing by Rakon (1879m) and Grzes (1653m), using the blue and yellow trails to get back to the shelter. All in all, would take me around 5 hours of walking so it seemed doable for a first day, I didn’t know how the trails would be and how tired I would get. I left at exactly 10.30am, fully equipped.

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to be continued.... (maybe!)

Posted by ZackMeursault 12:29 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

5 October

Some years ago I discovered Bonnie Prince Billy. At that time it didn't touch me, somehow.

In the past days, the name of one of his albuns has been echoing in my head in unceasingly. So I listened to a song from it on Youtube today in the morning. When it ended, autoplay brought me this gem I'm posting here now and my day changed forever.

These two songs knocked me down completely, the ground fled from my feet and left me so stunned while beholding all the darkness around me. But at the same time, there is some kind of helpless hopefulness in them that radiates so much beauty and peacefulness which comforted me deeply and brought me back to safe ground again.

That's what music is to me. That's how much it means to me.

Posted by ZackMeursault 14:08 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Clash of civilizations. A few thoughts.

Those of you of live or have been in Warsaw know how busy is the main train station (Dw. Centralny), right in the center of the city. Thousands and thousands of people walking in and from the trains, in and from work or in and from the shopping center nearby. In a way, such scenario represents the pinnacle of the western world, our western lifestyle.

As I walked through there today, with yet another shocking terrorist attack in mind, I couldn't avoid to think: What if some terrorist attack would happen, right now, right here? What would I do? What could I do? And I looked around, searched for potential exits and looked at the people, kind of trying to exercise my eyes and train them to detect potential threats. And I realized that it's all random, that if something were to happen, I would just either be lucky or die. There's is literally nothing I can do to be safer or to protect myself from being killed in a terrorist attack.

So i started thinking if all those scary things we watch almost daily now on TV happening in Europe are instilling fear in me. As I don't know what it means to live in fear, I couldn't really answer that so my thoughts flew towards a wider perspective that compelled me to write here.

Most of us probably grew up in a war free society. We grew up watching the world change through a TV screen. We were observers of a reality that seemed so far, almost unreal. And we never really connected with it, we'd just move on with our lives, enjoying our amazing and peaceful European lives. We heard tales or visited monuments and museums about world wars, about terrible dictators trying to conquer the entire continent, holocaust. It all seemed terrible, shocking and unreal at the same time. We were almost sure it would never happen again. The end of the Cold War and all the advances made in our western civilization even gave the very naive idea that we were living the end of history (Fukuyama, anyone?). That we, as a society, have reached the last stage of our evolution and all would be smooth sailing from then on.

How ridiculous does that sound now?

The clash of civilizations has been a constant throughout History. And that's what we are living right now. It's here and it's going to get much worse before it gets better. It won't be just on TV anymore. It's not going to affect just the distant people in the Middle East. It's gonna affect, it is already affecting our communities, our neighbours, our own families . But we, as a society, are in some kind of unrealistic state of denial and numbness that it's frightning. I see France being crushed by terrifying attacks on it's own people, on it's own values, our values and all I see is Hollande saying how sorry he feels for the victims and that we'll stand strong and united against terrorism. And Germany, how is the most powerful country in Europe handling this? I don't really know. And they keep stricking us, right in the heart of what make us europeans, right in the core of our values and beliefs.

Let me be very clear. For me this is not about religion. i respect everyone, from all faiths. It's about a group of terrorists, who use religion as an igniter, that needs to be dismantled. It's fucking war, a whole new kind of war, that will be fought not only far away but also in our own neighbourhoods, in our own streets . However, Europe has been the champion of peace, human rights and all that shit, so no one is able to get dirty and just do something about it, we are once again waiting for the so called "police of the world" (USA) to come and do something about it. And then we can blame them for not respecting the Geneva Convention or for just having their own interests in mind.

And to me, that's just unacceptable. Combine an overall numbness of the people (who have lived their entire lives in peace) with the hypocrisy of european politics and you have the perfect ingredients for a nightmare, for a story with a terrible ending.

We can talk about values, about love and respect, but we passed that phase already. Now it's time to fight for survival, to ensure that our values and beliefs (whichever they are, that's another topic) overcome the heinous attack they are suffering. It's time for leaders to show up and guide us. And frankly, I don't see anyone in Europe doing that.

So please, let's all fucking wake up. Seriously.

Posted by ZackMeursault 10:36 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

6 months in Poland - disruption. disruption. disruption.

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Yesterday marked the passage of my first 6 months here in Poland. Ever since I arrived, I started having one recurring thought while riding the bus. Very often, I would look to the people around me or to the names of the bus stops and be struck by the paradoxal sensation of feeling completely alienated from this reality, feeling totally different from the people around me but at the same time being stunned by the fact that Warsaw was now my home and increasingly very familiar. As if I was somehow in between two dimensions, two realities. I was (and still am) the same self, yet my reality, my reference points completely shifted in a matter of weeks. It's like one day you are living a certain life and in the next you wake up, your life is completely different and yet, you still perceive everything as normal, as if that has always been your life, your reality. I dunno about other people, but to me it is a very fascinating feeling to have and it makes me wonder a lot. People often talk about reincarnation, about past lives and what they were or wish to be in different lives. Lately I have been thinking about the possibility of reincarnation within our own (and only, i'm sorry to say) physical existence.

But how can we do that?

I think the answer lies in two fundamental pillars: the notion of time (and how can we stretch it) as well as the notion of change, in the sense of a complete disruption of our reference points (what is usually described as leaving the comfort zone).

TIME

Ever since I turned 30 (http://1dream1000ways.travellerspoint.com/72/) that I became more and more aware of the importance of time. As a person that is interested in too many things and wants to absorb as much knowledge and experiences as possible from life, I realized that while one can't live and learn everything, one must lead a complete life, living it as fully and intensively as humanly possible. So I started trying to find ways to stretch my own notion of time, as it's obviously not possible to strech time itself. So gradually I found out that the more my days are occupied, the longer they seem. But here's the trick: it's not about being occupied only with tasks we don't like or being completely absorbed by things that don't motivate us. It's also not about only being occupied with leisurely tasks and activities. If we spend all the time just enjoying life, we tend to not appreciate those things so much after a while. On the other hand, if we spend all the time doing things only because we have to (work, groceries, cleaning, whatever....), we will tend to become more and more dissatisfied with our life.

The trick is to embrace all of that with passion, with a sentiment of purpose and commitment. Is to never give in to our tired body or let laziness rule our lives. How often we hear people complaining that they are so tired after work that they just want to lay in the couch? Or how people tend to sleep many more hours than actually needed, just because it's comfortable and cozy to be in bed? Or how often people cancel something just because they are slightly sick or not feeling so well, although it's nothing serious or life theatening? We must not let those external circumstances take control of our lives.

In 6 months here, I feel like I haven't stopped. I've been sick, I've been worried about my health, sometimes physically exhausted. But I haven't stopped doing things and I feel I have done a lot. I never searched for the most comfortable option in all my decisions. It might sound clinically insane, but there is so much beauty in enduring, in walking close to the edge of our own limits.

That's why I look back in my life and I don't feel it's passing too fast. I also don't feel it's passing slow. I feel like life is happening at its own natural pace and I'm embracing as much of it as I can, thus stretching my own notion of time.

DISRUPTING LIFE

I think that something is wrong when people look back in their lives and say it's passing too fast. If we look back and can't clearly separate different moments, if it's all mixed in one gigantic amalgam of undifferentiated moments, we're doing something wrong. I learned by my own experience that if we periodically disrupt something in our lives, it will help to stretch our notion of time. I prefer to use the word disrupt rather than change, because I like the drastic vibe the word implies. I think that's the key element, the necessity of a drastic alteration of some part of our life, if not everything at the same time.

But that's precisely the problem, I guess. In our day and age, we are induced (if not forced) by everything and everyone around us to search for comfort. It became an underlying element of existence. In our decadent and materialistic society, the search for comfort became the Holy Grail of everyone's life. Therefore, the value of comfort became very high and it's present in almost all of our decisions, making it very difficult for people to leave the so called "comfort zone", not to mention that the search for comfort itself is a source of great frustration for most people. If we combine that with another human weakness, the "fear of the unknown", we have the perfect conditions for people never leave the comfortable routines they create and they so mechanically and blindly abide.

But I believe that, however deranged it may sound, if we control that almost unbearable fear and deliberately disrupt our life, the outcome of that will be very rewarding in a spiritual way and will help us lead a happy and seemingly longer, more fulfilled life.

By disrupting life, I mean every things that produces a change in our "normal life". It can be as simple as choosing a different road on the way to work or ride a bike rather than going by bus. It can be also meeting different people rather than sitting on the same bar with the same people every weekend. Or it can be quiting your job and go travel the world. It's up to each one of us to decide and act according to our own reality. And there is so much magic in that.

When we disrupt life, we create landmarks, we turn normality upside down and that event becomes engraved in our memories. We create a before and an after, we stretch life. If there is not disruption, there is only continuity. And continuity is boring. It's safe, but boring.

I know all of this sounds quite obvious and easy. But is it really? :)

I guess that's all I have to say about my 6 months in Poland! :) I actually wanted to analyze the society and the upcoming challenges here, my own integration and perspectives about the city itself, but I got lost in my thoughts once again!

Here's to another 6 months!

Posted by ZackMeursault 05:36 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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