Last summer, the timing of my trip to Poland happened to coincide with the 72nd Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. On August 1st, I was sipping coffee at a local cafe, when I suddenly found myself in the middle of a massive march with tens of thousands of Polish people. Unexpectedly, I got to take part in a fascinating annual tradition, which marks the start of a major struggle against Nazi Germany and pays respects for the fallen Poles.
This infamous uprising began on August 1st, 1944 and lasted for 63 days, with the Polish Home Army attempting to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. Notably, it was the largest act of resistance by any nation under German occupation during World War II. Over 200,000 Poles died - many of them civilians - and the city of Warsaw was nearly destroyed by the Nazis. War veterans, students, and regular citizens come together on August 1st to commemorate the insurgents' heroism.
At exactly 5pm - the hour in which the uprising began - the city came to a complete standstill for a minute of silence. Then, out of nowhere, the city streets were suddenly filled with the sound of alarm sirens, traffic came to a halt, and nearly everyone paused along the streets. Many were holding flags and burning flares. The red smoke quickly filled the air, cars honked, and people began to chant. Then, just as quickly as it began, the ceremony was over and business returned to normal.
Located in Kalemegdan Park is one of the oldest zoos in Europe. I've always loved animals and volunteering, so when I was studying abroad in Belgrade, Serbia during my senior year of college, I asked one of the lead zookeepers - in terribly broken Serbo-Croatian - if I could volunteer at the zoo. He didn't speak any English, but nodded in approval. And just like that I was a volunteer.
Along with several elementary-aged Serbian school children, I spent my Sunday mornings volunteering. Having the 7am to 1pm shift on a Sunday morning was a bit brutal for a college-age student, but it was a totally unique experience. Without any formal training or overview of proper procedures, I was charged with helping sweep the grounds, prepare food for the animals, clean cages, and herd goats.
Unlike zoos across the United States, there are minimal barriers between the animals and visitors at the zoo. Lions, tigers, and wolves can be inches away from you. There were also fewer restrictions for staff, and even volunteers. Petting, playing, and cuddling with some of the animals wasn't uncommon. There were also animals that you wouldn't expect to be at a zoo like raccoons, foxes, deer, guinea pigs, and hamsters.
If you have the opportunity to volunteer abroad, I highly recommend it. It gives you a chance to give back while also experiencing the local culture from an entirely new prospective. While there wasn't any formal volunteer posting at the Belgrade Zoo, sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Best Travel Hack - Apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card by January 12th and earn $1500 in free airfare
One of the best ways to travel for free is to take advantage of large sign-up bonuses offered by credit card companies. The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card offers one of the largest sign-up bonuses around, with 100,000 reward points if you sign up by January 12th and spend $4,000 on the card in the first 3 months. That's a whooping $1,500 in free airfare!
While the card comes with a relatively large annual fee of $450, it offers a $300 credit for any travel spending. Essentially, as long as you spend $4000 in the first three months, the reward easily covers the annual fee and provides you with enough left over reward points to purchase a plane ticket to a faraway destination.
The cards also comes with several travel perks, including a free membership to the Priority Pass network (access to over 900 elite airport lounges worldwide) and $100 credit for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. You also get 3x the points in money spent on travel and restaurants worldwide (basically, $1 equals 3 miles).
JPMorgan Chase is cutting the rewards program in half soon, so if you sign up for the card past January 11th, new cardholders will only receive 50,000 reward points (about $750 in free airfare, still a great deal!). If you choose to sign up for the card, make sure you make your monthly payments on time. Otherwise, it could negatively affect your credit score.