When I was a kid, living my best parachute pants-clad life in the 1980s, I was a devout fan of Mad Magazine.

My fandom, of course, was fueled primarily by my love of the cartoon, Spy vs. Spy.

If you’re not familiar, the two spy characters worked for opposing sides, and they were a clear reference to the ongoing tension between West and East, specifically, the US and USSR.

Thanks to my infatuation, the flames for which were fanned by movies such as Red Dawn, the 80s Bond films, Little Nikita, and many more, my intrigue began spreading to the study of real-life spies.

Every time there was a newspaper article about the KGB or CIA, I’d clip it and save it in my dresser drawer, hoping to perhaps discover some hidden pattern or message and uncover a coded communique.

I was determined to save the free world at some point.

My imagination was pretty big back then.

Of course, at that time, I never, even in the deepest recesses of that imagination, thought I’d be able to step foot behind the infamous Iron Curtain.

But, here I am.

I’m writing this from a train, speeding west across the stunningly resplendent, lush Polish countryside, marveling at the deep, verdant shades passing by, reaching wistfully back into the blurry corners of my childhood memories in an attempt to reconcile the dissonance ringing out in my mind.

I struggle to square the circle between strolling through a country once held by Hitler’s Reich and Stalin’s communist regime with the resilient, free, and rich, storied people with whom we’ve interacted throughout our brief stay.

It seems I’m going to have to update my childhood notions after all, but I have to admit, that’s a task I’m thrilled to undertake.

From pierogis to pork goulash…

From the former ghettos of Krakow to the white sand beaches of Sopot…

From Auschwitz to Stutthof…

From Wolf’s Lair to Old Gdańsk…

From dziękuję to proszę…

Every preconceived stereotype I once held as a young American has been utterly shattered, and I couldn’t be happier.

The people of Poland have won over our hearts, and my whole family is exceedingly grateful to have been able to cross the Iron Curtain and enjoy this fantastic culture.