Poland confused me.

What with it being located between Russia and “Western” Europe, and what with my latest experience being in Russia, and what with my experience in the Balkans pretty much directly south, I was expecting Poland to be sort of like a cleaner, more compact version of Russia. But when I arrived and Łuki started showing me around his town and nearby Lublin, I began to scratch my proverbial head.

“It’s kind of like… Southern California?” I ventured, as we walked through the more recently developed part of his neighborhood. The scrubby vegetation, bright flora, beating sun, and luxurious-looking tile-roofed villas added up. But the humidity, the small wheat fields in between luxury villas, and the Catholic churches on every corner did not. “Or maybe Spain?”

Wandering through the Old Town in Lublin, Łuki told me it’s been compared to Italy architecturally, but the bright pink and green facades contrasted with my mental image of Italy as a more gray and beige stone kind of place. Plus, Lublin has more spires than cupolas.

Hearing that Poland feels itself caught between the “east” of Russia and the “west” of Germany is confusing when for most of its history, Russia has grappled with an identity caught between the “east” of Asia and the “west” of Europe. And Poland is part of Europe, right? Central Europe? Eastern Europe? A former satellite state?

If Germans and even people from western Poland look on the infrastructure of eastern Poland with disdain, the autobahns must be paved with gold. Lublin’s grocery stores are just as small as in Arkhangelsk, but the potatoes are scrubbed clean and the fruit is plentiful and unmarked. The people are friendly and cheerful, but they size each other up on the street with what an American might call nosiness or even suspicion.

Finally, I gave up on trying to compare Poland to things and just enjoyed my time with Łukasz. Gently sloping hills, gorgeous lush green forests, ancient oak trees, herds of wild ponies: these things don’t need to be on a map to be beautiful. There will be plenty of time to try and understand Poland once I’m done trying to understand Russia.