So I said goodbye to the United Kingdom- it had been fun. I regret not making it to Liverpool or Edinburgh, but spending some time in the English countryside made up for that. Plus, I might make it back to the UK on this trip seeing as it is NOT in the Schengen Zone (one of my biggest restrictions to travel) and it will be in the general direction of home when I head that way.
I spent the night at the London Luton airport because my flight was too early to coordinate with the earliest tube ride. It was actually really crowded and there was no where to sleep. So, when I got to Warsaw, Poland, I would have been dead tired IF I hadn’t just gotten to Warsaw, Poland! Of course the travel adrenaline kicked in as the plane landed down and I looked out the window on the next part of the adventure.
Shockingly, the weather was incredibly nice when I got off the plane. I really didn’t know what to expect, but Poland is pretty far north- I thought I was going to be freezing my toes off (traveling with only the sandals). Instead, it was a balmy 82°F with the sun shining, so out came the tank-top and sunglasses.
It wasn’t the weather that was going to slow me down in Poland, it was the language. Polish? Huh? What? Why are there so many Ws, Ys and Zs? What does the L with a slash thing mean? It was actually a completely new struggle for me, mostly because I don’t look all that different from Polish people. I’ve been places where I knew how to say absolutely nothing in the local language, but those were always times when I looked as strange to poeple as their language sounded to me. They never expected me to know what they were talking about. But this was different. The lady on the bus from the airport to the city center turned to me specifically to ask a question and I had absolutely NO idea what she said. I stood there, staring at her blankly, realizing how difficult this might be, finally uttering something in English, to which the lady stared blankly back at me. Someone else answered her, finally, thank god, and all I could do was stand there wondering what random combination of sounds would have meant “I have no idea what you just asked me, sorry”. I did learn how to say “I don’t understand”, along with very few other words, but not much. So there were a few nice chances to work on international sign language, if no one was around to help out (usually the younger crowd who has studied English in school).
Anyway, I got off the bus in the city center and there was Pol-Ewen, chillin’ with a book. What a great way to reunite with an old friend- downtown Warsaw in the sunshine. We walked the town a bit, had some beers, ate some local bar snacks (jelly meat, ha!), and hung out on the banks of the Wisła River before meeting up with our first host, Olga.
Once an acquaintance of Pol-Ewen’s, now a great friend of us both, Olga made our visit to Warsaw incredible. She got us bikes to ride around town, our own place to crash, knew the cool spots, introduced us to her cool friends, translated everything- she was great.
We spent a few days biking around town to see what we could see. The city is currently preparing for the Euro Cup in June, so there is a lot of construction going on, like in London. Despite that, the cities are a lot different. Warsaw is pretty big, but nothing like London. Also the pace just seems so much slower, which is nice. Nice too that it’s back to driving on the right side of the road- I know which way to look. Not much of a metro to speak of, but most parts of the city are very accessible on foot. The museums were closed due to a strike, but we weren’t too bummed- there were plenty of parks, buildings and cobblestone streets to explore.
And of course, we had some business to attend to. While we were in Poland Pol-Ewen was awarded a grant for his project, so we definitely had to check out at least one garden. We spent the good part of a day looking for Jodie’s garden plot- Pol met her through an urban gardening network online. I won’t go into too much detail, but Jodie is an American living in Poland, growing food on her little plot of land adjacent to a train station and hidden behind some apartment buildings. Such plots are popular among locals, but no one seems to grow food- only flowers to sell. Jodie spoke of her experience with people being afraid of food grown in cities, possibly due to suspicions about air, soil, and water quality. We tried some of her mustard greens, they seemed safe enough. Special thanks to Jodie for taking the time to show us your work.
We were lucky to have multiple hosts in Warsaw. After a few days staying on the edge of town, we met up with Mary and Mariusz, some really cool Poland locals we met through the Couch Surfing network. We were super lucky to spend a few days in their kind care- meeting more cool locals, getting city tours, having drinks in high class hotel lobby bars and eating classy Polish meals. We learned some important things from them as well- namely the excitement of a Parov Stelar Band concert and the glory of delicious Polish vodka. It was a blast.
Our last night in town started with beers and vodka in the Old Town, made its way to an American rap concert in a city park with a few more helpings of that fine Polish elixir, and didn’t end until we were packed up, out of Mary’s flat and on our 7:25am train to Lithuania. We had some trouble finding a spot for Pol-Ewen’s overloaded bike because we got to the train a touch close to embarking time, but we sorted it out. Thankfully, not too many stops after Warsaw, the train was all but empty and there was plenty of room to sleep- which we did.
I’d like to extend special thanks to Mary and Olga- two amazing Polish ladies who went out on a limb and took Pol-Ewen and I in, showing us an incredible time. Once again, the quality of the hosts has made the trip what it is. Not that Warsaw isn’t a great place in itself, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without such great hosts. Thanks again ladies!
So, we moved into the Baltic States, excited to see what was in store. More to come.