It is just so difficult to sum up the joy received from our last two weeks of travel here in the Polska country. I think this picture was my most favorite place. A little house on the prairie if you will… country bumpkins, farmers, just straight up everyday kind of people live here, and I could not have felt more at home. Even though I spoke literally 3 words of Polish, even though I look like I’m from Norway, even though we all were just so noticeably different, we were greeted with such warm, big, open hearts and smiles. Something I took from my childhood in the U.P… big open hearts and smiles. The eastern countryside of Poland truly reminded me of my home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Cows, green things, corn… lots of corn. Random weird lakes, fish frys on a Friday night, and beer. The locals in these rural towns just dropped jaws when 6 Americans noticeably walked into anywhere. Thankfully we had Tomek. He was our in. Tomek’s cousin, Marcin, is the man in the middle. Grateful for all his connections and fun times.
Tomek and Mikey met playing music in the band Moo-Got-2 around 2006, and quickly became close friends. Living in Arcata, California, these two bonded quite heavily after becoming neighbors and band mates. Tomek’s parents are originally from Poland, where he was born, but because of the government struggles in the 80’s, they relocated to Idaho when Tomek was young. It has been a dream for Michael to visit his best friend’s homeland with him and now is the time. Please enjoy the journey with us as we explore all that is Polska.
FIRST UP, KRAKOW
After Prague, I was crazy excited for Poland. I knew what was to come. An unlimited amount of time exploring my sweetheart’s best friend’s homeland. I dreamt endlessly of camping. I miss camping. Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon… I’m starting to miss home, especially home in summertime. Before naturetime came Krakow. I never dreamed of visiting Poland. Now I say it is a must for all of us. With an American education, you don’t quite learn the history of ancient Europe, especially Poland. I can honestly say, I knew very little about this beautiful place before actually stepping my two feet here. After over two weeks of taking it all in, I now understand history that much more. Germany, Russia, Hitler, war, struggle, communism, tragedy, heartbreak, and uprise are all things that brought much more understanding into my world. Here is what Krakow looks like to me. The amazing walking bridge filled with acrobat sculptures, the gorgeous square in the heart of the city, the late night saxophone sessions in towers, the Jewish community alive with new life feeding us with food trucks, and an overall feeling of pride and joy. This city was fun. I will definitely return to this gem. Definitely.
Thank you sweet friend Kim for the introduction to this beautiful human. Darek, you were such a joy to chat with and experience Krakow as a local. This meal was for you Kim. Grateful for new awesome friends always. See you soon!
Reunion time begins. Mike has met a handful of Tomek’s family members from Poland as they have sprinkled their way through the states. It has been 10 years since he has seen some of them. Lots of happiness happened. Marcin insisted on taking us out on the town the first night we arrived to Warsaw and his sister Marta told us about a protest happening so we decided to go be a part of democracy. From my understanding, their President is trying to pass new laws regarding the hiring and firing of Supreme Court Justices in order to bring in some of his ‘cronies’. It sounds as if I find myself amongst yet another population of people who are getting up and standing up for their rights. Seems to be a more common trend within this big ole world. Marta and her friends were so glad to see us Americans there, by their side, in solidarity. It felt right. I can’t ever recall a time in my life where I’ve seen this many police cars lined up down the entire street just waiting for the worst to come, but it never did. All peaceful protesters here, and it worked.
I received quite the history lesson from our Polish friends regarding the struggles over the years. That was a nice reality check. Can’t say I’ve ever lived through communist rule. I mean our gem of an American president isn’t so awesome but at least he is not what haunts these people. Dark days were lived. Being told you can only eat one type of candy, or listen to one radio station, or drive one particular kind of car…. whew. That is rough. That is what our friend’s lived through as little people in this world. Perspective. What a thing.
We explored Old Town Warsaw the next day and it just really hits you in the heart wandering through these cities that have been completely and utterly devastated and destroyed by war. Here is a memorial for all the children who died with guns in their hands defending their home. Lots of heavy feelings here in Poland. This memorial symbolized how the Polish hid in the sewers and would attack by rising up out of them. ‘Uprising’ is a very powerful reality here.
There are numerous joyous things to experience here as well. Our first traditional Polish family style meal was very special. To share a table with these lovely people was beautiful.The square was filled with life that Saturday.
We then found ourselves perched on the lawn listening to Chopin in the park as it always happens every Sunday, even despite the raindrops.
From Warsaw, we hopped in a VW van with Tomek, Katherine, and two kiddos, where we drove five hours north to a small coastal town on the Baltic named Debki. A nice cool break from the heat was welcomed. I think in the four days we were there the temperature never rose above 70. This was our home during our stay. A quaint little camper equipped with all the things. A great connection through Marcin.
The beach was immaculate. The whitest most flour like sand my toes have ever sank into. The water was freezing. A few brave souls decided to rush the waves. I watched from the shore. We found some fun kid-friendly activities for the kids to jump into. Here’s the fam on their bike tour and little Max on his first ropes course. A lovely forest blessed our beach stay as well.
This is Ola, Marcin’s girlfriend. Our new beautiful friend braved the cold and rain while being eight months pregnant just to meet us. We had the best of times here in Debki, until the monsoon hit.
Then we packed up and headed inland to the cutest of towns, Gdansk, where Neptune lives. An amazing city with stunning views at each corner we turned. Even got a pirate ship viewing. Here is more of the city.
A brief one night stay here was what we needed to dry ourselves out and move along to our next adventure: Marcin informed us of this place, the Wolf’s Lair, where Hitler lived at one point during his life. The Germans eventually bombed the place to leave no evidence but the remains are still here and available to view. It was a stop along our next five hour drive east to the country, so we stopped. It was just as creepy as one would think. I kept looking around thinking to myself, I’m walking where Hitler walked. I’m touching ladders Hitler may have touched. This was where he plotted and devised his torturous actions. It was a bit sickening. The drizzle helped dampen the mood. Here is what we saw. And 13, the building in which he lived, surrounded by a jungle of concrete and confinement. What a strange trip. You learn of the secret railway he built through the forest to this compound and see the rows of trees he had planted along the roadsides to hide the transport of all his ‘possesions’. It felt quite gross to be here. Uneasy is an understatement. Glad we voted no regarding an Auschwitz tour. This was enough.
Cirlcing back into happyland, we all needed a bite to eat and found this tiny hole in the wall while driving these bumpy, windy, extremely narrow and dangerous Poland backwoods roads. After all, it was Friday, and what’s better than a good old fashioned fish fry?!? I decoded one fish on the menu, perch. Perfect. Perch is familiar. It was lovely. Thanks to the grandmas in that kitchen pouring love into our food that night. It felt like we were in the car for days. It was night time now, and raining, and sketchy. Our final destination was the farm house. A friend of Marcin opened up her home for us to enjoy for a bit. Off the grid, into the countryside we went ready to disappear for a bit. That is exactly what we did. This is what we woke to. I have a feeling this swing and I will be best of friends by the time we depart this little slice of heaven. Stay tuned. More Polska to come…