Week 26 – Poland (Warszawa, Łowicz & Łódź)

We’ve hit the six month mark! I can’t believe how quickly it has gone by, but in saying that, work is a distant memory for me. Those who follow the blog will have read about all the fascinating places we’ve been and the thousands of miles we’ve travelled. We’ve been so fortunate to catch up with so many friends and family along the way and they really have made this trip special for us. To be fair they’ve probably kept Anna and I from killing each other as well! To take stock of our journey so far we decided to go back and record all the flights we’ve taken and all the different accommodation we’ve stayed in. It was time consuming but quite an eye opener. It also helped kill some time sitting around at the airport.

At this point we’ve taken 20 flights which is quite a feat considering flying makes Anna nervous and we try to book direct flights when possible. We’ve stayed in 57 different places as well which is a mix of hotel rooms, hostel dorms, apartments and with relatives. It’s been the most wonderful journey so far and I have zero regrets. The amount that we have seen would’ve taken 10 years if we stayed at work. Of course a big part of the success is having Anna by my side to educate me on the ways of backpacking and to take care of language for me. I always knew it but she really is an intrepid traveller. I’ve contributed to our success as well with doing most of the driving and the general navigation around cities. Oh and Anna has been very impressed with how I have become so cheap on this trip and how I’m always finding little ways to save money.

Our main objective for Poland was to visit as many of Anna’s relatives as we could in a 6 day period, and we did a pretty good job of it. Ideally we would’ve stayed longer but I ran out of days on my EU visa, however it was great that we could fit it in. In the 6 days we went from Warszawa to Łowicz to Łódź and back to Warszawa. We visited both of Anna’s grandmothers, all of her uncles and aunts that live in Poland and visited 11 cousins/second cousins. We were also fortunate enough to be able to attend Anna’s grandmother’s 86th birthday party. Such a full itinerary was only possible due to the kindness and generosity of Anna’s extended family as they travelled from various parts of Poland to meet us, and drove us between different families. Each time we called upon another household we were greeted with Polish hospitality which I’ve learned is a full spread of food that extends for hours. The food is so good and between the different families I think I managed to try most traditional Polish dishes. I’m so tempted to rattle them all off but for most people the names won’t mean much – you’ll just have to check out the photos. I’m very grateful to Anna’s family for welcoming me into their homes and for tolerating me not knowing Polish. Anna had a tough job translating everything back and forward for me, but she was helped by those in the family who could speak English.

My introduction to Polish culture occurred as soon as we arrived at the airport. As we were waiting at the taxi rank we were approached by another couple who asked if we were heading into the town centre of Warszawa, and when we confirmed that we were they suggested that we share a taxi to half the cost. With my aforementioned cheapness I thought it was a brilliant idea. It ended up costing us only $AU7 to get to our hostel from the airport… perfect. We arrived at midnight on the Friday night and the area was buzzing. Music was pumping in the bar next to our hostel so we decided there was no point in trying to sleep, and we headed out to join the nightlife. The next morning we went for breakfast and then walked through the old town. Warszawa was hard hit in WWII and it’s easy to see that not much of the original city remains. It feels like a city that is now trying to establish an identity after WWII rebuilding and the drab communism architecture. Regardless of this, it’s worth seeing as they have some lovely parks and monuments. After our morning walk we then collected our bags and headed to the train station for our 2pm train.

To be honest our arrival into Łowicz wasn’t the most welcoming but that’s because it looks like they haven’t spent a cent on the train station and surrounding area since the 70’s. It’s such a shame though because when you walk into the town centre near the big cathedral, the feeling totally changes as the roads and sidewalks have all been rebuilt and the streets are lined with various garden beds. We walked everywhere in Łowicz and we were really impressed with all the work they are completing in beautifying the town and building new park areas. It turned out that they started restoring Łowicz because Pope John Paul II came to visit in 1999. The Pope obviously didn’t come by train! Our accommodation was a hotel in the centre of town but we were the only guests who weren’t part of the wedding that was being held at the hotel. This meant that once again the music was pumping all night and they even played some Disco Polo which was funny because Anna hates it. If you want to check out some Disco Polo click here, it rocks. The hotel put on an awesome breakfast which totally made up for the disturbance. After 2 nights in Łowicz, Anna’s cousin Magda came and collected us to take her back to her house in Łódź.

The timing of our trip also coincided with the vacation time of Magda and her husband Krzysiek which was ideal because they had us stay in their home for 3 nights. They live in the suburban area of Łódź in a sleek modern house decorated with vast collection of artwork and large feature wall prints, but the best part for us were their 2 dogs Joker and Rysiek. We both miss having a dog in our lives and we can’t wait to buy one. If we were at the end of our trip I’m sure Anna would’ve stolen Joker. They had a bonfire pit with a grill that swung over the fire and it was a great way to spend an evening, considering it was 6 degrees overnight even though it’s summertime!

Łódź is an interesting town to visit because it has a beautiful main street lined with restaurants, bars and stores but if you venture one block away then the streets can look quite crummy. We drove down one street that’s used for WWII movies because once the cars are removed it looks like the war had only just finished. On Wednesday it was raining so we went to Manufaktura which is a shopping complex that has been built in old textile factories. The project has been completed very well and it would be great to see the same replicated in cities like Sydney where they have abandoned factories that either sit as derelict buildings or are torn down and the history is lost. Next to the complex is the homestead of the factory owner which has now been turned into a museum. The house was very elaborate and even had a concert hall inside.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Poland, but I’ll definitely be back and for longer next time. I was so impressed by the amount of investment in public facilities like the new freeways and improving the appearance of town centres. From my perspective it seems like Poland is moving into a phase of wealth and it will be great to see how it all transforms. You can already see this shift now with little things like how modern the cars are and new buildings are stylish. I think Poland presents great investment opportunities in certain sectors.

The aspect I enjoyed the most though was gaining a better understanding of Anna’s heritage and meeting all the family that I’ve heard so much about. We saw places that her parents lived in as kids and where Anna lived as a young child. We’re both very grateful for the hospitality that Anna’s family extended to us and they all made me feel very welcome in their homes. We both appreciate the effort that everyone went to, to make our whirlwind visit a success.

We’ve just arrived in Scotland and we’ll spend the next 2 weeks here driving around the Highlands and visiting Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Do widzenia,

B&A

Fail of the Week
I don’t speak Polish so Anna taught me a few basic phrases like hello, thank you, goodbye etc. To be honest I struggle with some of the sounds and since Anna was with me all the time I let her do the talking. Well on our last night we went out for dinner with Magda, Krzysiek and their kids Max and Marcel to a Jewish restaurant. Since I had 5 days practice, I was starting to get better with the phrases. The waiter came to take my plate and without even thinking I said dzień dobry (good day) not dziekuje (thank you). Everyone cracked up including the waiter and the kids. It was only then that I realised I said the wrong thing because my mind was on autopilot. I went bright red with embarrassment and that marked the end of my Polish.

Meal of the Week
We ate so much great Polish food, so this week I’m going to give it to Polish cuisine. Anna is nervous though because now I know so many dishes and I want her to learn to cook them all. Realistically I think I’ll have to wait until we’re next at Anna’s parent’s house!

Our tips for Poland:

  • English is widely spoken in the cities so no worries there. Signage is also in English.
  • The roads are improving with nice motorways being constructed, but speed zones are only a recommendation so don’t be surprised to see someone fly by doing 200kph.
  • The food is awesome. I would just stick to Polish foods to make sure you try them all.

Average spend for Poland was a mere AU$25pp per night for everything. That was only possible with family hospitality. I don’t think we paid for a single meal!

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