We originally planned on visiting Poland to see our two friends, and nothing more. Anton, our friend from school was visiting his girlfriend Ola, who lives in Warsaw. Since he was there for a few months it was perfect for us to catch up with them on the other side of the world. Ola has visited us in Australia, so it was nice to see her in her home country too. We had no real plans of what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see, just that we wanted to see them.
Our visit to Poland was however, unintentionally relevant. The day before our train from Berlin to Warsaw we had visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, as Jess has mentioned in her post on Berlin. It had set us up to see just exactly what this meant for those affected by the war.
As our train slowly brought us into Poland and eventually Warsaw we realised that Poland wasn’t going to be a rich country. We arrived in Warszawa Centralna, the central train station, to the familiar face of our friend from Adelaide. We had a quick greeting then began walking to Ola’s apartment, a quick 10 minute walk down the road. As we began walking Anton explained to us how Warsaw was a combination of old and new. It is predominantly filled with old “Commie Blocks”, aka apartments built for the masses in the communist days, with some newer buildings dotted around the place, usually by the larger corporations and some newer apartments.
We arrived at Ola’s apartment, welcomed by Ola, a welcome banner on her door, and lunch. We had a bite to eat over a catch up, and then changed for the night ahead. I won’t bother telling too much in detail here – Anton and Ola had friends around to farewell Anton from Poland (he is leaving soon), and to meet us. We went through more than enough vodka at their place, and then left for the local pub for more booze. Long story short the next day was one of the worst and best days of my life.
We woke around 8am, in a rush for the train. What train? Honestly I had no idea. I had an agonising headache, but had no time to think about it. We put our clothes on from the night before (and smoking is legal in pubs here, so that didn’t help the hangover situation) and began our power walk to Centralna. We were heading to Sochaczew, the town in which Ola’s parents live, for a feast. Excellent – I needed food.
Jess and I bought our tickets, and as Ola was buying tickets for herself and Anton, the train arrived. We ran for the train, and Ola followed. Anton was hanging out of the door to keep the train stationary, however it just left. Ola was left at the platform! Some cursing in Polish and a few phone calls from Anton to Ola and her father, and we found out what was happening. Ola was on the next train and had a refund for the tickets, and the Police were waiting for our train at Sochaczew. Long story short, Ola’s father has a bit of power with the authorities and he isn’t afraid to use it. The hilarity of the situation perked me up a fair bit too which was great.
We went back to Ola’s parents’ place, and met her mother and auntie; before long Ola had arrived too. Ola’s father offered to take us to a town nearby that had a thermal pool where the water is heated naturally. We spent around an hour or so there, just relaxing in the water, and occasionally running out to roll around in the snow. Yep, true story, we were in bathers, on the snow. It sounds bad but realistically it was maybe a few minutes of freezing cold and then you’re back in the perfectly warm pool again.
We returned to Sochaczew to find the biggest feast we have ever had waiting for us. It was around 3 or 4pm by this stage and we were given soup (served in bread), ribs, chicken cutlets, potatoes, salads and more. And cakes of course. Thinking this was it we settled down on the sofa to watch some Winter Olympics. About two hours later we found us eating dinner. More vodka, more beer, more soup, pierogi, and so much other food. We were all so full, and extremely satisfied.
It was so nice to be able to stay in a home again. We only spent a few days at Ola’s parents place, however that time was some of the best in the trip. You stay in a hotel, a hostel, and even Ola’s apartment, and you get the impression that while people may live there, they don’t consider it home. It’s a place to stay while they achieve something. We thank Ola’s family very much for making us feel so welcome. They both really went above and beyond for two complete strangers – it was so generous.
Throughout the rest of our time in Poland we stayed predominantly in Warsaw. Anton toured us around a fair bit during the day (including taking us to the Warsaw Uprising Museum which was excellent), and then any other time she could spare we would spend with Ola. One night we walked through a much more “classy” looking part of Warsaw and had some chocolate at E.Wedel’s, and another night we grabbed some Chinese and feasted upon it back at the apartment.
We were lucky enough to be toured through Old Town by one of Ola’s friends and gain some solid local knowledge on the area and how it has been rebuilt. While many countries may take these “historic” areas for granted, Warsaw clearly does not. The majority of these buildings were destroyed by the Germans during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. As a result, in order to have this area live on, they have all been rebuilt, often funded by local families and small businesses.
There is so much I could talk about, but for fear of dragging on I will leave it at this. Poland itself is a very interesting place. The history is not too far in the past, and you can see it all around you as you catch a train, drive along a highway, or walk along a street.
To Anton and Ola, thanks for taking care of us and guiding us around. Thanks for the food, thanks for the local knowledge, thanks for the accommodation, and thanks for the comfort. It was nice to be able to let our guards down for a few days and know that we were safe in your hands.