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The journey not the arrival matters I believe that travel is the best education. I wanted to learn more about myself and the world so I embarked on a journey, with minimal plans, eager and ready to discover new places, new people and to be adventurous!

Phenomenal Poland

POLAND | Monday, 23 September 2013 | Views [1609]

Warm Wrocław
Here, it was all about eating and talking, indoors - Mum's cousin Jurek and his wife Ania had food ready and prepared for us every minute of every day. Since Jurek is a doctor, they were reasonably well off so we were treated to those things you'd never normally do like ride in the horse and carriage around the city square and have lunch in a super fancy restaurant ordering anything and everything!! We indulged in the most scrumptious food - this spread you put on bread called 'smalec' which is essentially pig fat with bacon bits - Sooooo good!!
And of course there was a endless amount of vodka... Couldn't half tell we were in Poland!! We spent an afternoon at a lake, swimming and cooking BBQ with mum's ex boyfriend Janusz (from when she was 18) and his family ... It's very popular to take a portable grill to the lake on weekends here, and also to own a lakehouse- I liken it to an Adelaidean owning a Victor/Middleton shack. The lake is filthy but people swim in it!
Krazy Kutno
We met a few other relatives in other remote parts of Poland but the winning story is the one of Kutno. Crazy crazy Kutno... Ok so bit of background - we're not a particularly inquisitive family (mum, dad and I) when it comes to ancestry etc and mum already knew of a few friends and family in Poland before she left, and we figured that was great, and we'd visit them. A few months before mum and dad left, Mum happened to ask my grandpa  on  Dad's side if there was any family in Poland he might like us to get in contact with. He came back with a list 5 pages long!! Mum said no way, shorten it and tell me if anyone actually wants to have us stay because if it's just for a quick hi in woop woop, we're not interested!! So the shortened version had a few names including Aunty Zosia and Uncle Wacek. We didn't know (let alone think about) if they had any extended family but we wrote to them and arranged to be there 3 or 4 days... which Zosia was a bit disgruntled about because she wanted longer but hey, it's tough when you're in demand throughout the country!!! Upon arrival in Kutno we were greeted by a sizeable group and headed to Zosia's for dinner... which lasted about 8 hours as different groups of relatives came and went, eager to see the family from Australia!! As lovely as all of this fuss was, mum and I were desperately feeling like we needed to stop eating and start moving, especially since it was a beautiful day outside ... but yet again we're inside being fed!! So when Agnieska (a cousin of sorts) mentioned that she was going to her lakehouse the next day our eyes lit up and we eagerly questioned whether we might be able to join somehow?! Agnieska thought this was a super idea but hesitantly looked to Zosia who's eyes had become fiery and grumpy at the idea of losing us to someone else for a period of time.... It's quite hard to tell this story succinctly and chronologically because of course at the time we didn't understand the situation and naively presumed Zosia would be happy for us to do something more in lines with our interests (being OUTside and at a lake) and only now that we have learned about the pre-existing family dynamics, we know that Zosia wanted to keep us all to herself and not tell certain family members that we were there, so they couldn't see us!! Right, so hang in there, we're getting to the good bit. The next day after going to a beautiful monastery which unfortunately meant being stuck in a car for hours, we demanded that we must go for a walk/jog! ... About an hour into our long awaited glimpse of exercise, near a small forest, mum was stopped by an attractive blonde woman on a bike who said in Polish 
Lady: hi, I know you
Mum: haha umm (awkwardly) no you don't
Lady: (with a smirk) haha yes I do! :)
Mum: (bit weirded out now) no, you really don't and I'll tell you why I KNOW you don't... Because I'm from Australia!!!
Lady: yes, I know you are!! Basia jedrzejczak, right?
Ahhh.... And then it all started to unfold. The lady was Nadia (now mum's new best friend and sister) - wife of Grzegorz - another relative. Then along came Jola and Tomek (also relatives) all around the same age as mum and dad, fit, healthy and into exercise! And we started wondering why on earth we hadn't met them or heard about them yet?! ...Well, that was because Zosia wouldn't let them! Zosia refused to tell them what time we arrived at the train station so they couldn't meet us. Jola had offered for us to stay in her house becaus it's big and gorgeous and has heaps of space but, no we stayed at Zosia's which was lovely but very small. So Jola offered to have the big saturday at her house… Still no!. And so when these families realised they were never going to get to meet the relatives from Australia, they had to start devising plans. Jola's mum (Marisha) called Zosia to get some information... She asked how the family from Australia were... Zosia said yes they're fine... Marisha asked if we were there to at least say hello to on the phone... But of course she had to tell the truth and Marisha found out we were 'out for a walk'.... So immediately Marisha gets on the phone to Jola and informs her that we're out walking. Jola calls Nadia to spread the word and they jump on their bikes in a search party to locate us! They rode around for an hour and had separated to cover as much of Kutno as they possibly could and (I still can't believe it) they found us!!! From then on it was just marvellous jokes and fun times. They invited us on a bike ride the next morning but we had to pretend that we were going alone so Zosia didn't hate us!!
They invited me to ride with the boys to the lakehouse and we arranged it all but planned for them to phone me at Zosia's just before hand and pretend to invite me on the spot so I could do the innocent acting - oh wow, what a super idea thank you I'd love to go!!! The lake experience was so great- and that's where I met all my amazing cousins - Jola and Nadia's kids -and became especially close to Adam, Marta, Mateusz and his girlfriend, Ala. Many of our relatives have lakehouses near eachother and spend a lot of summer there cooking grills, drinking vodka, playing cards, ball games and swimming. It was so much fun having a big party with all of these people we didn't even know existed a few days earlier and were now getting on with famously... and they're FAMILY!!!
I knew I had to come back and see everyone again! I mustn't forget the send off at the train station... 25 odd family members all came to say goodbye at 10pm, presented us with gifts, and gave us Polish phones with credit so we could call eachother ... which they did every day after we left!!! So adorable. So special.
Zesty Zakopane
Wow. Poland has some truly incredible mountains in the south. Mum, dad and I turned our quads on max and 3 days in a row did a 6-8 hour hike through some of the most stunning paths around the Tatra Mountains. We saw some beautiful lakes, patches of thousands of Xmas trees and the weather couldn't have been more perfect - blue skies scattered with a few fluffy white clouds.
At one of the most breathtaking spots called Giewont, which you needed to hold onto chains to conquer the final steep part of the climb to the top, mum felt it was the right spot to sprinkle some of the ashes of my Babina and Dziadzio. It was a truly emotional moment that I felt so blessed to be a part of and support mum through.
I think the 3 of us were so protected by Babina and Dziadzio for the rest of the day that we hiked back down (probably one of the steepest and trickiest parts of the whole hike) in record speed, feeling safe, happy and light. Not to mention the butterflies that followed us most of the way down and I'm sure we were all thinking that was them guiding and protecting us. Seriously special.
On our last day in Zakopane we experienced a very cultural raft ride on the river that borders Poland and Slovakia, it was so peaceful and stunning, and cool to see how the 'mountain men' called 'Gorale' make a living in the mountains!!
Final night dinner was an amazing calorie-laden Polish banquet of - well - everything, including my fave - beet root purée and thick potato pancakes with goulash. Sooo goood!!!
Killer Krakow revisited
...Yet another experience with a lovely feeding family - 3 hour breakfast, 4 hour lunch and 3 hour dinner, with oh maybe one hour in between for sightseeing :) haha
Wicked Warsaw
After belgium, I was greeted by my fav new cousins- Adam, Marta, Mateusz and Ala - who all came to Warsaw just to see me and spend time with me. By the way they're aged 19-21 so I've been getting my youth on again!! Unfortunately it seems summer is fleeting in Poland so it rained every day but we still managed to check out the beautiful Old Town, and a few museums. 
This time returning to Kutno without the safety net of mum and dad to translate or to take control of conversations was an entirely different experience. Add to my homesickness the feeling of anxiety at not understanding everyone but wanting to so badly, and also wanting to convey my opinion and ask questions but I just couldn't, and suddenly I was becoming quite distressed and feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time when I know it should have been a lovely experience meeting more new family members!! So, I decided another Polish language course was definitely in need!! ... Only that this language is bloody hard, so after a brief 3 week course in Warsaw I was still nowhere near fluent! Whilst I know I've improved, it barely seems that way... Because did you know Polish is in the top 10 hardest languages out of the 2-3000 that exist!!! I think it's actually no. 10, right after Chinese and Hebrew!! But I also find it so beautiful and I am so eager to keep learning it when I get home, especially so when I return to Poland (which I hope will be within the next few years, for Xmas) I can actually communicate with my family!! Haha They actually invited me to come back for Xmas this year but for many reasons (including running out of money and missing home) I thought it might be better to save it for another time.
**spoilt girl**
On September 8th, my super generous loving relatives made my birthday as special as it possibly could have been and I felt so incredibly lucky to have been so spoilt!
On top of that, they were just always so on the ball with everything - Alisia, what do you need for Machu Picchu? Alisia, we'll take you to this shop to buy this and another shop to get that, and we've already bought you some bandaids in case of blisters and here, borrow all our winter clothes and here, I've packed you a massive bag of food for the next week of your language course in Warsaw, and I've bought you some lotion and wooly socks for keeping warm in Machu Picchu ... Honestly it never ended! Even on my final morning- "oh, Alisia, you said you really liked the coffee we have here so we bought you a whole jar of it and we'll send it to you in Australia!! And those slippers you wore every day here? You liked them too, right? Take them!!" Right now I am reminiscing about the fact that a month ago we didn't even know about all of these family members and now I feel so close to them and they're so loving and generous, it's hard to comprehend! And things brings my amazing travels throughout Poland to an end as I train from Kutno to Krakow and begin my 2 day journey to South America.

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