When Matt asked me to join him on his family trip to Poland, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought we'd all do the same type of trip I normally do: explore like crazy, hit up all the touristy spots, and eat really. good. food.
This trip was similar, but it wasn't planned by me and the schedule wasn't mine! I did, however, have an awesome time discovering a new country through the eyes of natives, and I gained a whole new family in the process!
Wednesday, December 18
We arrived in Warsaw, Poland on Wednesday after a small delay. Matt's sister Caroline met us at the airport and immediately swooped us in for hugs. It was so nice to meet someone as warm and welcoming as her in a strange city! She took us to the bus station, where we purchased 3-day tickets and hopped onboard to head to our hotel.
Matt's parents had missed a connection for their flight, so they weren't due to arrive until much later. We dropped our stuff off and headed out to eat our way through Poland.
Caroline told us that Warsaw was one of the top 10 Vegan friendly cities in the world! True to form, she took us to our first restaurant: Lokal Vegan Bistro. We had cutlets (I couldn't tell the difference!), mashed potatoes, and Vegan cheese (not the Kraft singles I was expecting...) - all in all, a good first experience.
On to our next stop!
We made our way into an open air market called Hala Koszyki (it reminded me a lot of the Anaheim Packing House), but there were so many options we couldn't settle on one. We told ourselves we would return another day to try again.
By this time, Matt & Caroline's parents had landed, so we killed a little more time by walking down the main street. Stops included Pijana Wiśnia for cherry liquor (amaze) and Tapas Bar Gemba (not so amaze). The Christmas market was closed already, so we made a note to return to that one as well.
V & A met us at Zapiecek, a pierogi restaurant, and thus began my true immersion into Polish cuisine.
Mushroom Soup (amaze), Beet soup (not my cup of tea), Pierogis (yes, please), and bread with butter (yes in Poland, no in LA), amongst other things. Yum.
We turned in early that night, but it felt late. Traveling takes a lot out of you!
Thursday, December 19
We started off Thursday at the open air market - in a little shop called Kreperia. Crepes! The cool thing was that they had an interesting promotion: buy a cup of tea and the meal would be 1 złoty (about 25 cents!). Already I was in love with Poland. LA prices are crazy compared to other places!
After breakfast, we went to the Muzeum Polskiej Wódki (Polish Vodka Museum)!
The museum itself was beautiful and we had a tour guide who walked us through. It even included a tasting at the end! Word to the wise: don't do vodka tastings. They gave us water as a chaser and walked us through potato vodka (Poland's claim to fame), wheat vodka, and rye vodka. They served the vodka warm so that you could "taste the flavor" more. I think I'm off vodka for a while... :)
We made our way to Warsaw Stadium - or Stadion Narodowy - where there was a skating rink and an ice slide.
By the time we left the stadium, the sun had set (it set around 3:30pm every day!) and we were overdue for lunch. Caroline suggested vegan ramen right up the street - so we walked over. V & A were seated with Caroline, and Matt and I waited for about a half an hour before we made it into the small confines of the restaurant called Vegan Ramen Shop.
Sooooo Good. No wonder it was packed! The broth was so on point that I couldn't even tell the meal was vegan. 10/10 would recommend again, even with the wait.
Since it was still early, we decided to try the Christmas market again. Best decision ever.
My favorite thing (consumption-wise) on the entire trip were these AMAZING cheese curds called Oscypek - sheep's milk that was smoked and then grilled. I wanted to eat 30 of them! Matt limited me to 4. Traditionally, they are served with cranberry sauce, but I'm a straight cheeser. (No pictures because I ate those too)
The cold rain forced us into a restaurant for dinner - probably the best restaurant we could have stumbled upon: Kuchnia Warszawska.
There, I tried pickled herring for the first time...
I... am not a fan. I am, however, a super-fan of that mushroom soup! I love it so much that Matt and I bought about 30 packets of the ready-to-eat stuff and brought it back home :) The restaurant was beautiful, homey, and delicious.
We ended the night at Chmielnik Cafe & Pub, where live music played on a piano played as we enjoyed Aperol Spritzes - a popular drink in Poland!
Friday, December 20
Day 3. We started off our morning at Manekin, another creperie that took an interesting approach to crepes. I had my crepe embedded in a lasagna!
We meandered on over to the tallest building in Poland, and took the elvator to the top to get a better view from the Palace of Culture and Sciences - Pałac Kultury i Nauki!
As the sun set, we hopped into the car and drove over to the Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie for the Festival of Lights!
I met cousins Marta and Małgosia, who spoke English (!!!) and were a pleasure to speak to.
We had dinner at Sphinx, which Caroline mentioned was similar to Friendly's in the states. I was hoping for a watermelon roll, but no luck.. :)
We piled back into the car for what would be a 5 hour drive - to Babcia's house we go!
Everyone was asleep by the time we arrived, so conversation was limited. We settled in and slept - ready to enjoy our new adventure in Człopa!
Saturday, December 21
We had breakfast with Babcia, Mira, and Piotr just before heading out to see Dziadek (grandpa).
Guess what - Dziadek lives by Germany!!!! So we took the time to cross the border and hang out for a little bit before visiting.
We had an amazing time and celebrated a mini wigilia (Christmas Eve Supper) with him before heading out. We got back to Babcia's in time for dinner, where we had cabbage, cutlets, and dessert. A slight deviation from what I was used to, but the food was still great! I tried everything.
Sunday, December 22
We woke up early on Sunday and our restlessness led us to the forest down the street - a beautiful dirt bike path that seemingly went on forever.
Matt ran but I walked because I didn't pack my running shoes and didn't want to ruin my white Nikes. What a forest to run in, though! I'll pack my running shoes going forward so I don't have to miss anything from now on.
When we got back, it was time to start cooking. Babcia had chicken cooking in the oven while Piotr made cherry-filled sweet rolls for the first time.
Mira had mentioned a palace that she and Piotr stopped at on the way to Babcia's, and recommended that we make a trip while they cooked. We took Babcia for good measure :)
Pałac Mierzęcin Wellness & Wine Resort
Babcia is literally the cutest and I asked her if she would come home with us. She politely declined because she said no one would feed wood into the furnace, but she said she'd consider a trip in the future.
By the time we got back, everyone was getting ready for Round 2 of Wigilia! This one was a special one because we were going to do all the traditional things - Oplatki (wafers) with every attendee, toasts, food, and presents.
Dinner was beautiful and probably one of the best dinners I've ever been a part of. I've never known a family to be so kind, pure, inviting, and accepting. It was like falling in love all over again.
Monday, December 23
Monday was a journey. We stopped by Matt's hometown of Zielona Gora before arriving in Radwanów - a rustic village in Poland with what seemed like a never-ending field surrounding it.
Violet and Adam had planned a huge reunion with their friends - some of whom they hadn't seen in nearly 30 years! I met Alicja and Kaja, who spoke English and made it a little easier to communicate with :) Food was (as usual) spot-on.
Tuesday, December 24
Finally Christmas Eve! It didn't feel like it. We took a walk early in the morning - it was beautiful and serene, and it felt like we were the only people in the whole village.
We had breakfast in the hotel (where we were the only guests), but it was nice to enjoy a great meal with good company without feeling rushed.
We packed up the car (now with more stuff than we started out with) and drove to our last stop before heading back to Warsaw: Opatówek.
Matt's other Babcia lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousin in a small city east of Radwanów. We learned how to make pierogi (it's harder than it looks!) and then had our third and final Wigilia with the family.
Wednesday, December 25
On Christmas morning, we went to the cemetery to pay our respects. When we got back, we had Christmas supper, followed by Christmas dinner. I started to tell everyone I was so full of cabbage that I was turning into one!
Thursday, December 26
The next morning, we took another walk before piling back into the car.
We said our goodbyes and then headed out on our way!
We drove for 5 whole minutes before we stopped at another family member's home (I love how everyone was so close by!) and stayed for a few hours. I met Ewelina, Tomasz, and Roman, who showed me around and practiced their English on me as well.
We left for Warsaw to spend our last few hours in the city - dinner, a long walk, and a family picture to seal the deal ;)
Friday, December 27
When I checked the forecast for Poland a month prior, it predicted rain and snow. As the trip got closer and closer, the weather continued to change and snow clothes were no longer needed. I continued to hold out, however - in hopes that snow would make an appearance!
The trip was snow-free, with light rain the whole trip. On our last day, however, snow was predicted - 30% at 5am, 40% at 6, and 50% at 7! I wanted so badly to see snow that I set my alarm for 5am just in case. When my alarm went off, however, there was no snow in sight. I crawled back into bed, re-set the alarm for 5:30, and subsequently checked every 30 minutes until right before 7am when - upon opening the window - I SAW IT!!!!
I took what seemed like hundreds of videos and pictures of white dots. Matt finally dragged me out to the street so I could see it for myself. Little bunches of ice fell against my jacket and melted. It felt like I was getting pooped on!
The snow stopped shortly after it started, and we all headed to breakfast at Bułkę przez Bibułkę.
We ate, headed to the airport, and said our goodbyes.
This trip was indescribable (though as you can see, I tried my best to do so!). I had such a great time! Despite the nearly 20 hours (and nearly 1000 miles!) we spent in the car, I was delighted to and enjoyed every moment of it (especially the moments where I napped because it felt like we were always on the go!). I told Matt that I have never felt a love like this - the kind that leaves you wanting more and the kind that makes you pinch yourself because you can't believe it's real.
I'm happy to be back but even happier that I have a new place (and people!) to call home as well. Bye, Poland. I can't wait to see you again.