Postcards From Warsaw, Poland
Popsicle buildings, cashmere berets, and homecomings is what Warsaw has.
My trip to Warsaw started with me heavily wheeling my suitcase over cobble stoned streets, headed not to my cousin's apartment but to a dive bar.
Why? Because baby girl needed a drink.
I just got off of a five-hour bus ride - one that was made by accident because I hopped onto the first bus that came to my stop and was sped to the other side of the country. In typical fashion, I went left instead of right and ended up on a tour of Poland's highways.
Not even a little bit surprised.
So there we were, my cousin and I, taking turns lugging my suitcase, our laughs coming out in cold puffs in the winter evening, both slightly boggled over how I could ride in the back of chicken trucks in Cambodia and hop off of moving Indian trains, but Poland is where I lose my head.
Seems accurate enough.
So it was about three cold beers later that I walked into her cute, outer-city flat, only to be swooped upon her roommates before I had the chance to unravel my scarf, welcomed with a slice of bread and a shared shot. And so my trip to Poland began.
My first couple of days were spent holed up in the apartment, braving the Baltic cold only long enough to go buy a chocolate croissant down the street and race back in. I spent days making grilled cheese sandwiches in Soviet looking industrial presses (picked out by a six-year-old version of my cousin when she visited Germany, because that's apparently what a kid chooses when she hears "want a souvenir?",) and hunkering down underneath blanket forts and watching cheesy chick flick movies while snuggling a variety of teddy bears.
I mean, as a true backpacker would.
Once I finally managed to untangle myself from my nest of blankets and Cheetos bags, the real fun began. I ventured out to Warsaw Old Town, the oldest part of the capital. Built in the 13th century, you had winding cobble stone streets that led you by the hand down a trip of medieval city walls, looming cathedrals, and popsicle-like buildings, all leading you to the heart of the area: the Old Town Market Place. Heavy with cafes, book shops, magnet stands, waffle carts, and pockets of history, you could easily spend an afternoon sitting on a snow-covered bench, people watching women with berets and men with cashmere pea-coats hopping in and out of shops.
I walked down streets with houses that looked like boxes of macarons, all pretty and lined up in their pastel flavors. I crossed over old 13th century bridges that connected old towns to new towns, and ducked underneath castle wall gates. I watched a group of three friends, wiry grey hair poking out from underneath winter hats, walking arm in arm down cobble stoned alleys, and a gentleman with a cashmere scarf loosely thrown around his neck stopping to read the paper.
I had no real idea of where I should go, but I knew that I'd find everything I would want to if only I kept wandering.
Once my nose was satisfyingly pink and my fingers in my mittens numb, I ventured out to a university building called Politechnika Warszawska that made you feel like you shrunk down to a pawn or a knight and were now part of a chess game. Floating staircases, walls of arched windows, and a tiled floor that'll have you moving three squares up, two squares to the side. After an hour of wandering from floor to floor, peering down at the dizzying symmetry of the place, my cousin discreetly took a class course pamphlet, making noise of taking law classes just so she could study in a building as pretty as this one.
I could see where she was coming from.
I had a couple more days in Warsaw before hopping on a train to Eastern Poland, following tracks up to the Belarus border to visit my family tucked away into stacked apartments and hand-built homes. But before I packed my bags for the small towns and farm homes, I spent an evening sitting barefoot and criss-cross on the kitchen floor, with the soviet toaster eye-level with me on the table, taking shots of cherry-steeped vodka as my cousin, drunk from a Christmas party, told me about her night. I spent evenings running to burger bars and pizza dives in the biting cold, and losing subway tickets and pocket change every time I tried to buy a chocolate waffle from a street cart. I laughed over how her roommate asked me if I spent evenings back home listening to songs called "Whiskey River," because, America. To which I made fun of him until he bashfully stuck his head underneath the blankets. When it was time to head out East, a part of me wanted to stay longer.
Visiting family in Bialystok felt the same way hot tea with honey felt going down - it warmed you from nose to toes. I haven't seen my grandmas or my aunts and cousins for a whole ten years, so getting to sit in their tiny kitchens, catching up as they cooked Christmas dinner with one hand and smoked a cigarette with the other, was something of a homecoming to me. Stools were covered with crochet covers, deli cuts and white bread were offered as frequently as glasses of water, hugs and kisses were given in intervals of every five minutes, and every corner of ever house shimmered with tinsel and clanked with happy looking ornaments. It did the heart some good, you guys. It did the heart some good.
After a week of visiting nanas in farm cottages, popping into apartments for coffee visits, afternoons stuffed with a parade of homemade Polish food, and playing with chubby-cheeked, giggling nephews, it was time to pack the suitcase again and rush back to Warsaw for a week before having to gather up my passport again.
The week was spent in a haze of homey laziness: At one point we ordered pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At another, my cousin got the wild idea of baking a quiche, only to discover halfway through she hates cooking. To which she remedied the fact by pouring us two large glasses of rum and cokes because quiches take it out of a person. And on the last day we both grabbed our favorite teddy bears (we're 26 and 30, respectively,) bought an ungodly amount of junk food, and prepared to settle in for a triple feature of chick flicks and wine breaks. So as you can imagine...this could possibly have been my favorite stop in my whole European tour.
Sorry Paris, but you didn't offer me cuddly teddies or liver pates on rye bread. What could I do?