The Duality of Rural-ity  

Rural life is a funny thing.

It’s gives me immense joy and incredible sadness.

Joy is sitting at a table laughing with your aunt, peeling the potatoes and prepping the sweat peas that you gathered that day, because meals are made from scratch from food you’ve grown yourself. 

It’s picking juicy red currant and gooseberries right off the bush and popping them into your mouth, because they don’t even need to be washed from pesticides, and you don’t care if there’s a bug on them because, hey, extra protein. 

Joy is living day to day, allowing the seasons and the weather to dictate the day’s activities. If it’s raining, you’ll stay inside and clean and cook. If it’s not, you’ll go outside and work. 

Joy is walking into your aunt’s house to visit her and drink her homemade wine, hanging out while she naps because no one locks their doors here and you can invite yourself in anytime, anywhere. 

And somewhere, in your cloud of joy, sitting under a tin roof on a piece of cardboard, drinking raspberry beers with an old friend, you start reminiscing about your childhood. The hours you spent playing outdoors, the bonfires you had and the yard you use to break into to eat plums at night. 

You realize how quickly time flies and that your childhood is long gone. You open your eyes and see how difficult rural life can be, and it’s not all sunshine and butterflies. You notice how many of the people around you are living below the poverty line, and how many are plagued by alcoholism as an escape and your heart breaks. 

It breaks for the bright girl with a promising future, who dropped out of school. It aches for the boy you once cared for, who hung himself two years ago. It hurts for the children who were taken away from their neglectful family and put into foster care. It shatters for boy who said he was going to marry you one summer when you were fifteen, who is now an alcoholic with a jail record and a small child. These were all people you once knew and had happy memories with, and now their lives have changed greatly, all because they could never rise above their lives in this village.

There isn’t much else to say, or do for that matter, aside from count my blessings and still seek the joy I once found here. 

My greatest joy here

Countryside Summers

I am currently hiding away in Sietesz, a small farming village in lesser Poland, a ways away a from any city.

I’m a big fan of country life; it’s quiet and it’s relaxing, and you never really have anywhere to be. I would spend my entire summers here as a kid, playing with village children, picking fruit, helping with the harvest and spending time with my family. Not much has changed since I’ve been here as a child. I spent the last two days swinging on homemade wooden bench, picking apples off the ground and watching children play. 

There’s still about three, sometimes four, dogs, a cat, a handful of chickens, a vicious rooster, and two ducks constantly circling around your feet. 

The air smells like grass and wheat, and manure on occasion. But the mornings are my favorite because the caramel smell of dried nuts and fruits fills the air, when my uncle’s warehouse is in full swing. 

In the countryside, relationships with others take priority in daily responsibilities and neighbors come and go all day, while the number of children I watch rises and falls. I’m actually not quite sure where some of them even come from. People talk about their fields, and what needs to be harvested. Other times they just mull over the village gossip. In fact, I’ve only been here about two days and I already know about all the marriages, births, courtships, illegitimate children, arrests and deaths that have occurred since my last visit. Their word of mouth information system works so well that within 24 hours the entire village knew that I, the “American,” had arrived. The village is like a giant soap opera, really, and makes you grateful to live in a city where people tend to mind their own biscuits. 

In the meantime, I’ll just be here, swinging away under an apple tree minding my own business.

  

Just my humble country home

  

Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest

Since I had a free week and no other plans, I took a lap around Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. It’s not too far from Kraków, which is currently home base because that’s where my suitcases live.

I spent my three days in Vienna wandering its spectacular palaces, museums and art galleries, taking breaks to sit in cafés decked with crystal chandeliers. And, as luck would have it, I happened to be there during the hottest day in the city’s history, which is an event I really could have sat out.

From Vienna, I wanted to go to Budapest. Bratislava happened to be on the way, only an hour away from Vienna by boat. So why not? 

I love boats. 

Bratislava absolutely surprised me. It was charming and small enough to visit in a few hours. Conveniently, Polish is very close to Slovakian, so I got along just fine with everyone and felt right at home. 

After lunch and a stroll in Bratislava, I hopped on a train to Budapest. 

Oh, Budapest. Where to begin? Language, history, good people, cool parties and group bathing. It had everything I love.

I spent a lot of time learning about Hungary’s rich history and the Hungarian people. The sovereign nation is fairly new, having been occupied by everyone from the Ottomans and the Turks, to the Austrians, to the Nazis and the Soviets. Their language fascinates me, because it’s not quite Slavic and not quite any sort of anything I comprehend. In fact, it sounds a lot like the how the Sims speak.

But really, if you’re into cool languages, European history, occupations and the war, Budapest is a solid place to go. 

That being said, their nightlife was on point too. 

I don’t usually go out much when I travel alone, but you can’t not go out in Budapest, and I was fortunate enough to find some new international buddies.

The entire population of my hostel consisted of my blonde self and 15 Spanish speaking guys, from all over Spain and Mexico. Fortunately, I happen to speak Spanish, so we got along swimmingly. 

Also, traveling alone has taught me how to pick up women. I met two girls my age during a walking tour, Meitao and Arenike. Meitao was Chinese and Arenike was Nigerian, but they were both from London. Together, the three of us were literally the poster women for diversity in Budapest, and turned a few heads when we went out that night. Mostly due to confusion, though. 

One of the coolest things about Budapest was ruin pubs, which are unique to the city. They’re essentially abandoned buildings and warehouses, filled with broken furniture and confusing art (think owl heads on naked women’s bodies.) Let’s just say that when a bar has 26 rooms, leaving before 6 am is not an option. Fun was certainly had. 

I spent my entire last day at the infamous Hungarian baths, bathing in the city’s thermal pool with a herd of Hungarians and tourists alike. It was a cool immersion into Hungarian bath cultural, and a glorious way to spend a 100 degree day. 

Overall, my spontaneous weeklong trip was loads of fun, from eating Sachertorte in Vienna, to leaving the pubs at daybreak with new friends in Budapest.

Now back to Poland we go! 

  

Selfies in Vienna


  

On Traveling Alone

I’ve come across many people who are in absolute awe that I, as a young, fairly small, blonde female, travel alone. “How very brave!” they say. Or, “aren’t you afraid?” they ask. I don’t really get it. I don’t think traveling alone is particularly brave, and I don’t really see why I should be afraid. 

I want to go places. Sometimes there is no one else to go with. So I go solo.

 That’s all there is to it. 

I don’t find traveling alone daunting or because I am very comfortable with myself. Also, I find it easy to connect with others along the way, and my language capabilities combined with my solid sense of direction make me feel very safe in new cities.

I traveled Italy alone for ten days, I sign up for races alone, I take myself out to eat. I happen to think that spending time alone, really just means that you’re spending time with yourself. 

Besides, if you can’t keep yourself company, what makes you think you’re good company to anyone else?

It’s not always easy, to be honest; I’m not superwoman. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and sometimes I get anxious when I have to take selfies for lack of a cameraman, or when I’m eating alone. But then, I either get over it or I find a solution. 

See, even when you’re traveling solo, you don’t have to be alone all the time. I have always met people along the way. Even the other day, here in Vienna, I spent the morning with a friend from Chicago who happened to be vacationing here with her parents.

Then in the evening, I met up with an Austrian girl, Lena, whom I met on couchsurfing.com and asked out to dinner. It’s fun to reach out to locals, and also have someone to eat with. Lena was super sweet, and entertained all my questions about Vienna and being Austrian, and we chatted about our travels and tales of creepy men. 

I’m not saying one is better than the other; I have enjoyed both traveling solo and traveling with friends and family. But, the beauty of traveling alone is that you get to set your own pace, do whatever you want and meet cool people while you’re doing it.

Now, please, go do something alone. 

Thanks, Lena!

Off Again

One foot out the door. One foot at the train station. On foot on the train. One foot in Vienna.

Okay, so I got restless. I got restless and I grabbed my Nikon and threw a few dresses in a backpack, since that’s really all I wear, and I bought a one way ticket to Vienna. 

I took a night train, an old stuffy Polish sleeper train, which reminded me of communism. Even I don’t know what that means, but it just had this old fashioned communistic vibe. 

My sleeping bunk neighbor was Bernadetta, a lovely polish violinist, who lived in Salzburg, the city of Mozart. She was the most animated woman I’ve ever met, and literally seemed as though she might explode from joy at ever word I said. She made a wonderful start to my stay in Austria, that’s for sure. 

On a friend’s recommendation I tried checking out Couchsurfing.com, a super cool travel portal where you can find locals in other cities that you can crash with for free. 

Unfortunately, all of the cool people I wanted to stay with were either out of town, or already had guests. Which is fair, considering my request was ridiculously last minute, I was literally asking people if I could stay over tomorrow. However, upon making my trip public, meaning other hosts on the site saw that I was visiting Vienna, my inbox was flooded with invitations from many kind men, of all ages, very willing to offer me a bed. Things got really weird, really fast. 

Needless to say, I declined and decided against couch surfing Vienna.

Does that mean I’ll never use couchsurfing? Absolutely not. My experience was a last minute thrown together effort and in no way exemplifies the website. I would love to give it another try and find some cool locals to hang out with! In fact, I got a reply from a really cool lady today to crash with her, but I had already arranged accommodations by the time I saw her response. Maybe next time I ought to send requests at least a week in advance, yeah? 

Anyways. That’s that and here I am. In Vienna. I’ve already been to Vienna, once, when I was a child. But I thought it would be lovely to go back. And it is. This is lovely. 

Home sweet home for the night?

Slow My Roll

I have spent the last ten days in Kraków, camped out on a couch at my aunt and uncles’, sleeping, reading and watching Netflix. Yes, after weeks of bouncing around from city to city, Seville to Córdoba to Granada to Barcelona to Warsaw to a wild wedding here, it was time to slow my roll.

The truth is that every once in a while we all need some TLC and to just chill out. For months, when I wasn’t traveling, I was at least planning my next travels. I was barely sleeping, insisting that I’ll sleep when I’m dead. And, I had half a dozen books on my kindle, untouched.

So here I am, attempting to do nothing. Quite honestly, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to. I don’t really remember how to do nothing. Binge-watching Netflix has no appeal to me, especially since I’ve already finished Orange is the New Black, and sleeping-in is overrated.

That’s why I’ve broken up my rest with exploring this gorgeous city, visiting it’s museums, taking walking tours of the historic neighborhoods and treating myself to ice cream.

I believe in something I call the hometown effect. It’s when you live in a city, or you’ve been to a place so often that you’ve never visited it. I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, and hadn’t gone up the Sears Tower up until a few years ago. And similarly, after visiting Kraków year after year to see family, I still couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. So, I found a free walking tour of the Old Town and another of the Jewish neighborhoods and I tagged along for the day, strolling through the cobblestone streets, checking out the castle and even learning about the former Jewish ghettos of Kraków.

I took myself to the chocolate drinker-y yesterday, the literal translation of “Pijalnia Czekolady.” Yes, that’s a thing. A gorgeous cafe in the city center dedicated to drinking hot (or cold!) chocolate. Not the powdered kind that you dissolve in milk, but the real melted down chocolate that is so thick that you’re actually a little sick after drinking it.

There you have it, that’s what I’ve been up to the last week or so. I am resting. I am on vacation.

But let’s be honest, I am me. I’ve got one eye on plane tickets, and one foot out the door. Only a matter of time until I’m off again!

 

Beautiful streets of Kraków

A Polish Wedding

It’s been a busy week, a beautiful week.

I am currently recovering from the my girlfriend, Kasia’s, wedding weekend. Both the bride and groom have polish roots and decided to hold their wedding at St. Mary’s church in Kraków, a 14th century church in the heart of the city. The wedding was followed by horse drawn carriage rides around the main square and a reception at Hotel Stary, one of Europe’s most beautiful hotels.

You see, polish weddings are exceptional in term of necessary recovery time, because it’s traditional to have a bottle of vodka at each table at all times. You eat a lot, drink a lot and be very merry until the sun comes up. Then you rest and get ready to do it all over again 12 hours later in a fun polish tradition called poprawiny.

The word “poprawiny” comes from the verb “poprawić”, which means to correct, improve, fix. It’s essentially an after-party the next day to eat more, drink more and talk about the wedding. It was held in an old-style inn, with an all wood interior and taxidermy animals along with walls. Typically, the point is to eat any leftover food, and drink any leftover vodka, but I highly doubt we left any bottle untouched the night before. Each guest was fed to the brim with grilled oscypek, a smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk from the Tatra Mountains, żurek, a traditional sausage and egg soup, beets, cabbage, dumplings, an entire platter of assorted meats, followed by szarlotka, an apple cake, for dessert. If that sounds like a lot of food, it is, but that’s just what Polish people call a party. No one goes hungry at a Polish event, that’s for sure.

The couple did a lovely job incorporating their polish heritage into their marriage, from their traditional highlander outfits to the Krakowian folk dancers at their poprawiny. Kasia and her husband, Matthew, reminded me how proud I am of my roots, as well, and it was an incredible experience to share a part of Poland with the immense number of guests who flew in from the States for the wedding.

When thinking of first generation Americans, most people don’t picture someone like Kasia, the bride, or myself. Yet, aside from my parents and my brother, my entire family still lives in Poland. My parents emigrated to the States about 25 years ago, when Poland was still a communist country. I’m very fortunate to have such a rich culture in my life, another language to call my mother tongue and a home away from home in a city that dates back to the 7th century, where I am currently settling in for the next few weeks, drinking tea and resting after a fabulous polish wedding.

Congratulations Kasia and Matthew! “Be truly glad; there is wonderful joy ahead.”

The bridal party in front of St. Mary's Church in Kraków

The bridal party in front of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków