My Call to Poland

Sukiennice, the impressive Medieval Cloth Hall, in  Kraków’s Rynek Glowny

You might call me unimaginative, but I’d never thought a great deal about Poland until that strange evening, 12 years ago, when Dad got a phone call from ‘home’.  For 64 years he’d had no contact with his Polish family, leaving the farm aged just 15, and in German custody.  That phone call turned our lives upside down.  Until then Dad had been my only Polish relative.  Imagine, overnight, you belong in an enormous family, who don’t even speak the same language as you.  But who welcome you with open arms.

That’s just how it was, and when Cathy asks ‘what is it that draws you to a place?’ then the lure of family surely has a part to play.  Over at Wanderessence she’s been exploring the reasons why we travel, and so much more.  I’ve always had that restless urge, but my first visit to Poland was a revelation.  I’ve never been hugged and kissed so much in my life.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Outside of family and friends, Polish people are not normally smiling nor especially welcoming.  Given their history, they have good cause to hold a little in reserve.  But Dad was the long lost brother, and was treated like Polish royalty, while I followed along in his wake, smiling fondly but often with little real idea of what was going on.  The language barrier, you see.

Coach and horses have right of way in Rynek Glowny

The country looked so very different to the one I was used to calling home.  The chalet style houses looked different, out in the countryside.  One of the things I found really strange was that pipes often ran overhead alongside the country roads, rather than underground, as I was used.  But in the historic centres of the cities, the intricately painted and decorated facades had me stand and gaze in awe.   Kraków and Wrocław- I’ve been privileged to know both of these beautiful cities, because of my family.

Polish eating habits are different too.  Second breakfast, lunch at 3 in the afternoon, and cake before and after almost everything! (that must be where I get it from 🙂  )  In the previous year, I and my husband had acquired a holiday home in Portugal.  Totally different culturally and in climate too, yet I found myself wondering, if we had known of the existence of the Polish family sooner, would I have been looking for a house in Poland?  I suspect I might.  I’ve always had the sea on my doorstep, and Poland is landlocked on 3 sides.  The Baltic coast is too far from family, but I’ve always been drawn to lakes and mountains too.  A visit to the Pieniny Mountain range, and the spa resort Szczawnica, linger in my memory.  Rafting through the Dunajec Gorge was a totally unforgettable experience.

I have shared some wonderful times with my Polish family, and written about them extensively, while trying not to give embarrassment.  The series My Personal A-Z of Poland has many tales to tell.  Dad died in October 2016 and I haven’t been back to Poland since.  But I can still feel the call.  Writing Easter cards took me back into each of their homes.  New youngsters have been born since my last visit, but my elders are growing older and, in some cases, frail.  I’m feeling the need to return, just once more, before starting my new life in the Algarve.

Dad with Uncle Wlodek, at home in Zgorzelec

I’m linking this to Cathy, on her series A Call to Place.  The lady is a human dynamo, seeking to improve her travel writing and to entertain us along the way.  Pay her a call.  She’ll be so glad to see you.

143 comments

  1. Your story reminds me of my story. Remember we connected not too long ago? Our little family in Chicago grew up thinking we had a little family left in Poland and no family in the U.S. We were all called together to the dining room table to hear Mom read the letters that came from Poland and England, and found myself translating Mom’s Polish to my English cousin and back again. My cousin spent a few years in a Polish orphanage in South Africa before she was reunited with her father, who fought the battle of Monte Casino,https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battles-of-monte-cassino – before folding into the English Army to End WWII. It’s through her that I learned firsthand the beauty of England and Wales. I had something to compare my life in the U.S. to hers. Unfortunately, our time together on this earth shortened a few years ago when she suffered a debilitating stroke, which may have triggered her dementia. Last year, during my visit, I did my best to track around town the medal her father received, finally concluding it had been lost or donated/discarded by their estate handlers.

    Right now, wrestling with the idea of visiting Maria again at the nursing home because it’s such a chore to get from Bristol to Chepstow. Her husband and most of their circle of friends have recently, “kissed off” in a sort of bunch. There’s no Uber, and taxis are costly, leaving me, at my age, to wrestle with the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road. No easy way out. Sounds like you’ll have plenty of support in Poland. Bon voyage.

    Didn’t intend to get carried away with my own travel troubles;-) However, I did want you to be aware of some of Polish history that’s not very well known.

    Not only do I admire your efforts, and enjoy your very fine work in pictures and words, also feel we are simpatico in some way.
    I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a cuppa for a chat, or join up for a walk, somewhere.

    Looks like I’m making my way to Portugal. Noticed you’re already there… Maybe it’s destiny.

    When trying to make sense of my research goals, all roads lead to Portugal. Never been but I’ve seen enough on youtube to know I want to stay in Lisbon, Porto and visit the Azores. I know nothing about the Azores. Are you planning on renting out a room? AirBnB? or know someone who is? It would be lovely to hang out with a “local” for a few days.

    About Poland, I’m researching a book about mineral water cures. Poland has those wonderful salt mines and healing centers. Did you encounter mineral waters at the Spas/Sanitariums in Poland?

    Would you consider writing a chapter in my book, currently entitled, “Cathedrals of the Flesh” (I own the .com)

    Right now, I’m on the Roman Trail but there’s no reason not to include traditional healing centers like Poland and Japan.

    I’m awaiting confirmation of a Press Pass to the European Spa Conference at a healing center in the Netherlands May 23-27. Spa owners in Spain and Portugal are aware of my media query.

    Once I meet all the players, I can hook you up. We can continue our conversation – if you’re at all interested: krystinaprice at gmail

    Please let me know if I’m just dreaming.
    Warm regards, Krystina

    1. Heavens that’s quite a comment and all sounds very interesting. I’m a little at sea at the moment. Hoping for a visit to Poland but with much going on in my English space. Thanks for this. I’ll get back to you x

  2. I’m so glad I went searching for you in my WordPress reader. For some reason I have stopped getting your posts emailed to me (annoyingly glitchy WP!), so I re-subscribed today and hope that fixes it. Anyway, this was a nice read; I know how you feel because I feel the same about my faraway family in Greece. I have only seen them a few times, but there is a connection that only blood can explain.

    1. I’m angsting at the moment, Lexie, because I’m waiting for an email from my cousin in Krakow. I suspect my auntie is really ill and I need to go soon. Thanks so much for coming to find me. 🙂 🙂

  3. Poland is a country close to my heart as well, for family reasons one hundred and fifty years before your Dad, however. Family history was my reason also for exploring this incredible country. I fell in love with all that wonderful food and architecture, and almost got run over by a that same horse and wagon in the Rynek in Krakow. I stayed in a hotel overlooking the square and it was a summer evening full of festivities. Also saw those same mountains in your photos, so it has been so lovely reading your post and reliving my memories. Poland is such an underrated country. So much to see. I am sure I have family there somewhere too, but too long back now to find them, what with all the upheavals the country has experienced. Wroclaw and Poznan were a close second to Krakow.

    1. I’ve not been to Poznan, but Dad was there briefly. A few years before the family found him he booked a tour of Poland with a friend, hoping to see familiar places. It’s a strange old world, isn’t it? 🙂 🙂

      1. Certainly is, Jo. But also so wonderful when serendipitous events happen to bring us in touch with our past. I have had similar experiences with Danish folk in connecting with my Danish side of family history. It was great to read about your re-connection!
        Btw, I think you would like Poznan and it is not too far from Wroclaw…

  4. I can’t imagine how happy your dad was to see his family again! It’s wonderful that you connected with the Polish side of your family too. There are so many broken ties to home in our family trees. I connected with my paternal family in Italy several years back. It was wonderful to meet them!

  5. Jo, I had no idea your contact with your Polish was so recent … it must have changed your world, for the better! The love and warmth between you all shines through and to top it all, such a beautiful country. I long to visit some of the towns and now your photos of the countryside makes me think this would have to be a longer visit. I hope you have a chance to see them all soon again … their company, enveloping hugs and yes, the cakes! 😀❤️

  6. I do believe fate has a big hand in how life pans out Jo. But you have to go with the flow. As we get older it is interesting to look back and see how the threads come together. Did your Dad talk much about his Polish family?

    1. i too think that if it’s meant to be, it will be, Pauline. Somebody out there may have a master plan but it’s not me. 🙂 🙂 I remember a tin of letters that always made Dad very sad, and so he didn’t talk about it a lot when I was younger. It was amazing to see the change in him when he realised it was all still there, in Poland, waiting for him.

      1. I am honest to have found you and enjoy not only your beautiful pictures but also the wonderful narrative that accompanies them !!

        Be always good and share your beautiful moments !!

    1. Not at all, Karen! 😦 I have a basic understanding of verbs and suchlike and a fair vocabulary but following a conversation is a nightmare, and part of why I have been reluctant to go back. Younger family members do usually speak English but talking to my own generation and many cousins is very restricted. I should have worked harder at it, but there were always so many distractions, both here and in the Algarve. 🙂 🙂

  7. Jo the post has given me goosebumps from head to toe. What a life altering experience to be welcomed into a massive family you never knew existed and one who didn’t speak the same language. Cake before and after everything you say? That sounds divine. I hope you are able to return again one more time as you say. Certainly it won’t be the same without your Dad yet my guess would be he would be happy to know you remain connected.
    Are you moving fully to Portugal? Have I missed that along the way. Really i do feel a bit out of the loop this year. time to stay home a little more i think.

    1. Impossible to keep up with everyone in this lovely loop of ours, Sue. And you’ve had your share of family stuff. 🙂 🙂 Yes, the UK house has gone on the market this week and I’ve been cleaning/recycling like a dervish! The weather’s been atrocious since we came back from the Algarve in early March, so no distractions outdoors.

      1. Well how exciting is that? Best of luck with the sale and the packing. Although we have been to Portugal we have not been to the Algarve. Looks like one more good reason to go and do some walking! I know just the person who knows all the best routes. Xoxo

  8. What a revealing and personal post, Jo. I’m so happy for you and your dad to be called (back) to Poland, and be reintegrated into a long lost family. I wonder what that first phone call was about and who made it. And, how they found your dad! Had he really not seen his brother in so many years? Crazy! Heartwarming and inspiring all this is.

    Krakow has been on my European list for a while. Last spring, Mark and I hoped to go from Belgium, but by the time we decided the when (in two days) and where of our city trip, the ticket price had gone up a lot and we ended up in Budapest. It was the most affordable trip, and a nice one at that. The owners of our last house sit are currently in Krakow as well, for three months, for his job. It looks like an incredible city! I hope you can go back before your move. Or, when you are settled in the Algarve.

    1. It’s a lovely city, Liesbet, as is Wroclaw. You can often get cheap flights there and it’s not as touristy as Krakow. 🙂 🙂
      A family friend and partner in business of my cousin Adam made the call, as Adam doesn’t speak English. They found him on a Internet search because my aunt Anna, who has since died, was convinced that Dad was still alive somewhere. Deeply religious, she was sure that if Dad was dead his spirit would speak to her, and it didn’t. I can only take comfort that now they are together.

  9. Such a lovely, emotional post, Jo. “Imagine, overnight, you belong in an enormous family, who don’t even speak the same language as you. But who welcome you with open arms” – this is so full of warmth and love informing us that language is never a barrier if one is willing to look beyond. The little details like “Coach and horses have right of way” make me long for the place. I’m really sorry to hear about your dad. Take care, my friend.

  10. Jo, I remember reading lots of your posts on Poland and knew your dad was from there but I had no idea he left at age 15 and hadn’t been back for so long. Why did he leave? I must have missed that part to the story. That is amazing that he reconnected after all those years!

  11. I loved the stories of your father reconnecting with his family in Poland and your introduction to them. This post adds another layer to the story and makes me excited with the prospect of another visit for you there. Especially love seeing the picture of your Dad at the end of this post. And the pictures of The Cloth Hall, The Wroclaw Town Hall, and Dunajec Gorge are particularly gorgeous.

    My grandfather hailed from Dêbica, Poland but left there in 1921. I visited Kraków in 1999 and fell in love with the place.

  12. So, Poland wouldn’t have called to you if it wasn’t for family then. But it has certainly captured your heart. I can’t see you living there though instead of the Algarve. Too cold for one thing and you loathe the cold. Buying the Algarve house before you were introduced to Poland was meant to be.
    I totally agree that family are a very good reason for visiting a place and I am lucky in that my overseas family does not have that language barrier even though they do sound a bit strange 🙂 and they live in a country that has called to me since I was 10 years old so I would have gone there anyway, eventually. I hope you get back over there for a visit. There will be plenty of hugs and kisses and cake waiting for you 😀

    1. Like a lot of people, I don’t think it would have been on my radar, Jude, although I’ve always had the Polish connection, so you’d think it would have kicked in earlier, wouldn’t you? Funny old life! 🙂 🙂 You got Oz/NZ sorted yet?

      1. They have just moved into a rental place in south Sydney (near the airport) and settling in. I don’t know if this is a permanent place or a short rental, but once they are sorted I shall be making plans for later in the year 😀

  13. I gave up eating cake almost 12 months ago so it wouldn’t do for me to go there in case my refusal offended anyone! Great photos, and the white carriage and horses looks gorgeous 🙂

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