Reminiscences from Poland

It began with so much angst, and then developed into the most heartwarming experience.  Come with me to Poland?

My 12th floor hotel room in Warsaw was wonderfully luxurious but I slept fitfully, with one eye on the clock, as you do when needing to rise early and excited for the journey.  Tiny beads of red tail lights trailed into the distance until a hazy dawn crept through my window.  Patches of mist nudged the buildings as I gazed down on the city in all its immensity.  I made coffee and the mournful tones of Leonard Cohen filled the room as I showered and gathered together my belongings.  Downstairs in reception a smiling face awaited.  Meg, promptly at 7, to deliver me safely to my coach station, Zachodnie.

Down into the subway we went, that subterranean city maze that bewilders me so, but with Meg by my side it didn’t seem so bad.  The ticket lady understood me, and sunlight beamed down on the tracks at Sródmiescie.  Two stops later we sat side by side on a bench, speculating on which coach it might be.  Trying to cram a world of emotions into dying minutes.  Those hugs may have to last us a long time…..

On the bus my neighbour is an elderly Polish lady, who tells me in minute detail about her health and her family.  No matter that I can only translate one word in ten.  I nod and shake my head vigorously, and attempt a brief family history, and moments later she is fishing in her capacious handbag to pull out a blue and white plastic bracelet with a St. Christopher attached.  She presses it upon me.  Apparently it will bring me good fortune, but I must look very needy, because immediately she’s back in the bag pulling out a red and white necklace and crucifix too.  I am mildly alarmed, wondering if I should offer money or will I give offence and destroy our budding friendship?  I risk all and she merely shakes her head.  We ride in companionable silence but I am shamefully relieved when she gets off at the first stop….

Two hours later the bus stops on the outskirts of  Bełchatów, and lots of passengers climb aboard.  An imperious looking lady demands to know where I am getting off and I mumble ‘na centrum’.  With a toss of her head she declines to sit next to me and moves on down the bus.  She thinks I’m stupid because the bus isn’t going to the centre.  I only realise this when a voice from the back of the bus penetrates my consciousness… ‘Johanna!  Johanna!’  It is Andrzej, my cousin Jadwiga’s husband, waving his arms frantically.  Sent to collect me from the stop, he has had to board the bus to attract my attention.  I have arrived….

Things I can do without language…. almost.  Sit on the floor and piece together a Snow White jigsaw with a 2 year old.  Blow bubbles.  Not so successful with the king-sized version- much twirling and blowing, to no avail, but producing gales of laughter from 2 small girls, so a result in entertainment terms.  Bounce on a trampoline.  Peel potatoes.  Eat strawberries and icecream with Marysia and Pawel.  Take a walk around the neighbourhood.  But the biggest success?  Play dominoes with my Uncle Jakub, rolling back the years to when he and Dad played for many an hour.  He won, of course!  And kiss and cuddle my beloved Aunt Lusia….

Memories….  Andrzej, retired now, with time to ride on his motorbike, feed the rapidly growing ducklings with his granddaughters, and attempt to learn English on his Ipad with Duolingo.  Much scratching of head.  Silly English language!

His wife, lovely Jadzia, drives the bus for the local school for handicapped children.  On an event day in a nearby park, the children flock round her, eager to introduce themselves and curious about her company.  They dance with no inhibitions, inside a tent, and drive buggies, under casual supervision.  Blond and beautiful, Nadia attracts much attention.  Her mind is firmly on candyfloss.  ‘Zielony, prosze’ she insists.  Green….

Cousin Ewa, quietly but proudly showing me the shell of her home, with its rudimentary furnishings.  Her husband Henryk was building it for them when he died 3 years ago, and there is no money to finish it off.  The hardware business she was running has failed and she has moved in to the house to save rent.  ‘At least I am close to family.’ We sit by the open fire in the garden, bottles of beer in hand, turning the kielbasa on the homemade barbecue as evening fades.  Squeals as cousin Marysia plays hide and seek with the children.  And then peace….

The neighbourhood….

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Cathy is throwing out challenges left and right over at Wander.essence.  I thought I would enter this for Prose.  Part 2 will follow next week.



  1. Such a lovely written tale of your experiences with your family in Poland. From feeling awkward about your limited language skills to “hugs that have to last a long time”, you could feel the emotions in your words.

  2. What a precious journey that was darling, how lucky you are to have such a big loving family. Your writing is wonderful, you had me in tears in moments with hugs that have to last a long time. Distances whether physical or emotional can be so difficult. Have some bug hugs from me ❤

    1. Hiya sweetheart 🙂 🙂 I was worried about you and was going to text this morning. Busy times? It was all very emotional, Gilly, but lovely to look back on.

      1. Hi lovely girl, writing group on Thursday, a day out with my biggest G babies and daughter in law yesterday, a bit of relaxing and all blogging and blog visiting time disappears! 🙂 xx

    1. Sorry for my slow responses, Seonaid. Yesterday was a full day and in the evening we were at a performance of Kynren, a historical reenactment at Bishop Auckland, and weren’t home till late. 🙂 🙂 Poland occupies a very special place in my life. ‘m glad you could share it with me.

  3. The mournful tones of Leonard Cohen fill our trusty vessel often.

    Nadia is a such a beautiful child!

    How I would love to live in that little cottage in the woods for a time when I am ashore again. I think I have said that about the gorgeous castles you’ve shown me on previous posts. I’d like to spend a bit of time in both settings.

    Did the area smell as clean and fresh as it looks?

    I adore the way you describe the number of things you can do without spoken language. I spend a lot of my time communicating in other ways in ports where no English is spoken

    Sending positive thoughts to cousin Ewa in hopes that she finds good fortune soon.

    1. Thank you on behalf of Ewa. She’s had some troubled years but still manages to smile. Yes, Zawady is as tranquil and lovely as it looks. Hugs right back at you hon xxx

  4. I felt as though I was right there with you Jo. Especially on the bus. St Christopher and a crucifix. You must have looked in need.:) Your time sounds and looks like it was filled with lovely memories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know many languages and speak them fluently?

  5. Beautiful writing that outshines your wonderful images Jo. How fortunate you are to have the opportunity to experience real life in Poland on such an intimate level.

  6. I know that sense of mild anxiety when you’re doing something for the first time in a foreign country and not quiet sure what to do. I was relieved to read it all worked out in the end. Perhaps your lovely new friend knew you needed that little extra good fortune.

    1. Part of me was really excited for the adventure, Carol. My companion’s actions were a little unexpected but it made a good story. 🙂 🙂

  7. I love these reminiscences, Jo. I can feel your joy at being with family, your frustration with the language at times (although I am pretty darn impressed at what you CAN do), and your innate connection with Poland, its people, and even its land. I especially enjoyed the glimpses of rural life!

    1. Zawady is a beautiful village, Lexie, and my family have 8 or 9 houses there, most of them on the farmland that my Polish grandfather owned. It is a very special place to me, and a special connection. Thanks so much for your company here. 🙂 🙂

  8. Jo, I love this post. A chance to have a peep into your Polish family life. Glad you had Meg with you since navigating big cities in a foreign language can be very daunting. Although I think you are doing great with your Polish language skills. I laughed at your interactions with the locals in the bus. Your writing is beautiful 🙂

  9. What a wonderful story, you made me feel as if I was there with you. I love the ducklings, the pony and foal, and the rural neighbourhood, it looks just my type of place 🙂

    1. It’s amazing to me that all this exists on the edge of quite a busy town, Eunice. The area Zawady, where my family is based, is like a little haven. 🙂 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed traveling with me.

    1. It is a rural idyll in many ways. I don’t know how well I could adapt to living that life. They all have a part to play and seem contented with it. In this world that’s a very valuable thing. Thanks for your kindness. 🙂 🙂

  10. I am so glad you had such a lovely visit despite all the angst! It reminds me a bit of when I reconnected with family in Latvia back in 1989 (before Independence!) I relived my memories of that time right along with reading this memorable post! 😀

    1. Have you told that story on the blog, Gunta? I’m not familiar with it, and I always just connect you with beautiful photos. I’m sorry because that’s very one dimensional. I’m glad I brought back good memories. Are you still in touch? 🙂 🙂

      1. No, I haven’t. I did post some pictures I took when I visited, but I tend to keep the personal out of the blog. Yes, my family and I are still in touch, but my language skills are fading with age. 😦 It’s getting harder.

  11. “Heartwarming” is the perfect word, Jo. What a treasure it must be to have had this intimate and personal time with your family. I love the photos and hearing the stories. I’m absolutely certain that your visit meant just as much to them, as it obviously did to you. Wonderful!

    1. Thanks so much, Debbie 🙂 🙂 There are moments of awkwardness or lack of understanding, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. The connection is there, and I hope always will be.

  12. What a beauty. Your style has changed under Cathy’s challenge, but not the warmth and detail. I empathised with your relief when the woman sitting next to you got off, despite a good connection. I’m Impressed by 1/10 words, and I love your list of things you can do without language. The rural photos are great. An altogether pleasurable post.

    1. I may have exaggerated the 1/10 but she did seem a nice old soul. 🙂 🙂 I would have felt just as awkward if we’d both spoken English. We’re a hopeless lot, aren’t we? I knew I wanted to write about the Polish experience but wasn’t quite sure how much to include or how to go about it. The age old problem of not giving offence. 🙂 I’m glad you think it works. Thanks, Meg.

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