Talking Our Way To Adventures

As part of catching up to the present moment, I'll pick up where we left off and post a series of entries through the weekend: Participating in couchsurfing has been an indispensable part of this trip. Yes, the cost-free place to stay is a definite bonus - but that is minimally important compared to the time we get to spend with people who live each day in the cities or towns we visit, as well as the irreplaceable conversations share with them. We have talked global politics, local food, parenthood, rent prices, accents and dialects, discrimination, travel styles, photography, beer, cultural animation, literature, languages...the list goes on. Each exchange is absolutely individual, always new and eye opening in some way - be it through the differences, the similarities or just the meandering exploration of ideas and ways of choosing to live ones life.

Warszawa and Krakow would not have been the same without this - the conversations, late nights, sharing of living space and/or friends, and the generosity of strangers who have willingly brought us into their home.

Particularly memorable is the day of the critical mass ride that we were able to participate in with, and because of, our stellar hosts. The entire day surrounding the mass was absolutely beautiful; sun shining to the point of being just barely too hot. We were invited to brunch with a group of friends and two adorable little ones. Everyone was incredibly, casually welcoming and warm and we spent the afternoon on a lazy park walk, eating gelato and taking pictures. In the hours before the mass, our hosts worked some serious magic and located three bikes we, as a group, could borrow for the ride. The tetris game of bike acquisition ensued, a fourth was rented and we were off just before the meeting time of 5pm at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

As we gathered for the ride - which coincided with the 67th celebration of the Uprising and was amazingly attended - the skies darkened ominously with black clouds. Thunder sounded in the distance. We all got out our weapons of choice - raincoats. All two thousand plus people took off on time and at the same exact moment the rain was liberated from the sky. It absolutely poured torrential rain almost the entire first half of the ride, spitting at us for the second half. And everyone laughed, pedaled on, listened to the story of the uprising from the speakers at the front, waded their bikes through the pond sized puddles and continued on with the mass, smiles on their faces.

This was one of the more memorable experiences we will have on this trip and it was made possible by the direct, deep exchange and connection that something like couch surfing can provide. Otherwise, we may or may not have seen the posters...but we certainly wouldn't have been able to read them. And of it weren't for our hosts being as inviting as they were, we may have skipped returning to Warszawa altogether. But instead, we were able to ride to our temporary home, dry off, share a wonderful meal and wine, and reflect on the day like true friends do. This is why we are traveling.

Location:Warsaw, Poland


It is inevitable to get swept up in the ease, curiosity, familiarity of arriving in a city and instantly compiling a list of the local attractions, historical markers, museums, and such. It seems to give a filmy bubble of a border to this vast new landscape that you've stepped into. It is one way of reorienting - sometimes extremely good, stabilizing, comforting. Sometimes leaving you feeling like a real Tourist (neon capital T), trapped in the stream of other visitors, destined to be moving to and from one ticketed place to another should you allow yourself to simply float there for a moment.

Finding a (preferably free) map and cobbling together a sense of space with (and sometimes in direct opposition to) these landmarks and the patchwork of suggestions, stories, guidebook clips, view from the train, intuition, bits of history or art or whatever might be buried in your brain and making it's way to the surface....and devising a general wandering route, that may or may not be adhered to, is our general m.o. lately. This has been a good way to settle a little bit and zoom in or out depending on the day and the mood. It also helps us to practice letting go of the notion that we might be missing something - so many of our adventures come far less with visiting or observing, and more from our exchanges/interactions with the landscape and the people that live there.

As such, we greeted Warszawa with this in the front of our minds and were rewarded greatly. Of course, the first thing we did, truly, upon arriving, was cross the street improperly and get scolded by a police officer. Well behaved pedestrians are a given in Poland and we spent the rest of our time earning our gold stars by waiting patiently for each signal at a clearly marked crosswalk. We had been properly trained by that stern (and exhausted-with-morons) glare and a bit of kindness, considering we could have been fined 100 złoty or so. Phew.

A heap of more general impressions and memories I am left with are: the small market stands on corners, sunflower seeds being sold still in the flower, a rather serious social etiquette in the general population, the better bars/cafes tucked into back alleys, a strong sense of resilience and pride, memorable street art, ice cream (lody) sold everywhere, old vs. new, confusing (!) train tickets, delicious shared meals and so many good conversations with incredibly friendly people.

More specific experiences include our walk around a seriously green roof, spending a half day at the Warszawa Uprising Museum, and riding in Critical Mass with Eliza and Artur (hosts/friends extraordinaire).

The University Library is home to what is essentially a rooftop park, complete with a rain water filtration/drainage system and almost full circle view of the city and nearby Wisła River. The interior of the library is restricted to students and members only but, from what we could tell from peering inside, the roof was cooler to investigate. Metal walkways arch over just barely manicured grounds (which likely take a wee army to maintain), flowers that resemble Thing 1 and Thing 2 dance in the breeze, and you wonder if people on the second floor inside get a lot of up-skirt views of those passing overhead, what with all of the glass:

That is the Wisła and the Praga district in the background. After many takes while squinting into the sun, we managed a decent self portrait. Additionally, the exterior of the Library maintains the green status in a different way:

Th Warsaw Uprising Museum pulled us in on a mellow afternoon and spit us out three hours later. We entered knowing a minimal amount of the history of Poland and Warsaw in particular. We emerged feeling incredibly moved by the new found details and knowledge - and by the perseverance and commitment of the people of Warsaw during the time at their city was being invaded once more. Children of twelve were fighting, part of a team that led others through the sewers and delivered mail via the same system. Ghettos were formed, and 1944 Poland, and particularly Warsaw, was being swallowed alive by the powers involved in WWII. The museum houses a staggering amount of information but manages to alter the way it is delivered enough to maintain your attention and curiosity for an entire day's visit. There is visual, audio (listening wall pictured below), loads of take home literature, a 3D creation of destroyed Warsaw on film, documentary footage and even a live printing press demonstrating anti-propaganda printing techniques:

The spirit of the uprising lives on clearly in the streets of the city - via street art, on t-shirts, in the music, and through markers throughout the city. This is the true spirit of revolt but also of patriotism. Our description and photos can do no justice to either the events or the memorials or the cultural institutions, but we can say that they all had an incredible and unforgettable impact on us both.

What makes more of an impact is the response and transformation - the Old Town has been rebuilt according to original plans and with meticulous detail, artists share a neighborhood with born and bred Praga families, a critical mass honoring the 65th Uprising Anniversary draws 2000+ participants, and life moves onward. This is something to take with us while we do the same.

Location:Olomouc, Czech Republic