We left Berlin early in the morning to ensure we arrived in Warsaw on time to meet Dan’s sister, Jessika, and his mother, Ewa, at the airport when their plane landed. When we arrived (a bit late) they were waiting for us with Ewa’s brother, Krzysztof. We picked up our rental car and followed Krzysztof back to Otwock, a small town about 45 minutes from Warsaw where Ewa grew up. Her entire family still lives in that town and her brother and his family currently live in the same apartment she grew up in! Since she left, Ewa has only returned to Poland twice, once in 1998 with Jessika and Daniel. Dan barely remembers this visit and was essentially re-meeting his entire family; a very special part of our trip!
The occasion that brought us together in Poland was that Krzysztof‘s daughter (Dan’s cousin), Kamila, was getting married! The wedding took place on Saturday and Sunday. The two-day event was an experience of its own and definitely deserves it’s own separate post, which will be up soon!
We all arrived on Thursday and Jessika left back to Vancouver on Tuesday – giving us only two days of site-seeing and visiting while she was here. The rest of us had a bit more time and road-tripped all the way south to Zakopane and Krakow… but now I’m getting ahead of myself; that is also written about in a separate post!
The first thing we did after dropping off our bags at the apartment was go to the dentist. Yup, you heard it – the dentist. Jessika flew half way around the world for only five days and spent the first one at the dentist! The reason being, we were all due for cleanings and check-ups and the dentist is exponentially cheaper in Poland than in Canada. It too was an experience with only one dentist present – no hygienists or assistants or waiting room or receptionist – and she was much rougher and quicker than what I am used to. That said, my teeth were sparkling clean when she was done!
That evening we stayed up late (I don’t think we ever didn’t stay up late in Poland) and everyone was getting caught up after years apart. To give you an idea of how the conversation went you have to understand that Dan’s uncle and aunt don’t speak any English; Dan and Jessika understand fluent Polish but don’t speak any Polish; I only know English; and Ewa speaks both languages fluently but frequently mixes them up unknowingly! Meaning, Dan or Jessika would translate for me and if any of us wanted to add to the conversation, Ewa then had to translate for us to Polish. There was definitely more than a couple times I just sat back and smiled. Or watched hand, body and eye movements carefully and tried to guess at what was being said, but that only works sometimes.
With one full day to explore Warsaw with Jessika we tried to fit as much as possible into the day. We started in Old Town Market Place, the center of Old Town.
After warming up with a coffee, we climbed the Belltower of St. Anne’s Church for some fantastic views over Old Town.
Ewa was adamant we also go up the ‘Palace of Culture and Science.’ Measuring 231 metres (including a 43 metre high spire), it’s the tallest building in Poland and the eighth tallest in the EU. The building was a gift from the Soviet Union to the Polish people and was constructed between 1952 and 1955. I found it incredibly surprising that the tallest building in Poland was constructed over 60 years ago!
When Jessika and I spotted sign selling hot wine, “grzaniec galicyjski”, we had to try it. Not only was it really cold out and I would have drank anything hot, but this was hot wine we’re talking about! I learned that tons of European countries have their own variations on hot/heated/boiled/mulled wine and it is one of the most popular cold weather drinks in Europe, especially during the Christmas season. The Polish hot mulled wine I had the chance to try was a delicious and aromatic blend of red wine, sugar/honey and spices. Just the smell immediately warmed me up and reminded me of Christmas!
If you’re interested, click here for a recipe I found that I’m dying to try.
After a packed afternoon of being tourists, we hit up the shopping malls in New Town. Jessika had only brought a black dress and according to standards back home, black dresses aren’t all that appropriate for a wedding. I also wasn’t sure if the dress I had was appropriate, so dress-shopping we went. As you may be able to guess, neither of us found the dress we were looking for. However, we later learned that black dresses were completely OK to wear to a Polish wedding in the fall/winter season and tons of guests would be draped in black. All that shopping stress for nothing!
On Monday, we returned to Warsaw. We visited Wilanów Palace which is painted a brilliant yellow colour and looked stunning surrounded by the orange and yellow leaves on all the trees. I must admit that while Poland is quite chilly in the fall, the changing colours on the trees are absolutely beautiful and make fall a great time to visit. We opted to tour the Palace Gardens instead of the interior and museum. While wandering around we saw two couples taking their wedding photos against this famous and gorgeous Polish backdrop. Of course, we took many photos of our own, probably even more than Dan and I normally do as Ewa really pressed getting photos everywhere!
Wilanów Palace was built in the late 17th century although it has been renovated, repaired and expanded many times since.
In the late afternoon, we went to pay Dan and Jessika’s grandmother, Sabina, a visit. She greeted us in the hallway with tears streaming down her cheeks. It was one of the most touching sites I’d ever seen. She was so overcome with the joy at getting to see her grandchildren as she had thought she would never see them again.
In preparation for our visit, Sabina had spent all day making pierogies. She must have made hundreds, literally. When we arrived, she immediately put a batch on the frying pan. She then proceeded to give us bags and bags of more pierogies hoping that Jessika would take some back to Canada for her dad so that he could taste his mother’s homemade pierogies again (it’s been almost 30 years since he has been to Poland). Since Jessika had a very long flight and the pierogies likely wouldn’t have made it, and her bag was already too full, we took the dumplings on our road trip. I think I had pierogi overload by the end of a few days!
The following day we went to see Dan’s father’s brother and his son and granddaughter in Warsaw. Plenty of cake was served for our visit; I’m not sure if we were served so much cake because we were vising and it was a special occasion or if Polish people just love cake. After a great visit we headed back to Otwock to pack and get ready for our road trip the next day.