Arriving in Brest (Belarus) early in the morning was part of my dejavu. Just like the same trip last summer, that one was tiring and exhausting and made me want to cross the EU border as quick as possible. The only unfortunate difference was that our coach was parked across the bridge from the railway station and we had to go over it carrying our bags. Mine contained all those things I had with me as part of my “dress-to-impress” effort. But the closer the EU was, the lighter a heavy bag seems. So we got on our green coach safe and off we went driving through the streets of the early morning Brest till we reached the Belarus-Poland border. It would have all been the same dejavu if we hadn’t been asked to look out of the coach window while our luggage which was in the boot was being examined. Whoever saw their bag being taken out of the coach and thus randomly picked for closer examination, had to get out and open their bag in front of the customs officers and lots of other tourists waiting in other coaches to cross the border as well. Luckily, none of us had to do it and we didn’t have to struggle opening our bags as some other tourists did.
A quite handsome Polish customs officer stamped our passports and found out something was wrong with the guide’s visa, which caused a bit of a laugh because she was supposed to be the last person to have any problems of the kind. By the sounds of it, she would have to leave a couple of days later because her visa was expiring and the prospect of travelling without a guide didn’t sound too good.
About an hour later here we were in the EU and welcomed by one of its newest members, Poland. Dzien Dobry, Polska! That was my second encounter of this not so foreign to us country. This time I didn’t contemplate the tumultuous Russia-Poland relationship as I did the first time I was travelling here. I was just enjoying the incredibly green fields, the quirky Polish letters on advertisement boards, the sound of the Polish radio playing on the coach and our guide giving us some more details as to what we were going to see on this trip. It was all real and not for a tiny second did I doubt that . My reality of the time consisted of what was a striking contrast to Russia and Belarus. Beautiful streets, village houses with elegant swans and religious statues. They conveyed a sense of warmth and home. Some Poles were obviously enjoying planting crops (at least it looked like a leisure activity). I felt nice and comfortable, the way you’re supposed to feel when you had been to some place before. You put your fears and anxieties behind and just enjoy the moment. That’s exactly how I felt, a fresh and new sense of comfort. That was the first country on my trip I was visiting for the second time. That was a real-life miracle for me because at some point I thought I would never get to go abroad at all and here I was travelling Poland for the second time.
We enjoyed some more dejavu there going shopping in the familiar shopping mall. Like a bunch of seasoned travellers, we got stacked up with some food and felt at home with the Polish currency and being around foreigners in general – we are all humans at the end of the day! I knew I’d be back, I tell you, dreams do come true! That whole routine had a certain significance to it, like very few shopping trips in my life do. We got back on the coach and were on our way to the capital city, Warsaw. Another dejavu on my way!
I couldn’t wait to take a walking tour of Stare Miasto (Old Town) again and revisit the memories of my first-ever trip. We recognized some views of the city as we arrived. Yes, we weren’t as excited as we were at the same time last year but it was nice to be back and rediscover a bit of Warsaw.
People were out and about, it all looked like an ordinary working day and we were part of it for a couple of hours we were staying here. One of the first most recognizable sights was the Warsaw National Stadium that I said “Hi!” to for the second time. The vibe of the city seemed just as it was when we left. The only difference was that the sun was welcoming us back and that was building up the excitement for the first day of our trip.
The rest of the group went on a guided tour of Stare Miasto (Old Town) and we ventured to explore it on our own. For an hour and a half we had the city to ourselves and that was the most beautiful and amazing feeling and I knew at the time I would be writing about it!!! We were taking a leisurely stroll of Castle Square and taking in its beauty and glory which was restored after severe WWII bombings. Now that it seemed that it was just us and the city, this beauty was more lively and fresh.
Sigismund’s Column right in the centre of seemed to be leaning like the Pisa Tower and about to fall. That was a creepy visual hallucination all three of us were experiencing. But it was also charmingly beautiful against the clear blue sky. We took a moment to sit at the feet of the monument and feel a physical connection with the place. There were people reading or chatting and enjoying a lovely summer afternoon.
We had no time to lose so we made our way further to Dung Mound (Gnojna Gora). From up there we could enjoy the view of the Vistula, the Stadium and some more of the city. It was so beautiful and liberating to stop for a couple of moments. This is when I knew I got back in touch with the feeling of exploring and sensing Europe. I just needed to reach out my hand and it was mine again! Who was it living in that building on my left hundreds of years ago? Is there anyone living in there now? I was eager to know everything, like a child making their baby steps in getting to know the world outside…
There were horse-drawn carriages everywhere just as there were the last time we were here. I was asking myself if anything at all had changed and the answer is nothing had really but somehow it all felt different once we were properly exposed to it. The square wasn’t too crowded and I kept looking back as we were heading to Old Town Market Square to get more views of the place because I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to keep up with anyone and explore the place at my own pace. No guided tour can give you that feeling of freedom to explore. I was elated with joy!
There were all sorts of people walking by and it was so refreshing to see a variety of new faces exploring the city as well. There were also some Gypsies there and I instinctively held on to my bag. The street was lined with a lot of nice and lovely cafes where we could stop for a coffee or an ice-cream but maybe some other time if we happen to come again… It was all just as we left it… Poland is famous for cheap and high-quality food and everyone was welcome to taste it as part of their experience of Europe…
We were walking by St. John’s Archcathedral which was apparently closed for restoration. I was inside last year and it was a humbling spiritual experience even for a non-religious person like myself.
Then we found ourselves right at the heart of Old Town Market Square with a Syrenka (“Mermaid”) monument in the middle of it. Dzien Dobry, Syrenka! This is a beautiful female protector and symbol of Warsaw. We were lucky to find a vacant seat on a bench just opposite it and watched some joyful kids splashing their feet in the water below the monument. They were having a time of their lives and so was I taking in the amazing view of what I think a typical European capital is like… I could picture myself sipping coffee in one of the cafes nearby and letting the world go by reflecting on life… Here I was looking at the monument and windows of differently coloured houses and wondering if there’s anyone in there because to me they all looked like frozen pieces of life… From my observations, such houses are typical of major Polish cities. They were all really beautiful and painted a magnificent landscape in front of my eyes.
Since we didn’t have much time to spend reflecting on what living in a country which was a new member of the EU was like, we headed further into the city centre to explore it a bit more. We saw some nice retro car and more lovely cafes on our way. It all felt nice and homely. We found ourselves near the Barbican, these large high walls which used to be fortresses back in the day, so typical of Poland. It is the second-largest in Poland, we saw the largest one on our previous trip to Krakow. I love these architectural structures and somehow felt a connection with them on my first trip last year. We wandered surrounded by these large safe walls for a bit and took some photos of course. We climbed some stairs and got a nice view from up there. We also checked out some inscriptions scratched by a bunch of tourists who had visited before. That was when I truly and genuinely felt like a citizen of the world reading all of these marks left by people from different parts of the world. Could any of them know that very moment I was there reading these and thus connecting with whoever left them? I guess not but that’s the beauty of those inscriptions, as vandalizing as they are to an architectural structure. I reflected for a bit on what it was like back then when kings ruled the country and for a moment it all felt like my reality for the time… The clear blue sky and meticulous bricks made up the colours of my Warsaw afternoon.
Next to the Barbican, we came across a very sweet and touching treasure, a little stone boy, Mały Powstaniec, a statue commemorating children who fought and died in the Warsaw Uprising of 1939. I was standing there looking at this boy wearing a huge helmet on his head and it broke my heart to think of all these children who were killed and how wrong and unfair it was to take their young innocent lives… That was one of the most intimate and moving little monuments I’d ever seen! Amidst of this sightseeing, it just makes you stop and think for a second of how precious and fragile life is and how rightfully Warsaw was called a Phoenix city for rising up from flames and bloodshed of the war… May all these little heroes rest in piece and may their memory live on in this inconspicous place by the Barbican…
It was time for us to make our way back to Royal Castle Square. We watched some beautiful flower beds on our way and were basking in the Warsaw sun which was shining so welcomingly brightly as if inviting us to stay for a little bit more… We met some people basking in the sun as well and a couple of them were homeless and asleep. Well, if you explore more, you’re sure to come across more contrasts like this. We said goodbye to Royal Castle Square and made our way down to where our couch was parked. Our fellow travellers were not back yet so we had a little bit more time before we left. We walked a little bit to find this amazing green space with beautifully trimmed enormous bushes! It was nice to rest our feet and pose for some photos on the grass. It was an early afternoon and we had the whole space to ourselves!
It was now time to say a proper goodbye to Warsaw… We had so much to look forward to on that trip but this part is always a bit sad even if like this time, it’s the second time you’d done it. We drove for a bit to find ourselves outside the city and stopped for a lovely Polish lunch which was just as substantial and delicious as it was a year ago… Polish food is an amazing value for money! I think this is what we and Poles have in common when we really make an effort to make our eating experiences homely and intimate.
It was quite a long and familiar way to the Polish-German border and this little village where we were to stay for the night. On our way, I made an attempt to have a listen to a Polish radio station and I found that oddly interesting and engaging and I remember spending a couple of hours just figuring out some words which were similar to Russian and a few Ukrainian words I know. A pure linguistic delight can easily be found in any part of the world and that’s the beauty of my job and language is arguably one of the best ways to connect with the country you’re visiting even if it is just by hearing this language being spoken without understanding much of what’s being said.
We arrived at our hotel in a nice and small village which seemed like a nice place for a stopover. All we wanted now was a good night’s sleep which would get us ready for what the next day of our adventure would have to offer. Watching TV at this lovely hotel was also something I couldn’t miss out on my foreign trip. I popped into my sister’s room and we watched my favourite BBC World News and finishing up the leftovers of what we got earlier that day at Pajero. I love this channel because just like those inscriptions on the Barbican, in a way it keeps you in touch with the rest of the world. That was when we found out the news about the arrival of the royal baby George! How cute was that to be in Poland and to get a live coverage of the reaction in London! This news kept us awake a little longer and it was a really beautiful international experience and the joyous London seemed so much closer now that we were in the EU! We certainly couldn’t see the “It’s a Boy” sign from our hotel window but we felt part of the event anyway! Congratulations, William and Kate and all Brits! I messaged my British friend on Facebook and posted a photo from Warsaw on my timeline so that was my way to keep people updated with my adventures. Wi-Fi connection was surprisingly good! It was now hard to sleep for all the excitement but it was time for some shut eye. Amazed by my international experience of the day, I went to bed with a smile on my face. It is Dobranoc from me!