By Ernest Barteldes
It might seem strange that in the midst of World Cup Fever Renata and I would opt to make a second visit to Poland, but the fact was that due to that event the cost of tickets to Brazil got way too prohibitive – this caused us to postpone a visit to Renata’s homeland two years back when they were co-hosting the Euro cup and air ticket prices shot up to very prohibitive prices and we wound up spending our vacation in Mexico instead.
We started planning this trip well ahead – in America we have very short vacations in comparison to Brazil or most European countries, so we need to make the best of the time we have. We planned to start out with Renata’s hometown of Chelm and then other cities – including Krakow, which is my favorite place in Poland.
I searched for tickets online and found very good prices on Aeroflot, the Russian airline. I was initially a little wary of flying into Moscow because we would have to backtrack to Poland (and increase our flight time by a couple of hours), and also due to the political situation between the White House and the Kremlin – what if Obama pulled a Reagan and banned the airline from US airports? However, the prices were incredibly low when compared to any other airline, so we took a deep breath and booked it.
We then went on to book hotels rail tickets as needed. Warsaw has a very good rail system that serves the entire city, and their website is really easy to navigate – they gave us precise directions from the hotel to the intercity train station where we would meet our connection to Chelm. I printed everything out, and we were ready by the time it was time to go.
Renata and I got to the airport and checked in with no problem. The nine-hour flight was without incident. Aeroflot’s service would shame US airlines – we were served two full meals, and the food was great. I was wondering about the airline’s recent move to ban alcohol during its flights, but it turns out it was not true – they did give us a single glass of wine (the bottles disappeared after that first service, though) and there was no restriction on water, juice, tea or coffee. We arrived at Moscow airport waited about three hours for our connection to Warsaw – in the meantime, we checked our emails (Sheremeteyo airport has free Wi-Fi) while enjoying a cold beverage. We reached Warsaw at around 11 AM and made the trek to the train station.
Once we cleared customs and picked up our bags, we made our way to the train station that would connect us to Chelm, Renata’s hometown in Southeastern Poland. It took a few changes, but we made it there with plenty of time to spare. As we waited we ate a kebab sandwich at the station (they are very popular there) – I wanted to find a place to get a drink, but Renata just wanted to relax and wait for the train.
Big mistake if you ask me.
Trains in Poland are not an example of comfort – unless you buy first-class tickets, of course. The seats are numbered but they are basically benches that are shared with about four people each. It is not a bad experience at all for a short trip, but I cannot imagine sitting like that for more than three hours. We transferred to a much more comfortable ride in Lublin and rode for about an hour into Chelm, where we were received by Renata’s father. Once in her parent’s apartment, we enjoyed some homemade Golabki (stuffed cabbage), rested a bit and then headed to the town center where festivities were taking place for the City’s Feast. There were beer stands, vendors and a large stage on the town center where Polish hip-hop band AfroMental was performing.
It was raining copiously in Chelm, so we watched the show under our umbrellas. The band was pretty cool – they mixed Polish and English lyrics and played with a full band – guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. It was a high-energy show, but the rain dampened our moods. We walked to a nearby bar and had a few drinks and then walked back to the apartment and collapsed from exhaustion and jet lag. We slept for a long time and woke up close to noon; the day was not too productive in terms of sightseeing due to the weather, but I was able to put in some writing. In the evening we once again headed to the town center to hear Bajm (pronounced BA-ym), a pop-rock band that has been active since the late 1970s.
The concert went quite well in spite of the heavy rain – lead vocalist Beata Kozidrak has great stage presence and a strong voice, and the group – which has gone through multiple lineup changes over the years – has great chemistry together. I could see on the big screen that the stage was quite wet, but that didn’t stop them – the concert lasted about 2 hours, and after it was over we headed to a nearby pub to get a few shots of vodka to warm up a bit.
Renata spent a lot of time with her parents, so I had a lot of time to do things outside – her brother Mirek took me to one of their local gyms so I could get a bit of exercise. The weather finally improved on the fourth day, so we took advantage of that to head to Pstragowo, a fresh water fish restaurant just outside of town that has become one of my favorite places there.
All the fish is raised on-site, and everything tastes very fresh. I had a smoked salmon salad that was light but satisfying (actually almost everyone at the table ordered the same thing). We then went for a long walk around the lake and then headed back into town. With us for the meal were Renata’s aunt and uncle, and we were later joined by Mirek and his girlfriend Beata.
We left Chelm for Warsaw on Thursday morning – we were supposed to take the train but opted for the bus since they had a more flexible schedule. After a four-hour ride we were back to the nation’s capital ready for the second installment of our trip.