Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 11, 2017

A Wedding in Poland – Part One: Around Chełm 


by Ernest Barteldes

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Stare Miasto

Part One: Around Chełm

Last April we learned that Renata’s brother Mirek was getting married to his longtime girlfriend Beata, and we decided on the spot that we had to go, even if it meant changing our vacation plans for the year – which we quickly adjusted and started preparing for what was to be our fourth time in Poland together just over a year after our last visit.

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Downtown

After a thorough search I was able to find affordable tickets on Scandinavian Airlines via Copenhagen (I tried to get tickets to the new airport in Lublin on Lufthansa – which would have saved a ton of travel time – but prices were too prohibitive). I booked the tickets and started to do some research on what to expect of Polish weddings, but most of the articles I found described how things might go in larger cities like Warsaw but since this case was more of a small town, I was at a loss. I asked Renata about it but since she’d left Poland over a decade before she couldn’t really remember the details I should expect – so my only resources were the various online pieces I was able to search and the advice of a handful of Poles I knew here in New York.

I also contacted the couple and asked them as much information as I could, and they told me it would be a two-day event with a church wedding on Saturday.

The last “Polish” wedding I’d been to had been in the spring of 2010 – a Brazilian friend I played with in church got married to a Polish-born girl. The ceremony and reception took place in Poughkeepsie, a town in  New York’s Dutchess County, so obviously they had to somewhat adapt to US customsWe met at a hotel on Saturday and went to a pre-wedding dinner, which was followed by a breakfast the next day and the wedding ceremony – in which I also served as groomsman,  played bass and sang and finally a short reception that was cut off by 8 PM – nothing like I would later experience in Poland.  

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Istanbul Restaurant

I was glad that for once I had no official function at this wedding –  the two last I had attended I had something – including being best man at a friend’s wedding in Kingston, Jamaica. When I was told I was just a regular guest I sighed in relief – I could just enjoy myself and that would be the end of it. 

We decided to fly to Poland on Tuesday before the Saturday wedding so we could get acclimatized to the time difference and also take care of any necessary preparations. We arrived in Warsaw without incident and boarded a bus to Renata’s hometown in Chełm, which is about a three-hour drive from the country’s capital.

When we arrived, we stopped for a quick drink at Strecha u Woyciecha, a local pizza restaurant next to the bus station that also doubles as a performance space once a month except during summer, when the room becomes too hot for larger crowds – meaning that I would not be able to catch a performance.  After our drinks we dragged our bags to Renata’s folks’ apartment, had a meal and pretty much called it a day after doing some light shopping at one of the local supermarkets.

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Zapiekanka

On previous trips around Chełm, Renata never really left me alone to walk around town on my own (she has never explained me why, but I believe she thought I’d get lost), but on that first morning I went on my first solo stroll around the town’s Stare Miasto and surrounding streets.

The weather was gorgeous so it was ideal for exploring town – and a chance to get some much-needed exercise, and also a chance for Renata to have some alone time with her family.  My first stop was at Empik, the local media store, where I browsed through the music titles and bought two CDs by pop singer Monika Brodka, one of the new talents I had been told about by a Polish ESL student..

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Monument in Stare Miasto, Imbrik in the background

Chełm’s Empik is much smaller than its counterparts in Krakow or Warsaw, but they do their best with the small place they have. I noticed several special-issue vinyl pressings of Queen’s “Greatest Hits” and a handful of other pop artists, but most of the music floor was dominated by CDs, with one side dedicated to international artists and the other for domestic ones.

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I continued walking and stumbled into the local tourist center, where I bought a few gifts for co-workers and friends. Nearby there was Muzeum Ziemi Chelmskiej Gmach Glowny, a space dedicated to a small exhibit of local and foreign amber – including some pieces from The Caribbean – specifically the island of Hispaniola, where both Haiti and The Dominican Republic are located.

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Amber Museum

The museum is free of charge on Thursdays, but as far as I could see I was the sole visitor at that hour – a guide escorted me through the various displays, and after that we went to an upstairs room filled with stuffed animals depicting what I guessed was the local fauna – I smiled to the guide (who spoke no English) and perused the floor for a few minutes feigning interest and walked away – stuffed animals are not my thing.

I felt a bit hungry and walked over to a zapiekanka stand near the bus station (think of a pizza on a baguette with sautéed mushrooms instead of tomato sauce), and tried it with toppings of Polish sausage and cucumbers – quite different from the more standard version with cheese and ketchup that I had in previous visits. It was succulent and quite filling, and then I walked back to the apartment, stopping at one of the city’s 24-h liquor stores to buy some gifts of libation for friends in the US.

This kind of store is common all over Poland to a lesser or greater extent. The largest number I have ever seen is in Krakow, where there is one almost every block. This is not the case in Chełm, but the custom seems ingrained in the country.

My store of choice was Alkohole Salon 24, a cozy shop that carries a nice selection of beers, vodka and wine. I have always preferred to patronize it instead of  big-box stores like Tesco. Inside they have wooden floors and cabinets, and their service is courteous and friendly – even if with my lack of Polish.

Later that evening, Renata and I walked over to Na Bogato, a local bar with comfortable couches and affordable prices. We assumed that would be it for the day, but we got a call from Renata’s brother and his fiancée – they wanted to meet. It was quite late by then, and kitchens in most places were closed. We ended up at Kozak, a charming pizza restaurant that we had visited in previous trips (I think it’s a local favorite – or their favorite). We’d already had dinner, so we just enjoyed couple of drinks while they ate.

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Dilapidated house

On Friday morning I woke up early and went for another walk that took me well beyond the Stare Miasto and found this narrow street with dilapidated houses and buildings. On the right was a small square few seemed to care about down the hill was a building that housed the former synagogue (Chełm had a large Jewish population before World War II) that has since been restored and serves as a traditional Polish restaurant. One house on the street looked abandoned and in great disrepair. I found there was nothing interesting to see there to see so I walked back to the Stare Miasto and stopped at one of the outdoor bars and ordered a beer.

I had my ukulele with me and started strumming very softly as not to disturb the other patrons, but they seemed to enjoy it so I played at a louder volume. I contacted Renata (who had been at a dental appointment) and we hung there for about an hour and enjoyed the warm weather and quiet atmosphere of the bar.

Kebab restaurants are very popular in Poland, but I hadn’t had one there since when I wandered into one in WarsawRenata was more interested in eating Polish food, but I wanted something different, so I said I’d order just for me.  I selected  Restauracja Istambul, where they had the choice of either chicken or beef kebabs served in a wrap.  I selected chicken with spicy sauce, and the order only took a few minutes. It was quite tasty, and then we walked back to the apartment, where I worked on my growing unanswered emails for a while.  

That evening we met with Renata’s aunt and uncle – something we always do when we visit Chełm. They wanted to take us to a water park, but since we hadn’t brought swim gear there was a change in plan and so we went to Imbryk, a new-ish café in the Stare Miasto area. It is kind of upscale with a menu geared towards a younger crowd. During my walks I had noticed some folks having brunch there (at least I assume I was brunch since Bloody Marys were involved), and Renata pointed out that the sandwich menu had been “inspired” by none other than New York’s Katz’s Deli.  I got curious and ordered one of their pastrami sandwiches – which had nothing to do with Katz’s – they were served in two small sandwiches with a small pickle on the side. They did taste good, and since I wasn’t too hungry I did not complain. Their prices are pretty stiff for Poland (PLN 12 for a glass of red wine – quite high compared to other locations in town), so after we finished our meal I suggested heading next door to Na Bogato, where they were screening a soccer game between Poland and Denmark.

Unfortunately for Poland it was a bad loss, and the crowd that filled the room quickly dwindled as folks realize the home team was not going to make a comeback. We stayed there for a while and then headed back – we all needed proper sleep before the big day in Wlodawa.

 

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Wesele

I woke up early on Saturday and had a hearty breakfast before going for my morning walk. As I got to Stare Miasto, I saw there was a group preparing for an outdoor performance – it was a play by late 19th Century writer Stanisław Wyspiański called – serendipitously – “Wesele” (“Wedding”), which was set to begin at around 10 A.M. It was still early, so I walked around for an hour, returned and watched it for a few minutes.

Two youngsters in traditional dress served as narrators while others read other parts – it was not really acting since they were reading from a script, but it seemed amusing enough to the audience, but since I don’t understand Polish beyond ordering food and basic greetings I left halfway through.  Renata was at the hair salon while I was out, and I returned to the apartment before she got back herself, so I busied myself by taking care of a few emails until it was time to get ready to go. We didn’t go in our party clothes but prepared to change at the hotel, which had been booked for all the party guests for the long night ahead.

 

 

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Amazing trip!


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