A few weeks ago, I realized that I was going to have a long weekend over Easter and started looking for places to go. I had heard Easter is very big in Poland and that Krakow is a really nice city, so it was an easy decision. I bought my train ticket a week before leaving so that I was leaving on Friday night and getting home on Monday morning (9 hours each way, but a night train each way). As always, I look for my accommodation last. After requesting a few couches, I quickly learned that almost everyone leaves the city to go back home for Easter. I was thinking I was going to be in a hostel when a girl messaged me back and asked “I’ll be going back to my hometown about 60 km from Krakow to spend Easter with my family. Do you want to join?” Of course I immediately said yes. I was excited going there, but I couldn’t have imagined how much fun it would be and how great the people are that I met.
I arrived in Krakow on Saturday morning at 7 am after a nice sleep on the train, and the I wasn’t going to meet Sabina (my couch host) until 10 am at the bus station to go to Limanowa, her hometown. Since I had some time, I walked around the city, found a bakery, had a few pastries and a coffee, and then walked around some more. The city is definitely beautiful as everyone says and actually pretty small with only about 700,000 people. They have the biggest city square in all of Europe, and a castle up on the hill called Wawel Castle. Overall, a very nice city. But the real fun started when I met Sabina and her friend (also a couch surfer, and from the Ivory Coast).
We met at the bus station, quickly introduced ourselves, and jumped on the bus heading to Limonowa. The 2 hour bus ride was great getting to know them and also seeing the Polish hills. This area was really nice with big hills always surrounding us. After going through many small towns, we got to Limanowa 2 hours after starting our journey. We immediately walked to the city center which has a large church and several shops. On the Saturday of Easter weekend, it’s a tradition to create a basket full of food (eggs, bread, cake, anything you will eat for Easter breakfast) and bring that basket of food to the church to have it blessed. I must say that this is one of the nicer traditions I’ve seen. It’s really nice to see people all day carrying around baskets with food on their way to or from the church. Often the children have their own little baskets they carry. When we got to Limanowa, the line for the blessing was all the way out the front door and the church was pretty full. The church was colorful with all of the different flowers and plants, and in the corner was a large box (like a coffin) representing Jesus’ grave.
After this, we walked to Sabina’s parent’s house out of town. They live in a home up on a hill outside of town. They live in a little home built 60 years ago. They have just 3 or 4 different rooms (including the dining room, the common room) with 1 bathroom. With a family of 7, it’s very humbling to see a smaller home for such a big family. It really makes me question why we think we need so much space in the US.
This is when we met Sabina’s parents, who are some of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever met. They made me feel at home from the first time I met them. Even though communicating was virtually impossible (the only English words they knew were “Thank you”), it was great to be around them. Her dad is an extremely funny guy and trying to communicate with him was an experience in itself. Luckily (and unfortunately), Polish is a little similar to Czech so I knew some words. Yacouba, the other guest, was always trying to speak in Polish out of his translation book and Sabina’s parents thought it was really funny. Her mom was always offering more and more food (delicious, home-cooked, typical Polish. For lunch we had fish since they couldn’t eat meat that day), and her dad was always offering more and more to drink after the meal. After every meal, he’d ask if we wanted vodka, or beer, or Bailey’s, or wine, or anything else. For digestion, they often drink small shots of vodka. So an hour after arriving at Sabina’s house, I had already had 3 shots of vodka with her dad and Yacouba. It wasn’t your ordinary vodka though. Apparently, this kind is illegal to sell (because of the 70% alcohol I think) but they know someone who sells it so they’re able to buy it. I’ve always hated vodka, but this was actually pretty good. They had several different flavors of different fruits, all very good.
After lunch, we had a nice, long walk into the woods up behind Sabina’s house. It’s a nice area with forests right behind her house. We walked to the top of the hill where there is a large lookout tower that is in the shape of a cross. On the walk up, there is an uphill area representing the walk Jesus took carrying the cross. There were 15 different memorials (like small houses, maybe 2 feet wide, 4 feet tall, with a little statue of what the step represented) from Jesus falling with the cross, someone helping him, him seeing Mother Teresa, and all the way to him rising. Another interesting thing was the various little memorials (small houses) with statues of Jesus in which people had in their own yards. The Polish are definitely religious!
After this, we walked back to Sabina’s house for a coffee before going out for a walk with her friends. This is part of the European life I enjoy…just going for a walk around town with your friends. We don’t do that as much in the US, but it’s something I really like. Another interesting thing about Sabina’s family is that they don’t own any cars, which is next to impossible in small towns in the US. If they absolutely need to get a ride somewhere, they’ll take a taxi. Otherwise they’ll walk everywhere. Her dad has lived in that house his whole life and I’m not sure if he’s ever had a car. Another thing I noticed was that many people outside the cities heat their houses with wood. You see this with the huge crates of wood they keep.
After a nice walk with her friends, who were also very friendly, we went back and had dinner (followed by Bailey’s,beer, tea, and coffee of course), and then went to bed to get an early start. Her family goes to church at 6am every Sunday, so we woke up at 5. We got to the church right at 6am on Sunday morning, but the church was completely full and there was already a crowd standing outside. So we stood outside for 2 hours in the pouring rain with our umbrellas while listening to the service through a speaker in Polish. It was a really cool experience. After this, we went back and had their typical Easter breakfast. I’ve never seen a meal with so many eggs. Everyone first had their hardboiled egg, and then we had a sort of egg salad, deviled eggs with horseradish, and then bread, some cold meats, followed by about 5 different kinds of cake, tea, and coffee.
About 2 hours after stuffing ourselves full, we then had lunch which consisted of Zirak (typical Polish Easter soup with sausage), and then also breaded chicken (somehow with a hard-boiled egg on the inside), potatoes, and a type of beat horseradish. This was followed by tea (with a bit of vodka) and wine. After being absolutely stuffed, we walked to the bus station to head back to Krakow. The generosity of Sabina and her family is just incredible. I didn’t know Sabina before Saturday morning, and within 24 hours it felt like I was part of her family (besides the language barrier!) I couldn’t have imagined a better trip to Poland, and it’s all because of them and the friendly people of Limanowa.
After getting back to Krakow, we stayed in Sabina’s flat since it was raining pretty hard. At night, we then walked around and did some sightseeing before finding a self-serve Polish restaurant. Here I had red borsch (typical soup) with a croquette and a few pirogues which were filled with meat and cheese. We were in the restaurant for 3 hours just hanging out. I’d known Sabina and Yacouba for only 2 days but felt much longer. It’s really nice to have that kind of connection.
Finally, on Monday I took the train to Auschwitz. This is something that everyone needs to do when they go to Krakow. It’s very surreal to be standing there where all these inhumane acts occurred just 70 years ago. Seeing the front gate, which you see in a lot of pictures, is enough to just give a horrible feeling of knowing what has happened here. The barracks in Auschwitz were made into a museum on the inside showing pictures, possessions that were stolen by the Nazis, and just a lot of information of what happened there. They then take you to see other parts of the camp like the gas chamber and others. Obviously, it’s a very emotional day learning about these unfortunate events.
I then caught the night train back to Prague, got home at 7:30 am on Tuesday morning, and then went straight to work. Like I said, I couldn’t have imagined my weekend in Poland to be like this. The people of Poland are just amazing, and I can’t wait to go back again.