Monday, August 8, 2011


Something that is very satisfying for me is adding a new photo folder to my collection. Today was an especially monumental folder-creating day, because I am finally in Poland, after eleven years of wanting to visit.

If you knew me in high school, you might remember attending a Roman Polanski birthday party, or one of my hand-made Myslovitz tank tops, or me driving that gold Toyota Camry around the high school and singing incoherently along to Polish pop songs. Oh! Do you remember that creepy poster of Bo Derek on my bedroom door from the movie "10" where I pasted Polanski's face over hers? Or maybe you blocked that from your memory. They were strange times, and that poster gave my step-mom nightmares.
I'm not sure exactly where the Polish obsession started. It wasn't really something I cried myself to sleep over at night, but it was always in the back of my head that I would like to visit someday, and somehow, I managed not to create any expectations about it. So being here is just totally new for me, and besides the basics, I really don't know what the heck is going on.

But let me backtrack a little bit....
I left Vík in the late morning after saying goodbye to everyone at the hostel. Þráinn was going to Reykjavík anyway, so I managed to catch a lift with him. I always really enjoyed any time that I spent with him, because he's so funny and always has interesting rants, so it was nice to be able to spend a couple of hours with him in the EconoLine chatting, since it was so rare when I was working. Leaving Vík still hasn't really sunk in. I feel a little like I'm either still in Iceland, or am just on a short holiday. When I was getting into the van, I almost cried.

Five months with these awesome people...

After that entire month of rain in Vík, it was a small miracle that Reykjavík was gorgeous. The sun was out, and Laugavegur is mostly closed off to traffic now, so lots of people were enjoying sitting outside on the sidewalks and having coffee or beer. Gulla and I walked around, and she remarked at how much nicer it is, and the atmosphere has completely changed. She's right. It's totally different, and a lot of things have opened up or expanded, so there's a very festive feeling in the air. Of course, this feeling was compounded by the leftovers of the Gay Pride festival the day before, which is the largest event in Iceland.
Gulla was my first Icelandic Couchsurfing host in 2009 and 2010, and she became part of my extended family during my time in Iceland. So it's always really great to catch up with her. We had coffee at her favorite cafe and wood-fired pizza in the evening. It was a perfect last day.
It was cut short, though, because the next day (today) started at 4 in the morning. After creeping out of Gulla's house and hoping I didn't wake anyone, I caught the FlyBus from a nearby hotel and was shuttled off to the airport in Keflavik. I wish I had something interesting to say about the flight, but it was one of the most boring flights I've ever been on, and I couldn't get any sleep in the aisle seat, so it pretty much just sucked. The only thing that was mildly entertaining was some rough turbulence over Warsaw. At one point, the plane dropped, and the entire fuselage probably imploded slightly like a soda can being crushed from the collective gasping. Personally, I kind of enjoy turbulence. I've flown a lot, so it takes a pretty big screw up to rattle me.
I do not, however, enjoy the feeling of being stranded, especially when I am running on very little sleep and completely overwhelmed by a new country. Luck was on my side for a few things. I exchanged some Danish crowns for some złoty, got a Polish SIM card for my phone, and my bag was one of the first to come out in baggage claim. My Couchsurfing host, however, was nowhere to be found. After sending a text to Michal to let him know I landed safely, I had the airport page her and then texted him again to take him up on his offer for help. Just as I was about to give up and start thinking about camping, a lady was standing curiously in front of me with a handmade sign labeled "Bullet".
"Oh! It's you!" I jumped up and we awkwardly switched between starting to shake hands and hug, and finally settled on a hug. I was so glad to see her so I wouldn't have to use any more brain power. There was very little of it left.
My first Couchsurfing host in Warsaw is Anna, and I'm so glad that I picked her for my first experience. She's a wonderful person and a doting host. I am her first Couchsurfer, so I expected her to be a big nervous, but other than being a little frantic about making sure things were perfect, she seemed to relax once she started making borscht.
Oh, did I mention that I didn't eat anything all day except for some yogurt and a couple of chocolates? Well....yeah. When Anna told me she was making soup from scratch, I was both delighted and horrified, because I didn't think I would be able to wait long enough before eating my own hand. Perhaps she sensed this, because I was spared that fate from some homemade garlic-y treats.

The borscht was also not long in the making, and before I knew it, I was stuffed. What a lovely way to be invited into someone's home. A cup of instant coffee also revived me, miraculously, and Anna swept me off on a rainy day bicycle tour of Warsaw.
You probably don't know this, because I don't think I've ever told anyone, but I am afraid of bicycles. I'm not paralyzed by them, but I'm very, very nervous around them, and at one point I thought I wouldn't even ride again. I think it was a combination of incidents, culminating with the death of my friend this May, who was killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bike on the road. But I decided to say "yes" to a bike ride anyway, partly because it seemed stupid to refuse something like that, and also to try to get over my fear.
I have to admit, I almost balked at the whole idea when I was presented with a man's bike, but luckily, the bar wasn't too high and it was actually really comfortable. A bit of a rough start for me as a white-knuckled it through some foot traffic, but Warsaw is an incredibly bike-friendly town, with ample bike lanes and beautiful parks. Even cobblestone wasn't too tricky.
So of course, I ended up having a great time. I saw guys selling beer on the street, a huge fountain, the famous mermaid statue, and tons of old restored buildings. And even though Anna is way faster than I am, by the time we got back to her flat, I felt confident about riding again, and that's what's happening with me right now. Thank you, Warsaw!

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo! I'm so glad you made it! That rainy bike ride sounds like an awesome time, and it's great that you're building your confidence riding again. Someday I'll ride a Dutch-style bike through a European city.