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It's hard to believe that I had to wait thirteen years for this journey. And now that it's over, it seems even more hard to believe. To say that I was nervous or anxious about it would probably be an understatement, but I still wanted to go, more than anything at the time, and to have this experience that I had waited half my life for. That in itself didn't occur to me until I came back either: that thirteen years was half of my life up till now. Well, almost half anyway.
We have been very fortunate to have made some wonderful friends in the Triangle while living there. Joe and Misty put us up for a couple nights before flying out of the RDU airport. Our flight took us from Raleigh to New York, and then over the Atlantic to Helsinki. I must say that out of all the airports I have been to in the world, and I can honestly say that I've been to more than a few, Helsinki-Vantaa has got to be the most inviting and well designed of them all. The spaces felt cozy and inviting, as if the whole interior had been designed by IKEA. My only regret is that I hardly took any pictures of the place. Probably because of being worn out after a nine-or-so hour flight.
From Helsinki we flew into Warszawa (Warsaw in non-Polish), where my childhood friend Paweł and his wife Iwona greeted us. This was surreal enough already, to see him after all those years. But to stand on the soil of my home country was even more bewildering. We went for a short walk in the brisk spring weather and found a place to grab a quick dinner. Unfortunately we didn't have much time, as our flight to Wrocław was leaving that same evening. Paweł took us back to the airport and made sure we were safely checked in.
The little airplane took us on a short flight into Wrocław's small airport, and I was beginning to get increasingly anxious to see my family. Several years ago, my grandmother was able to come visit us in Billings, MT for our wedding. This was, of course, her first trip to the US, and I'm not sure that she had even flown on a plane at all till that time. She stayed with us for a whole month, and her presence had made me miss Poland even more. Now it was us coming to see them, and interestingly enough it was Nikki's first time in Europe and her first time flying as well. I don't know if Nikki was as nervous as I, probably was, but I didn't really have the presence of mind to ask her at the time.
We disembarked outdoors, and made our way to the terminal by shuttle. Time moved painfully slow at the baggage claim, and as we waited I caught a glimpse of my grandparents through the exit doors. We waved at each other in anticipation, and our luggage arrived at last. We were welcomed by both of my grandparents, as well as my uncle Piotrek and his girlfriend Sylvia. But when I try to recall what went through my head at that moment, I am uncertain. I know that it was an emotional reunion, lots of hugs and all that jazz, but other than that it was kind of a blur. Traveling for some 24 hours or more made me slightly less than alert at that point.
Naturally they wouldn't let us carry our luggage, so with everybody's help we headed for the parking lot and piled into two cars. Warszawa's weather was cool, gray, and a little misty on occasion. Most of the precipitation cleared up once we got into Wrocław though, and only the grayish clouds served as a reminder of the moist weather. With rays of sun and blue sky coming from behind the clouds we drove through the city of my youth. Exhausted and elated, I watched the Polish buildings and people go by, and the inherently different world, walls, and graffiti perpetually coming and going.
After some rather heavy traffic, we pulled into my grandparents' neighborhood. I think I might have been trembling a little at the sight of it, and when we pulled up in front of their house I became all the more emotional. The streets, the houses, the gates, they were all just about the same. All this time had gone by and the man-made things remained, while the trees and plants had grown sky-high to change it all in a subtle and paradoxical way.
Two locks in a heavy and dark wooden door kept the house safe. Two turns of the key for each, and the way was open. The foyer, the stairs, and main floor with its living room, dining area, and kitchen. How much I had yearned for this moment became clear to me when chocking back the tears was all that I could do. I regained my composure, but just barely, and followed everyone in to the kitchen. The kitchen, where so much still remained the same, just as everywhere else. Where we ate so many meals. It was the kitchen of my grandmother's cooking.
My uncle and his girlfriend had driven two hours from Tomaszowo near Zielona Góra to see us. They were heading back the same night, and we could see that they too were tired already. Each of us sat a the table with weary bones while my grandmother fluttered around with tea and bread and butter. Grandpa just sat quietly, his hard to read expression watched us. I don't know what exactly he must have felt, but much as I was filled with a great many emotions I am sure that he too had his hands full sorting out feelings. We talked about little things of which I have no recollection. The flight itself was obviously of interest, and in time the conversation descended into yawns and moments of silence. This was the time for Piotrek and Sylvia to head back, so we said our goodbye-for-nows and bid them a safe drive.
As for Nikki and I, our weary minds were just about overwhelmed and longed for a place to rest. We stayed in the little studio apartment just at the end of the half-basement. It was time to forget about it all for now, and begin to recover. Or, perhaps more accurately, to acclimate. There would be time for all things the next morning, and with that thought I joyfully closed my eyes in the house built by my grandfather's own hands.