One of my favorite aspects of traveling, and there are many, is the fact that I forget. I forget little details or events, like the matcha cake in a teacup at that tea house in Galway, or floating on my back at lake in the Austrian Alps, or the hot chocolate at that trendy coffee shop in Oslo. And then something will trigger that memory and I’ll be taken all the way back to that moment. Today, I heard the song “Let It Happen” by Tame Impala and it took me back to Warsaw in the spring of last year.
Let’s get a little background. It’s mid-March and I’m studying Italian at Dilit Language School in Rome. I’m down in the basement of my school after classes eating a Cacio e Pepe dish, that was surprisingly good for a school cafeteria, and I got a call from my sister. Good news! Her new job, that she started last week, is sending all their employees to Warsaw, Poland, for a conference and a good time. The best part? They get a plus one.
Since I was already in Europe, and a short two-hour plane ride from Warsaw, I was invited. So I booked two extra weeks of classes and a one-way ticket to Poland. Next thing I know, I’m there.
Although I was only there for four days, it was one of the best trips of my life. For some reason, I felt instantly connected to Warsaw. In a way, it felt like I was coming home.
My sister and I had one of the classiest meals of our lives at a tiny, dimly-lit restaurant just off a street name Jezuika in Warsaw’s Old Town. We had a collection of polish farm cheeses with gingerbread, smoked prune preserve, and carrot and cottage cheese dumplings. Woah.
Over the course of the next few days, my time was spent, both with my sister, but also by myself, because she was attending the conference. When I was with my sister, we ate at nice restaurants, went shopping, and did a little sightseeing. Her work had organized a TED Talk and a piano concert at the largest opera house in Europe, The Grand Theatre of Warsaw.
When I was by myself, which is how I prefer to be, I explored the parts of the city that were rarely visited by tourists. I found an old trinkets shop that sold memorabilia from the war. It was stuff like fake passports, Nazi awards, and disturbing photographs. Instead of going for my usual trendy coffee shop, I went to Cafe a. Blikle, which was established in 1869. Winston Churchill used to go eat donuts there. And that’s just what I did.
On my last day, I took the metro (for an equivalent of about ten cents) for 35 minutes to the outskirts of the city. I walked ten more minutes and came to the place I had been looking for. The Neon Museum. An unassuming warehouse with neon advertisements and sign in practically every corner and wall. It showed the neon signs from the Cold War when Poland wanted to appear socialist and consumerist. The Neon Museum showed the time when Poland was desperately reaching for the beauty and strength of the “socialist urbanism and capitalist chaos.” Along with the Polin Museum, I had been to two days before, this was one of the most fascinating museums I’ve been to.
I didn’t know what to expect when I booked my ticket to Poland, but what I experienced there changed my life. I found a city with it’s past so prominent, from the bullet holes in the buildings to the war monuments all over the city. Still, Warsaw stood strong. It accepts it’s past and the terror that nearly destroyed their city. I expected a grey city; destroyed. But in reality, there was so much color. The streets of Jezuika, paving the way to Market Square were tall, like those of Amsterdam, with pastel and base colors and incredible, intricate designs. It was beautiful. That’s what surprised me about Warsaw, and that’s what makes me want to go back. And I will go back.