I am a first generation American, both parents having immigrated to the United States from Poland in their 20s. I go to Poland every summer and occasionally in the winter to visit both sides of my family. This past winter break, I spent two weeks in this beautiful country, staying a couple days in both Warsaw and Krakow in between visiting my mom’s and my dad’s hometowns.
The apartment we had rented in Warsaw was right on this colorful street in Old Town. This part of Warsaw is filled with uneven cobblestone streets, horse carriages, colorful townhouses and pierogi shops. We stayed at the top of a rickety old townhouse from which you could see the tops of the red-tiled roofs of the surrounding houses.
Also located in the Old Town square is the Plac Zamkowy, which means “the Castle Square” in English. This building is the former official residence of Polish monarchs. The square is historically significant because of the January Uprising of 1863 that occurred here, in addition to the 1982 riots.
After a couple of days in Poland’s capital, we traveled to my dad’s hometown of Ostrow Mazowiecka. We spent Christmas Eve, called “Wigilia” in Polish, and Christmas Day here. Wigilia is one of the most important Polish holidays. It usually includes a big feast (with fish only, as you’re not allowed to eat meat on Wigilia), opening presents and the breaking of a Christmas wafer, called an oplatek. There are other traditions, such as putting hay underneath the table cloth, as well.
Celebrating death is a large part of Polish culture. On Christmas Day, we went to the local graveyard to light a candle for every member of our family. In Poland, every grave is typically a large marble tomb instead of the traditional American marble slab.
After going to my dad’s hometown, we stopped once more in Warsaw. This picture shows a popular restaurant in Old Town, which had amazing pierogis, or Polish dumplings, along with other traditional foods.
Many parts of Warsaw’s Old Town are covered with statues and landmarks commemorating Poland’s rich history. The glass plaque here reads: “This place is sanctified by the blood of Poles who perished in the struggle for the freedom of their homeland. On September 2, 1944 the occupying Germans executed 30 Poles.”
After stopping in Warsaw, we drove to my mom’s hometown of Busko Zdroj. This picture shows a sunset on the drive to her hometown. The land surrounding Busko is filled with hills, farms and cattle.
For New Year’s, I traveled to the city of Krakow with my brothers to visit friends. We went into Krakow’s Old Town, where there’s a huge cathedral filled with gold on the inside. For the holiday, lights were strung up between small outdoor shops selling wine and traditional Polish food. There were also horse carriages and guitar players outside despite the two degree weather. This sunset was the morning after New Year’s.
We traveled back to Warsaw the day before we left in order to go to the airport. The morning before we left, I took this picture of the townhouses near our apartment to showcase the colorful country of Poland.
Contact Emilia Malachowski at [email protected].