This is a story about going to Poland for the day, and the joy of deliberately infusing adventures into our everyday lives.
Two large Tyskie beers kept us company as we waited for pierogies, savory Polish dumplings, to arrive at our table at a brewery restaurant in Szczecin, a town near the Polish-German border. Only hours before, we had been having breakfast in what was once West Berlin.
I considered the history of this region. For decades, freedom of movement in this part of the world simply wasn’t a concept. Borders not only existed, but they were also deliberate, apparent and imposing — all to deter people from crossing. Permissions were usually needed, if they were ever granted at all. Heck, in Berlin an elaborate wall existed to keep people out or in, depending upon how you looked at it and which side of the thing you happened to be on.
Across the whole of what is broad-brush referred to as Eastern Europe, this really wasn’t very long ago. The recent history of the region — from its World Wars to its Cold War — stands as a cautionary tale of the devastating effects of the blind rage of man, as well as testament to her ability to pick up the pieces and move on. Evidence as to how real change, even amidst seemingly impenetrable darkness, remains possible.
Countries, places, people, citizens — are not static.
From the consideration of great shared struggle and the friction-free invisible border between Germany and Poland that I'd passed only shortly before, I took another sip of Polish beer and settled back down to something personal. I reflected on how, even without physical borders, we humans are often tempted to draw barriers in our minds — barriers that prevent us from seeing and realizing new possibilities.
I reflect on my own situation — how lately I’ve felt as though I’ve been making excuses, putting things off. “When there’s more time, I’ll do it,” I say to myself. “When there’s a better time…” I rationalize. The problem is that this sort of deferment sometimes has a habit of becoming permanent. So it remains up to me to create the time — even when life feels “busy” — to do the things that need doing, the things I want to do. And then act on that. Otherwise, I run the risk of looking back and wondering ‘What if?‘ That's not something I wanted for my life.
In fact, just a few days before, when Dan suggested going to Poland for the day, my initial response was, “Isn’t that kinda far to go for one day?”
Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, isn’t “Why not?” a better starting point in the art of possibility?
To ask that question, to flip the orientation – it takes a re-framing to imagine what’s possible. Once I have made a decision and chosen to act, my life has proven time and again that the rest follows.
And so there we were: two hours and two trains later, in Poland, waiting for plates of pierogies. Going to Poland for the day was a decision pit against a never-ending list of things that “needed” doing. But it felt right to head out on a wee journey for the day and to reflect on where we are and understand a little better this part of the world. Berlin to Western Poland, a stretch that witnessed devastation, then isolation, and most recently rebuilding and creation anew.
“We’re in Poland!!” I did a little dance in my chair, shuffling my hands and feet — to Dan's surprise…or perhaps chagrin. Ah, the little things.
Walking the Red Line
Szczecin, the subject of our day trip, was completely new to us. We had little idea what we would find. But that is adventure, after all.
When people ask us for travel advice on how to explore a new city, our first suggestion is to walk. Driving just isn’t the same. It’s too quick, too distant from the tactile, sensory interaction with one’s surroundings. Walking yields a quite literal on-the-ground feel of a place – not only what it is now, but often echoes of where it’s been and also where it hopes to go.
By walking, you notice the unevenness of a medieval cobblestone street or the broken sidewalk under your feet. Moving slowly on foot allows you to better absorb, to take in the street art hiding in a corner, the smell of sweet poppy seed pastries emerging from an oven at the local bakery, the brightness of newly placed roof tiles amidst the old, and the pace at which local people move about you to and from work or school.
We were prepared to walk and explore for hours and hours, as we were testing out new Rockport Shoes for this adventure. Not only did they hold up to our tough usage, but they were well suited for the freak April storms by drying quickly and being light. And trust me, comfortable and dry feet do really matter. A lot.
We are notorious for getting lost, even in places where everyone tells us it’s impossible to do so. Fortunately, the town of Szczecin is made for people like us: there is a red line literally painted on the ground to follow around the contours of its old town.
So we walked the red line. We traced it, jagging in to catch a glimpse of a 13th century city wall or 15th century church, and then cutting back out again on the main road to follow the Oder River, taking the more than occasional detour along the way. For us, it’s all about the scavenger hunt: around corners, through courtyards, down cobbled alleys, to the foot of a castle wall.
Sites, sights, and the everyday.
Exploration without expectations can be liberating. To just go and see for ourselves and find where our feet — and perhaps even more importantly, our minds — might take us. This is how we gather experience and form who we are and our view of the world. We steal bite-sized experiential pieces of the world around us and commit them to our sense of the greater shape of things…and our place in them.
Local Dinner, Broader Perspective
With just a few minutes to spare, after a dash to catch a photo of a bridge and a couple of last looks on the train platform, we hopped the train back to Berlin. The idea: to arrive just in time for dinner at our favorite little Italian bistro in the neighborhood. We caught the last empty table before the dinner rush, after which reservations would become a must.
We sat at a table in the corner and watched the theatre of a small, family-run restaurant unfold before us. Two waiters flitted between tightly-arranged tables — balancing wide bowls of pasta on the palms of their hands in one pass, carrying healthy carafes of wine on the next.
Amidst the managed chaos, our waiter, a dead ringer for a young Freddie Mercury, offered us complimentary shots of grappa at the end of our meal. “Please sit and enjoy this. Take your time,” he insisted, as a wall of hungry people stood waiting at the door.
From little shot glasses, we sipped our grappa, a perfect finish after a rich meal of homemade pasta with wild duck ragout and grilled polenta with salsiccia. As the warmth of the grappa consumed me, I reflected on the decision to go to Poland, a place that once seemed too far out of reach for just one day.
It only took a shift in mindset to realize that it really wasn’t that far after all. Distance is all too often in the mind.
“But I don't have a country two hours away from me by train,” you object.
You don’t need one. You just need a place, a new place, a place unknown to you that your mind assumes is just out of reach. A literal place, maybe a figurative place. A place that may even be in your hometown or just nearby, but a place that you know you want to experience nonetheless.
So grab a map. Choose a direction. Go. See what you find. Open yourself up. Walk the streets. Notice the details. Then, get a bit lost. Reflect. And when you do, reserve some space for the expected, the unexpected and a healthy does of gratitude, regardless of what you’ve found.
We tell ourselves that there’s not enough time — oh, the precious, limited resource that it is. However, when we challenge that assumption, we reward ourselves with possibility, the possibility of a mini adventure for one day, and also for life.
So that was my day trip to Poland, book-ended by Berlin, wrapped in a web of history that leaves my mind always wondering, sometimes wandering. Racing. And even though my trip to Poland this time was short, I’m grateful for the experience, and prefer it to never having had it at all.
Have you ever done something that perhaps sounded crazy at first, but then you thought: why not?
We'd like to thank the folks at Rockport Shoes for asking us to think about the role of adventure in our daily lives and to share one of our days as part of their #MyDailyAdventure series and campaign, of which this article is a part.