Happy Friday, everyone!
As you may have figured out from reading the title or already knew because I wouldn’t shut up about it in last week’s wrap-up, I spent the previous weekend in Poland! And of course, since I always find traveling abroad ridiculously exciting, you’re getting my ridiculously excited thoughts on the trip 🤗 Along with some books that I feel like fit the general vibes of what I was up to. Because, you know, we’re going to at least pretend I’m not blatantly straying into travel blogger territory here…
Anyway, now that I’m safely back in Germany and no longer have to fear the possibility that some of you guys might be serial killers who might sneak up on me and murder me if I told you precisely where in Poland I was off to – Hey, it was a possibility, okay! 🤷🏼♀️ – I guess it’s okay to spill the beans and tell you the exact destination of the trip: Poznań, which lies in west-central Poland and is the country’s fifth-largest city.
Here’s a map for everyone who needs a bit of help figuring out the geography 😜
Why Poznań? Well, the whole reason I got to go in the first place is that the city is also home to one of Poland’s biggest universities. My dad had been attending a conference there, my mom decided picking him up would be a great excuse for an international road trip, and, knowing that I had been wanting to travel to Poland for ages, she figured she might as well take the kids.
That part, however, didn’t exactly go according to plan… First, my youngest brother ended up getting a really bad cold right when he was supposed to take his Abitur exams – these take place at the end of 12th grade and are a prerequisite for entering German universities – and because the doctors couldn’t rule out that it was COVID, he missed his math final. Meaning that he decided to stay home and study for the make-up test. Then, my sister actually got COVID two days before we were meant to leave, so obviously, we didn’t take her with us, either. And since my other brother is studying abroad in India, he was out from the very beginning. So what should’ve been a family vacation ended up just being my parents and me – which, although weirdly unaccustomed, was actually kind of nice, too!
But let’s get into the specifics of the trip, as well as some books to go along with them!
To say the trip to Poland was grueling doesn’t even do it justice 😅 What should have been a two-hour train ride followed by a six-hour road trip turned into twelve-hour odyssey full of overcrowded trains, traffic jams, and me sobbing my heart out to my mom about how horrible my May was.
The problems already started when I took the train home to meet up with my mom because, boy, had I underestimated how chaotic public transportation would be that day! Several unfavorable circumstances came together all at once, namely:
a) It was the start of Pentecost break and EVERYONE wanted to travel somewhere immediately after school let out.
b) Both the town I was in and the town I was going to were currently attracting a ton of extra visitors because of their Kerwa festivities.
c) Germany had just introduced a new kind of ticket that allows you to use public transportation everywhere within the country for just 9€ a month. Which is great! (I mean, I have one myself, and it’s already saved me about 50€ of travel expenses thus far 🙃) But it also meant way more people than usual were suddenly taking the trains, which were already filled to the bursting point…
d) One of the worst railway accidents in German history took place just a little bit south of us right when I was travelling home. And since about half of the people on my train knew someone who lived in that area and could possibly have been among the victims, enormous panic erupted.
So yeah, mentally, I was already beyond exhausted when my mom picked me up from the train station, and reliving my May on top of all that wasn’t exactly great. However, sitting in a car together for ten hours straight provided us ample mother-daughter time and the opportunity to speed-run through the entire first unit of Polish on Duolingo together! 🤗 So it wasn’t all bad!
In fact, I can safely say our trip was a breeze compared to the fateful journey described in Saroo Brierley’s A Long Way Home. In this memoir, the author recounts how he was separated from his family after falling asleep on a train somewhere in India and adopted by an Australian couple after all attempts to locate his parents failed. Not knowing the name of the town he came from, it took Saroo almost thirty years of searching to find his way back home – twelve hours of minor inconveniences certainly pale in comparison!
Our first day in Poznań, though, more than made up for the less-than-amazing journey there. After having breakfast at our hotel — which was way nicer than the super cheap hostels my siblings and I always end up staying at whenever we go on vacation together 😇 –, we headed out to explore the city. Being me, I was absolutely fascinated by all of the Polish signs, and my parents literally had to drag me away from them to ensure that we got anywhere.
And there was so much to see! The town, which was a hodgepodge of cute cobblestone streets, ugly industrial buildings, and construction work. The food, which was similar to what we have in Germany, but also different. Like, they had this type of ice cream that is way more solid and spirally and sweet than anything I’d ever encountered before, and I was obsessed! 😍
Just as protagonists Poppy and Alex are obsessed with traveling in Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation. Although not everything goes according to plan on their various trips, either, they always have a ton of fun exploring new places and trying new things, which makes this novel a real joy to read! Plus, it has one of the best friends-to-lovers romance plotlines I’ve ever come across, so… maybe you should read it?
What particularly struck me, though, was the incredible solidarity shown towards Ukrainian refugees all over town. You were hard to find a single store front that didn’t feature the Ukrainian flag, there were shops and restaurants everywhere offering free food to refugees, and countless apartments advertising empty rooms where refugees could stay.
I mean, yeah, Germany has also taken in about a million Ukrainians since the war started, and you can see plenty of support here, too. But what Poland is doing easily leaves Germany in the dust! I have never seen a country come together like this to help others, and seeing all of that restored some of my faith in humanity 💙😭💙
Which brings us to our next book recommendation: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a beautifully lyrical, heart-wrenching story about forced migration, and I think would do the world a whole lot of good if more people read it. Following two refugees from a war-torn country that is never named but heavily hinted to be somewhere in the Middle East, it unflinchingly depicts the horrors that go along with losing your country to war, having to move to new places that often don’t welcome you and where you don’t understand anything, and leaving everyone you love behind. But it is also a story that is brimming with hope and full of small gestures that show you there is still humanity left in the world. I highly recommend you go read this!
After exploring Poznań for a bit, we headed off to our first museum – A MUSEUM OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS!!! Seriously, guys, it was so cool! 🤩🤗🤩 My whole family takes music very seriously, so my parents and I were basically three nerds in heaven. There were so many interesting instruments from all over the world, and some of the violins in particular had me drooling!
(Although, I am, of course, very loyal to my own violin and would never replace it. But looking can’t hurt, right?)
Anyway, what better book could I possibly pair with a music museum than Taylor Jenkins Reid‘s Daisy Jones & The Six? The novel, which is told through a series of interviews and follows the rise and fall of a rock band, is basically a historical treatise on music, too, albeit a fictional one. And, just like the museum in Poznań, I absolutely adored it!
One of Poznań’s biggest tourist attractions is the city’s old town hall. Originally built in the late 13th-century, it has been destroyed, reconstructed, and remodeled several times – but the biggest reason why it is so popular is that, every day at noon, a pair of mechanical goats appears from a small door in the clock tower. Accompanied by a bugle call played from the balcony of the town hall’s main tower, the goats butt heads and put on a display that is really fun to watch!
The goats have, in fact, become so popular that you can see them everywhere in the city. They’re the mascots of what felt like half of the restaurants in Poznań, there are murals showing them all over town, and there are countless legends surrounding them. The most popular one explains why the goats were allegedly added to the clock tower in the first place, involving a failed attempt to roast a deer, a desperate cook named Pietrek, and a mayor with a sense of humor. If you’re interested, you can read it here!
As to a book that goes with this, how could I not go with Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver? First of all, this Rumpelstiltskin retelling takes place in a Slavic setting that was heavily inspired by the author’s Polish heritage. And secondly, one of the protagonists is a goatherd. So it totally fits here 😇
Don’t pretend you didn’t see this one coming. Of course one of the first things I’m gonna do when I’m in a new place is check out what local bookstores have to offer!
While my parents patiently used the time to find postcards to write to some of our friends back home, I strolled off to investigate what kind of books these places stocked. To my disappointment, none of the stores we went to had an English section, but that didn’t matter too much because, instead, I found Polish editions of the Harry Potter books and spent quite a bit of time flipping through them in order to find and judge the translations of character names.
(Overall, I can report that Poland did a pretty good job and didn’t come up with anything too crazy… 😁)
Also, while I didn’t manage to find a book in a language I actually understood, I did get a bunch of Polish science-fiction and fantasy recommendations from one of the booksellers! Initially, I was terrified when she came up to me and asked me whether I needed help – I generally hate when people do that and having to reply in my horrific one-day-old Duolingo Polish only added to the stress – but then it turned out that she was actually pretty fluent in English and had really similar reading tastes to me. So of course, when I got back to our hotel, the first thing I did was check Scribd to see if I could find any of her recommendations before I forgot them!
Which is how I ended up reading Fiasco by Stanisław Lem. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t end up liking the novel all that much. I mean, the sci-fi aspect of it and all of the moral questions it posed were awesome! The book, which is about a human expedition to an alien planet, holds a very unfavorable mirror to humanity and really got me thinking. BUT IT IS SO FREAKING SLOW!!! It took 150 pages for the expedition to even start, and then all of the stuff that was introduced in those first 150 pages was never even relevant! However, I could probably have gotten behind that if Fiasco had attributed more time to exploring the characters. In my opinion, that aspect was almost completely sacrificed in favor of physics and world-building, and non-character-driven books are just never my thing… Still, if you’re fans of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien (who has similarly nerdy world-building) and Kurt Vonnegut (who explores morality in similarly absurd ways), I think you might really enjoy this one!
Our final touristy stop on Saturday – unless you count the super delicious dinner we had at a Georgian restaurant – was located a few kilometers outside of Poznań, in the small town of Kórnik. A Polish colleague of my dad’s had recommended it to us because he thought it had one of the prettiest castles he’d ever been to, and, in retrospect, I have to agree.
While Kórnik Castle isn’t positively covered in gold like some of the more famous castles I’ve been to, I could genuinely see myself wanting to live there! There’s a music room that’s beautifully airy and bright. An enormous library with gorgeous arches inspired by Byzantine architecture. A huge collection of rocks, shells, and other natural objects and specimen in the castle’s hunting room. A sprawling garden right on the shore of a big lake.
Maybe even more excitingly, though, Kórnik Castle was the site of one of my biggest language nerd moments ever!! It soon became very apparent to us that, once you left the city behind and entered more rural areas, people’s foreign language skills were pretty much non-existent… Which means we had to get by with sign language and Polish. But guys – I actually managed to have a full-on conversation with one of the museum guides about the life of Maria Zamoyska and the Crimean War!! The guide spoke Polish, I spoke Russian, and even though we didn’t catch everything the other person said – WE UNDERSTOOD EACH OTHER!!! 🤯 It was mind-boggling. I mean, people had told me that Slavic languages were closely related, but I thought the relationship between Russian and Polish might be kind of like the one between German and Dutch, which I do not understand at all. I never actually expected the two languages to be that mutually intelligible!
But anyway, let’s get back to the books. Although the boars on the bridge leading over the castle’s moat gave me serious Hogwarts vibes, the overall simplicity of the castle and all of the buck heads on display in the hunting nook reminded me so much of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy that I simply had to choose that! The series follows a royal bastard training to become an assassin, is super political, very character-driven, and absolutely awesome. If you love fantasy and haven’t read it yet – what are you waiting for??
We now come to what was probably my favorite part of our Poland trip. Well, my favorite part apart from all of the language stuff, anyway. A Sunday morning hike at Wielkopolski National Park!
Which is kind of ironic, considering we ended up there rather spontaneously with no clue as to what awaited us. My parents didn’t really have any concrete plans for Sunday, so when I, perpetually doomed to be the family navigator on car trips due to my superior map-reading and orientation skills (😎), mentioned that I’d seen a national park on the map, we just decided to go.
And it was beautiful! The path we took was a roughly five-hour hike that first looped around a lake, Jezioro Góreckie, and then continued on through the woods, giving us plenty of opportunities to observe Polish wildlife. Which wasn’t really any different from wildlife in Germany, but still! The route itself was just so picturesque, and, amazingly, there was hardly anybody there apart from us. Which would never have happened at a place like this on such a sunny day in Germany!
The reasoning behind my bookish pairing, though, relates to the lake. BECAUSE THERE IS AN ISLAND WITH THE RUINS OF A CASTLE ON IT!!! Just like in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, one of my childhood staples! Of course, I was absurdly excited about this, and I was severely tempted to swim over there just to explore. It was probably only the fact that I did not have a swimsuit or towel with me and that I am way too much of a prude to strip down naked in public that stopped me…
After returning to Poznań, we decided to make a stop at another museum. Archeology museums are some of my absolute favorites, so I was really excited to see what Poznań’s had to offer!
Ultimately, though, I’m not completely sure whether this one was worth the entrance fee. It did have several interesting artifacts, but nothing I hadn’t seen before, and besides, the way they were organized had us hopelessly confused! There seemed to be three main foci of the exhibitions – Poland from the early Stone Age to the late Bronze Age, Ancient Egypt, and North African cave paintings, but all of these things were weirdly scrambled. You’d go from one room showing ancient Polish daggers into a room full of Egyptian mummies back into a room with ancient Polish vases, leaving us struggling to identify which country and time period we were in and at an absolute loss as to how the different rooms related to one another.
Of course, this could just be because me reading Polish signs out loud and comparing with Russian simply wasn’t enough for us to get the gist behind the actually ingenious structure of the exhibitions. Kind of like in Agatha Christie’s books, where I’m usually hopelessly lost right until the very end. Like, Death on the Nile? This Egyptian mystery had me completely clueless as to who the murderer was, but once the twist was revealed, everything was suddenly made so much sense and was absolutely brilliant! So I suppose I’ll give the museum the benefit of the doubt as well.
Finally, after a quick break for refreshments at a local café, we set off to our last destination of the day – Park Cytadela, one of the biggest recreational areas within Poznań. It spans about one square kilometer and contains a hodgepodge of different things. There are fields where you can have picnics and play ball, hiking paths that take you into the forest, playgrounds, flower gardens, monuments, statues, and, since the park was built on the site of an old fort, even old bunkers and a military museum.
It was all very interesting – but after two days of continuous walking and sightseeing, I’m afraid I just didn’t have it in me to fully appreciate it 😅 Just like I did not appreciate Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a novel that, in my opinion, contains an assortment of stuff just as random as Park Cytadela. Reading Alice in Wonderland put me into an unimpressed, tired trance that wasn’t all that different from how I felt at the end of Sunday, so even though Park Cytadela probably deserves far better, I’m going with this pairing!
So yeah – that was a bit of what I was up to last weekend! After heading to Park Cytadela, we didn’t really do much beyond having dinner and heading back to our hotel, which we left on early Monday morning for the trip home. So I hope you’ll forgive me for not going into details – all I did was sit in the car and read all day, and you’ll be hearing about those books in my wrap-up. It really wasn’t that exciting!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post despite its rather different format! However, if I bored you too much – please tell me! Then I’ll try to reign in my travel enthusiasm in the future. At least, a little…
If you did make it through all of this, though: Have you read any of the books I mentioned? If so, what did you think of them? What are some of your favorite places you’ve ever traveled to? I would love to know!