You can make family trip memories of a different sort when the kids are grown.
How do Romans manage it? Whether cycling, on scooters, driving recklessly (the rumours of treacherous driving are, unfortunately, often true), but especially, walking, on the narrow, uneven cobblestone streets of their beloved, ancient city, it can be tricky to navigate. This time around, I couldn’t.
On the first day of a three-week family trip to Europe (some in Italy, mostly in Poland), I wrenched my ankle and got a blister as big as the Pantheon, thanks to a long, long day of touring on the Italian cobbles; the history of Rome first, an evening food tour last. I was down for the count; well, for at least a few days, missing the Colosseum, Vatican and other Roman delights. Poor me, I had to sit in our character-filled apartment rental, sip cappuccino and listen to the bells peeling outside my window. La vita e dura…
I became wistful while enjoying my solo bowl of pasta and glass of red vino, content where I sat, but realizing my kids were grown–independent and fully able to manage without tour guide mom at the helm. The many years of camping and cross-Canada tours steering my brood through summer vacations were all over but for the memories; spending time together (or not) as adults would now be the norm.
The best part of the trip for me was our time in Poland. From the beautifully efficient trains (so quiet, so calm, Chopin playing overhead as we pulled into each station), to the very affordable dining (out of this world potato pancakes, cheap, filling soups–delicious, all of it), the country is a joy. I had been to Poland briefly in the late 1980s and again in the mid 90s–a very different country and experience then; pre-European Union and before the benefits that come with the openness to the west. Today’s Poland is as progressive and vital as any other First World Country, while still retaining an old-world charm that entices visitors whether it’s part of their heritage or not.
Of course, the main reason for visiting the country was to introduce my adult kids to family in Poland, folks they’ve never met and now would have a connection to; thank you internet for ways to stay in touch that I never would’ve dreamed possible. That was the goal and it’s what happened; lovely meals and chats with family who live in and near Krakow; a gorgeous, medieval, city that wasn’t decimated during WWII. Hot street pretzels, music from outdoor restaurants in the huge market square, and horses’ hooves clacking on the cobblestones, pulling carriages of tourists on a tour of the old town–it’s an enchanting city.
Family in Nowy Sacz, a couple hours east, toured with us at an ancient church/monastery, and provided a feast of Polish specialties,like Zurek (a sour rye soup with kielbasa and boiled egg), dill-boiled potatoes, pierogi and homemade crumbly sernik (cheesecake). Later, a stop in Warsaw to visit my daughter’s friend Piotr uncovered amazing golompki—massive cabbage rolls of ground beef and rice, drenched in tomato sauce.
Being surrounded by familiar language and the smells and tastes of cabbage, dill, onion, garlic; evoked vivid childhood memories for me. But it’s not only about the food, of course. Taking the kids to Auschwitz/Birkenau (about an hour from Krakow), was a necessary journey to understand the atrocities that took place in the quiet Polish town of Oswiecim during WWII–a history that affected my own family too.
My parents were torn from their rural homes at the start of WWII; both taken with their families to Siberian labour camps. After a few years there, my mother and her family were taken to refugee camps in Africa, and my father joined the Polish Army and fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy with the Allies. Both emigrated to Canada after the war’s end, never returning to their homeland.
We finished our Polish love-fest in Gdansk, (birthplace of the Solidarnosc movement there). It’s a mostly rebuilt city, recreated to look as it did before the bombing of the war years–smelling of the sea and filled with colourful row houses and shops selling Polish amber jewelry.
“When can we go again?” asked son number two. “I loved Rome so much,” said daughter number two. We wanted more. Another trip. And, note to self: better footwear for mom.