I had never expected to come to Poland. Poland is VERY far from my country home town in Victoria Australia. It was never on my radar, never a place that I knew much about. That is one of the joyful and exciting things about our crazy new life. Our journey was taking us down unknown and unexpected paths. To places wild and new and old and completely foreign. Did we know any Polish? No. We quickly learned the essentials, although I'm sure our pronunciation was horrible!
Hello - dzień dobry - (pronounced a bit like 'djen dobry')
Thank you - Dziękuję Ci - (jen cu etchy)
Where is the toilet? - gdzie jest toaleta - (djeyest toaleta)
and most importantly,
How much is this ice-cream? ...Actually I have no idea how to say that, but I can convey a great deal with my face and body language, haha.
We had chosen southern Poland for a month long sojourn. Let me clarify - a month sojourn in the mountainous forests of a country that we knew practically nothing about! But we were trying to be brave and we were willing to discover all sorts of new places in the world around us. We needed a little more wild and freedom for our crazy kids. I had spent months in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands trying to get a little culture into my kids and had spent a large chunk of that time shushing them in churches, trying (and failing) to get them to wait patiently in long lines, looking for public toilets and dying of embarrassment whenever they dived headfirst into yet another public fountain.
The Czech Republic had given us a taste of freedom and we were not done yet. So we booked the cheapest and most adorable place that we could find on Airbnb. It was a little cottage in the woods. A little cottage in the woods with a blue roof.
Now I realise how silly I am, but I'm ok with it, I own it.
I realise that not many women would leave everything that is familiar, comfortable and safe and journey off to the other side of the planet with a husband, baby and 4 kids in tow, hardly any money and barely a plan...
I realise that basing essential important decisions (such as where shall we live, eat, travel to and what shall we do with our time) on things like - one's favourite novel, a painting, or how closely a place looks like a fairytale...might be ridiculous. IS ridiculous. But I don't care. We get one crazy wild beautiful life here, and it is full of heartbreak and challenges no matter where we are, so I choose to occasionally live in a little cottage in the woods with a blue roof and a laughable amount of fairytales and stardust in my eyes.
Self-proclaimed ridiculous? Yes
We set out like new-born adventurers and made our way to our new home.
As it turned out, that little cottage was not so much 'in the woods' as it was next to a great and ancient forest! My kids were in love. And so was I, because for three days straight they disappeared into that forest and only came back for supper, like in an Edith Blyton novel. Who knows but that they met Moonface and pixies and climbed twisted ancient trees that spoke to them through the rustle of the leaves.
We'd had great plans to spend the winter in a cheap ski resort somewhere in Eastern Europe and so we had hauled a giant bag of the bits and pieces of snow clothing that we owned. This bag had cost precious amounts of space on our flight over and also in our car, but I had grand dreams of my kids all emerging from our trip as confident skiers...
Well, that never happened. Hmmm, sound familiar? It all sounds a bit like the whole Guitar thing (more to come on that)...and map reading thing...and pretty much every other grand notion I come up with. Anyway, it wasn't an entire loss, because those snow boots and ski pants sure came in handy when my kids wanted to clamour through the Polish forest in the brisk Autumn mornings.
It really was wonderful. They were completely content, those wild children in the wild forest. They each made a 'home' of their own in different areas and they would visit each other and play make believe all day. One of them lived in the 'stone quarry' and would trade the stone for some soft moss from another's home. They would run inside to beg for food and then disappear again. We were going through a 'butter and vegemite on bread' phase because as it turned out, Poland had the best bread in all of Europe! Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside...aaah perfection. We used up the last little bit of our coveted vegemite jar in bready delight.
This blissful state of childhood creative play of course did not last the whole month, it was three or four days straight and then occasionally after that. But all of my kids remember that place with happiness because of the freedom to play in the forest.
Our home was full of character. The internal heating was powered by a coal boiler, so Ross had to go and light the boiler in the cellar...but it was all clogged up and over the first few days it kept going out. Ross called the owner who then sent a friend around to help work out what the problem was. The guy spoke Polish and Russian, Ross spoke English and Japanese. But my husband has a gift for communication and somehow they worked together, laughed together, and got completely covered in coal dust together. Ross learnt that his new friend was a Judge, but that he actually didn't get paid very much. He was a super friendly huge hulk of a man, like a Russian villain from the movies but in this case he was the good guy. He had giant hands that could crush a man's skull but thankfully in this case he was attacking the defiant coal and not my husband.
The house had a bottom floor with a cottage style open plan living and kitchen, stairs leading to a few bedrooms and a tiny bathroom, and then stairs up to the top floor in the attic where three of my kids all slept together. We decided that the cottage with the blue roof was the place to bring out our cuckoo clocks, one downstairs and one in the attic, and so the days were filled with tiny birds chirping the time. I remember when we arrived and I was setting up in the kitchen, I took some time to gaze out the window to the forest beyond. So much history, so much story. I wondered what our story would be.
We made a little fire out on the front lawn and my kids whittled sticks, toasted sausages, and ran and played.
One morning we woke up to horses grazing on the lawn.
We explored the neighborhood. Along a path into the forest and poking between the trees were the most beautiful homes. Who lived there? What were their lives like? Why did they choose to live deep in the forest? Were they obsessed with fairytales too? Sadly I never got these questions answered as the language barrier stood in the way. Plus, now that I think of it, in the forest I saw those beautiful secret houses, but no people about...
We walked in the opposite direction and towards the nearby town. Still the gorgeous houses but less secret and we did glimpse the occasional person. My favourite things were the little windows that poked up out of the roofs like mushrooms.
We walked into the village and let the kids play in the local playground. Then we ran around like crazy people on the football oval in an attempt to tire out those crazy children of ours.
Our Airbnb host had told us about some delicious local food and of course you know, we are all about the food! We ate hearty soup in bread bowls and had our first taste of Polish Pierogies - little moon shaped dumpling with surprise fillings. The fillings were a surprise because we couldn't read what we were ordering. We would just point, smile, and hope for the best. Some were filled with mushroom, others with cheese or meat and they were absolutely delicious!
On my birthday I chose to sketch a picture of Zahli in the forest and then we went as a family into the nearby town of Karpacz. Because it was my birthday I got to indulge and look through all the knick knacks in every little touristy shop and then we finished the day with perogies.
Oh, and yes, I wore my adorable but oh so impractical fox shoes that I had deemed essential when packing for an overseas family gap year...
But I don't think too many people stared at me, I had my son distracting everyone with his ninja attire and impersonations, lol.
The town of Karpacz has a dragon devil creature as its mascot.
It also has an outdoor exercise area that was great for the kids to burn off a little steam. Well, it was great until Amira managed to knock her leg and remove a chunk of flesh. We bound her up and approached outdoor gyms with a lot more caution from then on.
Poland also had us going to the doctors for my oldest daughter, she had an ear infection. The Doctor spoke Polish and French, I spoke English and some Arabic...so we got by with some rather skillful self-made sign language. He was very patient and we worked together to figure out how much dosage of medicine to give her, how often, was she allergic to anything and so forth. Ross came in the room towards the end and like an idiot I remembered that he spoke some French, but he only confirmed what the doctor and I had already worked out. Go us!
We had challenges and struggles as always, but were reminded of how blessed we were. Once we were grocery shopping and to begin with we all sampled the pastries on display. Poland was so wonderfully cheap that we could afford to splash out on the fun stuff occasionally.
We then did a big shop and hauled it back to the car. Our shopping consisted mostly of fruits, vegetables, some meat and lots of that yummy bread. As we were loading it into the car, a lady approached us pushing a shopping cart. She was crying, upset, and mumbling in Polish. She was dressed in raggedy clothes and from smell and appearance, she had wet herself. We couldn't understand what she was saying, but she looked very needy. We brought out bread and fruit and put it in her trolley cart and she cried some more and then walked away. It was a moment that we have not forgotten.
Poland was a totally new environment. New language, new food, new customs, new history. We were experiencing a whole different side of our travels, we were in the wild mostly alone. We had each other and that was pretty much it. On some days it sent me mad and I craved female companionship like crazy or at least some other humans to interact with. But on other days it was wonderful. The days when my kids played in the forest and let their imaginations run wild and when we created so many memories as a family are infinitely precious.
I don't think that we would choose to live like that forever, I think just because of the isolation. We are definitely the wild and free type, but we all love people too much and we would miss having friends or family in our lives if we lived in the middle of a foreign forest.
It is definitely not your usual type destination, but we weren't on a holiday. We were living and exploring and discovering the world together. And at that time in our lives, a little cottage in the woods was just the thing. A little cottage with a blue roof nestled next to the deep dark forest of southern Poland. I could never in a million years have guessed that my life would lead me there.
The memory of it is like a dream.