Poland is the homeland of my maternal grandparents who were born in Lublin in 1915 and 1916. I traveled to Poland for the very first time in 2009 while I was living in Italy. Fast forward nearly seven years later, once my health began to return, we started to plan our European vacation. Ania, the daughter of my mom’s cousin Elżbieta was going to get married in Lublin. I knew that I wanted us to attend and witness this special moment and I also wanted to give Julian the opportunity to get to know his Polish side of the family.
It was quite a journey we took from Gravere, Italy to Warsaw, Poland. Three trains and a plane later, we met my cousin Piotr at Modlin Airport. From there we rented a car and drove to one of the outer most neighborhoods of Warsaw, “near the forest.”
DZIEŃ DOBRY, BUON GIORNO
Welcome to Poland! A typical Polish breakfast is more on the savory side with smoked and roasted pork freshly sliced, sausages, sliced tomatoes and a selection of cheeses. Hearty, earthy breads and sweet challah bread were accompanied with butter, creamed honey or homemade marmalade and served side by side with a good cup of coffee or espresso.
LATE MORNING SNACK
After an excursion to the local playground where Julian got to know his cousins Dawide and Hanna a little better, we returned to their home for a snack of sweet bread filled with wild blueberries followed by a treat from The Baltics: krówka. Krówka in Polish means “little cow” and is a creamy caramel made from cow’s milk.
POLISH FOOD TRADITIONS
That evening we feasted on pierogies at a wonderful restaurant in Warsaw called Zapiecek. This place was full of families and that evening there was an older woman sitting down giving cooking lessons on how to make pierogies. I managed to catch Dawide making his very own.
Next stop, we moved on to dinner where our feast began with chłodnik, a chilled, summery soup composed of buttermilk, sour cream, roasted beets and pickled cucumbers, garnished with a slice of hard-boiled egg and fresh dill. I have always loved beets and this was truly a knock-out dish for me. Big Ania, Piotr’s wife, promised she would send me her recipe for this soup.
SMACZNEGO! BUON APPETITO!
I ate pierogi after pierogi, getting to know the difference between a Polish and a Russian one, all the while Julian was quite satisfied with kielbasa. All good things must come to an end and with that thought, I sampled an order of sweet pierogies filled with wild blueberries, accompanied with fresh whipped cream.
A FAIRY TALE WEDDING IN LUBLIN
And so, the moment we were all waiting for: the wedding of Ania and Paweł. The wedding took place in the garden of a picturesque hotel. A string duo played the theme from Star Wars as the wedding recessional march and rose buds of every color where thrown at the new bride and groom. May the force always be with the both of you! Mazel tov!
It was so wonderful to see Ania’s parents and Elżbieta’s brother Andrzej and his family. I wish that I could speak Polish so that I could communicate with them all but we shared tremendous hugs and sentiment. And as we spoke with my cousin Magdalena we nibbled on peak-of-the season raspberries and watched her daughter Ala playing alongside with Dawide and Julian. As Magdalena noted, we were all so impressed with how well the “little cousins” were getting along with one another. I think Julian was speaking a third language.
The wedding party lasted into the wee hours and the food was well curated. The sit-down meal was served course by course until about midnight. There was even a children’s menu complete with a sundae for dessert and last, but not least, a play date instructor was hired to keep the children busy with activities such as bubble blowing, jenga, board games and some good ol’ running around.
We stopped to see Old Town Lublin before making the drive back to Warsaw…
We only had one day to see Warsaw, so we made the best of it by getting around on the subway.
Freshly dried sunflowers seeds at a farm stand close to the subway.
The view from Cafe Vincent
And finally, tasting Lody, a well-known Polish ice cream maker. I usually do not order my ice cream in a cone but this time, yes! Chocolate was the way to go and Julian loved it, too.
Our time in Warsaw was coming to an end. Julian was exhausted and was in bed by 5 pm. After dinner we sat down to talk about our family history all the while listening to the music of Frédéric Chopin in the background and sipping on miód pitny, a traditional Polish mead made from fermented honey.
Perhaps we have more questions than answers but there is an undeniable link, that for me, will keep me searching for more answers. My Grandpa Jack lost his mother and my Grandma Paula lost both of her parents when they all perished in a concentration camp near Lublin during WWII. My Grandma Paula lost two of her sisters during the war. We don’t know what happened to them. And as we were speaking more on this subject, the lights went out in the house. Big Ania blew a fuse while ironing some clothes for Hanna or as her Italian name goes, “Bella ragazza.”
Julian slept so much that night…more so than any other night during our six-week once-in-a-lifetime family vacation. He went to bed before cousin Piotr came home from work that night and then woke up after Piotr had already left for work the following morning. Julian kept asking where Piotr was for the entire day. And Julian, who over the years has become very fond of mulino bianco “heart cookies” or batticuori, offered his very last cookie to his cousin Dawide.
I know that we will all see each other again and I believe that our grandparents are smiling down on us from above. Love you all!
E. Wedel, Polish chocolate, since 1851.