This week at school I was privileged to help with an interdisciplinary learning exercise where I worked with a group of students on a short film. While I play a math teacher the majority of the time, it was nice to shift into someone different for a class day. I probably should be dwelling on the fact that I was roped into a feature theatrical role for the film and my final scene was quickly screenshot and posted to social media . . . But that would take away the fun ‒‒ talk about scary.
In the middle of preparing for this special film I offered my camera for use. Little did I know that one of my memory cards kept a reminder of a previous Polish excursion, filmed exactly one year ago this weekend. Fittingly, the footage that remained from my trip to Opole, a small city between Katowice and Wroclaw, was entirely intact including the first four minutes where I had climbed up the city walls and my witty side comments were muted for no other ears to enjoy. Trust me, they were classic.
I remember it all so well from that February weekend in 2023. I was bummed when I returned to my hotel room that night. It wasn’t only from the worst pizza I had ever eaten on Polish soil; I mean how hard is it for an American themed restaurant to use some tomato sauce? No, I was more upset over the fact this side trip to the zoo started off with a bunch of unusable footage. I still don’t know if it was the weather, cold temps, or just bad luck, but that exploration to Bolko island was a mixed bag on camera.
In fact, I was ready to write off the entire trip to Opole, as a giant waste of time. If only the earlier footage was still preserved and my tale of wo from the city center restaurant where the chef messed up my sandwich and then refused to correct the order. Now that was some amazing entertainment. We also had several minutes of me gallivanting around the Venice inspired canals and sidewalks, but all of it was lost.
Fast forward to the present and this time capsule to the second part of my Opole trip is a wonderful reminder on how you can’t judge a city or an area by initial impressions. Walking around Bolko Island, I was a bit underwhelmed. I even said as much on the video, with some extra choice words outside the famous zoo. And yet, venturing around that part of the city left enough of an impression to explore more the following morning.
There are no pictures or films from one of my favorite runs in all of Poland. Truly, running along the Ober and catching glimpses of deer, rabbits, and other wildlife was refreshing and reason enough for me to consider returning to that city. With my spirit renewed from that awesome run, I took a different side street back to the train station. Not only did I find some beautiful architecture, but restaurants and shops that begged for more attention.
To some Opole is the Venice of Poland, to others it’s a no name town with a music festival college students flock to in the summer months, in between the hustle of Wroclaw and Krakow where tourists remain in awe. If you are lucky enough to venture outside the tourist hubs, add this little wonder to your list. Just don’t go in the middle of winter and please don’t be afraid to add some sauce to your pizza.
The strangest thing happened on my travels through Poland. Crisscrossing the countryside led to some amazing adventures and from what I could tell ones that even the locals hadn’t experienced. For me that was a bit odd. I just assumed with the vast train system, everyone and their families had branched out and seen what Poland had to offer. Come on, how could you not visit such hot spots like Rybnik? Bialystok? Przemysl?
Similar to the States, there are people that love to explore and be out and about, while others stay close to their home area. I recall a coworker who hadn’t even been out of Greater Krakow. I think there was a flight to Warsaw, but other than that, zero exploring. I knew expats who settled in Krakow, who hadn’t even been to the Ukrainian border that was a few hours by car or the Baltic Sea for the same reasons - this just wasn’t a priority.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Prior to taking my teaching assignment I had interviewed for a similar role in the northern part of New Hampshire. In that interview we started off with small talk and only one of the four people at the table had been to Rye Beach on the Seacoast. Granted, it was a four hour plus drive away, but the idea that these people grew up several hours away in the mountains, never to see the ocean was a bit mind boggling to me.
One person was eager to be a chaperone for a basketball game because it meant they could go to Keene, a southwestern town on the Vermont border. I never had to consider such things because my family was obsessed with Saturday and Sunday drives. Where some families would go to church, our blessings were found on the open highways, exploring neighboring towns, side streets, and new developments for future food and housing ideas.
Even now you would be pressed to not find one of my siblings, parents, or myself driving an hour to get breakfast and then go drive for a few more hours. I wish I could say this was a Maine thing, but since we were raised in New Hampshire where the thrills of life are closer, that’s not the case at all.
Funny enough, I am in the early stages of planning for a cross country trip. It could be because I’m still sad about never taking that job in 2003 on the reservation in South Dakota and seeing the Black Hills, let alone driving through those corn cropped fields in the central United States. This could become the mother of drives with a route from Maine to Washington DC to the Dakotas and down towards Texas and over to Utah, with a final destination of Arizona. Sure the idea of new content crossed my mind when planning such a trip, but that aside, this is a country built on roads, one meant for exploring and for seeing the many natural wonders. That’s what this is about.
While I have one eye towards a potential long summer drive, in two weeks I will be back in Poland. There is a strong urge to explore and yet also visit places that touched my soul on those many trips I took last year. We will have to wait and see where I end up, which cities and towns pull me in this time around. The important thing though is that I’m going. The hardest thing to do is walk out the door.
Truly. I had to force myself at times last year to go on my weekend adventures in Poland. Even now in Maine, I find myself struggling with the same. It’s so warm and cozy in the cottage and yet there are places to see, feel, and touch. For my fellow travelers, cheers to those that can fight the good fight in this dismal season when the weather is wonky and a blanket is more appealing than a long day of traveling.
As for this guy, time to charge the video camera and grab the walking stick. There’s got to be something or someone worth the adventure, time, and effort.
Call it a travel bug, but even after my return to Maine this past summer, I’m inclined to get out of the woods and visit other places. While I should have explored more of Maine, the call of the sea and other countries is what truly beckoned. This summer fulfilled a Canadian dream of sorts. From a young age I was borderline obsessed with Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps it would be better to say, in love with Sarah Stanley from Road to Avonlea - a television show inspired by Anne of the Island and her tales. And yet until my mid twenties Sarah or Anne, both had that siren appeal and a life that was more than just intriguing.
Ironically, while I watched the tv shows and movies more than a handful of times, I didn’t even pick up the books until last year. That is a story for another day . . .
My family would tell you how I always dreamed of life on Prince Edward Island and how it was going to be my place, my spot, the holiday destination or maybe more in years to come. Adolescence shifted to young adulthood and onto middle age with broken promises and no time spent on that special island. Finally, after years of pining, I was able to make this long awaited trip.
Dare I say I was disappointed? I don’t think that would be fair, but a lifetime of expectations fell short of reality when traversing an island of farms and beaches. We could always blame it on the company and the crappy weather. And yet I doubt I will return, because on the drive to the red shoreline beaches of PEI, the stopover to Saint Andrews by the Sea took me by surprise.
Whether it was the familiar streets, the colonial feels, a glimpse to my youth spending time on Martha’s Vineyard or even historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Saint Andrews has that welcoming vibe where I felt at peace.
To that end, the trip to PEI was shortened only to have a second stop over at this seaside hamlet, a vacation spot for many, and a historic place where those loyal to the King of England left to settle during the Revolutionary War or War of 1812. It was one or the other.
The point being is that we all have dreams to pursue, places we wish to explore and see. Sometimes the places we think we need to see, are at most brief stopovers, to those haunts we didn’t even consider, where our souls sing the loudest and where we know the memories will last a lifetime.
Saint Andrews is that place for me. I still yearn for some time with Sarah or Anne, but only if they want to meet me in New Brunswick. Where have you always wanted to go? Have you found that the journey to that final destination took you elsewhere? To a place that you hadn’t even considered?
Full disclosure - the blog below is actually from a year ago when I first traveled to this magical spot in Ireland. With a second trip now complete, I wanted to share my old words and have an accompanying YouTube video for you to watch this year's adventure.
I’ll be straight with you as much as I might say I’m a hiker, I’m not. I love walking, especially on paved trails, but the idea of hiking upwards is not exactly a tempting activity. Part of this might be due to my love of running. I know there are more potential hiccups when scaling mountains or rocky surfaces. With one roll of an ankle, I’m out of commission for a few weeks or a month. At this point in my life, I’d rather be able to run.
That being said, I have hiked on shorter trails and along lakes and rivers in New Hampshire. If you ask me if I have done any of the 48, you’ll get a strange look on my face. I feel like I have by watching Northwoods Law and all the rescues they have done, but I know enough to not even joke about climbing Mount Major.
I’m kidding of course, I know Mount Major isn’t anywhere close. The serious hikers are just that serious about their hiking. As much as I like being out in the elements, two to three hours running, the idea of a six to seven hour hike seems daunting even to me. That being shared, I hoped when I was in Ireland to do a cliff walk. That was penciled in from the beginning.
If I couldn’t figure out a way to go to Cornwall, then Dublin would be my compromise and I would find a way to walk along cliffs that looked out onto the Irish Sea. Originally, the plan was to do Howth. Several work colleagues mentioned the beauty of the hike and the fact it was a couple hours at most with restaurants on both ends.
Truly if the hostess at my Airbnb hadn’t said anything I was all primed to hit the Howth trail that Saturday morning. After a good conversation and some prodding, I decided it would be more of an adventure to take the train across Dublin to the other side of the bay where Bono and Enya reside in their palatial homes. To get a different perspective of the city and the coastline, was too good for me to pass on.
Unlike Howth which I could see clearly from Bull Island, I had no preconceived notions on Bray and what to expect. I didn’t even know it was the first summer resort town in Ireland until I read the sign post explaining as much. The only information I had was to take the train to Bray and follow the water to the trail. There wasn’t anything else for me to go on. Greystones was the final destination, that is if I could find my way.
Downtown Bray reminded me of many seaside communities and brought a smile to face with their restaurants, colored houses, and Victorian brick homes. In the distance I couldn’t miss the cross that looked down from afar. Even in the video I made, you hear me make a comment about how I would be perfectly content just hiking up there for a look and calling it a day.
Little did I know my words would be fortelling as my fortunes to hike to Greystones were diminished before I even got going. A rickety and easily passable fence closed off the trail I intended to take. Not following the rules, I cut around and figured I could hike part of the way at least. Those bright Irishmen knew of my intentions. Not more than a three minute walk and a few bends in, they put up a heavy duty metal gate to keep walkers like me away from the landslide. Unless I was willing to scale a rock face and take my chances sliding across to the other side, it would be for naught.
I wish I could say I was upset, but being by the Irish Sea and getting a glimpse of a smaller town in Ireland was already a win in my book. Prepared to head back to the beach and people watch, I might have done just that until an older gentleman stopped at the gate. We chatted for a bit as he was about to set out for his daily two hour walk. This was his post heart attack routine to stave off any recurrence.
The trail to Greystones was closed indefinitely with over three tons of fallen rock to contend with. Only from his recommendation did I find out that hiking to the cross would take me to Greystones. He mentioned a trail, a gate to a farm, another gate, and then down to Greystones. While it would be more difficult and longer, the views would be far superior to anything I would have seen on the original cliff walk.
With two bottles of water and snacks, I set out for this hike. I had no clue how long it would take or how complicated it would be. The initial steps seemed easy enough until I saw the muddied trail of slick rocks and roots. Never one to go on the beaten path I looked for a side trail knowing it was a matter of when I took a spill, especially with a camera in one hand.
Thankfully, I saw a deer trail, a side route littered with leaves that branched out away from the main route. I figured it couldn’t be any worse and aside from the log I had to climb under, I was right. My quads and hammies would tell you otherwise as the trail got steeper and rockier, but it was manageable. Dare I say it was actually fun?
I forgot about the amazing views. I was able to see the mountains, the valley, Bray, and of course the ocean. By the time I made it to the base of the cross, I lost all ambition to touch the structure, let alone take a picture. No, I was focused on the trail, the road ahead, and the gate to the farmer’s pasture.
This was when I saw the real Ireland. I’m not just talking about the huge cow patties or the sea breeze slapping me in the face. I saw the rolling hills, the reds and yellows of the bushes, and well worn paths. I felt like I was in a movie trekking along on this dirt path over the ridge line to wherever my feet would lead me.
Bull Island was a treat, but this was idyllic.I didn’t even make it to Greystones. I hiked far enough to see the cove and the water line, but the desire to trail blaze and cut back across the way I came was too great. Now granted, the briar patches that cut my legs up might tell a different story or the troop of senior women parading along the one way trail, but all and all it was a great hike.
If I knew hiking was something like this, I might have taken up this hobby earlier. Here’s to finding the next Bray to Greystones route and to seeing what beauty other countries have lurking outside their city centers.
For the last month I have made it a point to write something concerning my most recent travels. The last four weekends have been filled with flights, train rides, and walking. While I had the best intentions in my ambitious schedule, I have to lay back and think about where I was last weekend.
Understandably this is a good problem to have, a blessed one actually. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some trendsetter, far from it, as my trips are budget friendly at best. Watch some of my videos, it’s not like we are eating at five star restaurants or staying at the best hotels. These trips are more of where I can walk and explore within reason.
After many years of staying close to home (at least within driving range) and living the Dave Ramsey dream of “beans and rice” I haven’t had the opportunity to see and do what my soul has been craving. These last few months have been wonderful and ones that I will be forever grateful for. This was a major reason why I took my current teaching job in central Europe, to have this opportunity to see all these places.
I snicker a little knowing that my recent travels have brought a slew of new memories and some have nothing to do with the actual location and planned touring areas I visited. Thankfully, I have caught much of it on camera and put it out there for all those that find their way to my channel.
Some highlights worth mentioning - my return trip to Warsaw after more than five years away was a dud but running in the rain for that last forty minutes in Lazienki Park was phenomenal. I loved seeing the palace and running through the gardens and forest. I laughed so much at the pro Ukrainian protest paint job across the street from the Russian embassy. You had to be there to see what it was. I might not have even noticed it in those dark wet hours of my morning run had that nut job on the scooter not screamed and raced down the sidewalk, forcing me to jump out of the way and take a breather.
Częstochowa was overwhelming with crowds fighting to get into the monastery. I read about the quiet rules for visiting the place, truly, the thousands of pilgrims had other plans. I thought I would have some respite, but the place was nonstop. Thankfully, there was some foresight in booking a hotel room at a castle in nearby Lubliniec for the night. If only I had known there would be a wedding scheduled that very evening. Polish weddings are not for the meek and their love for dance music across all genres is extraordinary. I should know as I found myself sitting in the courtyard after a long evening walk, listening to those familiar lyrics of Mr. Vain transform into a Kenny G medley. My favorite moment in Lubliniec was finding a forest trail on the outskirts of town. Running in this forest of birches was serene and a welcomed surprise.
Katowice - the search for Spodek the spaceship was fun for a variety of reasons. It was my first time really testing out the new video camera and realizing that sometimes the best things happen on the train. The walk through Katowice went well enough, but truly meeting up with the group of moms from Szczecin who were on their way to a Backstreet Boys concert was classic. It was something out of a movie or book. I had no clue I would be singing “I Want It That Way” and other songs for the next hour with this dynamic group of women.
Riga was a complete culture shock for me. When I felt like I was getting used to things, another trigger would cause me to be overwhelmed again. My favorite moment was actually leaving the city, sitting in the old bus station with the pink walks and the grandmother manning the bathroom kiosk. The second best moment was seeing the beauty around me on the bus ride towards Estonia. Truly, I wanted to get out and venture into the forests, the lakes, and the Baltic Sea. I know at some point I will return to that country for that sole purpose.
Estonia was what I needed after feeling shell shocked in Riga. The place wasn’t complicated, the beaches were therapeutic, and the running was perfect for those moments. As a whole my time there was pleasant, and my favorite moment would be minor to some. The accordion statue and his accompanying music was a delight to hear on my walks. When I was struggling one night, hearing the music put me at ease.
Next on deck was Ireland no less. I wish I had more time there and that I had worked out whatever residual mess had impacted me on my Baltic Sea tour. Nevertheless, the trip itself was a major success and that day hiking in Bray will be forevermore a highlight. I’m stoked the normal trail was closed and I got to scale the mountain to the cross, and of course onto the farmer’s land. Talk about living out a dream. That’s what that journey was for me. Without my Airbnb hostess mentioning Bray, I would have missed this entire episode.
After a weekend in Krakow, I hit the road again to Gdansk and Sopot. Both were familiar to me, so much so I felt like I was visiting a childhood home. Seeing Wojtek the Polish war hero was a highlight. I felt like an idiot, realizing that I had run by his namesake at my favorite park in Krakow days earlier, let alone the night before.
What stood out the most though was a missed opportunity on my end. A lesson learned perhaps, but I dropped the ball on what could have been a great time and meeting, and for that I have much regret. With that written though, as I rode the train back to Sopot and then walked along the molo, reconnecting with one of my students made the entire trip. There are some students you pull for more than others, that you want nothing but the best for. This was one of those conversations.
Five days later, I was back on a plane looking for Kerfus and getting to check off Germany for real this time. This was a weird trip with a ride of emotions. Even my runs were clusters because I kept getting turned around on their winding trails and the lack of distinguishable landmarks in the dark. I managed well enough though but the palace I wanted to visit was no Peterhof. I took more interest in the Mandarin duck I spotted along the water’s edge and a heron or stork that stood in the cold chattering away. The grazing goats or sheep, I can’t seem to tell the difference at this point for whatever reason, were a delight.
Even the Christmas markets were failures for me, but the Anglican church market was a delight even though I didn’t have any cash on me and was far too tired to stay more than twenty minutes. Nevertheless, the drum and bugle corps was awesome and made me smile beyond comparison. And yet even with several cool moments on the streets of Berlin, exploring summer homes, and finding places of solitude within a bustling metropolis, running into the same fox two nights in a row was tied with an escalator ride at the airport for top traveling moments.
This just proves that we can plan our trips, but we can’t truly know what will define them or what events will stand out the most. It is far more important we remain present, and take what we can from the experience bad or good. Being able to see other places and get glimpses into the lives of residents from the past and present is a gift unto itself, and one that we can carry with us in the days to come.
Meet Mr. Jon
- a traveler at heart who loves a good story and walk. Jonathan has over twenty years experience in independent publishing. While he prides himself on crafting a good story, nothing truly beats an adventure and a camera.