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.
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.