As someone who craves travel more than any other verb, I have an equivalent desire for adventure. I’m sure you’re thinking of the kind of adventure that appears in The Lizzy McGuire Movie…You know, where she hops on the back of a Vespa with a hott guy in Rome, they share gelato, and accidentally eat the same strand of pasta (or am I getting confused with Lady and the Tramp…)? Now, I’m not saying this kind of adventure is unobtainable, but for me, it’s not the most realistic depiction of a European adventure. In fact, I’ve found a common theme in all of my adventures as I’ve traveled: they didn’t happen in a city (or country) that’s known for its glamour. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big, attractive cities like Rome and Paris and London, but what I’ve learned is, the less I know about a city, the more of an adventure I’m going to stumble upon.
It was the end of my semester studying abroad in the UK and the beginning of a two-week stint to anywhere in Europe. I’m not sure exactly how, but next thing I know, I’m stepping out of an airport in Krakow, Poland. The ground was covered in two inches of snow (easily) and no one was speaking English (Wait…a country not catering to the Americans?!). For the first time in my travels, I felt pretty intimidated.
Okay, I must admit, there was a bit more thought in stepping out of an airport in Poland than…no thought; I wanted to see Auschwitz. But, to be perfectly frank, I didn’t know that Auschwitz was in Poland. Nevertheless, my love of WWII history drew me there.
As I walked out of the train stop into center city Krakow, I felt like I had traveled back 50 years or so. Not that anything looked out of date, but the architecture was gloriously romantic. My traveling companions and I trudged through the snow, catching wiffs of fresh made pretzels at the stands on every corner, when we finally found the dirty, old six-story walk up where our hostel was. As we buzzed in at the bottom of the building, I was instantly reminded of that scene in every gang movie where someone got shot. But to my surprise, I swung open the giant wooden door to a colorful, artsy, quaint hostel “living room.” I would later see that this room was a perfect representation of the country right outside of those walls.
Later, I strolled the streets of Krakow and literally couldn’t stop smiling. I had no preconceived notion of what Poland would be like; every corner that I turned piled layer upon layer of context that started forming Poland in my mind. A large chunk of that context includes food: gelato, kebabs, spicy cabbage, salty pastries, rich red wine and THE BEST tiramisu I’ve ever had (I kid you not, it was unbelievable). The graffiti jumped out at you because in a glimpse it had the ability to say something meaningful. Giant busts of political leaders made the city feel regal. Bright colors and the hands of those that crafted their art to sell lined the streets.
Walking through Krakow was like writing a book that was creating an imaginary land. On top of the aesthetics, I found something else central to Krakow. Serenity. My friend Kelsy and I kept gawking in wonder at this place we had never imagined. While the sun was setting, we turned the corner to climb up the road to Wawel Castle. We reached the top of the hill and I turned my head to the right… It was as if I was peering into dream. The pink sunset bounced off the tin roof of the castle and I was overwhelmed with absolute peace. We stole around corners, explored parts of the castle where no one was going, and stayed in constant awe of the beauty and serenity we walked through. Kelsy and I went back to our hostel in (almost) complete silence.
It wasn’t an adventure because I met royalty or the man of my dreams, it was an adventure because I was surprised by ever corner I turned.
Sometimes I have dreams of that sunset from the balcony of the castle. Sometimes I dream of the excitement I felt walking the new streets. But always, I can close my eyes and bring myself back to the feeling of peace I experienced in Krakow.