We Call It Home – Czestochowa, Poland

“Do you mean ‘home’ or ‘home, home’?” is a phrase often uttered when trying to differentiate between Czestochowa and Chicago in our conversations. We’ve developed a confusion between our “homes,” but it wasn’t always that way.

In the last post we talked about our daily home life on sabbatical – the ups, the downs and the in betweens. This time we’ll give you a peak at our home town and surrounding area of Czestochowa, Poland. At first glance its architecture is communist and industrial, it’s filled with churches (60 plus!) including the renowned Jasny Gora, a gazillion grocery stores and more dental offices than I’ve ever seen, but there’s definitely more here than meets the eye.

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The first few months, as we mentioned were a bit tough. The weather was less than ideal and there was a definite lack of green space, no evening paseos and few places to walk. But there were many reasons we chose Czestochowa as our home base, among them, we wanted a place away from tourist sights, away from large groups of expats and a place where we really had to learn to find our way.

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At first we struggled, people on the street weren’t as openly friendly as we were used to, English was harder to come by and the atmosphere was much more serious. Fortunately, we quickly made friends through Mike’s university and they welcomed us with open arms into their homes and lives. They treated us to homemade Polish meals, helped us find grocery stores, took us to the mall, pointed us to good restaurants, told us about different gyms, and helped us find places for the kids to play. While Czestochowa is very different than our home, they made us feel at home.

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Mr. N and Miss A became fast friends with the neighbors and our friends’ children (you may recall Miss A has a good friend with whom she corresponds from her window). Despite our kids’ lack of Polish and their kids’ lack of English, they all share one common language – play. They use the words they each know respectively to get by in their games, which range from chess and Guess Who, to soccer, trampolines and XBox. They play at each others’ houses and in our backyards. They get to share toys from different parts of the world and find those they have in common. They even manage to watch TV – alternating a show in English and then a show in Polish. They’re creating many memories and hopefully building lifelong friendships.

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But it’s not just the kids that have formed friendships. Traveling for extended periods of time in foreign places is amazing, but not always easy; and settling in a foreign land is certainly ripe with challenges. I cannot imagine doing it without our friends. The support they have lent us is priceless. From helping us to set-up our internet and wifi (which was surprisingly challenging), to showing us the best local foodie finds, to planning day trips to the countryside, and of course feeding us (and oh do they feed us!).

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The feasts we have enjoyed!!! Unbelievable!

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The fair they introduced us to this spring alone was a varitable feast! (Not to mention a great place to shop for some local souvies!)

Needless to say we’ve made our way back every time it’s been running! The sausages are delicious, the beer cold and the desserts a-plenty! (And Mr. N is a huge fan of the tripe stew – adventurous boy that he is!)

Honestly though, the biggest gift from our Polish neighbors, is their friendship. Whether it’s been sitting around a dining room table, a living room or a backyard barbecue, having people to talk with, laugh with, and share a beer or wine (or several shots – oye!) with has positively shaped this experience and exceeded all of our expectations and hopes. It’s been easy, relaxing and honestly, like home. And the ability we can have to intuitively understand each other, even when words are hard to come by, is amazing. I cannot imagine this experience without our new friends.

It’s funny to me – our friends – they worry a lot. They worry that we won’t like the food. They worry that their English isn’t good enough (never mind our Polish is terrible!). They worry that we’re bored here. They’re worried that we are homesick and that Czestochowa won’t live up to what we hoped. They worry it’s not as beautiful a city as Krakow or like in Spain. They worry that we didn’t get enough to eat. The list goes on…

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So more than anything, what I hope we can convey to them before we leave, is that they need not worry. We appreciate their concern for us and love them all the more for it. But that’s just it – we love them and we love it here. They have brought us so much happiness. They have hugged us when we needed hugs, taught us so much about their culture and history, and have shown us all the local beauty that can be found. They talk to us in English,  which we don’t expect and find very humbling. I can’t fathom how they do it with such ease – especially when it’s not something they often use. It really blows my mind and we are so appreciative. They have truly changed us, made us better people for knowing them, and I can’t say it enough, they made us feel at home. They became family – and they are the true hidden gems of this Polish city.

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So while our first impressions of Czestochowa may not have been the most glowing of reviews, like anywhere, once you get to know a place – truly know it – there is beauty to be found everywhere. And since spring has finally arrived we’ve been discovering all the more from castle ruins and forest hikes, to outdoor dining and evening walks. As we said, we wanted a place that wasn’t going to be easy, but would be a place we could learn to really live (not vacation). Czestochowa has proven to be all of that, and then some!

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We learned early in this trip to not make comparisons, but rather, observations. You simply can’t compare cultures, countries and histories. It’s apples and oranges. Sure you can make observations, but comparisons are too ripe with judgement. Every culture, city, country and history is different and we believe should be learned and understood on its own merit. We all come from unique places and have both individual and collective stories that make us who and what we are. And like people, some places are easier to understand and get to know, while others take some time to peel away the layers. One way isn’t better or worse than the other, it just is. But what is certain across the board, at least as we’ve observed these past few months, humanity is beautiful in all its differences, complexities, similarities and nuances; and it most definitely has something to teach us.

Had you asked me on a cold, gray day in March if I thought Czestochowa was going to be a highlight of our trip, you likely would have gotten a snarky response from me. (Like I said, I wasn’t always in a good place and I don’t do well with weeks of gray skies.) But over three months in, I can honestly say, this portion of  our trip will be more life changing than any other. We have all learned more than I ever anticipated and we’ll leave here with an experience that is truly priceless – and friendships worth even more!

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I think Miss A said it best of all one evening on our way “home” from dinner, “I like Czestochowa. I could really live here.”

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24 thoughts on “We Call It Home – Czestochowa, Poland

  1. fugemoses says:

    Hi there,
    My wife and I leave in a few weeks to finalize the adoption of our daughter from Poland. She was born in, and we will be staying the majority of our time in, Czestochowa. I was wondering if you had any tips, tricks, and suggestions for our time there?

    Thanks so much,
    ~M

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristy says:

      Hi M! That is so exciting. We have lots of tips we can send your way. Feel free to shoot us an email at eatplayloveblog at gmail dot com and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. How old will your daughter be – a newborn? We can definitely recommend places to stay, eat, sights to see. Congratulations!!!!

      Like

  2. thecompletebook says:

    Not sure how I missed this post.
    Expat life is not always easy for fun, and I am so pleased you are all feeling more at home – good friends make all the difference when you are away from your other home.
    Have a beautiful day Kristy.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Raymund says:

    An exciting part of your family’s life. I know its hard to adjust and I had the same experience when I lived in different countries but it was fun, it was a good adventure and certainly a very good learning experience. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Norma Chang says:

    Czestochowa looks like a beautiful town and i too am glad you and your family are feeling very at home. You have adjusted well and made many friends because you are all very friendly and open minded and always look at things and situations from a positive point of view.
    I stupid question, the table of tools, are they edibles?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Karen says:

    I’m glad that Czestochowa has started to feel like “home” to you all. Gray days can get anyone down but sunshine improves everything…from your mood to your surroundings. I want to wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day, enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Eva Taylor says:

    What a heart-felt post Kristy, thank you for your honesty. This winter was difficult on this side of the pond too, so many grey days. I don’t recall having such a negative effect on me in the past so it must be in combo with this phase in my life. Being a freelancer and at home on so many grey days also didn’t help. I can certainly feel what you went or are going through.

    Czestochowa looks like some of the suburbs of Budapest, my dear Mom had a friend who lived there and we visited when I was 8 and 12. Even my young eyes found it depressive, so much grey (and I’m not talking about the weather either). I’m so glad that you had the opportunity to make new friends to help introduce you to the beautiful side of Czestochowa, I would have had a hard time of it on my own. Your commitment to living on this trip as opposed to vacationing is not only brave but also adventurous and the life lessons you are teaching the kids is worth far more than sitting in a classroom. The kids’ ability and joyfulness to play so well with their Polish friends is a testament to these living lessons. I don’t know too many kids who would alternate English and Polish shows as they are doing. BTW, how DOES one play Guess without the benefit of knowing the language?

    On a practical note, I’m wondering how you will manage all the souvenirs after such a long trip. How do you restrain with those gorgeous hand painted dishes? Or does the US relax the import rules when you’ve lived abroad for as many months as you have? What about weight restrictions on the planes? Or can you ship back your loot? We just bought the most amazing rolling duffle bags that also convert to back packs! They are 32″ so they’ll hold enough (shoes) for our 3-week trip in the fall. I’m beginning to get very excited but I really am trying to reserve it for fear of wishing away the summer which I am still longing for!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristy says:

      Thank you Eva! So happy winter has passed. Way too gray this year for sure. You know the kids (ours and the ones here) have been amazing. They are all so laid back and open to anything. It amazes me! While I have no doubt they are learning a ton, we can’t help but learn from them too. As for our souvies…definitely had restraint, but it is hard! We’ll leave our winter items here (donate them) and the kids school stuff will be done too. That should open a lot of space. What we have bought is light mostly. And my guess is we’ll have to pay a duty on the wine, but shipping is so dang expensive! Your backpacks sound great!!!! I just LOVE backpacks-so convenient. Your trip will be here before you know it! You will love it! (And as for shoes…I’m shopping this week! Open toe season!!!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Eha says:

    Wonderful thoughtful post. Do understand since have had ‘home’, ‘home-home’ and ‘home-home-home’. Methinks since there are so many ‘small’ countries in Europe in such close proximity with people from different races, cultures and with different languages, the need for give-and-take are a given from early age . . . the sharing almost mandatory . . . . and food is usually the easiest to share ! My home country of Estonia is tiny with a beautiful language only allied to Finnish – but I grew up knowing I had to manage at least the four ‘local’ languages . . . in the US I think it is a lot more ‘easy’ to remain mono-lingual. Am so glad your many new friendships are making such a difference to your experience and adding lifelong riches . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristy says:

      It is still amazing to me to cross a border (in such close proximity) and to have an entirely different language. And blows my mind how many languages so many speak! Inspiring for sure! And I am very thankful for our friends too. 🙂

      Like

  8. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles says:

    A beautiful piece Kristy with so many relatables. The big one for me is the idea that there is beauty to be found everywhere and that focusing on comparisons misses the point. I really believe that human nature is the same everywhere we go — good and bad — but if we seek the good we will generally find it and it’s a pretty wonderful thing. x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. sallybr says:

    Home or “home, home” – very simple and efficient way to describe one and the other. I don’t know how long it took me to “make the move” – that is, calling the US my home, home. But I suspect 10 years. It is very hard to erase the “real home” and adopt a new one. I imagine that for my family back in Brazil it could be hard to accept the way I view things now. And it does come with a slight feeling of guilt for me.

    but soon you will be home, home – and with a home away from home always in your mind… simply awesome to live through all this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristy says:

      Thanks Sally! I can relate on a certain level for sure. We do get to come home, home though…another reason we picked a place we had to really immerse. Funny how we find many homes along our paths sometimes (even tiny kitchens in CA!). Xo!

      Like

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