Tag Archives: food

Gdansk with the Stars

When I started to plan this trip to Poland I read travel blog after travel blog about the best things to see and do. Knowing myself and how I like to travel, the two non-negotiables on my list of things to experience were culture and nature.

I made up my mind that I would first go north to the city of Gdansk in order to experience what one blogger called “the most charming and romantic city in Poland.” However, as my trip drew nearer I realized that I had booked my flight to arrive over the Easter weekend and that the “charming and romantic” inhabitants of this city were going to be eating eggs and borscht and kielbasa with their families, as I strolled the empty streets and peered into windows of shops whose signs read, “zamkinęty” or “closed.” But I wanted a taste of the city nonetheless, so I started to email anyone that I knew who was Polish to see if they had family who would take me in and celebrate a traditional Polish Easter with me.

No dice.

Two days before I was scheduled to fly I thought that I would send out a few messages via couchsurfing.com and see if I got any replies. I sent out 8 requests and got 7 “declines.” But there was one family who agreed to host me.

At first I only had communication with the father, Mariuscz. According to their profile, they were a family of four–a husband, wife and two daughters. As soon as I accepted the invitation, however, I started to think…I hope this is legitimate. As I boarded the train to Gdansk my thoughts were, this could be great…or this could be a nightmare. Crossing my fingers for my good karma to bring me into the home of a nice Polish family, I got off the train and was greeted with a big hug from Mariuscz and Matilda, their eldest daughter. As we drove back to their house I breathed a sigh of relief as 15-year old, Mathilda, told me that I was their very first couch surfer and that they were so excited to take me in and share their home, culture, holiday and city with me.

When I arrived I met the mother, Patricia, and youngest daughter, Melanie. I settled in and we sat around the table drinking tea and getting to know each other. We shared tales of travels and hiking expeditions. They love to travel and see the world and they have instilled this value into their beautiful, well-rounded and mature daughters.

As we talked I learned that Patricia and Mariuscz met walking on a pilgrimage to the relic of the Black Faced Madonna–a 500km trek by foot from their hometown Gdansk. When they met, Patricia gave Mariuscz the travel bug and they have made seeing their country and the world a top priority for their family. They also told me about a piece of graffiti he did many years ago on the top of the tallest building in Gdansk, that reads “kocham moja Pa” meaning “I love my Pat,”which had become very famous in the city. It’s a symbol of their incredible love, which knows no boundaries, and it’s for all the world to see.

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This morning when I woke up, Easter breakfast was on the table. We had an egg fight and then ate lemon salmon, stuffed eggs, potato salad and desserts until our stomachs couldn’t handle anymore. After breakfast the girls searched for their Easter eggs and then we got ready to go to church.

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Because we knew we had another Easter meal at 2pm, we decided to walk so that we could burn off some of our breakfast. We bundled up and set off in the direction of their church. We had walked less than 300 meters when I stopped dead in my tracks. Low to the ground on a metal highway divider was a trail marker for El Camino de Santiago. To my disbelief, the trail that I had walked 800 km on to Santiago de Compostella in Spain 2 years ago was right outside their front door!

The spirit of pilgrimage came up once the last night, when Mariuscz and Patricia recounted their love story to me. In the back of my head I thought of my own pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, but then quickly brushed it to the side in order to let myself fall in love with their love. This morning, when I saw the marker, however, I was truly astonished. It was like El Camino was calling out to me to remind me that I am always on the way. I felt the magic of the trail once again and my heart swelled. The trail showed itself two more times throughout the day, and I laughed thinking that there was no coincidence. I was meant to be here and meet these amazing people.

After mass we drove to Mariuscz’s mother’s house for MORE food. Seriously, these people have opened their doors and kitchens and hearts to me in a way that is so generous and kind and fattening. I’m going to need to buy some new jeans. I thought I couldn’t be more grateful for their hospitality and sharing of their family’s holiday, but then they offered to drive me into Gdansk and give me a guided tour of their city.

Gdansk is a stunningly beautiful and an amazingly strong city. It was burned to the ground in 1944 by the Russians, who were fighting over the city with the Germans. The devastation was massive and you can still see scars of the war everywhere. However, the rebirth is something like a phoenix from the ashes. It was a reminder to me of the resilience of humanity. Life is not always going to be easy, but sometimes we are meant to be burned to the ground so that we can wear our scars like badges of honor and flourish in the wake of catastrophe.

We arrived back at home many hours later, exhausted from our epic day out. Mariuscz, Mathilda and I squeezed in a workout, and kick boxed against each other in the living room. The end to my perfect day was 10+ punches to the face…and I mean that in all seriousness. This family gets me.

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The gratitude is flowing as always.

Happy Easter to all!

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Attitude of Gratitude–Day 13–A Good Meal

Today was one of those days at work where I logged a solid 12-13 hours. Typically when I pull a long day like this, the last thing I want to do is come home and cook a meal for myself. Usually I’d be way too tired to motivate myself and end up eating a bowl of Fage greek yogurt, a spoonful of peanut butter and some granola and call it good. But because one of my colleagues is here visiting from Boston, I was motivated to whip up a meal for us so we could sit and chat over a bite to eat and a beer.

Today I am grateful for her company, her perspective and the hearty meal that brought us together around my dinner table. Sharing a meal with someone is a very personal experience, especially if it is one you’ve cooked yourselves. I appreciate the opportunity for connection that cooking a meal with someone invites. Moreover, I appreciate the blessing of a full stomach–something that should never be taken for granted.

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Attitude of Gratitude–Day 11–Conversations

This past week has officially been a week of restaurants for me. Too lazy to go to the grocery store and restock my fridge, I have taken the habit of eating out by myself a few meals a week out. Yesterday was one such day.

Around 7pm I decided to venture out for food and found myself at a local watering hole that I frequent. I took my seat at the bar and asked for a menu. An older couple came up and asked if the stools beside me were taken. Being that I was alone, I shook my head and invited them to sit.

I had started my meal with the expectation that I would eat and leave, but I ended up in a 2-hour long conversation talking about everything for prison reform to Islamic feminism to our broken education system. The husband, a captain at a correctional facility, sat directly next to me and his wife, a real estate agent, on the other side of him. He was kind and would listen adding his opinion sparingly. His wife was outspoken and conservative. We disagreed on many things, but our conversation was diplomatic and lively.

Leaving the restaurant with each of their business cards in my hand I felt a sense of gratitude for being able to connect and discuss some really fascinating topics with two absolute strangers. It was an unexpected conversation and it totally made the solitary experience of dining alone not so solitary at all.

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Attitude of Gratitude — Day 8 : Taking the Time, Savoring the Moment

When I cook myself dinner I usually tend to want the whole meal to miraculously appear before me so I can get my eat on as fast as possible. As a result of my impatience,  I cut corners and toss a whole bunch of vegetables into some oil on the wok, mix in some spices and stir.  The end result is a mildly satisfactory meal, as the zucchini usually over cook or the garlic burns from having to sit on the heat long enough for the squash to soften. Tonight, however, as I cooked, I reflected on a valuable lesson I’ve been learning this year — take your time.

I thought back to a few moments in my life where I was encouraged to take my time. One of them was a day of mindfulness at Thich Nhat Hahn’s Blue Cliff Monastery in New York, the other was my journey along the Camino de Santiago. At the monastery we took our meals in silence, chewing our food slowly, enjoying every bite, savoring every flavor, and reflecting on the hard work and the chain of people it took to get that food onto our plates. A meal that I could have eaten in a few minutes took over an hour. The satisfaction that I got out of every bite was tripled, and I realized how full I became half way through a typical portion. I then thought back to the Camino, where everything from your physical being to your mental and emotional state crucially depended on your slow stride. I specifically remember one evening on the trail that I spent sleeping in a small church called San Nicolas. One of my fellow pilgrims offered up some advice in a form of a song from the musical Brother Sun, Sister Moon. He sang,

If you want your dream to be
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely
If you want to live life free
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely

I try to remember these lyrics when I catch myself rushing through things, and seeking  immediate results. I was reminded today, as I slowed myself down and took the time to brown my tofu and cook each vegetable properly, that each moment is a moment worth savoring. And that doing things slowly allows us to be fully present through the action. Not only does it enhance our over all satisfaction, but it also makes the end result more enjoyable as well. The practice of being present is difficult, and I, like many, have a tendency to want the quick route to perfection specifically with relationships, food, body image, work etc.

Thus, today I am grateful to myself for slowing down when my reflex was to speed up. I’m grateful to the beautiful meal that I enjoyed as a result, and I’m also grateful to all the people in my life who have encouraged me to challenge our societies norm regarding perfection and quick results. I will try to incorporate this value into my daily life as much as possible by practicing presence and gratitude for each beautiful moment.

In the words of Tich Nhat Hahn,

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

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