I experience one week of solo travel in Poland from May 28th to June 3rd. Listening to the locals gave me an interesting picture of a country that has suffered greatly in the past and is currently witnessing history in the making.

In Belarus, I only stayed in hostels and my language barrier prevented me from having many deep discussion with the locals. After that, it was very refreshing to arrive to Poland and stay with CouchSurfing hosts again.

My host in Warsaw, Marcin, was quite overwhelmed and stressed by his work, so he didn’t have time to show me around the city. We still had lots of interesting discussions at his place, as he bemoaned the communist era (“Was something better back then? No, absolutely nothing.”) and expressed his concerns about the political role of Jarosław Kaczyński.

Jarosław is the identical twin brother of former Polish president Lech Kaczyński who died in an airplane crash in 2010. According to Marcin, it seems like the survived brother now tries to be “sanctify” his late brother by any means possible, and this sort of cult of personality doesn’t seem like a good starting point for domestic politics.

Why Poland is awesome? Lech Wałęsa posing in front of the cross and a painting of Pope John Paul II

Another fine example of the strange politicians of Poland. The first elected president of the Republic of Poland, Lech Wałęsa, used to post pictures like this one on his microblog at the Polish website Wykop.pl.

Even though Marcin was quite busy, I was very happy with my CouchSurfing experience with him. Now that I travel solo without a permanent place to call home, it felt very homely in a sense when he just gave me the key and told me that I could come and go as I wanted. When I wasn’t the center of all attention, it made me feel like a resident and not just a guest for a few days.

President Lech Wałęsa posing with deer or moose horns behind his head.

And here’s another one of his photos! Sadly, president Wałęsa stopped posting in Wykop a few month ago.

A great thing about this whole trip is that I get to meet people I haven’t seen in years. In Warsaw, I met with my Polish friend Ludmila whom I had not met in… maybe six or seven years? We did a long bike trip in Warsaw and Ludmila showed me some less-touristy parts of the city, which was a lot of fun.

Solo travel in Poland. A peacock posing for tourists in Łazienki Park, Warsaw.

This peacock knew in Łazienki Park knew how to pose almost as well as Lech Wałęsa.

To me, Poland seems like a country with sad history and uncertain future. World War II and the communist era caused a lot damage that the country has not completely gotten over with. And now there’s again a lot of political turmoil in the country. The current president and government represent right-wing politics that suppress LGBT right, restrict abortions and emphasize conservative Catholic values. Some even believe they’re turning Poland away from democracy.

Of course, the current government cannot only be blamed for the country’s turbulence, as the previous leaders also got their fair share of criticism. It’s interesting to see where Poland is going right now.

A girl selling balloons that blow in the wind in the Old Town of Warsaw.

The Old Town of Warsaw was all but completely destroyed in World War II, so most of the buildings there are reconstructions.

After leaving Warsaw, my solo travel in Poland continued in Wrocław near the Czech border.

I had another delightful CouchSurfing experience in Wrocław (also known as the-town-that’s-name-no-tourist-can-pronounce-correctly). I once again felt like home as I played board games and listened to stories about life in Poland from my wonderful hosts Kajetan and Agnieszka. My visit to Wrocław actually felt too short, as I only stayed in the city for two nights.

After one week of solo travel in Poland, it was time for me to pack my backpack once again and head to Prague, Czech Republic.

A street musician playing a keyboard with a horse mask in Wrocław, Poland.

A street musician in Wrocław. With a horse mask. Of course.

A miniature dwarf statue in Wrocław with a saw blade. One of the many sights I saw during my one week in Poland.

Over 100 miniature dwarf statues in Wrocław are there to remind people that weird antics in Polish politics are not a new phenomenon. Near the end of the communist regime, locals would rebel and hold demonstrations dressed as dwarfs and Smurfs to ridicule the leaders.

(To find out more about Wrocław’s dwarf, I recommend you check the Wikipedia page of Orange Alternative and watch this amusing YouTube clip about the events.)