Travel and music are pretty much one and the same thing to me. Every trip has an album or a song that becomes more the adventure than the adventure itself.
I thought I was ace at figuring out music for travel adventures till I met Jacek.
Ola, Oskar and I were sitting at a café in Zakopane when we met Jacek. I was on an international exchange program in Poland and was staying in Poznan with an absolutely charming Polish family. My hosts took me camping in the mountains. We trekked up some hills, dined at this stunning café every night of the week, lots of weird kinds of food all the time (heard of pork tongue chopped up in a soup served cold and pink?), lots of talk – mostly fumbling between understanding Polish and English but understanding so much more than the fumbles, but let’s skip to that café in Zakopane when we met Jacek.
So there we were soaking up some sun and eating our eleventh plate of pork momos, wondering how to leisurely waste an afternoon instead of climbing up another hill when this red bearded guy sitting alone on the next table asked us if the momos were the only great thing on the menu. He may have noticed us not being full even on the eleventh plate. Now I don’t really remember how it happened, but a few minutes later, we were sharing our twelfth plate with this stranger at our table and getting to know each other like we were long lost friends.
He was French. He was traveling alone and was wandering about by himself before meeting a bunch of his friends two weeks from then. He ordered some soup and told us about his six months work and six months travel life – he lived the dream – and told us about his backpacking plans in Poland. We happened to mention that we were canoeing on Brda as soon as we went back to Poznan and he said he wanted to do it too.
He seemed quite interesting, so we invited him with us. We were nine of us and were anyway looking for a tenth so we’d even out in the canoes. He looked happy about the plan. So it was set. We would meet him in Poznan and he would drive with us to the banks. Ten days of canoeing and camping and then head in our own directions after.
Spit. Shake. Done.
We spent quite sometime chatting at that restaurant and after a couple of hours we figured we should move. We exchanged numbers and decided to meet in exactly eight days.
Fastforward eight days. We got about two calls from Jacek in the time. Once to ask exactly how long the car journey to the banks was, and the second time to confirm that and where we were to pick him up from.
We reached the mall where he was waiting.
“Hey you guys!”
We were off.
He offered Matej, the friend who was driving, a CD. Said he was sure we’d like the music and he’d made it specially for the journey. Matej didn’t know if he wanted to, but he played it anyway. First song, Vampire Weekend. We had a fantastic music talk almost all the way in the car, the rest of the people in the car joining in a chorus to the background music playing.
This boy could take the whole figuring playlists to a neurotic obsessive level. If he was shot with a crumble gun, the little Jacke pieces would be musical notes.
And I’ll tell you how I know. Every playlist on his iPod had a purpose. Plus he had a couple of playlist just for the canoeing trip. He’d got his dock, and he had music for every little thing that was planned on this adventure.
Also, the CD that was playing in the car had been made with such precision for the entire three hour drive – the reason he called to confirm how long it was going to take in the car. And the last song came on the moment we reached the banks. I sound like a fangirl, it’s probably because I am one.
It’s been six years since I met Jacek. There’s been a lot of travel since. And for every journey there has been a playlist. I’m never without music. And it’s all because of him. There’s a feeling that fills you up when you listen to your music in blur. The silence that you feel when there’s movement outside and you’re inside, it’s what I love the most.
Jacek and I lost touch over the years, but almost every birthday he sends me a playlist and that sums up to be my favourite music for the year.
That canoeing trip down the river Brda is going to be etched in me forever. It’s one of those times when all I want to do is put those memories in a box and keep it celebrated on my bookshelf.
We forgot to pack food but we had beer enough for a country. We forgot to pack warm clothes but we had one pocket knife amongst the ten of us that we used to cut out twigs to build a fire. We forgot to shut the tent flaps one night while sleeping on the banks by the side of the river and got eaten raw by horseflies, only to wake up with our faces twice the size of the moon. We hitch hiked at night to get a decent meal and ended up spending an entire night with a bunch of merry college girls on a road trip while our canoes took a nap in the tents. We rented out treehouses to stay in one night..because we could and then lost half our clothes in the river while we were bathing in it because how can anyone keep their eyes open while shampooing in the Brda.
I could write a book on how to look like a refuge when you go out camping like kings. But that’s for another time.
If you’re in Poland, make sure you have enough time for this adventure and thank me later – even though you’ll want to curse me a little bit after those horseflies get into your tent.
I’ll leave you with some must-do things in Poland:
OTHER THINGS YOU HAVE TO MAKE TIME FOR IN POLAND
- Go to Zakopane and climb every mountain (read like the Mother sang to Maria in The Sound of Music). These cafes have the nicest food and even better wine.
- Canoe down the Brda. For everything you’ve read you will experience and it will make every adventure of yours seem trivial.
- Go mushroom picking and pinecone picking while wearing one of those capes. And also go fishing and eat the fish you fish. There’s something very satisfying about learning how to sustain yourself without depending on anyone else at all.
- Go for a Jazz piano concert in some basements of some clubs in Krakow. It may seem a little odd, but there’s some of the best music I’ve ever heard there.
- The Wieliczka Salt Mines are spectacular. Everything under there is made of salt. You could lick the walls to check, but I would suggest you don’t. Instead, marvel at all things salty. Even the chandeliers are made of salt. Even the floors are made of salt. Even the stairs..I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s really impressive.
- People in Poland have massive houses, usually even with a side house on their land that they call the guest house. And they are kind enough to let you rent the house out for an absolutely lovely Polish lifestyle experience where you get to live in a Polish house and eat Polish food (that you reasonably pay for ofcourse) and live the Polish life. The more you get to know people when you get there, the more you would know about who’s willing to let you use their house for a holiday.
- There’s a number of castles. But the one you shouldn’t miss would be Ksiaz.
- This is not at all a happy thing to add to this lovely list of merry things. But the Auschwitz Concentration Camp is a drive away from Krakow. When I was there, I saw a red rose, still almost bright, caught between the electrified barbed wire. It’s eerie and it fills your heart with sorrow and this is not a place for the weak. Every movie you will ever see, every book you will ever read will never be able to capture that feeling of aghast and pure desolation that you feel when you enter those gates that scream out Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free). It’s not pleasant. But it’s not avoidable.