Today I’m bringing you another personal post from my travels this summer. Last year I went to Ireland to discover where my dad’s side of the family came from. I drove all the way up to the small town of Gortahork on the northwestern part of Ireland, saw my family’s tombstones, and got to stay in the house my grandfather lived in. It was such a unique experience that I was determined to do it with my mom’s side of the family in Poland next time I went to Europe.
My mom is from the town of Goniadz, Poland. It’s about 3 hours northeast of Warsaw, and has a population of about 1900 people. There is no direct train to get there, so figuring out transportation without renting a car was quite a feat. I also knew they didn’t speak English in the town, so I was in for an adventure.
How to Get There
Goniadz is a very small, isolated town, so there’s only a few options to get there if you’re staying in Warsaw. The option I decided on was to taking the Polski Bus/Zak Express from Warsaw Plac Defilad (it’s very close to Warsaw Centralna if you took the train in from the airport) to the town of Bialystok (3 hours). From there, I grabbed a taxi from the stand at bus station (~45 minutes and around 200 alt).
Tip: If you get this far, don’t expect anyone to speak English. Luckily I prepared for this and had the map on my phone with the town’s name to show the driver. I was able to follow along as we drove to make sure he was taking me to the right place (which he didn’t at first).
You can also rent a car at the Warsaw Chopin Airport to head there. Google Maps says it’s a little less than 3 hours to drive there, but beware at the time of this post there was construction everywhere. They’ve essentially ripped out the old highway to work on the new one and have detours every few miles. I read about some concerns about safety while driving in Poland, but I didn’t see any problems when I was there. The taxi drivers are a bit crazy though and pass multiple cars at a time, so just always be on the lookout behind you if you’re about to pass a slow car yourself.
Exploring the Town
I got into town really late and went into the only restaurant that was open. I was starving at this time as I hadn’t eaten in hours, so I was really happy they would still serve me. Unfortunately, there was a slight miscommunication and I was given chicken pierogies (I’m vegetarian), but the cheese and potato ones were so delicious once they brought it out I didn’t care. I loved the decor here – it was very traditional Polish with wooden statues and chairs everywhere, and Polish music was playing in the background.
It was too dark to see anything after dinner, so I went straight to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I grabbed my camera and was off to find my mom’s house. I walked down the dirt path along the small houses with the sound of birds chirping. It seemed like I was taken back in time in this town. A few elderly gentlemen were on their morning walk and tried to talk to me, but unfortunately I didn’t know what they were saying.
I knew my mom’s house was across from what was now a cultural center, and within five minutes I saw it on the right side. I quickly scanned across the street and saw the house I’d seen on Google Maps – my mom’s house! It was a pretty neat feeling to be standing in front of this house that my grandparents, aunts, and mom lived years and years ago.
After I’d taken enough pictures, I walked back into the main part of town. A few shops were starting to open, and the shop owners and I exchanged “good mornings” (one of the few phrases I know) as they stood outside. There’s several grocery stores, some speciality stores for meat, and even a bank and ATM further down the street. A bus does come into town too, although I’m not sure where it goes. The next big town is Monki, so that’d be my guess for those who work there or need more shops available.
As I was walking back to my hotel, I saw miles and miles of green past the river. I found out that the Biebrza Polish National Park hugs the town, and you can do all kinds of activities there. There were canoes to rent in the river by my hotel and it looked like you could go pretty far out. If you go further north, you can go hiking and see beavers, birds, and elk. There’s also a 19th century Russian Osowiec Fortress that has underground tunnels somewhere in the park. I’d love to come back here next time I visit.
This was by far my most challenging trip I’ve gone on yet. I was by myself in a town where I couldn’t communicate with anyone that had limited transportation options. It was extremely special to me though, and I’m so glad I pushed past my discomfort to see where my mom’s side of the family is from. I hope to return in the future with my mom to visit together.