Learning Polish, Playing Table Tennis, And Making Friends In Beautiful Poznan, Poland

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After finishing my 6+ month bike tour across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, The Isle of Man, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, I spent a month living in Sibiu, Romania and then flew to China and Taiwan for a 2-month-long bicycle touring adventure in that country.

Taiwan was great, but I wanted to get back to Europe to do some work, make some new friends and wait out the winter. After all that cycling and non-stop travel in 2014, I was ready for a good, long break! So I made plans to spend a full 2.5 months in the beautiful city of Poznan, Poland (a city that in recent years has become my unofficial second home).

In order to get to Poznan, however, I had to first fly from Taiwan to Shanghai, China. I spent a night in Shanghai, then flew to London, England and spent another night there (While in England I was egged by a group of local teens – which was a great way of being welcomed back into a country that I don’t really like that much in the first place). Then, on Christmas Eve (2014), I flew to Berlin, Germany and checked into a hostel, which is where I spent the following three nights (including Christmas Day).

For years now I’ve been wanting to see the Christmas markets in Berlin, so this was a good opportunity for me to see what all the fuss was about. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. Berlin was almost completely empty and the Christmas markets were a bit of a bore being that I was there alone – completely on my own.

The following four photos show 1) the view from my hotel/hostel window in Berlin on Christmas Day, 2) a section of the Berlin Wall, 3) Brandenburg Gate on Christmas Eve, and the view from inside one of Berlin’s larger Christmas markets.

Berlin Germany hostel view

Berlin Wall segment

Brandemburg gate with Christmas tree and segways

Berlin Germany Christmas Market

After three nights in Berlin, I reassembled my bicycle (which I had kept packed away inside its cardboard bike box since leaving Taiwan), and took a three-hour train ride to nearby Poznan, Poland – the city that would be my home for the next 2.5 months.

I’ve been to Poznan several times over the last couple years, but I had never been there during Christmas time, so I took the opportunity to walk around the city center and see what kind of lights and decorations might be in display.

Poznan Poland city square in winter

On New Year’s Eve I was invited to hang out with my friend Ariadna and some of her friends at their apartment before walking into the city center to see the fireworks go off as the clock rang in the New Year and fireworks were shot off into the air.

Ariadna Majewska and friends in Poznan, Poland

New Years in Poznan, Poland

There’s a large park on the outskirts of Poznan (not far from the apartment I rented on AirBNB.com) and I made several trips to the park during my stay in Poznan. It’s a great place to walk, run and ride bicycles… and this park is a big reason why I like the city of Poznan so much.

Poznan Poland city square in winter

During most days in Poznan I would sit in my apartment, stay warm and do some much-needed computer work. At night I spent a lot of time strolling around the city, taking photos and just watching the local people go about their day.

Jesuits' college poznan poland

Poznan, Poland Stary Rynek city center

Poznan city hall at night

poznan poland black and white city center stary reynk

Capital City of Pozna?

Even though I came to Poland to rest from riding my bicycle so much (and to get a bunch of computer work done on my various businesses), I also managed to make time for several long bike rides in the nearby forests and to several of the nearby cities. While there was very little snow this winter in Poland, the weather was quite cold, so I was happy that I was still carrying my winter face-mask. I did, however, have to purchase a new set of winter gloves so my hands wouldn’t freeze when I was out on my rides.

Darren Alff on bike ride on dirt path in poznan poland

My friend Erik Witsoe runs the Bigfoot Coffee Shop in Poznan and he is also an incredible photographer. When I’m not in Poznan, I watch his Facebook page and am blasted with incredible images almost every day from Poznan – a city I now know quite well. After seeing so many of his photos of Poznan, it was difficult for me to walk around the city at times and not see the streets of Poznan through his eyes. The following two images are my closest attempts at replicating Erik’s unique photographic style.

Erik Witsoe inspired photo of Poznan, Poland

Colorful POznan tram stop

Another big reason I came back to Poznan, Poland this year is because the first time I was here I started taking ping-pong lessons at a local school. Since that time I’ve really gotten into playing table tennis and I’ve even been carrying a ping-pong paddle around with me – just in case I happen to find a place to play during my travels (like I did when I was in Taiwan recently).

So I spent several nights in Poznan playing table tennis – sometimes with my old instructor, sometimes with my friend Lukasz (who has his own ping-pong table in the basement of his apartment), and sometimes with a new table-tennis instructor I began working with during my stay in the city this time around.

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dark scary streets in poland

When I was in Poznan last summer (the summer of 2014), I rented an AirBNB.com apartment from a young woman named Karolina. Since that time, Karolina and her boyfriend Marek have invited me over to her house several times and introduced me to many of her friends. This winter she invited me over to her house again to have dinner with her brother and his girlfriend, Lukasz and Marzena, and several of Karolina’s other close friends.

Table full of friends having dinner

Polish dinner party friends

In addition to spending time with Karolina and Marek, I spent even more time with Lukasz and Marzena. I played table-tennis with Lukasz several times each week, was invited over to play board games with Marzena’s cousins from Eastern Poland one night, was taken to Lukasz’s work at Wikia.com on one occasion, and even got a tour of the University where Marzena works as a part-time teacher.

poland board game girls

2.5 months sounds like a long time, but the days in Poznan went by so incredibly fast. I would work during the day, walk around and take photos at night (or whenever I needed to take a break), and then return to my apartment and work late into the evening before eventually falling asleep. After months of sleeping in my tent and constantly traveling about, it was nice to simply be inside and warm, to be able to take a shower each day, to never have to worry about finding an Internet connection, and never having to deal with the other various challenges that come about when you are constantly on the move.

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Je?yce Poznan Poland tram stop

old Je?yce poland railroads

Poznan POland street crossings

One day Karolina called and invited me to go on a walk in the forest with her and her friend Kaska. I love getting out into nature, so I couldn’t say no! After our walk in the woods, we went to a small cafe nearby and enjoyed some delicious Polish food.

Kaska and Karolina walking in Poland forest in wintertime

Polish girls walking in the snow

I went out to breakfast with Karolina, Marzena and Kaska on several occasions during my stay in Poznan. Walking up before 11 AM was a bit difficult for me, but it was worth it to spend time with my new friends.

About a month before leaving Poznan I decided to get some new Ortlieb panniers for my touring bicycle. I’ve had the same set of red Ortlieb Bike-Packer and Sport-Packer panniers on my bicycle for the last 7 years or so… and while they were in great condition considering all I’ve thrown at them over the years, I was ready for a change. So I ordered a new set of the very same panniers – but this time in blue instead of red. I really love these panniers and would recommended them above all others!

blue Ortlieb bike packer and sport packer plus panniers

slate blue ortlieb panniers and handlebar bag

One weekend, my friend Karol came from nearby Wroclaw, Poland (where he lives with his girlfriend) and stayed with me in Poznan for two short nights. While he was here we went out to several local restaurants, hung out with my friend Ariadna, talked a lot about Internet marketing (something we both do for a living), and I took him on two long bike rides around the city. It was great to see Karol again after two full years – and to talk to someone who’s life and work is so similar to my own.

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One night I went out for drinks and dessert with my friend Pawel who lives here in Poznan. We went to this little cafe called Swietlica that is hidden away on the second story of the castle that sits in the middle of Poznan. Ass soon as I walked into the place, I heard someone calling my name (which is a strange thing to happen when you’re traveling alone in a foreign country). Turns out that the owner of the cafe recognized me as the “Bicycle Touring Pro” and was happy to give me my tea/dessert for free! How awesome is that!?

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In addition to being recognized by the Swietlica cafe owner, I was also spotted on the streets of Poznan by a young man named Przemek who later sent me an email and suggested we meet up.

In fact, we did meet up just a few days later… and we went on a bike ride to a nearby forest where a bunch of meteorites long-ago crashed into the local landscape, leaving a bunch of small holes/ponds in the ground there. After our bike ride, we went over to Przemek’s apartment, where I met his girlfriend (Julia) and spoke with the couple about their lives in Poland and my strange way of living – constantly on the move.

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During my last week in Poznan, I began to prepare my body, my mind, and my bicycle for the next major leg of my trip – an 850 km / 530 mi bike tour from Poland to Romania by way of Western Ukraine.

I bought a new bike tube, some new USB rechargeable bike lights, some new winter goggles, and a few other small items. I put my new Ortlieb panniers on my bike and took my “new” touring rig for a spin around the city.

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I had hoped to get a bunch of work done while I was in Poznan during these two-and-a-half months…. and I had hoped that I would be nearly fluent after so much time in the city. But in the end, I didn’t get as much work done as I would have liked… and even though I did learn a lot of Polish, I am nowhere even close to being fluent (or really even able to hold a basic conversation). I did, however, succeed in that I spent a fair amount of time making friends. And that’s really the main reason I came back to Poznan in the first place!

Because I’ve spent so much time traveling on my own over the last 15 years, I wanted to go back to a part of the world where I knew I had at least a few friends, and where I felt it might be possible to make some new friends as well. So while I didn’t get as much work done as I would have liked during my stay in Poznan this time around, I do feel like I succeeded in another important area of my life. And for that, I would consider my time in Poznan a success!

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Now it’s time for the next part of my journey. Ukraine and Romania – HERE… I… COME!!!

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