Visiting Wrocław this weekend, it makes me want to move back. Life was good there. I don’t miss the weather, or not knowing the language very well, but it had a functioning public transportation system.* I had a good circle of friends, people who were fun and comfortable to hang out with, but also exposed me to things that I would have missed with my limited Polish proficiency.
Everything is cheap. Like, I had adjusted to Murcia, which I thought was cheap, and it is. But Wrocław is even cheaper. Groceries are so much cheaper. Hipster cafes are cheaper. Vodka is cheaper. (Did you know the word “vodka” comes from the Polish word for “water”? No joke, 100% true.) The beer is better. Like, oh lawdy, so much better. There are more things to do: more theater, more live music, more weird artsy events, more social events (especially for foreigners). There are more fun hipster bars, and they are still cheap. You’ll never have to wait for brunch, because the supply quite overruns the demand.
It can be a beautiful city. True, not all of it is pretty. There are some truly abominable spectacles of Communist apartment blocks, and even more abominable modern architecture. But there are also beautiful churches and cathedrals (see above), a charming Market Square painstakingly rebuilt after the Second World War, a university that dates back to the Middle Ages (although the actual buildings don’t). Between the alleys of ugly apartment blocks, we can find stencils and murals and multimedia art.
It’s not the best spot as far as travel connections are concerned (Warsaw or Berlin would be better), but it has numerous flights from its small, uncrowded airport. You can easily arrive at the airport 30 minutes before your flight and be good to go. The bus station is cold, yes, but you can go to Prague all the time! Or Berlin! Or Dresden!
Somehow even all the obstacles seem softer when you go back for a visit. My lack of Polish linguistic skills isn’t an obstacle or annoyance, but an opportunity for me to have a second chance to actually learn Polish! The cold weather isn’t a pain in the ass that makes your fingers and nose frostbitten, but a refreshing reminder that you will appreciate nice weather even more come summer. Plus, maybe shivering burns more calories? (Because we all know I wasn’t eating so healthy in Portugal.)
But then I forgot about some of the less romantic realities. The pollution is terrible. Seriously, it makes my skin break out. In Nadodrze, an older working-class neighborhood, they still burn coal and sometimes trash to heat buildings because there is no central heat. I still haven’t magically mastered Polish and it’s not getting any easier. I spent a whole day with my friend’s Polish family and yeah, I sometimes know what they’re talking about, but it’s really more an understanding of the general topic of conversation rather than following sentence-by-sentence. And oh yeah, the country is sliding into fascism.
Still, in those moments when you’re a bit disillusioned about where your life currently is, when you’re not loving the place you moved to as much as the one you left behind, sometimes it’s comforting to think of going back instead of constantly moving forward. Of dreaming, perhaps briefly, of settling down instead of roaming aimlessly. Of paying 10 złoty (2.5€) for a nice whiskey sour.