As I sit in this Gecko cafe next to the 110 pound behemoth pictured below (Marmaduke), I can’t help but think about how I got here. No, not to this exact coffee shop (which was by creeping out my apartment window across the street to see if my spot was free and then making a dash across multiple lanes of traffic, in the dark and the cold, to get inside) but to Warsaw and our new apartment. I also can’t help but think about how giant dogs like this are allowed in cafes but that’s another matter for another day.
The past month has definitely had its ups and downs but nothing is a better metaphor for it than our House Hunters International experience. Starting from day one we asked the Poles how to find an apartment and let them know we had a month to get a new place. They basically all suppressed laughter at the prospect of finding anywhere halfway decent in a month but we were persistent and kept our chins up. Just kidding, we kept them burrowed in our collars to protect against the biting wind. Well, eventually (after hours of scouring Polish realty sites) we lined up three places to see. Our House Hunter adventure had begun! Feel free to read the rest of this post in narrator Suzanne Whang’s familiar voice.
The first apartment had an entire Polish family inside it just awkwardly ready to greet us and answer any questions we might have. It felt like they were showing off their daughter to be married into a fancy aristocrat family. We weren’t sure what questions one might normally have when looking at an apartment, particularly one as small as this, and there was a definite language barrier so that made it even more awkward when we tried to ask things like, “Can we move the giant wardrobe to a basement or somewhere that isn’t here?” or “Do humans normally fit inside a shower this small?” or “How loud are the church bells across this courtyard on Sunday?” Not that we wouldn’t be in the church by that time, of course. Leaving that apartment, we started using realtor words like quaint and charming – never a good sign. The cozy nook was, however, spacious enough to entertain up to one and a half of our closest friends.
This apartment was in a great part of town, or so we thought. As we walked down the street we began noticing some bars over the windows in shops, spikes on fences, and what looked oddly similar to barbed wire and a guard tower. Ry kept telling me to keep an open mind as I was seemingly smitten with the cute apartment we had just seen. We passed a 115-year-old woman who was using a flashlight to slowly inch her way down the street at 7:00PM and that made us feel even safer about our whereabouts. She looked as though she had fallen asleep whilst making tallow candles sometime mid-Cold War, woken up, and stumbled out onto this street. I digress.
Nevertheless, when we arrived, the realtor took us through the entry and courtyard and into the apartment. When walking through the courtyard, I had to nudge Ry and point out the giant guard tower that made up a corner of the courtyard (as if he had missed the gargantuan guard tower staring down at us). We went in, saw the apartment, and made a quick exit due to the weird smell and general safety concerns about living next to a prison. Ry asked the realtor on the way out what the guard tower was for – as though we were even still considering this place – and she assured us the prison was only for short term stays. Rest assured. And really, who doesn’t want rotating neighbors so you can become friends with more people while abroad (like speed dating with higher stakes!)?
The third was hands down the winner. We were once again greeted by a nice Polish couple who showed us around the apartment (as though it’s really large enough to need ‘showing around’) and then, after the papers were signed, took us to go eat cake at a local Grycan Cafe down the street. It was the perfect place to conclude our House Hunters adventure, deliberating over some nice coffee and pie.
While we were there, the man offered to buy us some delicious baked goods and, as poor 20-something expats, we accepted. When asked, Ry suggested the apple strudel would be sufficient for us to share; the man scoffed and motioned for us to take a seat.
Minutes later, the waitress arrived, setting down a slices of apple strudel and tiramisu in front of us, along with a fruit-filled tart and a second helping of strudel. Ry and I exchanged confused glances, shrugged, and proceeded to enjoy a slice of strudel and the tiramisu. It was only after finishing our snack, thanking the couple, and saying our goodbyes that we collectively realized that we had, in fact, eaten the poor woman’s tiramisu. Chalk it up as another example of brash American imperialism. Oh well.
And that, my friends, is how I got to my apartment and my coffee shop. And yes, I’m calling this coffee shop mine as we’ve nicknamed it Gecko. Sadly, there is no tiramisu here.
P.S. I found out the dog’s name is Rocket with a Polish accent and he didn’t eat my arm when I pet him so it’s an all around good day.