Writer, traveler, maker


Travel updates and occasional commentary

Zuromin: How to see an ancestral home, without Polish

So far this trip, my lack of Polish hasn't been an issue, but I knew that could change on my visit to Zuromin, the town from which one of my paternal great grandfathers immigrated more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, my apprehension proved warranted.

First I went to the wrong train station to catch the bus. Then, once I finally got to the right place, I discovered the bus I wanted to catch was apparently a "private" one that no one could tell me where to buy tickets for, or — most importantly — where to board. Almost no one spoke English, and those who did, very little. And all this still in Warsaw, at one of its three main international train stations! When I finally saw the 11:15 Zuromin bus pass in another lane, it had evidently done its pickup already.

Thus, I reluctantly turned to plan B: a taxi. I almost started crying when I climbed in, but it was the only day I could go, the drive takes two hours, the sun sets at 3:30, and the last bus back from Zuromin left at 6 p.m. Long term, I knew I'd regret not going much more than the much-higher cost of a cab.

Fortunately one with a fairly cheap zloty/kilometre rate had stopped nearby, but it turned out the rate increased the further you went from town - and I had to travel 75 miles (140 kilometres)! The exchange rate favors the dollar, but it was still one of my most expensive cab rides ever.

Once we reached Zuromin two hours later, I had the driver drop me near the church in the center of town.

Zuromin church.jpg

The doors were open, but I didn't know where to find anyone, so I gave up on the church, though it looked like it dated to at least Great Grandpa's time.

Zuromin church history.jpg

A few blocks away, I found a small open-air market selling mostly produce and shoes. No one had anything resembling local crafts.

I stopped in a grocery store and passed several others, but many places seemed closed and I was apparently the sole market for Zuromin postcards or souvenirs.

Eventually I made my way back to the square near the church, where I found a large map showing both the town and Jewish cemeteries. (Despite its small population, Zuromin once had a decent-sized Jewish community. At the Jewish museum Saturday, I even learned the town once had a wooden synagogue, one of dozens all over Poland.)

Zuromin map.jpg

Just as I set out for the main cemetery, I noticed a sign for a cultural center on a building nearby. It didn't look like I expected when I went in, but it turned out the director spoke limited English. He was very kind, and showed me where to catch the bus back to Warsaw later, then offered me tea and a piece of cake.

Once we discovered that both of us knew German, I was able to tell him much more about my errand, and he offered some ideas for future research. Leaving him, I walked the mile to the cemetery, arriving right before sunset.

Inside, I found a few graves with the family surname, but all the headstones in the whole place were fairly recent; I hardly saw any for someone who'd died before 1990.


It was roughly four o'clock by then, so I walked back to town, passing fields with distant electronic windmills (the kind you see all along the I-10, east of LA), some possibly municipal buildings and an agricultural supply business.

Zuromin windmills.jpg

After one small purchase, I ate dinner in a mostly empty restaurant that played dance music on the TV (think: Lady Gaga) and surprisingly had an English version of the menu.

My only good phone picture of the day shows that meal: a kind of meatloaf, made from pork; two types of coleslaw; a vegetable dish quite like ratatouille (very good); and baked potato with dill. Including one of the reliably good Polish beers, the whole meal cost $5!

Zuromin dinner.jpg

As I write this, I'm on the train to Krakow, where I'll spend the day, before catching a night train to Vienna. The friend with whom I had dinner Sunday night spoke well of Krakow, which I'm excited to see.