Somewhere between the bus station and nine blocks past the highway overpass we realized we were completely and utterly lost. Stopping at a street corner we squinted sidelong down the road. A church bell tolled in the distance. Above our heads the brush stroke clouds slid across the sky. A women walking her pug skirted around us to move across the street. She shot us an irritated glance as she went. The pug staring at us over its shoulder. Its little feet pitter pattering on the pavement as it waddled next to her.
“Well now what?” Jessica asked with mild exasperation.
“Well this way can’t be right.” I answered, looking straight ahead then craning my neck back the way we came.
“I say we head back to the bus stop and try again.”
Jessica followed my gaze backwards before nodding in agreement.
We trudged back the way we had come. Bumbling about through Poland’s capital in an attempt to find the apartment of our one night host. We had just shy of twenty four hours in Poland and it was our first stint with Couchsurfing, the online meet and greet site for world tripping backpackers. Marta, our Polish host opened her apartment to us, leaving us with her address and enthusiastic greetings telling us to come over as soon as we arrived. Now we trudged about looking for the familiar landmarks and street names Marta described.
“I can’t believe you’re eating that.” Jessica said in disgust as I unwrapped a tuna sandwich leftover from the flight.
“Want some?” I laughed, lifting the sandwich and offering her a bite. Sesame seeds tumbled, Jessica recoiled.
“Just keep walking.” she said, “I think we’re close now.”
We stopped and took in the surroundings. Pinpointing streets and buildings. As I looked around, I gazed down at the sidewalk. My feet stood upon a blue arrow, sketched into the cement in chalk. That’s weird I thought, scuffing the arrow with the sole of my shoe, smearing blue against the gray cement.
“Its this way, I think.” Jessica said, turning off the sidewalk and into an apartment complex.
As we walked along I notice we passed over another blue arrow, and then another. They seemed to be pointing in the exact direction we were moving. Eventually we were brought to the front door of a ground level apartment building.
When the door swung open we were met with an exceptionally cheery Marta.
“Come in, come in!” she exclaimed, “Don’t worry about your shoes.”
She ushered us upstairs and unveiled a tray of cookies.
“I made you guys some cookies!” she explained offering us plates. “They’re no-bake!”
Her smile was infectious. I liked her almost instantly.
“Did you see my map?” she asked, looking at us expectantly.
Me and Jessica exchanged puzzled glances. Marta, sensing our confusion added, “I drew directions on the sidewalk from the bus stop for you guys.” her eyes darted back and forth between us looking for a reaction. “I used blue chalk.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, the blue arrows immediately coming to mind.
Over the next several hours Marta took us on a jam packed walking tour of Warsaw. Explaining she had work early the next morning she wanted us to get in as much as we could with the limited time we were there. We strolled through the streets as the sun set. Skirting through the cobblestones of Castle Square in the Old Town and peering out over the Vistula River. She brought us to her favorite hot spots and local bars.
“I love this pub!” she exclaimed with a smile as we sat down at a table.
“It’s so hip.” she added with a smooth bobbing of her head. “They have lots of games you can play with your friends.” she reached for the shelf behind her pulling a board game from the stack. “This one’s my favorite.” she added pulling off the lid.
As she cheerfully explained the rules, a band struck up a very Polish rendition of “Superstitious”. Sitting in a bar I’d never been to, in a city I’d never visited, drinking a beer I’d never tasted, playing a game I’d never heard of with a person I just met I knew that out of the entire cross continental journey me and Jessica had just taken this night and these last twenty four hours would be the most memorable.
As we got back to Marta’s apartment late that night she made us sandwiches and sent us to bed. Explaining she would be leaving early for work and that a friend would be by to see us off. Drifting off to sleep I thought that there was nothing more heartwarming than witnessing the kindness of a complete stranger. Couchsurfing for the first time was a big risk. Putting your faith and trust into someone you’ve never met. If we had opted to stay in a hostel or hotel we may have never met Marta, the connections we made and the short experience we shared may have never happened. Marta made the risk worth taking again and again. There was solace in considering that the world was full of people like Marta, kind, friendly, and eager to help in exchange for nothing but a human connection.
As we packed and had our coffee the next morning we said goodbye to Marta’s friend and left her a thank you note. Exiting her apartment we both stopped in our tracks as we both noticed the chalk writing in the pavement.
There is nothing more heartwarming than witnessing the kindness of a complete stranger.