This summer story takes place in a magical land of the morning fog, wild blueberries, and evening story-telling. Breathtakingly beautiful, speckled with hills and valleys and, surrounded by thousand lakes is a hidden world located on the border of Lithuania and Poland. It’s called: Podlaskie Voivodeship.

It’s an exceptional place to me that conveys a lot of memories from my childhood. My sister and I visited our grandparents’ farm in Podlaskie County during the summer. When at the farm, we were just carefree, two little girls, free from homework, and free from responsibilities. We ran around happily on the sixteen-acre property. We were excited to have so much space and to be away from school, our parents, and the city.

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Our favorite pastime was hanging from rowanberry trees or playing “house” in the jasmine bushes. We often snacked on our grandmother’s hand-made, sour-dough rye bread with a fragrant, crispy crust. She baked the dough on top of aromatic calamus leaves, which grew in a pond near the house. We ate the bread with her very own hand-made creamy butter and rock salt.

We often walked three miles, by foot, through the hills and valleys to the nearest town to buy our favorite candy: sugar-coated jellies. Every time, for creatures of our small-size, it was an adventure.

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We loved the summer blueberry season and often went blueberry picking to the nearby forest. Just after few hours of blueberry picking, we came back with purple teeth and purple hands and purple-stained clothes. But we didn’t care; we were just happy that we had picked so many blueberries. We devoured them with sugar and milk or only by itself. It was like having our very own blueberry festival.

Nowadays, as an adult, when I want to eat their local blueberries or anything hand-picked from that area, I visit their farmers market and buy them from the natives. I know it’s not the same thing as picking the berries myself, but it’s hard to find good blueberry patches, and now I wouldn’t even know where to look.

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It’s amazing how every time I visit this stunning and enigmatic region, it looks so unchanged. Always green and full of abundant nature, surrounded by freshwater lakes and unpolluted environment. Especially during the summer season. It is so astoundingly beautiful that everyone calls it the fairy tale land.

I often ride my bike through the hills and valleys of the surrounding countryside and reminisce about the innocent childhood spent with my sister. She is no longer with us, what I wouldn’t give to transport back in time and spend some time with her on some of the dirt roads, wearing our rain boots and playing in mud holes. Or get soaked in the rain and not care a bit.

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Speaking of rain.

One time when I was vacationing in the fairytale land as an adult, I took my bike for a long ride around the region. I loved to explore the area like that. That day I rode my bicycle approximately two hours away from the location of the farm. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that there was a thunderstorm approaching, and it was already getting dark.

I rode my bike fast on a desolated asphalt road, trying to get back to the farm as quickly as possible. There was no one in sight but birds and cows. The thunderstorm had started, and rain poured. I was afraid because I didn’t want to get struck by lightning. I thought to myself, gosh, if this were Manhattan, I would have pulled to the side, and hailed a taxi cab. But it wasn’t Manhattan instead of desolate country land, where if a car happened to drive by, people waved at you. At that time, not a single car drove by.

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I had to make a decision quickly. I had no rain gear. No rain-coat. Nothing to shield me from the crazy weather. And there was nowhere to hide. Hence, having no choice in the matter, I rode my bike while getting steeped in the rain. While zooming on the bike and looking around, I had this strange feeling that the cows who were scattered all over the grass fields, were gazing at me and laughing: “Look at that silly girl, on that stupid bike, getting all wet, oooooh, hahaha hahaha.” They seemed amused, while slowly chewing grass, and not minding even a single raindrop. Never mind the thunderbolt lighting!

When it got dark, and the lighting and thunder took massive action, I stopped riding. I walked to the side of the dirt road, soaked in the rain. I figured something was going to strike me, and I was going to die a stupid, unfortunate death. A simple ad in the New York Times will read: “She died by a single stroke off lighting. In the middle of nowhere. The end.”

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Eventually, I stumbled upon a small house near the side of the road. I decided to ring the bell and ask for shelter. By the way, if I did that in NYC, the homeowners would have probably called the cops. I sighed with relief that I wasn’t in NYC.

I rang the bell again. An older man approached the door. He didn’t even ask me what I wanted. He took one good look at me and immediately invited me inside. I entered his home. I was shivering and mumbling: “I’m a wet chicken, a wet chicken, I’m a wet chicken.”

He made me hot tea, let me use the bathroom, and gave me a blanket. I was delusional for about ten minutes, muttering and speaking of dying. Still, the older man just sat there entirely composed smoking a cigarette and staring out a dark, rainy window. It’s as if though he was expecting me, someone off the road sapped in the rain. To simply show up at his house during a storm like that.

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Later on, when I came to my senses, and we’ve started to chat, it turned out that the older man knew my late grandfather very well. He knew him for many years. He seemed pleased that I came from NYC to visit his humble home in the rainstorm. It’s as if it was mean to be, I just fell from the sky and showed up at his house out of nowhere.

The rain passed. I thanked the man for his hospitality, got on my bike and, and rode back to the farm in complete darkness. There were no lights on the dirt road. I don’t know how I made it back. Must have been a good dose of fear and substantial adrenaline.

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The next day I woke up to a beautifully fresh summer day. It’s like the thunderstorm never happened. The vivid landscape intact, and nothing obstructed. I thought to myself, how on earth did I ever make it back? Maybe my sister guided me? Or maybe all that storm noise and lighting was just a bad dream? And perhaps the story of an older man in a timeworn house, in a desolate part of the road, was part of that dream? Kind of like Dorothy from Kansas, the USA in “Wizard of Oz” when she woke up from her nightmare.

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That morning I decided to walk to a nearby lake. The skies were clear, and it was going to be a beautiful, sunny day—a perfect day for a little bit of relaxation and some sun tanning. When I got to the lake, I set a blanket on the grass and laid on it while looking at the sky. I put my iPod to listen to some music and closed my eyes.

A few minutes passed, and I felt like something was eating my hair. I swiftly got up and saw a big black and white cow standing above me. She was looking right at me and sticking out her big, white tongue. She was chewing on something. I hope it wasn’t my hair!

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I looked at her and said “gee-whiz” can’t you people aka cows, leave me alone for just one minute? But she replied: “Mooooooo, whroooooo, glad you made it through the storm, Joanna.”

Someone, please pinch me fast! I thought I wasn’t dreaming anymore!


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Photography: Michał Gałężewski Cezary Kukowka  Janusz Maniak  Radoslaw Prekurat Dawid Łabno Katarzyna Pe Erik Witsoe  Janusz Maniak freestocks Jakob Cotton

Featured photo: Timothy Eberly

Text copyright Caramel Chic LLC 

Hungry for more travel stories? Check out our post on my visit to Kiawah Island, South Carolina