Sleeping in field
I went into this trip totally relaxed and open to possibilities. No anxiety or planning of any kind. The plan is to get to Poland, met up with my friend Arturo and his parents, spent some time seeing Poland and then head south by some means with Artur towards Turkey. My friend wants to see Turkey, but I am just going as far as time allows in two weeks.
7/20: Last night I threw some things together for the trip.
Maybe I am a little too lax as I forgot some things I needed to take. I got to Charlotte for the flight a few hours early, but it didn’t matter as the plane was almost two hours late. When I got to Chicago, I had to run for the flight to Warsaw and made it before they closed the doors. I sat next to a friendly woman with two kids. We talked some, she is married to a Polish guy, and she talked about how she learned Polish in five years. I feel a little inadequate with what I have learned of the language so far, but feel I can get by. I arrived in Warsaw in the morning and was met by my friend, who took me to the hotel to meet up with his parents.
We all took a nap, as they had taken an overnight train from Gdansk.
Got up and took the bus to the centrum and walked around. We ate at the Restaurant Sphinx and walked down to the old town, had some coffee at a café, and Arthur’s parents headed back to the hotel. My friend and I walked to streets and alleyways until late and talked of many things, particularly what he should do when he get back to LA. It was good seeing my friend again.
We walked forever on John Paul II Boulevard to a club that my friend remembered, but it was closed. We ate some food at an outdoor vendor and caught the bus back to the hotel around 3am.
7/21: Slept late on the floor.
Joe got up so I got into bed with Arturo and his mom. We researched some car rentals and we all took the bus back downtown. We eventually ended up in a beautiful park that I think was once a king’s estate. We took a small boat ride, walked around the park, and came back to a little lake to listen to some music. We stopped to eat at a British steakhouse and went back to the hotel.
The city was visually more relaxed as were the people than what I found in Germany. It felt comfortable and a friendly mood was in the air. I admit the people were a good-looking people. There were many attractive girls and the guys had a rugged, but handsome, eastern European look.
People had a sense of humor as well. The center point of the city was an old large Soviet building with a giant poster of some guy on the side. No one seemed to know who the guy was, but they all had a funny guess at who it was.
7/22: My friend got up early to take his parents to the airport to go home. He came back and we had some breakfast and went back to the airport to rent a car for some traveling. We loaded up and we drove to Czestochowa, home of a beautiful old monastery and church, Jasna Gora. We had some lunch at a café, Chris was the waiter. Artur talked awhile with him and we headed to the church. A center point of the church was the black Madonna icon of the Virgin Mary.
I humbly got on my knees and walked around the back of the icon as the other pilgrims. We climbed to the top of the tower and could see miles. John Paul II had many masses there and I imagined him standing on the terrace built for him. We picked up a sleeping bag, some fruit and juice and headed south the Auschwitz.
We got to Auschwitz had some tea and left the car at a hotel. We walked into a field with grass and weeds about five feet tall and bedded down. The mosquitoes were killer and it was hard to stay covered. The stars were awesome. I didn’t sleep well but got up feeling great from spending the night outdoors and was happy.
7/23: Got up and went to town, had some juice and bought a few t-shirts.
We went to the Auschwitz camp and it was so depressing thinking about all the people who died there and the horrible way in which they died and were treated. It was a reminder how inhumane we humans are and that we are still capable of terrible things, the torturing and killing of people in Iraq comes to mind. Took a bus to Birkenau, the second camp, and it was enormous. This is where the train came through the gates like I have seen in different movies. I stood looking at the ground where people got off the trains and walked to their deaths. One thing that I don’t think is taught in schools is that Hitler started out killing Poles before he went after the Jews. He targeted the intelligent in Poland, artists, writers, petty thieves, young people and children, and of course Polish soldiers. What is overlooked is that many people besides Jews died in the Holocaust, but we never hear about them.
We jogged back to the first camp and got in the car for Krakow. Artur’s allergies have been very bad today, maybe it was sleeping in the field last night or the pollution emitted from the trucks on the road. Anyway we got to Krakow and checked into the Cinema Hostel. Artur has been upbeat and patient. He really enjoys being in Poland and I as well being here and seeing him excited about showing me his country. Maybe we will go the mountains tomorrow. We went out, walked the streets, had some dinner and Ethiopian coffee, and then headed back to the hostel. The birds went crazy, but this seemed to be lost on everyone besides me. We relaxed and talked again about travel plans for the next week.
Two Belgian guys are in the room as well as a guy named Davy from Northern Ireland. I started out talking to Davy, but he was much interested in talking with Artur, so I went with the flow. We ended up going out to a bar for a beer. Along the way we saw a woman on the sidewalk fall flat on her face. Artur helped her up, but she was unsteady on her feet, but went on her way. She wasn’t a bad looking woman and had a nice dress. But on looking closer she was scarred and her shoes were worn out, a telltale sign that maybe she was a junkie or alcoholic. Somewhere along the way Artur had said something would happen where he could say, “Now you know you are in Poland”, but he said this wasn’t it.
It was about this time I coined the phrase, “Poland, a place where you see things you never saw before”. We had a beer and it was strong. A second drunk woman came up to us who couldn’t get a cigarette in her mouth, let alone light it. The bartender finally got her to go home. Artur said, this still isn’t it.
The three of us talked awhile and took a walk around the castle. We were headed up one street and I thought I saw an old man in nothing but his underwear come around the corner of a building and duck back again. I said nothing, but as we got closer he came back out, much to the amusement of Davy and Artur. We walked past, but Artur went back for another look. I went back to tell him to leave the old man alone, when another man came out of a building and started swearing in Polish at Artur.
Artur took off running and the guy started running too, so I took off behind Artur, along with Davy. We ran all the way to the hostel. 20/20 hindsight Artur says that he had a plan, but I think he was full of shit. An interesting experience.
7/24: I got up, had some breakfast and a shower, and we drove with Davy to Zakopane to the south. The hubcaps were stolen by this time. It became more mountainous and was pretty, but rainy. I snagged a couple of sweaters from a second hand store, ate half a chicken, and drank some coffee. Davy split off about this point. My friend and I plotted out a trail on a map and climbed one of the mountains in the early evening and set up camp before the top at the tree line.
No one is allowed to camp in the park, so we were the only ones up there.
We talked for awhile, quoted Bible verses, and Artur went to sleep. I was saying my prayers when I heard something walking close in the trees. I heard a big branch break, and something growled. It sounded big. Arturo was snoring so I quietly tried to wake him and told him to be still. I heard some more noise and I think Artur was a little nervous, and we prayed together. We had no knife and there was no one on the whole mountain, so I felt we were at the mercy of whatever it was. I suspected it was a bear, but was calm, as there was nothing that could be done at this point. I moved closer to hear better and the thing growled three more times. I was reminded at this moment that Christ said that there is no greater love than when someone lays his life down for a friend.
So my thoughts were that I would be the bear’s food, but Artur could get away. I was amazed at the serenity I felt, no fear or doubts. I told Arturo that bears had poor eyesight and didn’t hunt at night; I had no idea if this was true. We decided to head down the trail a ways to get out of “the bear’s” territory and find another place to sleep. We found a place and I finished my prayers aloud. We talked about the Bible some more and Artur asked me if I was the apostle John and if I would tell him if I was. I said, no, I am not. I thought to myself, no, I am just a weak man who struggles through life. But I knew this night during the moment of truth, I was prepared to do what was right in the eyes of God and sacrifice my life for my friend. We went to sleep.
7/25: We got up and climbed to the summit.
It was hard for both of us and my legs were very tired. At first there were only a few people, but as we stayed on the peak, soon there were people all over. We walked down and I ate something.
We started driving to Gdansk and stopped on the road and bought grapes and a watermelon from two pretty girls. Artur drove a lot and think I fell asleep about 3am.
7/26: I woke up to find us parked on the side of a road somewhere in Gdansk. We drove to the airport to turn the car in and then took a bus and tram downtown.
A two week festival is about to start and booths are being set up. The city is very beautiful, history oozing. Stopped in a coffee shop to catch up in this writing. I had something to eat at a family restaurant and we walked about the city. We checked out a Spanish movie dubbed in Polish, so I didn’t understand much, but got the general theme. During the movie sickness slowly overcame me. By the end I had to hit the loo with the runs and barfing. Artur said he didn’t know how he could help, so I said let’s just see how it goes. We headed to an outdoor concert and we passed a hostel near the train station, so I told him I needed a bed for the night. The place offered a free kayak to use so my friend decided to get a bed too.
We headed to the concert to see a band called Ich Troje; I think they came on about 10:00 after much delay with games and ads.
Ich Troje, a trio with backup dancers, a mix of Britney Spears, hard rock, and a Broadway dance show. I think they were geared for kids, but the crowd was mixed. We got a waffle and I had a few bites, but had to hit the portojohn to crap and barf again. After about an hour we headed back to the hostel, but I picked up some fluids to stay hydrated. I hit the bed battling waves of nausea.
7/27: Got up weak and still feeling bad, not barfing but the runs were still with me. Talked with a cool and pretty girl named Aude at the hostel. She was from Switzerland and got a gig with a magazine traveling to different places in Europe of her choice. She had seen Ich Troje too and was headed to northern Norway via Hamburg.
She helped me look for trains on the internet and gave me the internet address for her blog. Artur and I left our packs at the hostel and headed to the other hostel to get the kayak. We carried it to a canal and headed up the river right through the city. It was an awesome perspective of the city and surrounding countryside. Good to work the arms too. It was kind of cool to be paddling a kayak right in the shipping lanes. Further on we were more in the countryside, it seemed like no matter which direction we headed we were against the wind. Some long row boats were out there, the rowers keeping in sync to a boy pounding a drum. My friend and I couldn’t get in sync and this was the first indication he was getting a little frustrated with me. About half way we traded places, with me in the back and he in the front, and I worked to steer and stay in sync with him. It was a lot easier with the wind slightly at our backs. It started raining, but all was good.
Got back to the canal and I decided to try to nap on the bank. Artur took the Kayak to the shipyards. I lay in the rain under a tree and relaxed. We took the Kayak back and walked around the city and market, picked up the packs, and took a tram to Gdynia for a big beach party. We stopped for a beer and talked a lot about different things going on in my life, having an advice powwow that I have come to enjoy and look forward too. We walked to the beach party and it seemed everyone from the area was there. We walked around some more and went down by the docks. I stopped again for another liquid crap at an entertainment complex. Was feeling very weak and tired with the pack on my back, and started falling behind. Artur sensed this and he decided not to go to the beach party because he thought I didn’t want to go.
I didn’t argue. We took the train to Sopot and I thought Artur was going dancing so I was going to take the tram to Gdansk and get a place at a hostel. But he said he was going to the beach to sleep so I went along. I could tell he was frustrated with me and I understand why. I was holding him back, relying on him, letting him make the decisions just like I did in Mexico and I had been determined in Poland not to let this happen again, but everything seemed to fall into this mode when I got sick. Frustration was added I think because he is always worried he going to hurt my feelings even though I always tell him to be straight with me, so he said nothing. We headed for the beach and I fell farther behind and was getting frustrated with him as well and pondered just stopping on the dark trail and letting him go on, ending the trip together without words, but this was not what a friend would do, so I followed on. We got to the beach, I crawled into some bushes, it started raining, the rain a metaphor perhaps, and I fell dead asleep.
7/28: Awoke well after daybreak and we took the tram back to Gdansk. The tension was thick and my friend said he was going to church and then bike riding. I could come along or do what I wanted to do. The frustration then came to a head on the streets of Gdansk. The current situation was discussed and old issues rehashed. We decided it was best to split and end the journey there and we wouldn’t head south together, he would find a way to Istanbul and I would get to Warsaw and decide where to go from there. Everything was cool and we got squared away, but we needed to go to an internet café and get the camera disks copied to CD so he could take the disks for the camera.
We went to a church and he went in for the end of the mass. I sat on the grass outside. We went into a second church for a full mass. The church seemed to close in around me and I walked to the back of the church and cried, not because of bad or hurt feelings, but because I felt my spirit and faith was in crisis. After church, tensions were abated and he went to an internet café. I got train info for Warsaw.
We decided to take the bike ride together and went to the hostel in town to get the bikes. It was a good ride through town and we stopped at an ice cream cafe. Across the street was a pub called Scruffy O’Brien’s. The place looked closed so I didn’t go over, but I would have liked to meet Scruffy.
We biked on to the zoo. It was more than I expected, awesome to tell the truth. The chimps had cycles of fighting and three of them had babies. The tiger looked thin and kept staring at people through the bars as if they were food. The zoo was pretty modern with a lot of animals. We biked to a church where my friend’s parents were planning to renew their vows and ate at a café. We biked to Sopot and then along the beach, stopping for some air hockey. Back at the hostel I decided to stay the night and head out the next morning. Artur decided to stay too. I had a shower, had another shit, drank some fluids and went to bed. Later Artur went to bed across from me and we quoted the verses of Psalm 23, as best as we could remember.
7/29: The guys at the hostel stayed up all night partying and I slept late.
We had breakfast and decided to spend this last day together. He went to the internet café by the train station and I got something to eat and bought contact lens solution. We saw the new Pirate III movie, in English. The movie was long and I didn’t think it was great, maybe I was bored with the theme. After the movie, I bought a train ticket for Warsaw for the next morning, and checked into the hostel by the station. My friend got a place too and planned to get a train in the morning to his uncle’s place in the country side.
8/30: Left Artur on good terms and caught the train to Warsaw about 06:30am. I found an overnight train to Budapest and bought a ticket.
Spend the afternoon exploring the area and caught the train about 07: 30pm. End of the Poland chapter, the Hungry installment is to follow.