Ty had mentioned something yesterday about it being light outside at unusually early hours. I remember one of the guests standing in the room at what must have been 4:30AM, yet when I looked up there was light coming in through the curtains. I think he’s right. That made sleeping difficult. I would’ve had trouble sleeping past 7AM if I’d wanted to. So I got up, grabbed my clothes, went to the bathroom to change and brush my teeth, and turned around to see Ty coming in to take a shower. I think he’s thankful of my schedule because he had been having trouble oversleeping yesterday when I first walked in and met him.
I took my skates and wheels downstairs where the breakfast was being had. I’d decided not to buy it, thinking I’d go to a café instead, but changing my wheels took so long that I ended up eating a packet of chocolates I’d bought in Delhi as my breakfast. The storm clouds looked threatening, but there was no way I was going to stay indoors. I said “bye” to Ty and went outside where I could tie my laces and started skating downhill.
The sidewalks varied from smooth pavers, to bumpy bricks, to very rough cobblestone. I struggled more than usual with my hockey skates, but I decided they were particularly rough to skate in because I was using my mom’s worn-down outdoor wheels. I crossed a few streets and construction zones, then was about to take off through the park when I realized I was having serious issues skating. Finally, I sat down to look at my skates. Two bolts had fallen out of the front of one skate and the two wheels were only sitting in the frame with my weight holding them there. If I’d picked up one foot too high or jumped something, I would have busted my frame and wiped out. Angry not just because I couldn’t use my skates as they are but also because I’d lost two of my mom’s bolts, I decided to rush back to the hostel to put my skates back, looking for the bolts on the way. I was lucky enough to find one on the way back. I put my skates on my bed and ran back the same way. I tried and failed to rent a bike at the credit card machine, then I went clear back to where I turned around. Crossing the street, I felt so deflated for having still lost the one bolt. That’s when I looked up and saw it, sitting right where I’d taken off my skates. I put it in my wallet and took off briskly towards the old part of town.
I was holding a map that I had bought of Warsaw which was more detailed than the free one I got, was laminated, and had descriptions of landmarks on the back. I used this to hit up about a dozen major points in a loop. For about two hours, I cruised up through town, stopping at several churches, streets, restaurants, palaces, monuments,…anything worthy of a photo. And I take a lot of photos. The air was cold and somewhat moist. The sky was grey the whole morning, but I hardly felt any drops. Most shops were still closed. The streets were full of people and there were even a lot of student groups walking through. I marveled at a few women walking the cobblestones with stilettos. I marveled at a lot of things, like how picturesque the streets were, how the city reminded me of Paris, and how decorative and ancient these buildings are. The Old Town section is the only listed section by UNESCO that is mostly rebuilt; a lot of Warsaw was destroyed during WWII and thus the ancient city had a lot to have repaired.
On the way back towards my hostel, I looped near the river so I could at least see it with my eyes. Construction prevented me from walking along it, so I skirted back around to the winding street I’d taken my first pictures on upon arrival. This time, sans luggage, I climbed the stairs instead of following the road in a spiral down the hill. At the top of the hill, I turned left onto Nowy Swiat and began taking pictures going the other direction. I was able to pick up where I had left off in my loop. I hadn’t gotten any pictures of the upper part of Nowy Swiat when I walked it before; my hands had been full with luggage. Now I darted in and out of the crowd, trying not to be too obvious as I photographed nearly everything. I popped into an Indian clothing store and laughed when I saw virtually the same clothes in Poland as I had to buy in India, just for 300% of the price. Next, I headed towards the post office on my hostel’s street and encountered men on stilts handing out papers. I listened to one explain to me in Polish without indicating that I couldn’t understand, but I got the gist of what he was saying. Another woman did not; she asked to hear it in English. She sounded British, but with a little more of an accent. The man didn’t speak English well, but she told him “Bonne chance” and I realized she was French. English was the only common language she expected to find here.
Realizing I had only thirty minutes to run to the post office, run to my hostel, pack, and check out, I had to rush past the bus stop I had first gotten off at yesterday when I got lost. I turned down the street and ran inside, passing a man in the doorway and staring at three counters, one open. I asked if he was in line. “What do you need?” he asked me. “Stamps,” I said. He held up a slip of a ticket. I didn’t know where he got it or what it was, but it had a number like those in the deli. He led me to a machine with options “A” or “B”, followed by Polish descriptions. A woman who had just walked in pressed “A” and took a ticket. His also said “A” and he pressed the same for mine. He was then called to one desk, then the woman to another. He was quick, though, so I was soon at his desk asking the lady for stamps. She didn’t really speak English, but I showed her my postcards and she gave me the stamps. I frowned when I saw how few Zloty coins I had left and asked if I could pay with a credit card. She just shook her head. So I chose the coins so as to have the most left over. I believe that means I have two one-Zlotys left as opposed to one two-Zloty. Hopefully I can get some more when I go to Czestochowa later.
I turned around and dipped my stamps into the glue dish on the table, just like what I had done when I mailed postcards from Ouidah, Benin. I stuck them on, then shoved them into a box which I believe was the appropriate one. Then I took off down the street, ran upstairs, and panicked when, at 10:50AM, I found my bed already cleaned up and my rollerblades gone. I had passed the cleaning lady on the way up and realized she might have done something with them, even though I was not checked out yet and that it was not time for her to clean. Angry, I turned and found my skates in the trashcan. This made me livid. I pulled them out then dug until I found my bearings, wheels, and bolts that had fallen out of my skates when she shoved them in. Did she really think I left those there? What a moron! If you say check out is by 11AM, don’t throw out someone’s expensive skates! It only took me ten minutes to pack my skates (once I’d found them) and the rest of my gear as I wanted it, but I had a fun time pulling the pieces out of a trashcan full of Coca-Cola. I ended up checking out a few minutes past 11AM, but it was no problem at all. Then I went into the lounge and decided I wasn’t even going to ask, I was just going to sit in there, eat the pierogis (that better still be in the fridge!), and do what I need to do on my computer with the free wi-fi.
I’m telling this story because I found it amusing: I went to heat my pierogis in the microwave on a plate. After several minutes and several attempts, my plate came out cold and the pierogis were nearly frozen. I couldn’t figure it out. I put my hand inside and the bottom was cold, but I raised it and the top was so hot I could hardly touch the air. I looked at the pierogis with lard solidified on the top, then held them up to the top of the microwave. After a few seconds, I pulled them out and saw that the lard had begun to melt. I didn’t recall having trouble with the microwave before when I heated water, but I decided to forget it and do it the way I cooked when I had to reheat rice in Benin without anything more than a gas stove: I boiled some water (this time in an electric kettle), put the food in a pan, and poured the water over it for a few minutes. They were perfectly cooked when I pulled them back out.
As I made my instant coffee and sat down in the lounge, I heard some guys with long hair and black clothes joking around in clearly American accents. I asked them where they were from, probably taking them off guard. “Brooklyn, New York,” one said. “I’m from Pennsylvania,” I told him. Then we chatted a little and he explained that he’s in a psychedelic metal band here with his group “Naam” (or something like that), and that they’re heading to Prague for their next show. Their manager was the only foreigner in the group and he was Italian. I sat in the lounge working alongside the manager and some of the others. They were doing the same thing; waiting it out until they needed to leave now that we had all checked out. But it wasn’t a problem. The only problem came when I couldn’t get my pictures to upload or my music to download fast enough. I was reluctant to give up until I realized I really had to go if I wanted to make my train. And I needed to make it.
By the time I was packed up and I knew what bus I could take (non-validated ticket!), I realized I either had to chance that the 102 bus would come in time and I’d find my way or I should start booking it now. The maps app on my phone said I’d have a thirty minute walk. It was 1:40PM and my train was at 2:25PM. Internet resources recommended being there thirty minutes early, or at 1:55PM. I dragged my bags out the door and uphill so fast that I passed everyone else not carrying a thing. I saw the station a block in the other direction and a bus coming towards it, but I decided to keep moving. I knew I’d make it with 15 minutes to go if I just kept moving. I passed a few stations and none of them had a 102 option. Sure enough, some buses passed me…but none of them were 102. In fact, I never noticed a 102. I just kept speed walking and dodging people, cutting streets through subway entrances, etc. until I was finally in the home stretch. I checked the time and was pleased to find that I had made it in about thirty minutes. I ran down the steps, checked my ticket over and over, then found a board that could direct me better. I got which peron I needed, then got to the peron to realize I didn’t know what tor it was. Thankfully, a sign in front of the crowd showed the tor as well as a drawing of the train’s cars. I saw mine was the second to last and that my train was short, then I lined up on the platform with my bags.
Most people had one or no bags, and here I had a ton. I felt bad and worried a little that this would be a problem. Nonetheless, I followed the crowd in chasing down the train as it rolled in at about twenty after. We left the station just after I had boarded the train, found my compartment, and lifted my bags with the help of an elderly man seated across from me. Another man eventually joined us. The seats were much comfortable than any seat I’d sat on in India. I had a window seat. There were armrests, a trashcan, and a ledge by the window. My bags were above my head. Our compartment had a sliding door. I suddenly felt like Harry Potter going off to Hogwarts. As we exited the city and began passing through long fields with cows and then forests of pines, that feeling became stronger. A trolley rolled around and it was hard not to ask for a chocolate frog! A controller came around and validated my ticket. I texted my friend to let him know I was on my way to Bohumin, Czech Republic, then fought the soothing sounds and cool air that were lulling me to sleep in my not-so-sleep-accommodating-upright seat.
The ride was around four hours and went by fairly quickly. By the end, I was the only one in my compartment. I kept trying to watch my semi-accurate map app to see when I crossed into the Czech Republic. My phone alerted me of the new data charges and I knew I had finally crossed out of Poland. Before long, the train came to a stop and the station signs read Bohumin. I jumped off and followed the only exit I could find. I turned in the direction that seemed the most fruitful and found myself exiting the train station into the town of Bohumin. First, I stopped at the restroom on the way out and found that, yet again, I had to pay to use it. The woman at the front spoke no English. She didn’t have change for the Euro bills in my wallet, so I had to dig to the bottom of my suitcase to find my Czech bills. She counted my change very slowly in Czech, smiling. I was surprised how much I could understand; I can count in Polish, and the words were very similar.
When I finally got outside, the weather was much colder than even the cold weather had been in Warsaw. There was a light mist and the sky was grey. I walked briskly down some streets, not having a clue where I was or where I was going. All I knew was I was hungry and I had an hour. I took a few pictures of a fountain and some buildings and was disheartened by the lack of activity in the town. It was 6:30 on a Wednesday night, but nothing here seemed to be open. Places were dark. Some were dark but there were people in them, but I couldn’t find the entrances. Feeling dumb and not knowing how to read most Czech I saw on the signs, I kept wandering in a loop until I found a place called City Café. It was open and a guy helped me pull my bags inside.
The woman at the bathroom was not the only person in Bohumin who speaks no English. The waitress didn’t speak English either. I gestured for a menu and was disappointed that there was only coffee, alcohol, and a cooler of desserts. When she returned, I was able to order an Irish Coffee (kawa) in words, but I had to point for my dessert. I devoured the “dinner” so I could my malaria pill, uploaded my photos with the free wi-fi, and paid my bill. I rushed back to the station, pulling my bags over the cobblestone streets like a tornado coming down through a silent, dead alley. I managed to find the correct platform (but almost left for the wrong train twice) and got on a random car, not understanding why I didn’t have a seat assignment or if it mattered.
We started rolling. It was becoming dark by the time we reached Slovakia. I was alone in my car until a woman came to check my ticket. She said something in a language I didn’t recognize, then walked out. I think she said I needed to have my ticket stamped. But no one threw me out, so I stayed. Before we reached Zilina, another person came in. This time it was a man trying to scan my paper ticket. It wouldn’t work and I didn’t understand him either, but he left and no one threw me out. Finally, the train started slowing down a few minutes after I was expected to arrive. I saw how the towns were becoming busier and assumed this must be Zilina. I started to work my way to the door, but I didn’t see a sign for the station. Just as I was hesitating on how to open the door so I could at least look, my door flew open and there was my friend Juraj pulling my bags out of my hand.
It was a short drive in his new car to his house. It was dark and I was a little disoriented, but he helped me bring my things inside where I met his wife. She doesn’t speak any English. His son was asleep, so we went into the living room for snacks and drinks and I met his sister-in-law, her husband, and her son. She was the only other one who truly spoke English. They brought in a curdled milk drink for me to try, Žinčica a kind of kefir. I ended up going to bed very late.