Prowling Through Poland (Preying upon Pierogi)

Look out, this one is LONG! And dramatic. And full of drama and summer sun.

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GDANSK

After a long and relatively sleepless night on the almighty night bus from Lithuania, I arrived in Gdansk just before 7am. I was tired, hungry, and equipped with neither złoty nor a brain which made my attempts to get a breakfast rather pitiable. My first approach to the counter: “no, no card” so I found the bankomat and withdrew funds. It gave me a 100złoty bill. “Smaller? no smaller?” said my breakfast bearer, demonstrating a floatless cash drawer. At that point I gave up and prepared to find my hostel first then deal with my desperate need for caffeine, but I guess I must have looked a woeful sight because as soon as I turned to leave she was calling me back. God only knows where in the back of that bus station cafe she suddenly, magically found change, but she did and soon I was the proud owner of a latte and a delicious lemon glazed, poppyseed filled breakfast pastry.

As it was still early, the heat was not yet at it’s height but after my exciting 45 minute adventure to reach my hostel on foot, I was soaked with sweat and ready to collapse. At the hostel, they relieved me of my baggage and released me into the common area to rest, clean up, and get ready to face the day. Being me, I did not take a nap. No, I just sat for a moment, changed my clothes, checked the map, and set out into Gdansk.

Without a backpack, the walk back into town only took about 30 minutes. Once there I toddled around the still sleeping old town noting an impressive number of street stalls on nearly every street. Apparently Gdansk old town is a non-stop tourist shop all summer! Having toured through all the interesting architecture, I began to feel peckish again so stopped in at a little(large) cafeteria/delicatessen where I refuelled with a VERY mediocre cup of coffee and a meat pastry.

It was at this point, around 9am, that the prize idiot decided that she would not give in to the call of the tram, no she would walk everywhere. All day. Which is how, after a brief stop at the monument to the shipyard workers killed in a rather brutal soviet altercation, I ended up strolling through industrial dockland Gdansk, along the rail lines, to the beaches of Sopot. I didn’t actually make it into Sopot, but I did make it to the beach, which on such a sweltering sunny day was absolutely packed. I had an inkling that it might be busy as the crowds thickened on the last fifteen minutes of walking towards the beach but I was not prepared for the hoards that actually filled the soft hillocks of golden sand. My towel and I staked out a small patch higher up the beach where I spent an hour toasting myself in the sun, compulsive turning over for fear of sunburn like an imbalanced rotisserie chicken. Having had enough of the sun and the dripping sweat, I made my way to a beach kiosk where I found ice cream (I could live off ice cream at any temperature over 30˚C) and a bit of shade. Somehow I ended up sitting in that shade reading for nearly another hour before I finally had had enough of the noise and the chaos and took myself away off the beach to the peaceful cathedral city of Oliwa.

In Oliwa I found a quiet shady park filled with ponds and tree lined alleyways, a beautiful cathedral with an even more beautiful organ, and a rather cramped graveyard. I wandered and rested in turns, fighting off heat exhaustion and regular exhaustion in equal measure. In this state, I contemplated taking a tram back to Gdansk but, victimized by mental more than physical exhaustion I decided that walking two and a half hours was easier than trying to figure out the tram map and the ticketing system and so off I went along a different road past modern office buildings, oodles of big box shops, and the suspiciously commercial looking University of Gdansk.

Plodding along with several stops for fluids, I eventually made my way back to the old town where food and a rest were very much the order of the day. Which is how I ended up slurping down black currant juice and stuffing my face with four types of pierogi in one of the most touristy restaurants in town. The food was good so I forgive myself, but I did feel a bit bad for the laziness that stopped me finding a more authentic experience. Regardless, I ate pierogi stuffed with buckwheat, pork, and spices, another variety filled with chicken, raisins, nuts and god only knows what else, as well as two sweet options, one which was filled entirely with fruit and the other of which contained a mixture of farmer’s cheese, cinnamon, raisins, nuts, and probably a healthy helping of sugar. I was sated and soon ready to continue my journey with the final few miles to the hostel where I showered, read, and promptly fell asleep.

The next morning dawned equally hot and bright with one of the most excellent breakfasts I’ve had in a hostel yet. Each person had their own plate of meat and cheese, free reign on the bread, spreads, cucumber, and tomato, and there was a yogurt for everyone too. I gorged away happily with the accompaniment of an older American fellow on a five month adventure and a German father daughter pair on a short vacation through Poland and the Baltics. With only a small bit of ego I can proudly say that I was able to provide advice for baltic adventures and was soon labelled a “seasoned traveller.” That probably pleased me a little more than it ought to have.

Once fed, I wandered into the city to find a train that would take me out to the Teutonic Malbork Castle—the largest brick castle in the world. With my train ticket in hand, I stopped to grab a snack and ended up discovering the megafauna that most likely predated the wee little rounds of deliciousness more commonly known as Tim Horton’s Honey Crullers. This monster was as large as my outstretched hand and had just a touch of lemon, but otherwise it was that very yeasted, airy confection that I do so love in Canada. It is a testament to my self-control that I have not already ballooned to 300lbs on the merit of those doughnuts alone.

The train to Malbork was old and rattly. There was no air con so the windows were wide open and the seats were full of a motley mixture of aging tourists, young families, and miscellaneous locals all riding those clattery rails 45 minutes to see the castle.

The town of Malbork is small. The queues to enter the castle were not. Having already took the train to get there however, I stuck with it and soon had my ticket and my audio guide. With the exception of a few tense moments where I became trapped in a herd of tourists clustered around a real live human guide, it was entirely worth the trip. The castle is terribly grand and filled with beautiful open, airy vaulted spaces. It was the main seat of power for the Teutonic knights so it is a strange mix of wealthy living space and venerated convent. I imagine the balance may have tipped more towards convent had the castle church been accessible, but it is currently under a rather intense renovation so with the mixture of ornate wall paintings and primitive in-floor heating (stick lots of hot rocks under a floor with vents), it definitely read more as wealthy accommodation.

The castle also had several exhibits including one on amber which would have kept me all day had I not been so closely followed by a thick clot of tour groups, and one on arms and armoury which contained an impressively well preserved suit of Hussar armour complete with large arching wings hinged onto the back and shoulder plate. And then, in under two hours, record time if the estimates in the guide book were to be believed, I was back out in the city seeking sustenance, which I soon found in a cute little cafe right beside the lackadaisical but well intentioned market street. For less than four euro I munched my way through a meat and veggie sandwich, sipped an affogato, and finished it all off with a lovely slice of poppyseed pastry topped with citrus peel and a lemon glaze.

In exchange for the loveliness of my lunch, however, I was treated to the not so melodious musical stylings of the local alternative youth. Leonard Cohen would have cried to hear Hallelujah so thoroughly murdered. I very nearly did too. And that is almost certainly what set me to wandering aimlessly through residential streets in search of some sound other than a wounded vocal chord.

Apartment blocks turned to parks and soon I was back beneath the walls of the castle, strolling along the river admiring the old town walls. Though I wasn’t out of river, I was soon out of walls so I moseyed onwards past several towers (one now home to a bar of some description) a church or two and eventually emerged in the midst of a massive complex of brick buildings papered with impressive warnings about just exactly how little I should want to venture into the military/police territory behind their pretty little wrought iron gates. Needless to say, as I am here blogging rather than rotting in a Polish prison, I heeded the warnings.

Blessedly the train back to Gdansk was quieter, emptier, and climate controlled which made for a rather less exciting but more relaxing ride back. We passed mostly farms with a few massive stork-like birds before pulling up at a small local station a mere 7 minute walk from my hostel with a grocery store on the way.

Once back at the hostel I scribbled away with a face full of chocolate covered plums before braving a very francophone kitchen to turn my veggies and kasha into a simple healthy dinner consumed at the very French hour of 9pm.

My last full day in Gdansk, began as all those before it with the walk into town but this time I turned left at the bus station and started the climb up to a mixed bag of fortifications crowned by a monument of some sort up on the hill. After surveying the city from above, I set off on the real adventure of the day. I had decided that amongst my myriad good ideas, I would walk to Westerplatte. Now, Westerplatte is typically accessed by car, MAYBE bicycle, but technically there is a footpath and it was only closed for construction in a few places… So I marched along through residential areas, construction sites, and along the divided highway to reach the Polish enclave in the Free City of Gdansk where Germany first began it’s annexation of Poland in WWII. It was hot and tiring but then I got there and there were beaches, ruins, shady parkland, and lots of wonderful little interpretive historic signposts. It was entirely worth it. Definitely an interesting site that has seen everything from upper class spas to public bathing beaches to the start of a world war.

After reading every sign I could find and refuelling on ice-cream and cold tea, I slipped on the dance t-shirt I brought to prevent sunburn and headed back into town. The thing with having your name on your shirt, is that everyone knows your name. In Poland, that means that every passing cyclist or pedestrian will read your shirt, shout your name, or awkwardly sound out “mambo” as they pass. Add to that the enthusiastic honking of various passing vans and you have a very conspicuous two hour journey back to town. I began to think I should have just gone for the sunburn. Heading back to the hostel via the chaos of the promenade and the old town (filled with stalls hawking ever ‘polish food’ and souvenir that ever was) I was only too happy to collapse into a chair safe from the sun and with my feet unshod and elevated.

I ate my dinner and faffed about for a bit before in the cool of the nearing sunset I headed back out into the local neighbourhood to check out the parks and suburbia. With a deliciously cool breeze I wandered through the idyllic Orunia Park with weeping willows trailing through still ponds, families playing catch in the fields, and couples both young and old sitting talking in the arbours and along the streams. Leaving the park I then followed the locals up dirt paths to the top of a hill where I found a small cluster of houses, a shopping centre, and a view. It was quiet and peaceful and beautiful but sadly there was no open cafe to facilitate my whiling away the entire night there. So I left the divine light of my hilltop village and returned to the hostel (via the nearby mini-mart) with a pack of biscuits and a cherry drink of some description, the combination of which carried me well into the evening. Sadly they could do nothing to blunt the sound of drunken, amorous thumping which, undiluted by the thin walls, drifted in on our dorm from the room beside.

Having caught a few winks once our neighbours tired themselves out, I was up the next morning scarfing breakfast, checking out, and heading back to the bus station. It’s amazing what a difference a backpack makes to the sensation of heat. By the time I was on the bus I was sticky, sweaty, and so very ready for air-con.

WARSAW

After a dozy ride through Pomerania, I arrived to a scalding hot day in Warsaw at the farthest north point of the North-South metro line. After observing a very orthodox looking nun do battle with a non-functioning ticket machine the queue of arrivals eventually found a ticket machine which we could all use though it still seemed to foil the nun. I tried to offer to help but she seemed shy and my Polish is non-existent so I didn’t try to chase her down to help her when she gave up and instead just bought my ticket and hopped on the richly red upholstered metro to the city. A few hundred meters (okay maybe a bit more, but I’m optimistic) from the metro I found my tidy little hostel and checked into my tiny little room which I was sharing with three others.

Once showered and changed, it was time to caffeinate before meeting up with a local dance contact. I checked my google map and found that the highly reviewed Ministry of Coffee was only a few minutes walk away. So off I bounced through the searing heat to slurp down a chemex full of a really interesting Ethiopian coffee which I found particularly light, almost woody, and perhaps nutty but never rich. Alongside my coffee, I chowed down on a nice little salmon sandwich and in about 30 minutes was refreshed and ready to tackle what ever the evening threw my way.

What it ended up throwing me was lots of walking, a good bit of boozing, and fantastic company. I met my friend Dominik back at my hostel and he lead us on a merry little adventure around the area to the embankment of the Visła and then down through the Łazienki Park. We had detoured to the park on account of making it to the embankment early but then ended up enjoying the park so much that we were late to the embankment. When Dominik’s friends started texting we started hustling back to the river where we met a motley crew of Polish people from all over the country and one rogue American of Polish ancestry. I felt a wee bit silly as the only non-Polish speaker but they were really considerate and kept every conversation I joined in English.

After a pint (which, by dint of enthusiastic hand talking, I managed to spill everywhere) and a good bit of conversation, we became bored of the mediocre live funk that was booming away beside us and so Dominik, The American (henceforth Daniel), and I set off up the river to see what we could find. After reaching the end of the string of riverside clubs we turned into the city where we strolled through the old town, found ice cream, found shots—dangerous vodka and tobacco shots, and eventually made it to the lobby of Daniel’s flat where we met his Italian flatmate and two Polish friends. The Polish girls wanted to go to a specific bar by the river so back we trotted buoyed on vodka and the heat of the night. When we reached the desired club we bought over priced mojitos, commandeered beach loungers and spent the rest of the evening drinking and chatting in the dark on the artificial beach. I’m sure there are better ways to spend your first night in Warsaw, but I don’t know of them.

After my slightly late night with a little more alcohol than was entirely called for, I was rather chagrinned to be woken up by the enthusiastic early morning travellers at 6:30am the next day. I know, if you have limited time you want to get up early but there really should be a dorm for the longer term travellers who are quite happy to face the day rather closer to 9am. After eventually giving up on getting back to sleep and peeling myself off the sheets, I stumbled down to breakfast where I chatted with an older fellow from Yorkshire who was travelling North to the arctic circle. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was over a month late for the longest day of the year and that it was the wrong season for northern lights. He was delighted to finally be heading up North, so I left him in his happiness and listened to his explanation of how he doesn’t believe in temperature scales (i.e. degrees Celsius) because temperature is subjective and a matter of experience. He was a curious aul fella.

My day’s adventures began with a stroll along embassy row to the Three Crosses Square. From there I passed the massive fake palm tree into the old town where I moseyed around amongst the re-built history and drank a hideously overpriced (for Poland) iced tea in Warsaw’s oldest coffee house which is now owned by the international chain Caffe Nero. It was however a nice break in the shade before I set off to see the memorial of the unknown soldier and pace through the old high society park (The Saxon Garden) and a couple others that allowed me to trace my way through green space all the way up to the double layer Gdanski Bridge.

Atop the bridge I will admit that between the sheer height and the force of the wind, I experienced no little bit of vertigo. And it was a long bridge to cross! But once on the other side I was wandering down tree lined roads toward promised hipster-land of Praga. I stumbled across a church with a sprinkler for the kids (and shirtless adults) on the front paving stones. I wandered through streets crumbling and ripe for gentrification, past beautiful murals and eventually found myself in the Soho Factory district. As it was Sunday, most of the district was closed but that didn’t stop me having a lovely cold watermelon and rhubarb soup before spending the better part of an hour lounging in a shady hammock reading. Having fended off heatstroke for a few hours more, I left the hammock to cruise through another scenic landscape park before crossing back over another bridge to the city proper.

Once back at the hostel I was met by a free traditional Polish dinner almost entirely to myself—none of the other hostel guest showed up to sample! After chatting with the receptionist and stuffing my face, I then (with substantial effort) talked my lazy self into heading out into the northern reaches of the city to hunt down some dance. A metro ride and a dark walk later I was at an air conditioned venue where at 10:30pm was still in the drinking and talking stage of the night. By 11 the dancing picked up and I had some very nice dances with a range of dancers. Almost everyone danced on1 except for one fellow who danced like a competition ballroom dancer which I found rather strange. Nonetheless, I got enough dances to be in a full and proper sweat and had another nice chat with Dominik who, by chance, was also at the event.

The following morning I set out to find the narrowest house in the city, to be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment but my adventure lead me past the old water treatment plant which looked like some strange mix between prison (razor wire) and Olympian sports field. Apparently you can take tours but not on Sunday. So I carried on to the Jewish Cemetery at the farthest edge of the city centre. Of course, it was a fee paying area so I, having opinions about when I should and should not pay for things, peeked in the gate and then promptly turned on my heel and headed off for other adventures. Because however, my luck was SO good that day, my other adventures, namely visiting the local Politechnika were foiled by further issues of Sunday opening hours.

Thus, having utterly failed to tourist I set off to hipster in the inimitable Ministry of Coffee. I sipped iced coffee and ate the most decadent double meringue layered pavlova that has ever been made. I may have also read a bit but mostly I just indulged in the food until it was time to go hunting Chopin. Every Sunday in the summer Łazienki Park plays host to two free outdoor Chopin concerts at the base of the Chopin Monument. Unfortunately I had the wrong times and so I caught only the last 20 minutes or so of the first concert.

With three hours to kill I set off to wander around the park. I ate ice-cream, peered in windows, roamed amongst the trees and the statuary and eventually gave in to the siren song of ice-cream. I also encountered peacocks (fleeing over enthusiastic little hands) and middle aged rockers engaged in an endless soundcheck at the amphitheatre before eventually making it back to the Chopin monument for round two.

Round two came to us courtesy of a very elegantly coiffed young man sporting large dark framed glasses and a Louis Vuitton carrier bag. His name was Marek Bracha and he was divine. He played mazurkas, ecossaises, and a fantasy impromptu, and he played them all with that ineffable grace that only professional classical pianists can lay claim to. And so I sat on the grass in the sun as an hour of beautiful music flowed past me and through me. And then it was time to go.

That night the hostel was hosting a wine and snacks night where I met two Argentinians and an American. We had wonderful chats before the American spotted “Cards Against Humanity” and then we all discovered just what a terrible woman I can be when handed a mitt-full of mischievous cards and a single tantalizing prompt. Incidentally we were all in the same room so we headed off to attempt sleep. In the Polish heat with no air con, there was rather more sweating than sleeping.

Monday was another sultry day in Central Poland so I set off for round two attempting to visit the Politechnika and it’s rumoured “Hogwarts Interior”. It was breathtaking. Once you cross the elegant pillared marble entry hall you pass under the arch of a double stairway that leads up through the four stories of balconied hallways overlooking an open central courtyard which just happens to be protected from the searing Polish sun by a blue and yellow glass mosaic ceiling. Poland knows how to do post-secondary institutions. From the stunning classic architecture to the modern glassed in library spanning the outdoor courtyard, it was heaven. I would consider studying a trade if I could do it there.

When I managed, after some time, to drag myself away from Pastel Hogwarts, I headed towards more parks. On the way I came across a coffee truck which had the air of a hipster establishment so I moseyed over to enrich my morning with a cappuccino. The barista was hilarious. He spoke English in Catch-Phrase only with that wonderful intonation pattern that feels like it’s fallen straight out of the punchline of an American cartoon. Unlike our conversation, the cappuccino was smooth, rich, and nuanced.

With coffee in hand I reached the park built on a former airfield where I found shady pathways, miscellaneous statues, and the National Library. Curiously, the library was large, empty, and graced with massive card catalogues on the first floor. Above that, the library was subdivided into smaller libraries (e.g. music, biography, etc.) each of which was housed in it’s own little warren of rooms surveyed by 2-3 keen-eyed librarians each. There didn’t seem to be many books out in the open so I presume most were held in closed collections. Between that and the lording librarians, I elected not to try to sneak in to explore.

Leaving the park I drifted past a piece of preserved ghetto wall from the days of the Warsaw Ghetto in WWII. The fragment of wall was tucked in amongst apartment buildings in the back of a parking lot just across from a behemoth shopping mall. You’d’ve never known what you were looking at if it hadn’t been for the sign. A few steps away I caught my first clear glimpse of the massive soviet monstrosity that is the Palace of Culture and Science. It’s rather similar to the Institute of Sciences in Riga but with more neighbouring skyscrapers arching their glassy sides impressively over the absurdly ornate squareness of the Palace itself.

After a detour through the mall to pick up a much needed belt for my rather oversized shorts, I then set back out into the heat seeking lunch. I will freely admit that I was 100% a sun zombie. Everything and nothing appealed to me and I couldn’t choose a restaurant to save my life, which is how I ended up at a shamefully tourist targeted traditional food joint with rather more expensive prices than my norm. I choose to forgive myself however as the meal was delicious.

I began with a glass of rosehip juice alongside the first course of the lunch special. The soup was a lovely creamy tomato broth with a swirl of sour cream and a rather generous helping of smoked cheese chunks (rather similar to cheese curds actually) swimming around the bottom. The main was a roast chicken paired with a salad and a pile of roasted, spiced potatoes. It was delicious and wholesome and far more food that I’d eaten in a single meal in weeks. I could barely move by the time I was done but once I regained the power of locomotion, I headed off to the University of Warsaw Library to attempt to get inside.

Sadly the library was open only to those equipped with the relevant student card so I was dumped back out into the sun again where I strolled past the mascot of Warsaw (a mermaid) and then plopped myself down on a bench in the sun (shoes off) to try to soften some of my oh so delightful tan lines. Whilst sunning myself, I was approached by a rather strange character in bare feet with no bag but rather well dressed. She wanted to know where to find the library so I told her but she then hung around the area for another 20 minutes or so, half of which she spent in a crumpled heap beside (but not on) one of the benches. She assured a passing good samaritan that she was fine and shortly later wandered off again. I am going to presume drugs.

After my day’s adventures, I returned to the hostel for waffle night where I chatted with a mix of travellers from Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, the UK, and of course the two Argentinians from the night before. We babbled about travel and school and life and then it emerged that one of the Swiss girls was going to China for an exchange program this fall. I am so incredibly envious and now, unbelievably nostalgic for that magical year in Shanghai. I suppose that sinophilia may be part of the explanation for my ending up in the middle of a pitch black park in the middle of the night hunting Chinese lanterns. It was probably not the ideal solo adventure but when I found the lanterns it was perfection. The only thing that would have made it better would have been tea and someone to sit in the pagodas with me.

And then after another sweaty night of attempting to sleep it was time to hop back on the metro, head out to the bus station, and finally say goodbye to Warsaw.

WROCŁAW

After a few hours on a very full Polskibus, I arrived in the delightful city of Wrocław where orthography is a game and pronunciation doesn’t matter. What do I mean? Well, look at Wrocław, how would you pronounce it? RAW-claw? rock-LAW? Try FROHTS-suave. Yes, that’s how it’s pronounced: FROHTS-suave. Do not ask me how.

The city was hot but overcast and ever so slightly hazy but I was soon checked into my spacious third floor hostel which seemed nice enough, but more on that later. Unlike the massive urban sprawl of Warsaw, Wrocław feels like a small town. You can walk nearly everywhere inside of an hour and the university is at the heart of the city which means that there’s tons of excellent, cheap student food. Having forgotten to take snacks on the bus, I quickly found myself in one of Wrocław’s little milk bars (a remnant of Soviet campaigns to introduce more dairy into the daily diet of the workers) devouring a feast of meat, cheese, and everything fried complete with cake and a glass of compot for less than €5. The best bit is that you pay by weight so it doesn’t matter what you fill your plate with, you just fill it and throw it on the scale and then you hand over a few coins and prepare to stuff your face.

Once fed, I was ready to tackle some sightseeing. I began with the “Cathedral Island” which hosts the botanical garden and more churches and church related buildings than you can shake a stick at. Sadly the botanical garden was just closing as I arrived so I had to give it a miss, but the cathedrals really were impressive. The main cathedral was decked with so much carving and painting I didn’t know where to look first. It was tall and dark and very ornate. After cruising through a few other churches I island hopped my way back to the old town with an absolutely blessed bit of breeze taking the edge off the brutal heat.

When I returned to the hostel it was time to shower, change, and head off to check out the dance scene. As it was a week night I wasn’t exactly surprised to find a very small party. It was mostly sensual and what salsa was danced was mostly Cuban but there were a few fun dancers and I got just enough to fuel the need. I also had a very tasty mojito and all the delightful fun of fending off an amorous young fellow who really wanted to dance with me. Upon realizing that I knew what I was doing admitted that he had no idea but insisted upon returning several times to try to convince me that we should “learn together”. I hate to be mean but I do not teach on the floor, especially from scratch, to the drunk, so I sent him away with the suggestion that perhaps he look into lessons. I wonder if he’ll ever follow up on that or if he’ll keep just stumbling around dance parties begging girls to “learn together” with him.

And then I was back out into the night getting ever so slightly lost. Conveniently, I got lost in the exact right direction to avail of late night convenience stores. Poppyseed pastries will undoubtedly be the death of my waistline.

The next day was another scorcher so I headed out to the Centennial Hall and accompanying park with hopes of peaceful gardens, grand communist architecture, and a cool fountain-side breeze. Running on an inadequate breakfast and a striking lack of sleep however meant that peaceful as the park may have been I mostly just found it hot. The Japanese garden was pretty enough but after being yelled at to show my ticket (which the ticket checker had just watched me buy) and for getting too close to the lake edge (I wanted a picture of the water lilies!) I was quite finished with my little bit of Polish Japan. The architecture was fairly communist, which is to say strangely striking and grand but utterly incomprehensible while the fountain, if not cool, was at least equipped with an entire phalanx of benches. I spent as long as I could lounging in the sun on a bench before the heat sent me scuttling away back into the shade of the trees.

I crept back into town clinging to the shady side of the street and stumbled across a very poignant monument featuring the angel of death and a crying mother. I need to brush up on my history but it seems that it was a monument to the Polish men killed by firing squad when the Soviets left the city sometime around WWII. The explanation was not very clear but the statue told a heartbreaking universal story of loss most effectively.

Moving on past the monument to where I hoped to find coffee, I stumbled across an old bastion instead. It was just sort of left there, half crumbling, half whole with an entirely indifferent view. It was however a nice distraction from the discovery that the coffee shop was not open until mid afternoon. In a huff of h-anger and caffeine cravings, I set off for another milk bar I planned to visit. It too was closed, evidently for renovations? By that point however, I was verging on a tiny little meltdown so I returned to the previous day’s milk bar where I found pierogis, salad, fried cheese, panacea, and a mediocre coffee. It was just enough comfort food and caffeine to keep me going and shortly thereafter I was back out in the world investigating a beautiful old baroque church next to the university. It was very heavy and dark and every surface was covered in beautiful painting, carvings, and stained glass. I will venture to say that it was even more grand than the cathedral I’d visited earlier. It was just one detail after another all piled up and formed into a great cavernous ode to faith.

Next door however, my attempts to visit the university were met with more grumpy middle aged ladies shaking their heads and saying an awful lot of ‘nie’. Apparently the university is open every day but Wednesday. Just my luck.

I compensated my soured spirits with a single beautiful scoop of the most divine, light, rose flavoured ice-cream. I always love floral flavours, but this was something special and it was exactly what I needed to combat heat and frustration. Once refreshed, I wandered out to a synagogue with a lovely little exhibit on Wrocław’s Jewish history. Then it was down to the river to wander past all manner of monuments to though who suffered under both the German and the Soviet occupations. I also added a goodly number to my dwarf spotting collection. As a result of some student protest movement which installed three dwarves in the town centre square with a slightly confusing political motive, Wrocław is now full of tiny little gnome statues. They are in jail, they are pushing boulders, they are putting out fires, every action you could imagine, there is a dwarf in Wrocław doing it (no, not that one. Not the one you’re thinking of now, they are al family friendly little menschen).

At the end of my river walk I came upon an elevated pool and terrace which looked like perhaps once upon a time it was very grand—think riviera and white linen suits. At this point however, it is all a delicious ruin, empty pool, crumbling masonry. It’s really very romantic. It was to be the last romance for me however as my return to the hostel to rest was met by a most unwelcome guest. As I was lounging on my bunk attempting to rest in the heat, I rolled over just in time to see a small fast moving entity skittering across my mattress towards my pillow, no towards my head and oh my god I have never moved to quick, not even for spiders. This, this was the storied monster that creeps into everything and ruins lives, this was—no not a tick though I loathe those too—a bed bug. I’d never seen one in person before but having had a few bed bug paranoid people in my life I knew immediately what I was looking at. I caught it, and then caught it again, and then eventually secluded it inside my earplug case because the little fiend could escape all my other attempted traps AND it was nigh unkillable. I then proceeded to panic, to research, and to pace quite a bit before I decided that this needed to be reported.

The girl at the desk was initially very calm (after she equipped me to kill the little beastie that is) and informed me that she would speak to her manager. That was before she knew what bed bugs were. I returned to the room to pack up all my gear and get it as far from the bed and the floor as possible and then returned to see if we had a verdict. The manager had not yet been on the scene but my little receptionist had called an exterminator and had done a bit of research and was, justifiably, beside herself with the immensity of the situation. No, I could not move, what if I spread them? No, nothing could be done because the room had to be empty for 24 hours after spraying. No, I could not wash my clothes, there was no hot dryer and the water alone mightn’t kill them. And so there I was. All by me onesie in the bed bug room.

More research threatened to actually make me ill so I isolated my luggage as best I could and went on a wander through the northern part of the city hunting street art. Wrocław is a unique decorated city. Every spare segment of wall has met with a spray can and many of them are officially sanctioned murals in every style and with all manner of message. Blessedly, the art, the walking, and a bit more fresh air served as sufficient balm for my frazzled nerves, at least for the time being.

I spent the night sitting in my windowsill watching a thunderstorm roll by, eating ice-cream and mucking on my computer. The day had been far too hot, tired, and stressful for me to have any inclination to head outside into the downpour.

In the morning I was allowed to change rooms and the receptionist seemed a lot less panicked which should have been a warning sign to me but instead I presumed that that meant that it was alllllll fine—it certainly seemed to be. After relocating I set out for the university. Oh my goodness it’s beautiful. There were more delicious stairwells, painted ceilings, lecture halls all clothed in wall painting and marble, and then there was the observatory tower with views of everything! I would never have thought of Poland as a mecca of beautiful universities, but there you are. The Wrocław university is so stunning I found myself undergoing a revival of my former academic life goals in a slightly revised form. I found myself dreaming of being so prominent an academic that I would be invited to lecture in one of those acoustically perfect, beautifully painted theatres. It seems unlikely, but a girl can dream.

As I left the university it was time for another dose of my favourite drug so I set out for a nearby cafe (recommended online for it’s coffee) where I promptly ordered an affogato and a cake. The cake was fine but the affogato was foul! The ice-cream was mediocre but the espresso was obscenely bitter and acidic all at once. Occasionally my addiction repulses me, usually when I am choking down terrible coffee with the horrible knowledge that if I don’t choke it down, I won’t be functioning for the rest of the day.

Once the addiction was fed, I set off for the Jewish cemetery at the edge of town. This one was closed for further notice but the walk lead me past enough interesting street art to justify the journey and as I turned to head further out to visit a gentile cemetery I was rewarded with another curiosity, this time a random and utterly unexplained brick tower, a rather castle-like brick tower, in the midst of the highway. God only knows what it was but it was pretty. The cemetery itself was shady and nice enough but nothing special so after a bit of reading I headed back to the hostel to conduct the massive laundry overhaul of my potentially buggy bags. At the time I knew no better but I made a tragic mistake when I chose to only visually check my backpack. Thus would begin the delightful bed bug saga that followed me onwards to Krakow, but we shall leave that for now. Suffice to say, I was in my new dorm, looking the lunatic checking every seam of my bag when another traveller moseyed in. After a bit of moseying about, he turned to me and said “so you’re Canadian?” I had no idea how he’d come up with that but it was a conversation starter (he later admitted that he’d read it off my shirt, I have to stop forgetting when I’m wearing salsa team shirts) and soon Charley (the American) and I were off hunting Polish dinner and drinks.

I had zurek, a sour rye broth based soup, which was essentially just a great warm bowl of sausages, eggs and heaven. We then set off to find a bar and found ourselves looping in endless circles around the old town, so we settled on a place I’d researched as a cafe. It was called Literatka and was renowned for intellectuals. It also serves a pretty fantastic cocktail, and whiskey is whiskey so we were content people watching and judging at the edge of the old town square. But, when the drinks were finished, it was time to move on so we returned to the endless circle method. It might have continued all night were it not for the menace of a local prostitute which sent us scurrying for cover. Normally on my own I have no trouble with the roaming ladies of the night in such places because I am not a target and in my backpacker state am definitely not competition. Charley on the other hand regularly has to deal with their advances and so was happy to have a girl along that he presumed would deter them. Not this one. From about half a block away she spotted us and fixed me with the most murderous gaze that I have ever been subject to. I honestly would not have been surprised if she’d shanked me or sprang for my jugular. It was vicious and it lasted the whole time she angled towards us and circled around behind us and then, blessedly, she was gone and I was unharmed though definitely newly acquainted with the vicious intent of my own gender.

And that’s how we ended up drinking terrible beer cocktails to the strains of mediocre live renditions of Americana music in another bar on the main square. Despite the usual norm of “talk to the man, he has the money” in Wrocław, Charley was invisible to serving staff. I suppose he didn’t look at that Polish. I evidently do and so I was deferred to by every waitress and waiter at every interaction. I really wish I spoke more than three words of Polish. As the bar closed up around midnight, we finished our foul beery concoctions (there was fruit in the bottom too) and headed back to the hostel for another night of mediocre sleep. Mine was interrupted constantly by the worrying creak of wood too far stressed to handle the weight of the backpacker above me.

My final morning in Wrocław, I ended up in another bar drinking coffee and killing time while Charley got a little more local with morning beers. We chatted and sat, blessedly shaded from the searing sun, until it was time to head for the bus station: me heading south and him north.

KRAKOW

When the bus reached Krakow, I stumbled off into another hot sunny day and set out to find my hostel. It was blessedly close to the station and after a speedy check in I was back out into the world hunting food. I really need to stop forgetting to buy bus snacks. Following my leads from the internet, I was hunting a famous old Milk Bar renowned for authenticity and affordability. I would agree that it had both. The servers spoke absolutely no English and so I was stuck with guessing and repeating from her spoken list of three things they had left that close to closing. I ended up with a big plate of Polish gnocchi smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce for the all too reasonable price of 3złoty. Yes, that’s three. It converts to about €0.75 and it was actually delicious. For all that Poland may have gave me some headaches, the cheap, hearty delicious food always won my back.

Fed and revived, I wandered through the pretty but busy old town where I stumbled across a traditional music festival and a pierogi festival. At the pierogi festival I watched two ladies in a get-up best described as the result of a polyamorous love affair between square dancers, acid ravers, and country western singers, singing some sort of country music. I also sampled a blueberry filled pierogi but it really wasn’t the best I’ve had and it wasn’t terribly cheap so I stopped at one. After my encounters of a country kind, I found my way to the shady park that encircles the entire old town. It’s a good place to rest and resist ice-cream but the allure of cheap pear flavoured lody (that’s Polish for ice-cream) was just too much to resist so soon I was back in the old town with a cone of the stuff sitting on a bench watching the world go by.

After my wanders and all the food, I returned to the hostel to wait for the arrival of my favourite Italian: Martina! Just as I was starting to get worried that she might be lost around 11:30pm, she arrived and the rest of the night disappeared into chatting and catching up on all that has happened since we last saw each other.

Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to go to bed, the club under our window had woken up and we were treated to pounding club mixes all night. And I don’t mean “all night” as in ended at four. No, we woke up to the stuff at 7am, which didn’t put us in the best shape for our visit to Auschwitz.

I can’t really describe what it was like but suffice to say that if you get a chance, you should visit. Not that it’s easy, or happy, or fun. It’s not. It’s hard and heavy and heartbreaking, but I think we need to make sure we don’t forget how delicately we are balanced on the knife edge of decency and civility. Much of the rhetoric displayed in the exhibit was only a touch further than the rhetoric we hear everyday in our own politics of immigration and assimilation, and the justifications for Nazi actions were not so far off some of the justifications we hear today. It is also important, I think so see the faces. It is easy to hear a number and think “wow, that’s a lot” but it’s a lot more than you can imagine. Seeing the faces and reading the stories helps to make that number more real and it needs to be real because we have to make sure we never let anything like that happen again. For me, the most heartbreaking stories were two that involved children. One was a farewell letter from a 14 year old boy to the other children at the children’s home he had been living at. He told them that he was with his family again and that they were being sent to Auschwitz and that his parents didn’t know what that meant, but he did. The second was a recollection from a survivor who remembered hearing that children were going to be taken away for medical experiments and some of the people in the barracks said that they might be able to save the children by feeding them paper to give them a fever (only healthy children were taken) and one woman gave up her prayer book (probably her last solace) to be fed to the children.

After Birkenau, we returned to Krakow to refuel with some coffee and cake. It was decent coffee but the cheesecake was the strangest I’ve had yet. It was quite dense but very dry and mixed into the cheese was a healthy dose of peel and sultanas. There also appeared to be no crust which, along with the presence or raisins, disappointment Martina quite substantially. Either way, we were revived enough to take a stroll through the old town before slipping into Chłopskie Jadlo for another traditional Polish dinner. This time I had a bowl of peppered beetroot broth with small meat filled dumplings and martina had Zurek after which we shared a plate of miscellaneous pierogis. Before all that however, they brought us the gratis starter: a plate of very acerbic pickles and bread with smalek and a sour cream sauce. Smalek, for the record looks like someone fried a whole garrison’s worth of bacon and then poured out all the drippings and a goodly number of bacon fragments and let it congeal. You smear it on your bread and then die a happy death of clogged arteries and amazing taste.

We should have liked to get a good night’s sleep after a long tiring day, but unfortunately Saturday night is party night in Krakow and the music started up again at midnight to rage on until the morning. Unbelievably, the music was still blasting and there were still people partying after 9am the next morning. Krakow is evidently a party city.

Running on very little sleep, we roamed about the old town, dodged the queue at the castle and contented ourselves with an outdoor survey and somehow found ourselves in a tiny little music store in the castle wall trickling swing. There were CDs and vinyls of everything from naughty swing songs to beautiful classical concerts. I wish I had room in my backpack for vinyl.

Drifting east, we found ourselves in the Jewish district of Kazimierz where we visited the Jewish cultural centre and were advised to check out the nearby Kupa Synagogue. It was built by the community and in it’s day had no entry fee which meant that it was accessible to the poor. It is also famous for having paintings depicting human figures which is technically not allowed in the Jewish faith. So we paid our 5złoty, swathed ourselves in scarves to cover our legs and arms and headed in. It was a modest little space with wooden tables and benches and humble but pretty painted decorations. I guess it makes sense that synagogue is the word for a meeting place because they always feel to me more like a town hall than a sacred temple. I suppose it would be different with a rabbi and a torah out in the open.

By the time we left the synagogue it was lunch time so we popped into a courtyard bar for more soup. I had another bowl of Zurek (not as good as the bowl I had in Wrocław) and Martina sampled bigos. As we sat meditatively supping, the temperature began to drop and the wind began to rise and soon it was obvious that we were about to be in the middle of a storm. We quickly paid our bill and hurried out to find a cafe where we could take cover before the storm reached us. We couldn’t find a cafe but we found a restaurant bar and slipped in for coffee and dessert just before the downpour began. Thankfully the desserts were mammoth because the storm just kept raging on. It was one of those summer thunderstorms where the sky gets yellow and the thunder is deafening and even after the thunder had passed the rain just kept on coming. After several hours in the bar, we had to brave the weather to get Martina back to the hostel so that she could catch her flight. Unlike Ireland or Shanghai, Krakow does not have an umbrella in every shop and so we were left to walk cold and sodden through the flooded streets and across the old town to return to our hostel. We were soaked to the skin.

Once dried and checked out, Martina set off for the airport and I transitioned to a dorm room which, being Sunday in a party city was almost entirely empty. I had a shower and a nap and waited for the rain to pass. Eventually it did so I braved the city again. It was dry and even a bit sunny but the temperature was down around 20 which, having been in 35 degrees for nearly two weeks, felt absolutely frigid. I slipped into a 24 hour pierogi shop near the hostel and chowed down on a plate of mixed pierogi to the tune of a strong mix of everything from innuendo laden swing to bossanova to gypsy swing. It was a curious little restaurant which curiously also contained a woman with the identical purse to my own, just black.

Once I’d had my dinner, I wandered my way down to a cafe full of decadent cakes that I had eyed the day earlier. It was absolutely packed and sadly my walnut and apricot cake wasn’t nearly as lovely as it had looked in the case. There was nothing wrong with it but after the richness of Polish savoury dishes it seemed rather lacklustre and bland. I feel like perhaps finicky cakes are not a strong suit around these parts.

Leaving the cafe I wove my way through the endless sea of horse drawn carriages—don’t ask me about my asthma, Krakow is too pretty for me to dwell on how little of it’s air I was able to breathe—back towards my hostel. Just as I left the old town, I heard the strains of beautiful classical piano music streaming from a third story window. The entire building was dark and shuttered, all except two windows on the third floor which were thrown open and streaming light and sound. I stood there in the street until the music stopped and the poetry of the city filled me. My body covered in bed bug bites (yes, I was still dealing with the little blighters), my wheezing lungs, and my sleep deprived brain were all swept away by that moment of romance in a dark street just beyond a massive construction site.

As if to test my resilience, I was woken up early the next morning by the booming thrill of another thunderstorm. Loathe to spend another day sodden, I decided to head to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The weather doesn’t matter when you are 100 metres underground. So I set off through the rain to the train station. I was wet and tired and slightly frazzled by the time I reached the ticket machine where I bought a ticket with five minutes to reach the platform. All of these factors combined with the breathtaking glass cleaning skills of the station attendants lead to the impressive degree of pain and humiliation which was to immediately follow my turning away from the ticket machine. There were two glass walls in quick succession. The first had open doors, the second had a lot of panels with logos on them and then one gap between the metal dividers which to my astigmatism plagued eyes looked to contain nothing. Following the logic of the first wall I made the slip second calculation that this was the only open door (analogous to the one in the first wall) in this second barrier between me and my platform. It was not.

The next time you hear the sickening thump of a bird hitting you window full flight only to drop like a stone to the earth below, imagine that that bird is a tall blonde backpacker in a bright orange raincoat who has just begun to accelerate to her famously fast purposeful glide with every intention of reaching her platform in the next 3 minutes. The station was nearly empty at that hour of the morning so I don’t think anyone saw me, but if they did they were not the sort of person to come check on the dazed Canadian with a mouth full of tooth fragments and a serious fear that her nose might be broken. As my brain flipped into panic mode over the tooth, I patted my face searching for blood and, finding none, found the closed door and carried on (at a somewhat reduced pace) to the platform. I reached the platform exactly as the train was meant to be departing but it was already gone. This left me with a 30 minute wait in which to employ my phone as a mirror to ascertain the state of my face, and my tongue as a probe to explore just how badly I’d broken my tooth. The answer to the first was: sore but no damage; the second: corner chipped off but only enamel damage. And so I got on the train and went to the salt mine.

It had stopped raining by the time I reached Wieliczka and I found the entrance to the mines easily enough. There I was added to a tour group and we headed down the mine shaft to the first level around 60m underground. The mine was stunning with beautiful chapels carved out of the salt, not by sculptors but by miners. And we’re not just talking caverns here. The chapels were filled with statuary, bas relief, and chandeliers made of clear salt crystals. Among the statues, my favourites were those dedicated to the sacred heart. The Christ figure was carved out of semi opaque salt but the heart was made of the clearest crystal and lit from behind. It was a lovely touch. The mine also featured extensive wood support structures all painted white to reflect more light and reduce the darkness of the mine. In the earlier days of active mining, these wood supports were also accompanied by witness posts which stood beneath the ceiling as a measure of how much new support was needed. If the witness began to splinter and bow, it was time to build another scaffold. The mine also used to be prone to filling up with methane. In order to allow the miners to continue to cut out the salt, experienced miners would crawl in every morning in wet clothing with long torches and burn off the methane in relatively controlled explosions. Mining: it’s such safe and enjoyable work. I think I should have preferred the neolithic method of collecting water from salt springs near the mine and boiling and drying it to recover the salt.

After the end of the tour we were released into the restaurant where I had a coffee and a cake some 100 metres underground. I have never chewed so cautiously in my life but my tooth seemed resilient enough and not even the hot coffee caused pain so I felt somewhat better about my prognosis. Somewhat later I joined the queue to the elevators which actually was a queue to be lead down another kilometre or so of winding tunnels to the elevator. Once out, I promptly got lost in the visitor centre (trying to avoid tourist shops) and spent a good five minutes sorting out my error and emerging into the once again pouring rain. At the train station I found an older Japanese couple baffled by the ticket machine. I tried to help them, but something went wrong when they tried to use their credit card and I am not inclined to peer over anyone’s shoulder while they are working a credit card machine so I got them to switch to cash and, being thoroughly soaked and tired of waiting, I just set the machine to summon three tickets for us and popped in my fee along with theirs. Of course it would not be that easy and the machine spat out only one ticket for the three of us together. So we stuck together. They were a lovely couple but not particularly comfortable in English so we stuck to a short conversation and lots of smiles.

On the other side, I left my Japanese travel companions at the platform and headed back to my laptop and an internet connection to sort out my dental situation. After a few phone calls, I found a clinic with an appointment available later in the day. With three hours to kill I decided to adventure to a few libraries. August is not the time to visit libraries in Poland. They were all closed until September. I did however drop by the beautiful medieval Jagellonian University campus which, though also closed, was another reason to believe that Poland just knows how to do post secondary institutions. Stopping at a rather disappointing milk bar (more expensive, less delicious, and filled with tourists) I headed up to the dentist. I was a bit apprehensive at first, especially given the little English that seemed to be spoken in the clinic (which online promised service in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German, the works), but in no time I was shuttled into a room with a friendly young woman who cleaned out the area, took a quick look, did a few tests and set to work on a filling. 30 minutes later I paid about €30 and left with a tooth so well repaired as to be unnoticeable except under the closest scrutiny.

Having conquered dentistry, I set out to gather supplies for the following day’s task: conquering bed bugs before moving into civilized accommodation. Curiously, Poland doesn’t seem to know about zipper bags. How it is possible to live without the magic of Ziplock I do not know, but I suppose they manage somehow. Eventually I settled on a pack of freezer bags with twist ties for closure, found some sort of disinfectant wipe, and called that good enough. I then attempted to blog. The fact that I am finishing this on the plane to Norway tells you how well that went. In my defence, I was very distracted by the excellent west coast swing music that happened to be playing in the hostel bar where I had no one to dance with!

The next morning after an amusing breakfast with an enigmatic Icelandic wing dancer, a black eye sporting Colombian (the Icelander was interpreting Polish dosing guidelines on black eye medications for him), and an escaped American, I checked out of the hostel and checked in to the laundromat. I spent all morning hot washing and drying everything that could be washed or dried and meticulously sanitizing everything else with disinfectant wipes. My poor dance shoes didn’t take kindly to that treatment but I couldn’t bear the thought of bringing bed bugs into a beautiful Air BnB property so it all had to be scalded. By 2pm I was finished with the debugging and checked into my gorgeous room. It was all orange and airy and even had an old porcelain tile heater in the corner. I was in heaven with a clean room guaranteed to be all for me for the first time in ages.

Once settled in, I popped out for a coffee and a brownie in a nearby cafe and then made another attempt at libraries. Apparently the libraries in the east side of the city are also closed in August. I drifted through the New Jewish Cemetery, past the Botanical Gardens, and across a park that seemed to be dedicated to Pope John Paul II before making one last ditch effort at catching a library. Even the Politechnika is closed in August.

So my aimless wander continued. I looped down to the river where I found a statue to a dog that had lost his master to a heart attack near the river and had returned to the exact spot that the ambulance collected the man from every day for a year or more. And then I found food and returned to make dinner before heading out to dance.

I thought I was going to end up going to a sensual party (it was the only one I could find) but I made one last tour of Facebook and, lo and behold, stumbled across a WCS party. Obviously, that’s where I went. When I arrived they were learning and practicing this years flash mob but soon enough the lesson turned into a social and I managed to snag a couple of dances with an old fellow from Edinburgh in Poland to learn Polish, a few locals (who I thought were really quite good), the guy who ran the party, and another American expat who it seems runs the blues scene and who was only too happy to take me on a tour de dip a la swing. He was not enthused about my flexible latin back and we had a lengthy conversation which ended with us agreeing to disagree about whether dips are nicer with a straight or arched back. I stand by the sexiness of a flexible back and a sinuous arch.

My final full day in Krakow I set off to what looked like a park on my map but which was rather more like semi-rural suburbia. I found a fortified mound of some sort that I would have dearly liked to climb, but I do not pay to climb hills so I had to content myself with a survey of the surroundings and a visit to the nearby chapel instead. After that I set off following my map which had loaded incompletely and learned exactly why we make sure that we have a detailed and complete map before we set off into the forest. About the time I was wrapped up on all sides by thorn bushes which were making an impressive go of trapping me forever and shredding every inch of bare skin on me, I decided it was time to give in and use the data. I wasn’t far off where I was meant to be, but when dirt tracks through the woods are marked as roads, you don’t have to be far off to be stuck. So, picking brambles out of my arms and legs, I got back to the actual path and eventually made my way up to the European Studies Department of the Jagellonian University which just happens to be in a villa on a hill beside what is labelled as a castle (or a bastion depending upon where you look). It wasn’t particularly grand, but the balcony which housed the cafe offered the best views of Poland that I’ve ever had. From river valley to soft rolling hills all lightly garbed in heat haze and speckled with buildings, it was gorgeous. It didn’t hurt that the apple pie I ordered was also delicious. It was more a streusel topped square to my mind and it was served in a cream that strongly resembled tapioca cream pudding without the tapioca pearls but it was delicious. So there I was, on a hilltop in the sun eating pie and drinking iced tea, completely oblivious to the shade of my shoulders. By the time I finally felt inclined to pay the bill and slip away I was a wee bit burned so the rest of the day was spent shrouded in my pashmina which I had initially brought for the chill of 20˚C in the morning.

About an hour later I was back in the city hunting for a beautiful lake that TripAdvisor had promised I would find if only I looked. With no sidewalks and plenty of “Military Area DO NOT ENTER” signs I was beginning to give up hope but then the walls ended and a dirt track opened up before me and I was off. In no time at all I’d crawled a fence to find myself on a cliff edge overlooking the most beautiful blue lake I had ever seen in a city. Honestly. It rivalled Boya Lake for clarity and that’s saying something.

I slowly picked my way around the perimeter on rather narrow little cliff tracks, occasionally clinging to trees to prevent a slip that would have sent me off the cliff and several stories to the water below. It was wonderful! At the far side of the lake I finally found a little goat track which gave access to the water. I claimed a rock, stripped off my shoes and socks and spent another hour lounging in the alternating shade and sun with my feet dangling in the cool crystalline water. You’d never know the lake is there. It seems like something that belongs in a majestic forest landscape but there it is, tucked in amongst the high rises, a perfect escape from the city.

The evening was relaxed as I ate pierogis and then stuffed my face with Polish cookies in an ill advised attempt to bribe myself to blog, but it was nice to finally get some sleep in a lovely cozy bed surrounded by warm orange walls.

Which brings us to this morning when I headed back to the laundromat. I haven’t had any new bites since my last backpack overhaul, but as I am going to be staying with friends for the next three weeks or so, I decided I needed to be doubly extra sure that every last trace of pest was gone. And so there I was in the laundromat looking like a lunatic again. It bothers me less every time.

Having finished up at the laundromat I set out to find an internet cafe. Because Ryanair loves us non-EU folk ever so much, I was unable to use the app on my phone and had to find somewhere to print my boarding card. On my hunt, I may have pulled a China-Ireland. I followed a local lady across the tram tracks against the light. There were no trams coming our way, we were fine! But then Polish traffic cops have quotas to meet and I look local so we had no sooner hit the pavement than we were hit with a barrage of Polish from the “friendly” police officer shepherding us towards his patrol car. I explained I wasn’t local and he took my passport and proceeded to explain everything to the Polish lady and nothing to me. Eventually in frustration I demanded an explanation and was told I was receiving a ticket for dangerous jaywalking. Joy. My first ever ticket. I had to wonder though that they had located themselves mere metres from an ATM. I guess the government needs money. Incidentally they also demand your father’s first name when writing you a ticket. God only knows why. So some time later and 100złoty poorer, I left the “friendly” police officer who could not even direct me to an internet cafe.

I did eventually find a place. The boarding card was printed, and I even had time for coffee before my neuroses drove me to the airport bus. I ended up sitting in a gorgeous little place called “Return to Africa” drinking a shot of Yauco Select from Puerto Rico. There is no better salve for shaken nerves than good coffee and warm memories of music and dance.

And then the coffee was gone and the airport-crazies had arrived and I was off to find a bus to the very small, very cramped Krakow Airport. Poland was a delight but it’s time to move on to places with fewer bugs and less tenacious traffic cops.

Full of food and only a small bit burned,
The Canadian

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