'wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking. we're all wanderers in life.' -spanish poet, antonio machado

Thursday, April 16, 2009

1 long (unexpectedly longer) weekend. 44 hours of enjoyment. 44 hours of travel. unlimited frustration and joy.

the path less traveled by most (but very well traveled by yours truly...

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(May 2nd)First of all, I'd like to apologize to all of my loyal fans out there who have been deceived by yours truly, as I have been promising this story - in its full and crazy/beautiful glory - for the last few weeks. I do have an excuse, though, (okay, well sort of an excuse) which is the fact that it is that detox time of year! It is better that I am writing this now, anyway, as I have had some time to get over the slight (and I do mean just slight, cause I actually was laughing a bit at the time too...believe it or not:)). So what I will do is go ahead and give you a visual play-by-play of my chaotic polish travel adventures so you too can experience what it is like to experience every kind of language barrier travel miscommunication imaginable. Fabulous. I hope you enjoy the journey as much (or I should say "more") than I did. :)

(side note, connected to the last point: one of the very important life lessons I learned long ago that was not to dwell on misadventures for a few reasons, 1) there are millions of people out there who have worse things happen to me...I am incredibly blessed, 2) I learn gobs and gobs o' good 'character-building' stuff from these experiences and 3) perhaps maybe - just maybe - I could fulfill one of my many life goals by bringing enjoyment and smiles to the face of at least one individual through my life mishaps. See, I told you they'd be good life lessons:)!)

So as the story goes...I was heading to Poland for a fun-filled weekend of Easter and baptism adventures with Tom's extended family. Super-over-joyed-and-uber-excited (albeit a little rushed), I quickly packed after work and made my way to the train station, grabbing one of my last Starbucks coffee treats before I would take another kind of train (the detox train:)) on the way. Luck was on my side - I was catching every metro in my path by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin (hmm...) - I had a feeling this was going to be a pretty darn good weekend! Positivity was on my side at this point, as you can see.

Made it to Hlavni Nadrazi and found my train...maneuvered through the train cars and tried to communicate with the czech/polish/ukranian train attendants. Despite already obvious language barriers, I figured out which train car was mine and found my way to my private (woo-hoo!) sleeping car. I would soon find out that the train's end destination was Kiev - what tipped me off was the Russian writing all over the place. It was actually a bit eerie (transsiberian-esque) of an atmosphere. Tom had kindly brought me the 4th and final (tear, tear) book of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn (I love vampires!), so I excitedly settled into my creepy train car and began to shuffle through my bag, looking for my book. As I was doing so, I instead located my Polish phrase book, gifted to me by Tom's amazing mother, Elizabeth.

I had been praying all week for ease in communication with Tom's family, as I was going by myself, void of anyone to help translate. Last time we visited Poland (in October), I had Tom there and he translated everything. Literally. So, needless to say I was a bit nervous to travel all by lonesome for an entire weekend of traditions and 40+ Polish family members. But, of course I was super-excited and ready to tackle the challenge. I would soon find out that I should have been praying for ease in communication with everyone I encountered while in transit, not solely Tom's family. So I began to study some Polish phrases. Polish is very much like Czech, but there are many differences too. Czechs think Poles sound drunk while talking because there are a lot of soft sounds, and Poles think Czech is a not-so-pretty language. It is quite funny to hear both sides, actually. Anyway, after a bit of language study, I decided I wanted to dive into Breaking Dawn. I have taken a pretty intense liking to this series and there are a lot of haters out there who think it is silly, but I know that if they were introduced they'd become closet Twilight lovers. ha.

So I read for a little while and then decided to hit the hay. I was grateful to not have to worry about bunking with some randoms. The whole situation would have felt even more transsiberian-esque if that had been the case. The way my luck turned out, I would have been sharing a car with drug trafficking murderers. ha, okay, maybe that is a stretch. :) Before I fell asleep I made an effort to locate my phone in the mess that was my bag...to no avail. I had forgotten my phone. Super. I was going to another country where not many people spoke English, without my phone, an address for Tom's family, or even a phone number for the family. Very poor travel planning. I figured I would be fine, though, so I shrugged it off and was on my way to catchin' some zzz's. I awoke early in the morning as the sun rose and had estimated it was about 6 or 7 in the morning. We were stopped...I had no idea where. Maybe west of Krakow? Hmm. So I quick snapped a pic (notice me in the mirror giving a peace sign?!) and opened my sleeping car door to the outside world.

I saw no one. Strange. I realized I hadn't seen any other passengers on the entire journey yet. And, when I went to ask the attendant where we were she was less-than-helpful and didn't really care that I looked utterly confused. I used the nasty train toilet (uggh, I shutter just thinking about it), and made my way back into my humble abode. A couple of hours passed and we still hadn't moved. It had to be about 8am, which was supposed to be my arrival time to Tarnow (of course I didn't have a watch either, so I didn't know exactly what time it was...I know, a nightmare). Major travel miscommunication #1 - I thought we were arriving to Tarnow at 8:30am (that's what the idos.cz AND the Cedok travel agent told me), but this was apparently not the case, and of course I couldn't talk to the attendant to figure anything out. I knew there was nothing I could do to inform anyone (Tom, brother, Tom's fam, etc), so I decided to take a nap. I must have slept 2 or 3 hours and when I awoke we were still sitting in the same place. Hmm. Very interesting(/annoying).




MHTV#10 - 17 hour voyage to Tarnow? unheard of! from megan harrod on Vimeo.

I started thinking about how I was going to get a hold of Tom's family when I did arrive to Tarnow. In the meantime, I knew I was missing all of the important Polish traditions tied to Easter - the preparation of the Easter baskets (Swieconka) that would be taken to the church for a blessing. Darnit! As I was pondering this, the train started moving slowly on the tracks. 'FINALLY!' I thought. Grrr. We soon passed Krakow Glowny and I knew I was on the right track (hee, no pun intended)...guess what time it was?! 1:30pm. Crazy. How had this seemingly easy, breezy 9-hour overnight trip turned into a 17-hour journey to Poland?! Wow. Just as I was pondering this thought, there was a knock on my door. Three relatively young men asked me, in Polish, for my documents. 'Documents' was the only word I could understand. They weren't wearing uniforms, so I was a bit hesitant, but thought maybe they were undercover and didn't want to get arrested in a different country, so decided I'd comply. After 15 minutes of sketchy-ness (i.e. reviewing my passport, making calls to God knows who and talking about my Visa-in-progress), they gave me my passport back and I said 'dziękuję' ('thank you' in Polish). They smiled. And then they were gone. Phew.

I arrived to Tarnow at around 2:45pm, phoneless, watchless, mobileless, phone numberless, addressless, mindless;). I hopped off of the train and into the deteriorating Tarnow train station (it is in serious need of a makeover). I decided to make my way over to the information desk, where I soon found out English wasn't spoken. At all. Fabulous. Meanwhile, the "document checkers" were huddled near a restaurant in the train station looking at me and giggling. Freaks. I was not in the mood. I made sure my bag (which has a picture of a boy and a girl, and the boy saying "Hi-" and the girl replying, "Don't bother trying. I'm way out of your league!") was in full view. Not that they could read it anyway, but Tom would be happy:).

Where was I?! Lost my train (again, no pun intended) of thought...oh yes, there it is! Found it! So, I went to the info desk and the lady speedily said something in Polish to me that sounded like this to my virgin polish-language ears, "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, Megan, blah blah blah?" My face lit up with glee...and she could tell. She looked delighted for having made the connection, and then handed me a piece of paper with what I assumed was Jarek's (Tom's cousin Kaska's husband) phone number. Wonderful! Well, it would have been if I had a mobile phone. I tried to inform the woman that I didn't have a phone. Her smile quickly faded and she no longer seemed amused. She used her personal mobile to call the number and then handed it to me. Jarek's voice greeted me, "Where were you," he said. I explained it to him, and then he was on his way to pick me up. Glorious. What a great impression.

He graciously made the journey back to Tarnow from Tuchow to pick me up. He told me about what I missed and then we made our way to the liqour store before it closed (this was a very important trip to the store...as we had to buy about 10 bottles of vodka for the following day's festivities. That's how the Poles roll:).)

We arrived to Tuchow and I was greeted by sweet little Nina, Kaska's daughter. After a few minutes, Nina and I picked up right where we had left off in October when we visited. We had a great time playing, being silly and interacting with very simple Polish words all weekend.

And I also met little Feliks (which means 'happy' in German...and he was indeed a very happy lil' babe!), who was in Kaska's tummy when I last visited. Feliks would be getting baptised at the Resurrection Mass on Sunday.

I feel so incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to celebrate Easter as well as Feliks' baptism with Tom's family. Tom and I both agree it is very important for me to experience things like this with his family in Poland, and I am so grateful that I can act as a tie to his family in Poland in this way. The Resurrection Mass and baptism were wonderful, despite the fact that I couldn't understand anything at the service (I know, I need to learn Polish...preferably from Tom's amazing mother, Elizabeth!). :) The church, like many Catholic churches across Europe (and especially in Poland), was marvelous and very elaborately decorated.

After the service I walked out with Marysia (on the left of this pic, is Kaska's younger sister, also Tom's cuz) and met up with Anna and Karolina (the two girls on the right in this pic)...Karolina is Marcin's girlfriend (Marcin is Kaska and Marysia's brother, so Tom's cuz). They were both wonderful and we instantly were giggling and getting along as we hopped into Karolina's small car and made our way to Jurasowka (Jurek's - Tom's uncle and Elizabeth's brother - ski hill and the family's business). Anna's English was mucho impressive and I had such a good time chatting with her. She studied in Prague during Fall '08, so we had lots to chat about. The picture below was taken inside the cozy lil' lodge. We settled in for gobs o' good food, laughter and time with friends and future family members. It was unreal...a truly unforgettable experience.

I was already full aware that the Polish know how to make a good spread, as I have had many a good, hearty dinner at my childhood best friend, Amy Gorz's house as well as at Tom's house, but this spread was unlike anything I had seen before. We overindulged in the food that had been blessed the previous day, including hard-boiled shelled eggs, ham, sausage, salt, horseradish, fruits, bread and cake. We also had Zurek, a traditional Polish Easter soup. It was all so filling and amazing. After it was all said and done (or so I thought), the desserts were brought out. And desserts they were. Wow. Mmm. Can you imagine if I had gone on detox when I was originally planning to? I think the family would have thought I was crazy...I take that back, they definitely would have thought I was crazy.

Sometime after dinner Marcin, Karolin, Anna and I decided to take a walk. I was uber-excited to get the chance to take a gander at the Tatra Mountains, but it was foggy just like my last visit. Nevertheless, it was gorgeous as we had a beautiful view through the valley and the fog.


Just when I thought my stomach was full and couldn't fit any more food, Uncle Jurek brought me this Polish dish (below). Hmm. I am still not exactly sure what it is called, but my initial reaction was that it looked like turkey dinner enclosed in jell-o...two things that didn't quite make sense to me combined into one. It reminded me of those Chinese donuts with pork in them (when I studied abroad at Lancaster, England, one of my neighbors was Chinese and she encouraged me to try one of these 'donuts' one day...I took a bite before I knew what was in it. As I took the bite, she told me that it had pork in the middle of it. I almost spit it out all over the table, but figured that would have been rude, so I stomached it. Uggh. *Chills*.). My second thought was that perhaps this was not actually a gelatin-base, but was actually fat. Uggh. And, it was served cold. Anna assured me that I didn't have to try it, but of course I was going to try it...Jurek gave it to me! So, I poured some vinegar over it (because Jurek informed me that is how you do it) and dove in! Mmm. Actually not bad.

After many courses and also many glass of wine and shots of Polish vodka, family members who did not normally speak English were showing off their English-speaking skills. It was quite funny and we were all laughing hysterically! In time, we encouraged Jarek's sister's son to show off his guitar and singing skills...so after locating a guitar and playing doctor by taking some strings from one guitar and adding them to the more suitable option, the singing and banter began.



tarnow - easter celebrations with the polish fam #1 from megan harrod on Vimeo.



easter celebrations #2 - singing with the fam! from megan harrod on Vimeo.

Somewhere in the mix, Jurek took me back to this room full o' vintage goodies, and gifted a 2.5 ft. wooden sculpture of Jesus to me. I second guessed taking it for a moment, as I wasn't sure how I was going to travel the following day with this Jesus affixed to my bag, but I shook it off and thanked him with a big hug and an "I love you". Let me just say that Polish hospitality is unparalleled. Okay, I sort of take that back, becasue I remember being dazzled by the Irish hospitality as well, but I will say that Tom's family took such good care of me and I am so thankful for everything they did.

Late that night (or early the next morning, I should say), I made sure to check (and double check) the train times so I wouldn't encounter any problems on the way back. All looked good and I'd be leaving at 10:30am. Kaska graciously packed me some snacks and they drove me to the train station...Jarek even walked me to the platform to make sure I got on the right train. ha ha. All smiles, I hopped on the train with my buddy, Jesus, and we were on our merry way back to Praha!

I took a nap, did some reading, etc. - of course I was mapless, so I didn't know where the heck we were, but it seemed like I was on the right track. My train car filled up with women young and old, but I wasn't sure if any of them spoke English because no one attempted to speak with me. We hit Wroclaw and I started to get a bit skeptical about the direction I was going, but thought someone would have told me by then if I had been going in the wrong direction. I figured we were just going south from Wroclaw, since it was a near straight shot. The ticket checkers came by at various points throughout the journey, sometimes inspecting my ticket for longer than others, but I just wrote it off. That is, until I was about an hour past Wroclaw and the sweet ol' ticket checker said something to me in Polish, seemingly questioning my ticket specs. I quickly scanned the train car and asked if anyone spoke English. A beautiful Polish girl sitting kitty-corner from me nodded and then informed me that I was heading toward the Baltic Sea. Hmm...well, that doesn't sound right. 'How did this happen?" I asked myself (in my head, of course)?! Where was I? I politely asked the girl where we were headed and she said something that began with a "P"...I prayed that the word she had uttered was "Pilsen" rather than what I soon found out actually came from her mouth ("Poznan" - WHAT?!?!). Where the heck is Poznan (frantically searching for some answer, I dug in my bag and pulled out the phrase book Elizabeth had bought me, hoping it had a map on it. Turned to the back. Sure did. And, it told me that Poznan was a city about midway through the country - on the same plain as Warsaw, but a on the west side of the country. What have I done? Ugh. The girl informed me that she too was going to Poznan, so she'd guide me in the right direction.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at Poznan and the wonderfully amazing girl (whose name I have since forgotten...serves me right for writing this post so late!) took me to the info desk to ask about trains back to Prague. 'Thank God for this girl!' I thought. She was so darn sweet. The man printed out the train times and I braced myself. She informed me that the next train didn't leave for a while...midnight. By this time it was around 7:30pm and I was supposed to have been home in Prague. Grrr. Bad travel luck this trip. I asked if she was sure if it was 12am. She said "yes." So, it was a bummer that I had to wait that long for the next train, which had a 5am connection in Berlin. Wow. At least it was better than the next train, which left at 3am from Poznan. Ugh...creepy train stations late at night. I thanked the nice Polish girl and gave her a big hug.

Having learned a little something from previous travel experiences (ahem, like on the way to Poland), I decided to go to the ticket counter and double check train times. I waited in line, realized I was in the wrong line and then finally found my way to the right ticket desk. Trial and error. Luck was on my side when I realized the clerk spoke English. YAY! She confirmed travel times with me, and also told me I wouldn't need to buy a ticket until we got on the train. Perfect. So, I jumped online at one of those old-school(ish) internet point things to inform the masses that I had once again encountered travel woes and then proceeded to KFC to hang for a little while. I look absolutely thrilled, don't I?!

A few hours passed and I decided to go check the train times on the board. On my way I was thinking I should just spend the day in Berlin - 3 countries in 3 days, that could be pretty sweet. This wasn't turning out so bad afterall! Huh. No train to Berlin. Very interesting. And by 'interesting' I really mean 'are you kidding me?! how could something more possibly go awry?!' So I went to the info desk to ask the man, who it turns out spoke English, and he looked at me like I was absolutely crazy and asked me why I was taking that train...because it turns out that train actually left at 9pm (while I was in freaking KFC eating food that I shouldn't have been eating...I think God was punishing me! ha!). NO WAY!!! WHAT?! But the lady said...oh goodness...this was NOT fun. Sure enough, I had missed the train to Berlin while I was in KFC eating greasy chicken. Next train, 3am...to Wroclaw and then Wroclaw at 6:30am to Prague. Wow.

Needless to say, I wasn't entirely thrilled to be spending 7+ hours in a train station, hanging with randoms, witnessing prostitute acquisitions, homeless individuals fighting with each other, random drunk girls attempting to talk to me, etc.

And then it was time. I walked to the board, and there was my train (jelenia gora - I was unsure at first, because it didn't make sense to me, but I asked about 5 times to confirm)!! Thrilled, I made my way to the platform, but made sure to ask the info guy, "I know this may be a really dumb question, but what direction will my train be going? I want to make sure I don't miss my third train of the day." He pointed me to the right direction. No, I mean the real right direction this time...

...and I arrived to Wroclaw (phew) very early in the morning...with enough time to spend some of my last hours outside of detox eating with Jesus at McDonalds.

And everyone was staring at me, carrying this big sculpture of Jesus around, so I strapped him to my timbuktu for easy carrying...

...and we made our way to the train...the right train...FINALLY!

And I cracked open my book and settled in for the journey.

reading - my most favorite part of train travel

nasty euro train toilets - my not-so-fav part of train travel

After a 27-hour travel journey, I was rewarded with a glimpse at the funkiest rat tail I have seen since I have been in Eastern Europe. And trust me, I've seen some funk.

After all was said and done, I did the calculation in my head and realized that it was true I spent exactly 44 hours in Poland enjoying my time with the family, and exactly 44 hours in transit to and from Poland (cozying up to Polish trains and getting some good quality time with Jesus!). It took me 27 hours to get back from Tarnow. Wow. What a weekend. What an experience. Happy to be alive:) and able to tell the story!

Thank the Lord for adventure!

Love,

me

2 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh Megs, I would have died about 8 times during that fiasco. I'm so happy you're still alive and still crackin my shit up!

    Love you Megs-

    Ali

    P.S. I literally almost puked on my computer when I saw that toilet. Oh, Europe...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely hilarious. You kill me. Eating KFC in a train station with Jesus and missing your train. It could only happen to you on your Great Big Adventure. Thanks for the laughs today!
    Take care
    Jolene

    ReplyDelete

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