Nearing the end of the trip with two nights to go and I’m reflecting on just how much we have been through. It has been both a long and short 3 months and a hard yet easy trip. I’ll fill you in on the rest of our Poland adventure below, and then wrap with a trip summary in another post.
From Krakow, we took a sweltering hot train ride to Poznan. Sweat ran off of us in the crowded carriage and we kept standing to haul down the old windows to let in the hot breeze. By the end of the journey we were sticky and soaked as if we had been standing beneath a shower.
Arriving in Poznan, we had almost 3 km to walk in the stifling heat to our apartment, by the time we arrived we were all ready to chill and have a shower. No one much felt like doing anything and we were probably all suffering some degree of heat exhaustion. Dad found a food ordering app and we ordered pizza in.
Poznan was a bit of a chill out place for us. We wandered the square, saw the goats butt heads at noon and Mom and I slipped away for a quiet coffee in a converted monastery. We neglected to cook or get groceries and just ordered pizza both nights. My overall feeling when we left was that I didn’t really care for Poznan, but maybe I just didn’t see enough or give it much of a chance. My feelings were probably coloured by the fact that it was so loud and hot at night, that none of us got any sleep at all.
Our next stop was Torun, I found this little gem quite by accident and we decided to stay 3 nights. We arrive at the apartment to falling down stairs, fresh drywall spackle in the dark hallway and a feeling that it is a ghost listing. I leave everyone downstairs and climb to the 4th floor using my iPhone as a flashlight. I arrive at number 11 and knock and a young man barely out of his teens answers, hands me the key, mutters something about leaving it in the lock box and is gone before I can ask any questions. Rather than climbing back down the rickety stairs, I open a window and yell down to the others on the street below to come up. They soon join me and we marvel at the utter coolness of this 15th century apartment. The apartment runs from the front to the back of the building and has the cutest kitchen and bathtub, though I spend an hour cleaning the fridge before we even think about putting food in it!
We spend our days in Torun wandering the streets, attending a Walkative tour and going to the gingerbread museum to see how gingerbread has been made here for centuries. We eat a lot of gingerbread and lody (ice cream). We buy roses to put in our little kitchen and they look wonderful against the wood and lace in the window.
One night there is a massive thunderstorm. The kids and dad sleep through, but mom and I stay up and watch. I sit on the wood sill of the building and watch the storm, the people hanging out of their windows, and the drunks wandering the cobbles below. Have I mentioned how noisy this apartment was? between Poznan and here I haven’t really slept in 4 nights. I turn away as a couple has sex on their window sill in the building across, and when I return 15 mins later the same woman is holding a toddler, sitting astride her windowsill 3 stories up. I decide at this point to listen to the storm from my bed, as I cannot bare the thought of that child tumbling to the street below, and I fear I may see it if I stay. Sleep finally comes as the drunks are mostly inside due to the torrential rain.
We leave Torun and take a very comfortable train North to Gdansk, we are not staying in old town, but rather a bit West near Sopot. The building we are in is a communist block building that runs probably a km down the street and houses thousands of people. It is surprisingly quiet and has a massive bathtub which we are all excited about!
We are close to the beach and wander there our first evening through an amazing park. The park is huge and here you can see the positives of communism. There are bike lanes though the whole park, separated from the walking paths. The streets have this same setup, with wide boulevards encouraging self propelled transportation rather than vehicles. Everyone is out on bikes, scooters and feet. I really wish we had infrastructure like this at home!
At the beach, we find many accesses closed as they are widening the beach. We finally find a place to access it and I soon find a small piece of amber in the surf!
We decide to rent a car for a couple days to go see Hel, Marbork Castle and a few other places. I find a little local place that has great reviews, so Dad and I walk there. The guy tells us he is closed on Corpus Cristi so we cannot rent for 2 days, it needs to be three. I agree as it’s super cheap. I go to give him my credit card and he says “cash is better.” I enquire if there is a bank machine nearby and he waves his hand and says “Pay me when you get back.” He doesn’t have our credit card, I haven’t paid and he hands me the keys to the car. Insane, I think, but what the hell. We take the car and off we go.
We grab Mom and the kids and head out to Hel which is on the end of a peninsula. We stop at a beach right at the start of the peninsula and the kids have a great swim and play in the sand while mom and I look for amber. We find lots of agate, but no amber here. After, we drive the peninsula to Hel. It feels heavy here and we don’t want to stay. A lot of fighting happened here, and you can sense it. It feels heavy. On the way back we stop at another beach and Dad watches the kids play in the sand while Mom and I wander. When we get back Dad tells us that two different people came up to him and warned him to keep a close eye on the kids as there has been child trafficking and a girl was taken the previous week. We get the hell out of Hel as soon as possible after hearing this.
The next day we visit the BEST castle I have ever been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. Malbork castle is a Teutonic castle from the 13th century. If you have ever read anything about the Knights Templar it is a super fascinating trip. The audioguide was fabulous and had GPS so could tell where you were automatically and then give you the relevant information, it would then guide you to where you were supposed to go next. Z hates audio guides, but she said this one was so much like books on tape, that she kept it on the whole time. We went fairly late in the day, so had to rush the last bit. If you ever go, you need at least 4 hours.
The following day we went to the Vistula Spit. The countries of Russia and Poland meet on this spit and we intended to go look at the Russian border after hanging at the beach, but a huge storm interrupted those plans. We parked and walked 3 km through a beautiful pine forest and past a cormorant sanctuary to the beach. We arrived to a long stretch of sand and Dad sat in the shade and watched the kids build sandcastles. Mom and I, of course, went amber hunting. We didn’t see anything and so went back and sat with Dad on the beach. After awhile something bit me on my leg, and so I went to go wash it in the sea. When I bent down by the ocean, is when I saw it, bits of amber sparkling in the sun. I waved frantically at mom and she joined me as we found tons of little amber pieces.
I did note the thunder, and the approaching storm, and the fact the wind was picking up, and the sight of what looked like a black wall coming at us from down the beach… but but amber! At this point Z runs down the beach and tells us that Grandpa says we need to leave right now as this is going to be dangerous. We rejoin Dad and the kids, and join the exodus of the remaining people on the beach just as the storm makes its assault. Trees sway and bend and hurl pinecones at us as we speed walk through the forest. I am acutely aware that we are in danger of falling branches or trees. The lighting and thunder is all around us and we walk faster, leaving a couple groups behind us. There is one group of people who we are walking near who have obviously called someone to get them. A van appears on the track (I’m not sure how it got into the gated path). and they jump in and leave us to the storm. I fume, as If it was me, I would have invited as many people to pile in as I could fit. They speed past us towards the highway just as the rain and hail hits. We try to run, but the mud sucks at our feet. We are soon soaked to the bone, the kids are in their bathing suits so will have dry clothing to change into, and Mom has a spare set, but Dad and I aren’t so lucky! We get to the car and duck under a picnic shelter for me to change the kids. Dad and I climb into the car sopping wet. We approach the highway and there is a line of cars as far as the eye can see. You see this day is Corpus Cristi, and is a holiday, and everyone is leaving the beach at once… a beach on a peninsula. It takes an hour to go 8km. We blast ourselves with the heat from the car’s heaters and try to warm up. Dad stops to get us coffee at the Mcdonald’s by the highway, it is the only thing open on this holiday and it is packed with the people leaving the beach. He eventually returns with the coffee and we are still wet, but at least we are warm.
I have a fairly profound experience later this same evening, which I will not write about in this blog, but if anyone is interested, I can tell them in person.
The next day we return the car. I pay, he doesn’t even look at the car and sends us on our way. Awesome!
Our last day in Gdansk, we head into old town. I don’t care for it. It is loaded with more tourists than I have seen anywhere else on my travels and feels really dead, like it has no heart. The town seems designed to keep people moving, with no where to sit and relax like there is in Krakow. We do have one wonderful experience of a young violinist and cellist playing together, but other than that it wasn’t very interesting and we decide to head back. On our way back to our apartment Dad points out a man wearing 4 pet snakes. Z is fascinated and it totally makes her day!
The next day The kids and I are supposed to go to Szczecin by train for a couple nights and then to Berlin. I have a not so great feeling about this and I have traveled enough to know to listen to those feelings. I decide to go back to Poznan instead and as soon as I make this decision I feel instantly better. I book a place in Poznan and cancel my place in Szczecin. What I haven’t thought about though, is how full the trains might be.
We arrive at the small station near us in the morning. After standing in line for 20 mins, I hand the woman behind the desk the paper where I have written out which trains I would like to reserve and my rail pass. She seems utterly confused about the rail pass and then tells me no trains. I ask if any trains have space, and without looking she says “no”, hands me my pass and starts helping the person behind me. She didn’t bother to let me know I could have stood in the train, so due to this we miss the train we wanted to take. We decide to go to the main station as there are more people there, and usually someone speaks English at the main stations. We get there and again I stand in line for 20 mins. I hand the lady my pass and request and she screams at me “I don’t speak English go there go there.” and points across the station where there is nowhere to buy tickets that I can see. I point to the reservation sign and then the train on the paper in my hand. “NO!” She screams “NO English GO GO!” I wave the people behind me forward as I fight back tears, but I’m not going across the station, and I’m not losing my place in line. I wait for the next agent, and while she doesn’t speak much English, she certainly helps me. She lets me know that all the trains are reserved for the day, but I can stand. She then tries to make my reservation for Poznan to Berlin, but her computer breaks, so she takes me to yet another lady, who quickly gets me the reservation. I notice it is for 2nd class, but I sure as hell am not going to make trouble now, so I take it and go.
The next 3.5 h standing in a corridor of a train with my pack on with about 80 other people standing in the same carriage was my idea of hell (notice a theme here?) The kids did really really well. I was so thankful I had pretzels and they had books on tape. Somehow we made it, through the squishing and sound and heat and pain, and the ice cream we ate when we hit Poznan was the best ever. I commented to the kids that I didn’t think any of us could have handled that at the beginning of the trip. It illustrates how strong, and flexible and adaptable we have become in the last 3 months and I am extremely proud of them and myself for accomplishing this. I honestly didn’t know how I would get through at the start, and here we are near the end, and I did it and they did it… and I am awed.
We have one more night in Poznan, and then one train to Berlin and then 2 flights home. I will blog once more to wrap this all up at the end. Thanks for following us this far!