adventures in poland

Well… today was intense, despite getting to sleep in this morning. We awoke to being berthed in Poland, at Westerplatte Pier (which has significance to the start of World War II – the nearby monument can actually be seen from our ship quite well). When we did get out of bed, we decided we ought to go downtown and get our train tickets earlier in the day since we are so new at this idea of casual train travel. Luckily, our interport university student, Anna, was going to the train station at the same time as us… so she was able to coach us through the busride into town (a long one, about 25 minutes) and the ticketing system. Unlike in the States, where you just pay busfare and you’re set, here you buy bus tickets – but they are meaningless unless you stamp them upon boarding the bus (in little machines). We also found out, on the way into town, that two other guys on the bus were from the ship, heading to Krakow – so we decided to travel together and share a compartment. When we got downtown, it took us forever to find the proper ticketing counter (even with Anna’s aid… we were all just following her), but without her we would have been a complete mess.

Given the exhausting nature of purchasing our tickets, Amy and I decided we needed to go by McDonalds (I know, I know) and get flurries (they’re different because they are made with Lion candybars!) After that we wandered around town, shopped a bit, and came upon an interesting photo gallery called Cyklop. We initially walked by it, thinking we would have to pay to get in, but a few friendly older men on the porch kept yelling for us to come have a look inside at the photography. We went back to look inside, and it was definitely worth the stop. It was a really small gallery, currently filled with rows of faces of soldiers from around the world. Amy started to walk outside when we were done looking around, and they were like “Where are you going?!” and struck up conversation, finding out that we were from the U.S. At this, one of the men ran back into the gallery to fetch me, quite excited that we were from the states because one of the guys on the porch was too (well, he had lived there for several years). We sat down and talked to them for quite awhile, which was really interesting. Amy was talking to a guy named Zbigs, who seemed to be sharing a lot about what Poland was like after the fall of communism. I was talking to another one of the guys, named Christopher, who actually had lived in Pennsylvania for his time in the states! He also seemed really intrigued by the Semester at Sea program (most people we meet react that way – understandable because I find it intriguing too!) They both also impressed us in being at least trilingual in Russian, Polish, and English. After sitting and chatting for the better part of an hour, we had to get going. They had suggested that we go kayaking in Gdansk to see the city from water level, which sounded really cool, so we are going to try and look into when we get back from Krakow. It was really fun to be able to chat with locals. They had such a great sense of humor and were so welcoming to us!

We went back to the ship, packed our things, and met the guys, Dylan and Matt, in purser’s square to get downtown again for the train. Unfortunately they had brought another girl along with them whom we are not too fond of (I don’t know her name, but we refer to her as “Asian Barbie”). We walked to the bus stop and when they saw the bus wasn’t coming for twenty minutes, of course they had to go have a beer or three. When we got downtown by the train station, again they wandered off to have beer… instead of heading to the station (our train was leaving before too long). When we got up to the train platform, Dylan and Matt were nowhere to be found… but we did meet two girls (Randy and Melissa) with which to share a compartment. They ended up being really cool and sharing similar frustrations as us with the voyage and fellow students.

Given that we were all so tired, we started to fall asleep soon after getting on the train (it was at least 23:00 by this point). All of the sleeper car spots were sold out, so we had to take 1st class seats for the overnight trip. We also didn’t realize until getting there that we were on the same train as the huge (~150 people) Semester at Sea trip to Krakow… and I daresay we seemed more organized than they did when it came to getting on the train and settling in.

As we were falling asleep (four of us curled up in a six-seat compartment, pretty tight squeeze for sleeping), our compartment door flew open. A girl came and basically yelled at us telling us that we need to give our seats to Semester at Sea people who paid for them, and didn’t seem to care that we paid for our seats as well. (Also, it seemed absurd to us that people from the ship paid extra to have a seat when they already had a bed on a strictly overnight trainride…) We hadn’t objected to anyone taking our extra seats, because no one had asked/tried to, yet she was completely in our face about it. Turns out, she wasn’t even one of the people who paid extra to have a seat.

We were all really irritated after that, but eventually started dozing off again. However, soon out compartment door was flung open again and an older woman stepped over our luggage (in the total dark) to sit right on top of Amy and Randy’s legs, deliberately, while they were sleeping – without asking to sit there or stirring either of them, in order to take the seat. After that, she proceeded to say that word was spreading that the four of us were terribly rude and so on – totally ridiculous, we were the ones getting yelled at by an uninvolved peer! While she was trying to defend their side, she did tell us that students had kicked a Polish man out of his seat, thinking Semester at Sea had total control over the carriage – how sick and rude is that?! When I am traveling in a foreign country, I never assume that I am right, in control, or have the power to do such a thing as kick someone out of a seat that they rightfully paid for. Anyhow, the woman basically lectured us repeatedly about how we don’t understand the situation and need to be sympathetic of people trying to kick us our of out seats (backward logic, really). Randy couldn’t take it and was going to flip out, so she got up and left… soon followed by Melissa. With just Amy and I there, we couldn’t just get up and leave too, so this woman goes on being in my face for quite some time more. She was saying absurd things, like we should watch out because people (other students) may come in assaulting us because what they’ve heard about us, and we need to watch ourselves. I initially was very calm and polite with her, explaining our side of the situation, that we were traveling independently, and that we had absolute right to our seats despite the misunderstanding. I also said (as she was defending the rude behavior of others towards us), that under no circumstances is it appropriate for people to assault us in any way – discussion is how situations get resolved and we had tried that. Of course, discussion didn’t work with her either… and even as Amy and I were falling asleep again in our seats, she kept lecturing us about ways in which we had never behaved. Finally, I said to her that we would kindly appreciate if we could go back to sleep, as she had interrupted us from sleeping to begin with (and it was after midnight). Ironically, as soon as I said that and conversation ended… she got up and left. Randy and Melissa returned moments later and said the woman actually already had a seat in the cabin next door! Furthermore, there were entire compartments that were empty and several more that had only one or two people in them – yet they got off being in our face about hogging space (absurd because we would have yielded seats to anyone who had paid for one) when we didn’t have a sleeper carriage or anywhere else to sleep like they all did.

The whole wretched experience really just reinforced why we have been pursuing independent travel options instead of going on overpriced Semester at Sea overnight trips…

gdansk, along the water

downtown gdansk

swarms of polish pigeons!

saint mary’s church

beautiful interior of saint mary’s church

stained glass, also inside saint mary’s


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