A Trip To Europe, Hold the Tourists Please

Saturday the 21st. Waiting for Polish Customs In Gdansk

I miss my car, my music, my guitar, my cat, and Cosmic Cantina burritos. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's Porgy and Bess keeps running through my head.

My gear weights 13.5kg not counting the clothes I'm wearing and the T shirt I lost.

Train from Gdansk to Katowice

Wrestled with Polish phonecards...and won. Why do I have to break the corner off before I use it? Whatever...called cousin Wieslaw to tell him that I'll catch the next train to Katowice and call him again when I arrive. Met Marek and Martina, two month newlyweds in the train station outside the ferry terminal. They speak English; the Swedish girls from the ferry either don't or were too frightened of me to admit that they do. Marek and Martina hold my hand through the process of buying a ticket to Katowice which would have been impossible otherwise due to the language barrier. The ticket costs 36.50Zl and the ticket agent refuses my credit card with the same scowl of disapproval I remember nuns wearing a lot in grade school. I have exactly 36.70Zl in cash. I get the ticket. Marek and Martina's help saves my vegetarian bacon.

A photo of the inside of a PKP car

Second class on PKP (Polish Railways) means a lot of standing apparently. One side of the car has glassed-in boxes with seats in them and people looking like fish on the inside. The rest of the car -- about two feet wide -- is left as an aisle and room for standing travellers and their baggage, which is where I'm at. But I've got my head out the window like a dog in a car, I've seen wood storks and South Park grafitti, how can I not be happy? The nun standing next to me crosses herself as we lurch to a start; does she know something I don't?

Got a seat for a while but gave it up to get out of the stuffy fishbowl. Met a fellow who likes to talk and did not let the language barrier deter him. We had a good time pointing out phrases in my Polish-English phrasebook. He was mortified to learn that I am a vegetarian; I was mortified to learn that he likes eels. We talked a lot but said very little.

Notes from Katowice, Where Wieslaw Appears As An Angel

Wieslaw says 'yup'

Fiasco in the Katowice train station...after using four airplanes, three trains, two ferries, and one taxicab to carry Wieslaw and Barbara's phone number across three oceans and through five countries, I managed to lose the damn thing somewhere between Gdansk and here where I need it most. My backup is that I put the number on my Web page before I left home (so clever!), but despite numerous international calls I can't find anyone at home to get on the Web for me. Double damn! I am standing in front of the phone in the train station weighing my diminishing options when a man speaks to me in Polish; I assume he wants to use the phone so I step back and say, "Sorry, speak English?" Wieslaw says, "Are you Philip Semanchuk?" Wieslaw has never seen me before, he recognized my resemblance to a photograph of my father. Amazing. Angel. Thanks, Dad. Wieslaw takes me to his home in Tychy where I meet his wife Barbara. They feed me and we drink vodka into the wee hours. I am so tired...

Barbara says 'hello'

Cultural note: In all of Europe, I have yet to find two showers that work alike.

Breakfast is milk soup and plums from the tree in the back yard. Definitely recommended.

A picture of my little smiling cousin

If supermarkets are any indication of an economy's health, Poland is in fine shape. "Hipermarket" has a nice feverish capitalist ring to it, and 36 cashiers! What would Stalin think?

A picture of my cousin Bartek, the happiest guy in Poland

Wieslaw and Barbara's son Bartosh just showed up. (Bartosh is inexplicably pronounced "Bartek", Wieslaw is pronounced "Veeswaf", Barbara is pronounced "Barbara".) Bartosh is the happiest guy in Poland. Dinner party, many relatives. Cousins I have never met before. Vodka, piwo, cognac. Tomorrow we will drive to Nagorzany in southeast Poland to meet more cousins, my father's parents' family. Bartosh's attitude is contagious.

A picture of my cousin Asha

Cultural culinary note: Present at most meals (especially breakfast) has been some sort of meat (pork?) suspended in "jelly". It looks like human-sized portions of cat food served with lemon. Definitely not recommended.

The funny baby says 'don't eat the cat food!'

Cultural note: Poland is graced with many shabby Soviet-era apartment blocks. All the paint in the world would not make them nice, except maybe a giant paint river that would wash them away completely.

A picture some truly awful apartment buildings