I Found Copernicus in the Old Country

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of Poland  , Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship,
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Did you ever wonder where the "old country" was or if it really existed when your grandma or whoever reminisced about it. Well, I can confirm that the old country indeed does exist and is about 97 km east of Gdansk. Yes...cows, farmfields, bad roads and little towns well preserved like tiny little Gorbachev era time capsules dot the Polish countryside.

Before undertaking my epic journey back in time I paid 50 cents for the pleasure of using an underground public restroom manned by yet another cranky old woman. The plastic flowers near the wall toilets added such a regal touch to the 1970s mint green tile and were perfectly suited to withstand the assault of odors down there that would kill anything living.  Can't they come up with something better here that isn't such an assault on the senses everytime?

With my ultra success and mastery in navigating the Polish city bus system from my Westerplatte journey, I was ready to expand my horizons and give the regional bus system a try. Gdansk is great but with my infantile but growing vocabulary of Polish words, I was ready to venture far, far off the beaten path. I don't think Helen and George from the cruise ship will find me where I ended up.

Yep, the Polish hinterlands were calling my name and I randomly picked Frombork as my goal. OK, I'll admit it wasn't totally random...Frombork was the only place within a reasonable distance I could actually pronounce. I wanted to pick a place I knew nothing about and see if I could learn something there and make an interesting afternoon. Forty minutes after Frombork was chosen, I was navigating my way through the piss stench tunnels of the bus/train station combo on the edge of old town.

Having learned over the years that a picture is worth 2,000 words I can't say in Polish, I drew a bus with the words Gdansk and Frombork and of course an arrow pointing from the former to the latter. I slipped my stick figure bus under the window at the info booth and the lady just rolled her eyes and pointed to the booth next to her. The look was more like get your retarded behind out of my way you stupid *$@? $%(# $|** American moron. Now I have seen that look at the Atlanta Airport when passengers ask for directions or need to change a seat so I knew to back the hell away from her booth and quickly.

So I took my 2nd grade drawing to the other woman and asked if she spoke English. "If I must," was her music to my ears answer. I still think my 2nd grade drawing trumps her first grade English any day (but then again my Polish is not even nursery school level). At least I found out the bus would leave from Platform 1 in a few minutes and I could pay 16 Zloty (about five bucks) on board. Vaminos!! (I don't know how to say that in Polish yet.)

I carefully stepped over and around what I believed to be pee puddles and climbed upstairs to the platform. Yes, eau d'pee at 9:45 in the morning. I am glad to see that it's not just MARTA that is so crisp and inviting to the nasal cavities. A picture of Pope John Paul II hanging inside the bus blessed me as I paid the driver, and two pinetree air fresheners dangling above the entrance freshened the whole experience.

On the way out of Gdansk I noticed that we rolled right past the Von Hundret and Six bus stop and the little old man in the kiosk from yesterday. Boy would he be proud of me that my Polski training wheels were off and I had graduated to the big boy bus. And we were off to the Old Country and I had no clue if a bus would even be running to bring me back home to the new country. What's the worse that could happen? I could just pull up a cardboard box and camp out for the night, right?

After two hours of driving through depressing Polish towns like Elblag where time has not caught up with 2009, we rolled into Frombork. Tiny would be an understatement and I had no clue what touristical treasures would await me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this town was important to Copernicus and his work. Yeah...that Copernicus from high school and college we learned about but forgot. This whole town has built an industry around the man since it was indeed here where he wrote that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe as the church believed. Blasphemy!!! (is that even the right word for that?)

And should you in this day and age still not believe that the earth revolves around the sun, inside a centuries old belfry tower there is a recreation of Focault's Pendulum. I watched the pendulum swing but climbing up about 20 stories to take in the view of the Baltic Sea and the part of Russia inside Poland interested me more.

Mission accomplished! I wanted to randomly find somewhere I knew nothing about, learn a thing or two, and see if I could make it an interesting outing. I now know more about Copernicus and his life than I will ever need to know or that I really care to regale you with. But how cool is that to just set out on a Polish bus and end up in some sleepy old town on the Baltic Sea of maybe a few thousand people and have it end up being where Copernicus lived in the 1400s.

On the way back I noticed that Poland has an odd system at its bus stations. The bus pulls in and drops people off in the entrance near the traffic. Then it pulls up to an actual platform to let people on. Why not just do one stop shopping for everyone at the same place? Seems to me it would make more sense, right? It's probably some throwback to the communist days that just won't die.

Right in the middle of this town called Elblag next to such a bus depot there was a McDonalds that could be straight out of some highway interchange in the US. It was so out of place amidst midrise grey concrete apartment houses and believe it or not the brown roof added some much needed color to the town...Brown of all colors adding positively to the ambience. I noticed a sign advertising some kind of jalapeno burger with the words "sezon na ostro" which I can only imagine is Polish for blow your bowels up.

The food here is very tasty but devoid of any spices so I just can't imagine Polish constitutions handling this type of fire, much less McDonalds grease. History hasn't been kind to the Poles and we don't need to add to it with this type of  American exported jalapeno. Baby steps, my Polish friends. Baby steps. You aren't ready for prime time American fast food garbage like that yet! We've had decades upon decades to condition our systems for it. Your country has only seen freedom for 20 years now.

After almost a full day's journey using my basic Polish skills, I made it back to the new country. Now one day I, too, can look wistfully back on the old country just like thousands of grandparents across the US do.

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