Quite the Experience

Trip Start Jun 02, 2010
Trip End Oct 03, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Poland  , Baltic Coast,
Saturday, July 31, 2010

So I have come to Poland.  Actually I never intended to come to Poland because it wasn't included in my Eurail pass and to be honest I never wanted to.  Perhaps it was the western perception of Poland that influenced me, but I always thought of Poland as a desolate place.  Glad to say that was completely wrong. Poland is extremely alive and absolutely beautiful.  And while it has come a long way from it's decades of oppression, it is still very much an Eastern European country when it comes to it's trains and the amount of people who speak English.  But that just makes it an even more meaningful experience.

The first day I arrived in Gdansk I was absolutely exhausted.  I had spent the entire day on trains, both of which were ridiculously crowded.  I'm not actually sure how I got off the last train, considering that I had to make it through a jungle of angry Polish people and their luggage.  But I did and even though I was tired and sweating like a pig in an oven, I noticed right away how beautiful Gdansk is.  I think it really is one of those hidden gems like Prague used to be.  It may not be the easiest place to get to, but it is well worth the visit. 

I didn't realize it at the time, but I arrived right as a festival was starting.  This is a three week long festival where all kinds of artisans come to sell their art, jewelry, clothing, and food.  Then there is constant live music going on in the square, some good, some not so good.  It was basically full of people from all over who came to spend their money on entirely frivolous things.  Not that I am one to talk, if I wasn't on such a tight budget I would have been all over that festival.  But I just had to keep telling myself "There is nothing here you can't get at the Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson".  And that was actually very true.  I would have liked to get something made of Amber, since that seems to be a major thing in Poland.  However, the amber in most cases was more expensive in Gdansk then at the show in Tucson.  I was honestly quite shocked.  As a matter of fact, overall prices were not as low as I was expecting.  Don't misunderstand, they were lower than most of Europe, but it wasn't as cheap as many people had made it out to be.

Nevertheless I enjoyed my first day of just wandering around the beautiful streets and watching the street performers, some of which were amazing.  At times I was almost reminded of a Renaissance festival because of all the people dressed up.  Once again I accidentally stumbled upon a festival that I had no idea existed, and I'm still not quite sure what it celebrates.  No one could really explain it to me.  Then again there was that whole language barrier thing.

That night of my first full day was when things really got interesting.  I met these two great English guys along with a great Dutch guy in my hostel room and we all decided to go out for a beer later.  And then we met Marie.  Marie is an amazing woman.  She is almost 70 and she travels all around the world staying in hostels, drinking beer, and staying up until the early hours of the morning.  I know, an amazing woman.  She is from Finland and her husband passed away a few years back and since then she has been traveling all around the world.  She has been to almost all of the countries in Asia, everywhere in Europe, some places multiple times, 17 states in the U.S., and a few other places.  When she realized we were all going out for a beer she asked if she could come and of course all I could say was "Hell Yes!"  So we went out for beers, keep in mind she already had two beers.  This didn't stop her from having another liter of beer at the club though.  Then, when the bar we were at closed at 2am she decided we had to find another bar that was open.  So here we were, four 20-something kids, following around a woman nearly 50 years our senior, looking for a bar.  Eventually we were the ones to tell her we were tired, so we gave up the search and went for a Kebab.  Then she had another beer.  We finally made it back to the hostel as the sun was coming up around 4 am.  The two English guys, the Dutch Dude and I couldn't believe this woman.  So we came to call her Power Granny, because that's what she was.

The next day the two English guys and I did some more wandering around Gdansk.  And boy did we wander.  We were trying to find the entrance to the main port, but somehow we missed it.  Then we tried to find the beach.  That also failed.  So we finally asked the people at our hostel and found out we had to take a tram to the beach.  So we did.  At the beach we got lots of sand in our shoes, which tends to happen.  Then we saw a boar with three babies just walking around by the tram stop.  These animals did not seem bothered in the slightest by the masses of people that were around.  They just kept rummaging through the trash and went about their business.  Strange.  But then again, Gdansk is a strange town.  It is quite the tourist spot and yet it is impossible to find someone who speaks a second language at the train station.  I literally went from window to window first asking "Do you speak English?" No.  "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" Nein. "Parlez-vous francais?" Non. "Habla Espanol!?" No.  And then the teller at the window would inevitably get mad at me.  It was quite an off-putting experience.  As an English speaker we usually have it so easy because you can always find someone who speaks English in western Europe.  But if you go a little east it becomes exponentially harder.  And this is why I think everyone should travel to a country where the average person does not speak the same language.  It teaches you a little something about humility.  Not to mention you become an expert at reading body language and facial expressions. 

So I am glad that I visited Gdansk not only because it is absolutely gorgeous and I met some awesome people but also because it was a great cultural experience.  As much as I have been out of my comfort zone by merely traveling alone, coming to Poland has taken it a step further.  It is a constant challenge being in a country when you don't speak the native language.  You have to have patience and also be willing to accept that something may go wrong because of miscommunication.  Luckily I had a woman behind me in line that stepped up and translated for me.  She could easily have told the woman to send me to Minsk, but she didn't.  That is another thing I have learned while traveling: there may be a few people that would like to take advantage of the unsuspecting tourist, but on the most part people will help you when you need it.  That and the one word you absolutely must learn in any language is "Thank you," it will take you far (By train or otherwise).
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its been like 10 days...im dying here!!!
your public demands more blog stories!!

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