So where oh where did I leave off…somewhere in Frankfurt. It was great. In fact, Frankfurt was fun but it was kind of like being in the States because I was on the Air Force Base quite a lot.
They had american grocery stores and american fast food and lots of americans there. We went to a gigantic car show in town, visited Wagner’s birthplace, laughed at a town called Bad Homburg, had some great German food, did the trip up the Rhine on a boat, which led to the strange vision of a tugboat with hot pink trim covered to the brim with snarling Rottweilers.
Naturally by the time I got my camera out we were past it and I didn’t have a zoom on it. It was a disposable. I used them for the whole trip. Yeah this was 1991, ALSO before cheap digital. But I got some good shots anyway. Leszek was into photography so I thought it would be enough if one of us had a fancy, high powered camera. Little did I know…
Naturally when everything goes as planned nothing is worth writing about. So I’ll skip Germany and only say I am going back there some day to see Berlin and the rest of it. It was great…danged greatness!
So after a week my brother dropped me off at the train station and I took a train to Berlin. I needed to change to a train to Poland. I was getting all blase about trains now. I was an international traveller, and trains were just like a city bus to ME. Until I got to Berlin.
Can I just say WOW? That’s one hell of a train station and I got gigantically LOST. I had some trouble finding anyone who spoke english and it was only as I was standing there paying for my ticket that I realized I had only marks, pounds and american dollars, along with a mess of travelers cheques. I had no zloty’s and, here’s the kicker, they wanted you to enter Poland with so many zloty’s so you didn’t deal with the black market money exchange or something. They’d warned me about it in London at the embassy and now here was this clerk asking me if I had zloty’s. I’d kept thinking I was going to get some. Somewhere. A bank or something. You know…get to it.
Well, there I was, having not gotten to it. Standing there with my Walkman earplugs dangling and a little black suitcase on wheels, looking winsome and helpless and it doesn’t fly with those german train personnel. Nope it doesn’t.
I don’t think the push up brassiere would have worked on this guy even if I had been wearing it. It worked once in awhile with older men and waiters…thats about it. People who have those jobs behind windows in train stations and airports that are secure and well paid and boring? They hate travelers.
The train clerk said something about me missing my train and there not being another one going to Gdansk until the next day and repeated the money exchange thing. He pointed out of the train station and actually smiled, like ‘Good luck, you jerk!’ He even looked at my precious visa and laughed at it. Another one of those ‘Don’t you read the papers?!” people. He’d already sold me a ticket and THEN told me (reminded me) about he money thing and said I couldn’t refund my ticket that he had JUST SOLD ME! He was acting like a dick.
I tried to get the clerk to admit there was a money exchange somewhere in the station. There had to be! Or outside of it, close. There always is. Always. But which exit? There were a million in that Berlin Train station.
I looked around a little frantically, I’ll admit it, and found an old gentleman with a young boy with him walking past. You know how you can tell when someone is a gentleman? He wasn’t dressed well, his clothes were old and worn, corduroy pants and a baggy grey suit jacket and a mashy looking felt hat. But he looked clean and so did his clothes. The young boy was about 12 yrs old and they were looking right at me. I went up to him, with about 20 minutes to spare until my train left, and asked the old gentleman if he could point me in the direction of a money exchange. I needed zloty’s. I was going to Gdansk.
He gave me a comprehensive up and down glance, that took in everything from my shoes to my hat, and spoke to the young boy in POLISH! I was thrilled. Except he didn’t speak english to me. But the boy listened to him and said to me ‘I go for you.’ and held his hand out. I didn’t even hesitate. I handed him all my marks, pounds and dollars-about $200 worth-jabbering the whole time about the travellers checks but that I couldn’t get him to cash those cuz I would have to go too and did he want me to go and should I follow him and (OMG what was I DOING handing this kid money?!) he ran off. Just like that.
The old gentleman and I went to a seat near the exit the boy disappeared out of and sat down. I got out my Polish/English translation book and said something along the lines of ‘I’m going to Gdansk.’ and he nodded and pointed at himself. He was going there too. That was his grandson.
10 minutes pass. We don’t speak. Just smile at each other. The old gentleman looks mildly worried. I do too, I guess.
I know we are nowhere near the platform we have to be on. All those lit up signs were for trains going anywhere but east.
THen the boy appears, shoves an envelope in my hand and says something to the old gentleman, who says something to me (I get the feeling it was RUN!) and we all start running. We made it too.
It might be different now. Everything is different now. I’ve learned in the passing years that not all changes are for the better. Still, I think Poland will always remain the ONE spot in Europe where I could relax and be myself. It was a country full of the nicest, sweetest, most fun and hardworking, gentle, honest, hospitable people I’d met in Europe. I’ve decided that when I retire I am going to move to the country outside of The Monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa, Poland, home to the beloved miraculous icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa, and I am going to try and be worthy.
…and raise cickens and cats. I couldnt possibly raise anything nearly as loveable as these kids who all rushed up and posed to have their picture taken with me.
Yes, Poland was one of those places I’m almost afraid to go back to. It couldn’t have been that great, could it?