Thursday, July 01, 2004

Katowice, Poland--Ostrava, Czech Republic--Katowice, Poland—Day 152

Today Sarah and I decided to take a chance and see if we could make it to Ostrava, go to the zoo, head back to Katowice and then on to Budapest, all in one day. Three countries AND a zoo? We thought it out and realized that in order for us to get the most direct train to Budapest; we would have to leave from Katowice. Plus, Ostrava was only an hour and a half via train from Katowice so we could potentially wake up, go to Ostrava, come back and then catch the night train to Budapest, arriving mid-morning tomorrow, which sounded much better than spending ALL day on a train.

We figured out the train times and were set. Got up, ate breakfast, and went to the train station. Bought our reservations for the night train (sleeper beds again!) and went out to stand on the platform for our train to Ostrava. We had inquired yesterday at an information booth as to what platform our first train of the day would be at, and she told us platform 1 (“Peron 1”) and that it would leave at 10:00am.

So we got on the platform along with several other tourists, all engaging in the typical “oh, where have you been…ooooh, ahhh” as they always do, and Sarah and I waited for the train. When a train pulled up to the platform, we weren’t quite sure if it was our train or not. It showed that it was headed for Vienna (the direction that we wanted to go) and so we figured that since we were told to get on this one, we should. We still however were not quite sure that it would stop in Ostrava, so we kept our fingers crossed.

A little ways into the journey, Sarah had the sudden realization that we were sitting on an Intercity train, which meant that we might have to have a reservation. Or so we thought. Great, we didn’t want to have a repeat performance of the whole ticketless tram fiasco. So we both started to sort of mini panic and decided that the worst that they could do would be to kick us off, or make us pay. Whatever, we just hoped that the train was leading us in the right direction.

The ticket man came and went with no hassles. Both Sarah and I let out a huge sigh of relief. Thank goodness. We both settled back down into our books as the train speed towards Vienna.

Then Sarah had another realization.

Um, Sarah? She says. Yes? Doesn’t an Intercity train mean that it doesn’t stop in all of the cities along the way? (This is true—the Intercity trains are much faster than normal, commuter trains). Yeah, I say, so? Well, what if this doesn’t actually STOP in Ostrava and goes right by?

Hadn’t thought of that before. Oh no! What if!! I started to panic. That would totally be our luck—just pass right on through Ostrava without stopping. For all we knew Ostrava was this teeny tiny dot on a map, who knew if it would stop there! But the information lady TOLD us that it would stop, but our doubt was quickly taking over.

I got up to ask someone—anyone—if the train stopped in Ostrava. I found a ticket lady and she, after a little bit of thinking, told me yes, the train stops in Ostrava. Phew. So I went back to Sarah but as I sat down, I wasn’t sure what she told me. I mean, I wasn’t sure if she really did understand what I was asking, and I wasn’t sure if she meant that yes the train passed through Ostrava or if it actually did stop there.

Oh man.

So I hop out at the next stop and run down the platform a ways until I ruin into the ticket lady again. I start pointing and waving at the train saying “Ostrava??” and she shakes her head yes and so I get back on as she hurriedly walked past me.

We must be on the right train, but still we are uncertain since it is sometimes so hard to understand everything going around you in Polish. This time Sarah gets off and checks the board outside of our train and sure enough, there is a sign that shows that the train does in fact stop in Ostrava. Granted is the first sign that we had seen that said this, but any sign was good enough for us so we made it back to a compartment, sat down and the train took off again…heading towards Ostrava.

We finally pulled in to our destination and our anxieties ceased. We hopped off, got some Czech money and a taxi to the zoo.

We bought our tickets and it was funny because the ticket man totally thought that we were Polish because I asked for two tickets with my thumb and pointer finger (as they do here) and said “dwa” which is “two” in Polish (pronounced “dvah”). Anyways, he said “two” back to my in Czech and I was like oh right, yes, of course, and then he proceeded to speak to us in Polish. Standing there just smiling back, I pretended to still be Polish, but very dumb of course, and he handed our tickets and smiled, saying goodbye, of course in Polish.

We were walking into the zoo, which was very large and green, and I glanced sideways to see a sign with a list on it. I barely read it but noticed that it said hippos (in Czech) and then the number 12:30. Surely this meant that something was happening, with the hippos, at 12:30. I look at my watch. Its 12:35!! Yes!

So Sarah and I book it to the hippos, which happen to be quite some distance into the zoo. After running for most of the way, we stopped and quickly walked to where the hippos were. We found the zookeeper feeding them and talking to a HUGE group of people. I was half thrilled to have such PERFECT timing (I mean, how many times have I walked onto this perfect photo-opportunity!) but also horrified by the huge mass of people blocking my precious pictures and view. Dang it.

So I had to be horrible and push people out of the way. More like squeeeeeeze my way into where there were no spaces for me to squeeze and even blocking those poor little innocent children from seeing the hippos. Gotta do what you gotta do, right?

I clicked away and ran around the side of the enclosure (where there were no people standing) to get a good shot of the baby hippo, who apparently wasn’t interested in eating but instead sleeping. There were four hippos total and after the mass of people lost interest, we cornered the keeper and he wrote down the hippos names for us, both in English and in Czech: Honza (John), Ruzenka (Rose), Katka (Kate), and Adela. We thanked him and as the group left, Sarah and I stayed for a good hour afterwards to get the pictures that I needed.

I have to say, having Sarah here has been a godsend. Having her to just help me out has been a huge deal—even if its just holding my stuff while I run around and take the pictures. She has been so helpful these past few weeks and I am already sad about heading to Budapest (our last stop together) as she will be leaving.

Anyways, these hippos were extremely cute and after eating what seemed like an endless amount of hay finally all collapsed (literally) and slept, three of them in a group and one on her own. The hippos also had a huge inside enclosure with a large swimming pool but at this point they all seemed really content spending the rest of the afternoon sleeping lazily outside.

I have to say, this was probably one of the best zoos so far—in terms of the hippos accessibility and luck on our part for showing up just on time. We thanked our lucky stars because according to our plan, we were supposed to get the train back to Katowice by 5:45pm, and by this time it was almost 2 o’clock. Our daytrip to Ostrava was working out better than expected!

After the zoo we got the tram into town (or as close as we thought since we didn’t have a map or guidebook to help us out!) and after a bit of double backing by foot, made it into what seemed like the center of town. We got lunch and walked around for a bit. We also tried calling the hotel in Ostrava that I had originally been booked for—to cancel since now we are going to head to Budapest a little early. After numerous failed attempts, we decided just to take a taxi to the hotel and cancel it in person, then on to the train station.

We did just that and found that the hotel was quite a ways out of town. By the time I ran, cancelled the booking, and we made it to the train station, we had just enough Czech money to spare for the cab ride and enough time to figure out our platform for the train.

However the train platform kept changing on the display board so this meant a lot of worrying and running back and forth to see what the final change would be. We finally followed a few people over to another platform across from the original one and found this to be the right platform. We got on our train just escaping from the downpour that had been brewing overhead while we waited, and headed back to Katowice. At the moment we are back in the hotel room in Katowice waiting to head to the Katowice train station (for the third time today!) for our 11:45pm train to Budapest.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.