Saturday, July 03, 2004

Photo--Sunset over Budapest, Hungary

Photo--St. Stephan's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

Eger, Hungary--Budapest, Hungary—Day 154

Today Sarah and I had breakfast and walked around Eger for a bit before getting a taxi back to the train station. The train ride to Budapest was fine (less interruptions than our night train!) and we made it back to the main train station and got a taxi to the hotel.

After checking in, we got on the Budapest Metro (their subway station) and headed straight to the zoo. We found the zoo (one of the oldest in the world!), bought our tickets and then realized that we have absolutely NO clue how to say “hippo” in Hungarian, let alone ANYTHING in Hungarian, come to think of it. We went to the information desk but they couldn’t help us, so we figured that we would get lunch before finding the hippos.

After having lunch at the zoo’s cafeteria, we went in search of the hippos. We decided that the “African Savanna” area would be a good place to start. We couldn’t find them there, but did find a hippo’s skull on display, so we were able to find out that “hippo” in Hungarian is “víziló.” So we went in search of the “víziló” and finally found a sign for them in the elephant house.

The elephant house was huge and seemed like a pretty fantastic place to live for a hippo, compared to some of the other zoos I’ve seen. We found the hippos (two of them) and I started taking pictures. The two hippos kept swimming back and forth, and back and forth, and so we watched them for quite a while. It seems to be the trend lately—watching hippos swim in circles while we wait. Over the next, oh, three hours we stood there and watched them swim and occasionally get up and out of the water. It was really funny, the first time that they finally got out of the water they both climbed out, walked to the door that connected their outside pen to their inside pen, and then walked back into the water. It all happened really fast (ok, as fast as hippos walk) but the exact moment that they got out I was changing my memory sticks on my camera, so I totally missed it. It was so funny—but also so frustrating because after watching them so long they FINALLY got out and I missed it because I was switching things on my camera. Of course.

But luckily they got out two other times while we watched and I was able to find a zookeeper who helped me with their names: Justina (the daughter) and Tūcjōk (the mother). Once it started to get late we headed out of the zoo and went back on the subway. We got off farther away from our hotel and walked back through the Pest side of Budapest (for all who don’t know, Budapest is divided into Buda on one side of the Danube River and Pest is on the other) towards our hotel. We then got dinner at a nice restaurant along the river, watched the sun go down, and headed back to the hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Photo--Eger Castle, Eger, Hungary

Katowice, Poland--Budapest, Hungary--Eger, Hungary—Day 153

Before heading to Budapest, Sarah and I decided on taking a slight detour to Eger, which is about 2 hours by train. Our train ride from Katowice to Budapest left at 11:45pm and arrived in Budapest at 9:30am. We then had about an hour before we caught our 4th train (in a 24 hour time frame!) on to Eger.

The overnight train was very luxurious—there were three sleeper beds in each cabin and not only did you get a full bed and sheets, but a hand towel AND a croissant for breakfast! There was a girl in the room when Sarah and I showed up who was on the top bunk of the three, and Sarah and I had the middle and bottom bunks. We settled in and before I knew it, I was asleep.

Then all I remember is waking up and trying to open the door. I was shaking it and trying to unlock the lock. Sarah was telling me to open it, so I was trying to but because of how it was deadbolted and then locked with a chain, I couldn’t do it. I woke up mid-attempt and wondered what the heck I was doing! Then the passport patrol people knocked louder and tried opening the door. I couldn’t open it, so the girl on top had to jump down.

I had subconsciously responded to Sarah’s requests for me opening the door without hearing the knocking that had woken the other two up. I was definitely disorientated and realized that it was 2:30 in the morning, so I had every right to be. We had to get out our passports since we were traveling through the Slovak Republic. Once we finally got the door open, I couldn’t for the life of me get my bag open (which I had locked to keep it safe while I was sleeping) and it took what seemed like hours for me to get the combination to work. For some reason, the stupid thing just wouldn’t open and of course that would happen to me with two huge passport official looming over me.

I finally got it open and handed it to them and they left. This happened again later on in the morning when we reached the Hungarian border, although I was more prepared this time. All in all, the train ride was fine and we pulled into Budapest feeling pretty good.

The train to Eger was fine too but Sarah and I were worried that we were on the wrong train (as always). The girl next to me spoke English and assured us that we were on the right train.

We were. Hopping off in Eger, we got a taxi to our cute little bed and breakfast in the town square that we had arranged. It was so cute and homey and we took quick showers before heading out to have lunch and then explore the Eger Castle which overlooks Eger and is the sight where the Ottomans were defeated in 1553 (a big deal in Hungarian history!).

After walking around the castle grounds and visiting several exhibits on its history, we made our way through town and headed to the Valley of Beautiful Women. (No joke, that is what it is called!) We first stopped off at the Eger Cathedral which was designed to be the largest Cathedral in Hungary, according to our guidebook. We then headed on to the Valley of Beautiful Women, which was about a 25 minute walk from the Cathedral.

The Valley is known for its numerous wine cellars that started up after WWII in the volcanic hillside near Eger. There are over 25 cellars there now, and you can really just spend a whole day walking around from each little small cellar to the next tasting all of the different wines that they produce. Sarah and I didn’t hit all 25, but made it to quite a few and had a blast—at one point we were being serenaded by several Hungarian men and their instruments (ok, it was just a quartet playing Hungarian music, but still!) and we had to take a taxi home quite a few cellars (and drinks, ahem) later.

We dropped off some stuff at the hotel and went and got dinner before heading back out on the town to explore a little bit more of Eger. We finally ended up at the hotel exhausted from two long days of traveling.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Photo--Hippo Sign, Ostrava, Czech Republic

Photo--Ostrava, Czech Republic

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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Krakow, Poland--Katowice, Poland—Day 151

Today we took the train to Katowice. We got an early start and made it to Katowice around 10:30 in the morning. We immediately went to the hotel and then onwards to the zoo, with hopes of getting the hippos wrapped up with time to make it to Auschwitz, which is located about 30kms from Katowice.

We got a taxi to the zoo and found the hippos right away. They only had an indoor enclosure and we found two hippos, one of each side. On the left side was a hippo that appeared to be smaller than the one on the right, and much more active. This hippo spent hours swimming around in its little pool, around and around in circles, much like Hipek at the zoo in Łódź. The other hippo on the right seemed to be much bigger and had significantly less space to move around in, but seemed pretty content just sitting there.

Sarah and I watched. And watched. And watched. The hippo on the right kept swimming, the one on the left kept sitting. We watched for about an hour before deciding that something had to be done to get these hippos into action. Then I noticed something. I said to Sarah, do you think that there are TWO hippos in the enclosure on the right? Noooo, she said. But I could have sworn that I heard TWO hippos breathing, not one. And so I moved a little to see if I could see anything else and sure enough, a little baby hippo’s nose pushes itself out of the water just for a brief moment and then goes back down. There were three hippos!

We went outside and found two zookeepers who were sitting and having a smoke. Seems to be the thing to do here, so I approached them with my “Hi, I don’t speak Polish…” piece of paper and he takes my pen and writes down the hippos’ names: Hamba (on the left), Hipolit (on the right) and the baby, Cza-Cza. We ask them what time the hippos are going to be fed, and they tell us 2 o’clock.

We thank them and head out to find something to eat to kill the time. We had about two hours to wait so we had lunch at the zoo’s restaurant and then walked back to the hippos about an hour later. Surprisingly the hippos were JUST being fed as we walked in (so much for 2 o’clock!) and we spent the next hour or so taking pictures of them getting out of the water, eating, and then getting back into the water.

I have to say that so far I have seen a lot of hippos. But no hippo that I have seen as of yet as been as huge, I mean as MASSIVE as Hipolit. He was so huge that he couldn’t even walk up the few steps that he had to get to his food and was soo big that instead of putting forth the effort of walking towards his food, he would reach out his huge head to hopefully move the food closer to him with his nose. When that plan was exhausted, he finally lumbered forward. Sarah and I were in shock and in awe of this huge, huge creature.

When all of the hippos were back in the water, we set off out of the zoo. We caught a tram and then a taxi to the bus station. Unfortunately a bus to Auschwitz wasn’t coming for another hour so we had to wait. It finally came and we got on and about an hour and a slow taxi ride later, we were arrived in Auschwitz

Visiting Auschwitz is like no other—and its difficult to put into words the experience of actually setting foot onto the grounds, and something I feel best left out of this blog. Sarah and I had a brief two hours to explore the museum now based—hardly enough time at all.

The museum closed at 7pm and we were close to the last people out. We had no idea when our bus or potential train times were back to Katowice, or where the train station was anyways. We got a taxi ride to the train station by an overly enthusiastic driver and he told us that there was a train at 7:45 or so, but that he could take us all the way back to Katowice at “half price” (whatever that meant!). We considered it for a second but then decided that we were fine just getting a train.

When we got into the train station we realized that there were no trains. Whoops. We then discovered that there was only one bus back to Katowice, which left at 8:15. So we had about an hour to spare (where was the taxi driver again?!?! Could he still take us back?!?!) So we went across the street and had dinner at a restaurant while we waited. We paid and walked back to the bus stop when we realized that the bus we were waiting for only came on Sundays. Oh man, we were on a roll! So we HAD to get a taxi back. Thankfully when we got into the taxi, he quoted us a price quite a bit lower than the eccentric driver’s price, so we were pleased. We made it back to Katowice a half hour later and called it a night back at the hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Photo--Salt sculptures, Wielickzka, Poland

Photo--St. Kinga's Chapel (made from salt!), Wieliczka, Poland

Krakow, Poland—Day 150

Today Sarah and I left in the morning to the small town of Wielickzka to the 1000 year old Salt Mines that are there. After getting breakfast and having quite the time figuring out where our bus was, we finally were on our way to the Salt Mines for a mere 2 zloty. We got to the mines, signed up for an English tour, and by 10 o’clock a.m. we were descending 100 meters below the surface.

Now I’ve been in mines before, but nothing I have seen has been like this. Not only were the mines used for, well, mining of course, but the miners sculpted statues out of the salt deposits, and even chambers as well as a spectacular chapel called St. Kinga’s Chapel which is complete with an alter, chandeliers and the lot. Absolutely amazing and the 2 and a half hour tour was just great.

Afterwards we caught the bus back to Krakow and had lunch in the center before walking over to Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, where over 68,000 Jews lived before being “resettled” during WWII. We spent the afternoon walking around despite the rain and visited several synagogues in the area, all of which were beautiful.

As it began to get dark, we walked back to the center and had dinner before heading back to the hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Photo--Wawel Cathedral, Krakow, Poland

Łódź, Poland--Krakow, Poland—Day 149

Today we left Łódź and headed to Krakow for a few days before we go to Katowice to see the hippos there. Our train left at the bright and sunny time of 7:05am, so we were up and at the train station by 6:30. Since nothing was open, breakfast consisted of a candy bar and for Sarah, a bottle of diet coke. Yum.

The train slowly filled up as we made our way to Krakow. By the time that we were almost there, the train was so full that there were people packed in the aisles. Luckily Sarah and I had seats next to the windows and had all of our luggage safely stored overhead.

We made it into Krakow around 10:30am and opted to take a taxi to the hostel where we had arranged to stay for the two nights. We got there and were a little shocked to see that it was more like a compound-like place rather than a nice and cozy hostel. We dropped off our stuff and since the boss wasn’t it, we couldn’t pay the girl who was working at the desk, so we agreed to pay for our room later. The room itself wasn’t too bad—if you don’t mind a sinking foam mattress and itchy sheets. We weren’t about to complain.

We started complaining however, when we figured out that we had to take the bus into town. We were about 2 kilometers from the center, so we waited with a large group of people at the bus stop to catch our designated bus. Surely all of these people couldn’t’ be waiting for the same bus…right?

Nope. Once the bus showed up practically everyone at the stop got on. Now we’re talking sardines here. The bus was so packed that you couldn’t even IMAGINE anyone else getting on, and then they did. We made several stops along the way where you would think that the bus driver wouldn’t even dare to stop and pick up more people because there was no room. But every time he would pull over and more people would squish on. Then it became a fiasco when someone (that lone person standing in the middle of the mob) had to get off. Pushing and pulling and smashing their way out of the bus. It was bad—but so funny and Sarah and I were just laughing out of shock. Luckily we had our tickets (we bought them as soon as we got on this time) and so even if a ticket collector attempted to get on the bus, we would be safe…in that department at least.

We got off at the last stop which happened to be at the main bus station. We walked and soon found the walkway to the main center of town. We also spotted a hotel suggested by one of the guidebooks that we had and found ourselves envious of its prime location. We decided after eating lunch that we would most definitely change hotels to this new, closer one and pay the whole 30 zloty more for a better room.

So we walked back to the second hotel and booked a room for the next two nights and were told to come back at 2 o’clock to check in. So to pass the time we walked all around the center of Krakow, visiting the Church of St. Mary, which has the oldest gothic altar in the world. Pretty fantastic if you ask me.

We then walked around until we found ourselves at the bottom of the hill next to Wawel, which is a castle and just so happens to be the most visited tourist spot in the country. We thought that we would save our visit to Wawel for later on in the day and hopped in a taxi to go get our stuff and change hostels.

We got back to the first hostel and tried to sneak in and get our stuff. We were trying to make a quick getaway without having to explain too much that we were changing places. This is hard though when you have to hand back your key and face the owner. But while I put my bags in the taxi, Sarah quickly told them why we were leaving and we hopped into the taxi which would take us to our new hotel. We felt bad but then again didn’t. Now we were so close to town and didn’t have to brave the bus again to get back and forth.

So we got dropped off near our new hotel and checked in. Turns out that our cheaper room that we book is in fact next door to the hotel and is undergoing restoration at the moment. No worries, we just had to avoid hitting our heads on the scaffolding. We have a really neat set up—its like we’re living in an apartment for a few days. We have our own room and share a bathroom with several other rooms. The building is old and the rooms are fun—they have a lot more personally than the room we saw at the first hostel.

We then went back into town and after checking our email, we headed to Wawel which we walked around for quite a bit, taking in the huge and beautiful cathedral as well as its grounds. The current Pope used to live in Krakow and was the Bishop at the cathedral here before becoming Pope.

Afterwards we walked around Krakow some more and then found a great vegetarian restaurant for dinner. Back at the hotel (or apartment rather) we decided to have a quiet night. So there I was, working on my presentation for the hippo conference, when all of a sudden, right outside the window, a cable car went by. Now you would think this was just a normal thing—there are cable cars all over Krakow and so it wouldn’t be a big deal to see one go by. However this time when the car passed by there was this huge white electrical spark that shot out of the wires from the cable car as it passed. I jumped a little, feeling shocked by the spark and then I realized that no, I had been in fact actually shocked. By my computer. From the cable car. It went straight into my computer and out into me! I couldn’t believe it. So I shut my computer down and decided to call it a night and finish my work when I wasn’t so close to a power line!! Yikes!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Warsaw, Poland--Łódź, Poland—Day 148

Today we left the hotel in Warsaw early and got a taxi to the train station. We found our train to Łódź (pronounced “Woodge”) and after eating a quick snack went and stood on the platform that our train was supposed to arrive on. Well after standing there for way too long (quite sometime after it was supposed to come…and didn’t) we decided that the train just wasn’t going to come. Didn’t know why, but it just wasn’t. So luckily there was another train just one hour later than the original and by this point we just had about a half and hour before the second train was supposed to arrive anyways.

We switched platforms and the second train came when it said that it would and we were on our way to Łódź. The train ride was fine and we arrived in Łódź around 11:30. We got a taxi to the hotel and we checked in, dropped off our stuff, grabbed lunch and then took a taxi to the zoo.

The Łódź Zoo seemed more like a park at first—it has big trees and paths that are hard to follow, and its hard to figure out where the animals are since there are not any small maps showing you around the zoo. We found the hippo enclosure eventually and were surprised to see it empty. We wandered around to the back behind where the hippos (along with the elephants and rhinoceroses were) and found a small house that seemed connected to the hippo’s outdoor enclosure. Inside we found just one lone hippo named Hipek. Hipek turned out to be a whopping 49 years old (born in 1955!) and was all by himself. Poor guy. On top of that, he spent most of the time that we were watching him swimming around and around and around in little circles in his tiny indoor pen. You began to wonder if hippos could get dizzy because we sure were just by watching him!

It took quite a bit of waiting and watching to get some good pictures of Hipek—all of his circling was difficult to photograph since he would keep his head under the water. We eventually got some good pictures (despite being indoors!) and headed out of the zoo a few hours later.

We decided to take a tram back to the city center and when we boarded the tram, we couldn’t figure out where or how we were supposed to buy tickets for it. We were worried about not having a ticket on the tram, but since it was so packed, we couldn’t really move and just followed what everyone else did on the tram by not getting a ticket.

We got off and walked around for a bit in the city center before deciding to find the old Jewish Cemetery, which is supposed to be really lovely. We set off walking and it didn’t take long for us to realize how far we had to walk. Luckily we were walking along the tram route so when a tram pulled up near us, we decided to hop on. Again we weren’t sure when or where we were supposed to buy tickets, so we tried to watch what others were doing and it seemed like no one had tickets.

Boy were we wrong.

We pulled up to a stop and a man in a suit boarded. He looked sort of suspicious—a man in a suit with no briefcase or anything. I was thinking just that when he got out his badge. Oh great, he was a ticket collector! Sarah and I didn’t have tickets and there was the stupid ticket collector, just two people away from us. There was no way we could have hopped off of the tram since he was blocking the door. We were screwed.

He got to Sarah first, asked for her ticket and when she didn’t have one, for her identification. I was trying to search for my license in my bag as the tram stopped and he started to escort Sarah off of the tram. I jumped off with them and another woman followed. The tram pulled away, leaving the four of us standing there. The woman was also a ticket collector it seemed. Sarah and I tried to explain what had happened—we just honestly didn’t know WHERE to buy a ticket and it wasn’t like we weren’t trying to NOT pay for the tram, we just didn’t know what to do. This is our perpetual problem in Poland, there are just not signs or any sort of notice indicating what you need to do to use public transportation which can be really frustrating (especially when you don’t speak Polish!).

The man starts talking to us and we try to explain to them in English what happened and the woman snapped at us, telling us that she spoke English but then proceeded to lecture us in Polish. We couldn’t do anything but try to make it clear to them that we didn’t know where to buy the tickets so we didn’t get them, not that we were trying to make off without paying the whole 2 zloty (50 cents) for the ride. She was NOT sympathetic and demanded that we pay her the fine (110 zloty!) and even after we agreed to pay the fine but then asked how on earth we DO buy tickets, she refused to speak to us in English and we think she told us that you could buy tickets at the machines at the tram stops. When she looked around to point them out to us, she realized that in fact there were NO ticket machines at the tram stop we were standing at. See?? We tried to gesture, WHERE do you get them?

We were fine paying the fee but it was frustrating because they didn’t want to help us figure out what we should have done, or what we should do next time. They were both unhelpful and we decided to just call it a day and walk back to the town center (following the tram lines again) instead of going to the Cemetery since it was getting late at this point. Frustrated and annoyed, we walked back and ended up finding a huge internet “café” (more like a warehouse of computers) and then walked back to the hotel to organize the hippo pictures from today, then to get dinner. Poland all in all has been wonderful but has been filled with moments that really test you—from the mugging to just constantly being shortchanged by cab drivers, its been an experience—but a good one nonetheless.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.