(Translation: Feeling Proud).
The debrief on the time in Polska.
After Auschwitz we travelled the half hour or so to Krakow. Spirits about the bus were definitely suppressed; a few people attempted a chuckle, but it was half hearted and forced, not a genuine jolly.
When we arrived at our hotel (we were so pumped to hear we were in a hotel and not a hostel for the night, tales of twin bed rooms having us sitting up straight in our seats; however, we were greatly disappointed to discover it twas in the Budget Ibis and the rooms were extremely intimate and the crack cocaine – aka, wifi – was interminably temperamental) I dumped my bags, donned my running shoes and took off for a trot to think.
The cascading rain led me to the nearby mall, where I decided to do laps of each of the floors (I know, fuck up. I do this often when in a random city and the weather is not overly Pop friendly). And I was so glad I did. As I did a handful of roams around each level, I observed the Polish people going about their evening. The shoppers delighting in their purchases, words streaming out of their mouth like a spouting waterfall; shop assistants tidying shelves and serving at the till; café and restaurant workers bustling about clearing plates and taking orders.
It made me feel if not happy, then slightly more tranquil. The hackles that had been raised up subsided a little bit. Here were the Polish people, a people that had been attempted to be taken over a number of times in the past (not just by Nazi Germany but also by the Mongols, Russia and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire), that didn’t even exist as a nation for 123 years. Honestly, 123 years! Literally eradicated off the map as a country and absorbed into invaders and conquerors’ lands. But yet they managed to keep their language and culture alive throughout (even through laws and hideous consequences should they be found to be engaging in Polish traditions or the native tongue) the entire time. They endured it through and survived, coming out with it for the most part intact to revive it following their liberation after WWII.
And that’s where my words for Poland struck me, as I roamed the mall and watched the Poles around me. The triple P – Pride, Perseverance and Persistence. I’m bloody proud to have Polish genes swindling around my body. And I vow that I will learn at least the basics of the language in a bid to show a bit of respect for the people that kept it seeded and watered so it was able to blossom when Poland was finally reborn.
So Poland is one of the larger countries making up the European continent, roughly about the size of Germany or France. It’s classified as being Eastern European, although technically it in more in the centre line. It is framed by an offset of Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany, with the Baltic Sea at the top, and is the 17th most visited country in the world (tourism is massive, what with many coming to sites such as Auschwitz and the like, as well as the 9300 lakes). As aforementioned the Poles are known to be hard working, sturdy, power-through people and are very celebrated intellectually wise (the fella who first found that the earth revolved the sun and not vice versa was one Nicolaus Copernicus).
Potatoes potatoes potatoes make up a vast portion of the plate, which was evident upon our dinner that evening. Although I was back with a slight smile (so in my case, a beam, albeit a touch reduced than my usual) and was engaging in conversation, my aorta wasn’t in it and I excused myself to go to bed early.
My mind kept replaying the images I’d seen earlier that day. The photos. The quotes. The massive sea of murdered ones’ shoes. I felt sick and sorrowful and forlorn and cheerless. I couldn’t even bring myself to write, and that’s a gigantic indicator that I’m really not on point.
So I turned out the light and went to sleep (surprisingly, straight away).
I awoke with that same sense of dejection. Just unmotivated and inert, not even getting up to do my daily yoga (though let’s face it, that’s gone to shit in a big way since being on this trip). Once again I chucked on my Nikes and went for a canter around the roads, but the sense just didn’t shift.
(Don’t worry, this downtrodden Pop soon makes way for the chirpy and sunny one. It just took until about mid-morning).
I returned to my room, had a shower and threw on some attire, woke Sheri to sing her happy birthday (in Polish of course – the only Polish I know aside from “hello”. During the early college years my best friend was a Polish lass and always being present – yeah I did – at her family members’ birthday for a good three years has emblazoned the words and tune in my recollection ATM), and then we raced downstairs to just catch the group of our pals as they departed for the walking tour of the city.
It was lovely really; the unit of us all seemed a lot closer knit and caring. Arms were linked, hugs were awarded, smiles were passed over heads and conversations were being conversed between those who had previously exchanged no more than a simple “hi”. Was it a direct result of the Auschwitz visit the day before? Had seeing that revulsion and museum of the not-so-long-ago past ignited a sense of kinship? Or had they all gotten on the turps and had a communal plastering at the pub after I had gone off to be alone? I couldn’t say for sure. But whatever which way, it was nice to see. (Especially that a certain lass and lad finally got it together after I have been garnering for it for a few days. Discreet fist pump to him from me when he and her finally showed their faces about 5pm).
(From here on out the despondency disapparates, I promise).
So around Krakow we roamed! Seeing the town square, the abundance of churches (lit a candle and did the blessing for Babcia), the dragon sculpture that literally breathes fire (not as magnificent as it may sound, but still flaming fabulous to see in person), the castle complex, the Jewish Quarter and the markets (a trinketer’s dream). The Sheri and I bounded back to the hotel to freshen our faces (I.e., actually moisturise and mascara up as I had done nothing to it and it is definitely not looking the best – I feel I have aged a good decade since being on this trip) before meeting the others at the bus for our trip to the salt mine.
The salt mine! My word, the salt mine. Who knew a simple table stable could give out so much merriment? The two-hour tour of the 54 level mine was actually remarkably beguiling, with a little cluster of us – Sheri as always by my side, Nick-from-New-York-that-lives-in-Melbourne and a Miami lass whose name escapes me – finding great hilarity in our captivating guide Vester (so awful he was fantastic with his mono-toned reel of material. I actually fully developed a crush on him as we walked, even sending the bouts of walking between the stops chipping away at him with questions until I got a fair bit of intonation and even six or so laughs. On our farewell he asked me to return one day to see him. He’s all mine). (Get it? Not my best. But I’m feeling a bit seasoned, so forgive me). We trotted down the hundreds of steps to be 60m, then 110m underground and went through all the history of the site. (It was really, really impressive. If ever in Krakow, you won’t be disappointed should you give it a go).
I was too busy making note of Vester’s life situation to take any on the actual info, but just a few little points I garnered to share:
- There is a salt cathedral in the heart of the mines. And when I saw “salt cathedral”, I literally mean the entire thing is made of salt. The altar, the lectern, the crucifix, even the chandeliers. And it is able to be hired out for weddings at a stealing 750 euro an hour! (I offered my matrimony making services to all around but no one was willing to unionise. And a quirked eyebrow at Vester proved to no avail as to him and I fastening the tie). (A quick scope of both hands showed no sign of a wedding ring. I never remember what finger it’s meant to be on, so I always make sure to hustle an eye out at both).
- Back in the day, about the early 18th century, men in the mines would have their salaries paid out to them in salt. Before you think, Well fuck that for a laugh! Wages received in brine? My boss would find himself assaulted! I’ll have you know that salt was worth a lot of dosh and the workers for the most part preferred their bricks of brack to the flimsy zloty note.
- If you lick the walls, the ceilings of the floors, you will taste salt. Because it’s made of salt. All of it. (Though not the TV screens or the microphones. I asked Vester in jest and he thought I was serious and started pointing out exactly what wasn’t salt matter – the door handles, the glass partitions, the people pottering about. Perhaps it was at this point any hopes for us as a couple were dashed? Swished through with saline, so to speak?). And the white walls that look like cauliflower are called Cauliflower Salt Walls. (What a scoop! I dig it. Need to reserve that one for future use. A wealth of warmth on hearing that. And from such a source! Great fund. Store it for sure. Goldmine.). (Ok, mine puns stop now. That was a bit of an overhaul).
- Last point: if you are claustrophobic as I am, don’t despair – the mines are actually rather roomy and open. But when you get in the elevator to get back up to the ground, make sure to close your eyes, hum a little tune to yourself and think pleasant thoughts. This will take your mind off the fact you are crammed in a little lift with about 67 others (ok, eight – but it feels like a good 70 or so), that the “floor” beneath your feet feels as though it could give way at any second and the fact that there are two lifts above you and two below. (I recommend pondering about dogs. Cogitating over my canines always takes me to my exultant place, even when being catapulted at pace up towards the cemented concrete ground).
On the bus back to the hotel tour guide Tarryn (from here on out, she is going to be TGTaz ok? And bus driver Mike – lovely, lovely Polish Roman lad I am rather fond of – will just be Magic Mike) put on a Disney sing along and the whole bus burst out in hitting (well, for the most part missing) the high notes. There was an awesome sense of comradery, of connexion and affinity, and for the first time in 24 hours my heart thawed out.
The others went out for a traditional Polish dinner – pierogi all round! – while a handful of us opted out. Instead Sheri went shopping to buy a new birthday outfit to suit up and I finally finished putting together my Auschwitz blog, then Aussie Matt (remember the Shotter?) came to our room and we proceeded to pre-drink and get glammed up for a night out on the razz ma tazz.
Now something I definitely didn’t know; I’d always thought the Russians were the inventors of vodka, but apparently there is a long-running rivalry between Russia and Poland for who the true innovators were. While Russia makes the more common wheat based voddy, Poland uses – what else? – potatoes as the foundation feature and it is available in a plethora of flavours in shot form.
So in line with the infamous life intonation, when in Poland, do as the Poles do – and shot up!
For once I didn’t go too out of control and managed to keep myself on a good level, even though one See How (his name truly is “See How”, though not spelt exactly that way; on meeting him back on day one he told me to remember his designation but the phrase, “See How it goes”. Such a good way to recall, except for when I got all confused and thought it was “See You later” and wrote it on his birthday card. But no matter, all is clarified and on point now. I don’t See How I could get it wrong again) kept loading me up with trays upon trays of vodka shots. I made a cool new group of chums in him, along with Kirsty and Yimming, that I spent most of the night with (with whom I exchanged a seedy-eyed smile as we trooped on the bus this morning). We had a simply sensational time at fair few bars before ending up at a Karaoke club where it must be said, I got on the mike (-rophone, I must clarify, not Magic Mike. He is a beautiful specimen for sure and I have indulged in a fair few glances his way, but my attention has definitely been all encompassed by a significant other). (Plus I’m pretty sure one of the American add-on lasses is attempting to get in there like a tankini and have a go with his wand, if you get where I’m going with that one).
I think it was about 3am when I suddenly decided I’d had enough and it was time to head to the hotel. On asking around after Sheri I was told she had left long before, so I decided to hot foot home to her side (on arrival back she was in absentia – found out later she had been in the McDonalds I sprinted past tucking back some chicken nuggets). I relinquished my feet of my boots, threw my scraggled (almost dreadlocked by now) hair in a high bun and scuttled down the streets. (Now Deb, before you get all antsy and message me telling me off for once again running off into the night on my lonesome, I’ll have you know the whole way was in brightly lit areas, with hundreds – ok, a good few tens – of people milling about and many of my friends passed on the way). (Plus I ran really, really fast). I did flirt with the idea of hiring one of the horse and carriages in the square to deliver me to my doorstep, but on fourth thought decided it was an extravagance I could probably do without. (Plus on going to gather the required funds from my bag I discovered my zloty was all now nestled in the till at the vodka bar. I wouldn’t get very far on three one cent coins). (I think it’s “cents”. Unsure. Take note).
I was just settling down to coma out when Sheri stumbled in, so we sat up and had a girly chin wag for about half an hour or so. (You know, discussing the important things in life – males, boys, fellas, lads, straightening our hair and guys).
I fell asleep warm and happy, in POLE-arisation to the night before. Toasty and snug and utterly at peace. (Especially so after some very enlivening and exciting news I heard that afternoon that I may share with you in the next few days or so, we shall see how we go as to when I will take the cap off on that one).
So Poland. Definitely the three P’s as my “word” (I know, I know, but sometimes just one isn’t enough). Pride. Perseverance. Persistence.
I’m right chuffed to be able to say I’m a partial Pole.