Sunday, November 8, 2009

Krakow Dreamin'

My day began at the delightfully early hour of six aye em. This is too early for any day to begin, even if you did go to bed so early that everyone coming into the room at eleven felt the need to tiptoe around and whisper. Whisper in that register that is impossible to ignore. But still – it was a nice gesture. And I hardly remember being woken up, just that I was briefly, so it's like it never happened, yeah?

Now – when I checked into my overpriced Zurich hostel, I was upset that I would miss out on the free breakfast. But all my worrying was for not – as this hostel starts serving breakfast at the god awful hour of six. Normally this would spell doom for me, but today – well today it worked perfectly.

For the first time in ages: cold cuts sandwiches for breakfast! After days and days of Nutella, I can't tell you how much I actually missed them! Ahh how delicious they were, filling my belly for the long day that was to come. And – get this – they had fruit salad. A giant bowl of fruit salad! Why I had apples, and orange, and pineapples, and grapes, and all sorts of other wonderously naturally sugared treats! And I capped it of with not two, not three, but four glasses of orange juice! I was bouncing down the road to the bus, by the time I was through.

And then I was bouncing around on the bus at 6:45, all the way to Zurich HB (the biggest train station you'll ever see) and then I calmed a little on the train to the airport. Then – at the airport – I was frightened into not moving. A great fear came over me. A fear that would cost me two dollars to use six minutes of internet time.

What caused this terrible terrible fear? Well, I'm glad you asked – let me inform you.

So there I was, just hanging out, doing my thing, going through the self check-in. Then I went to the baggage drop off, and got shouted at for crowding the lady, who was apparently just getting in. I dunno, I saw an open baggage drop off booth, no one in line, I figured up I'd go. So I did. While she was busy calming herself into the morning ritual, I placed my carry on and my pack on the scales, weighing them, trying to see how much I could transfer from one to the other, and still not have to pay terrible extra fees.

You see, I have too much stuff. Books – buying books has done it. And if I could only drop them off... but I can't! They're stamped with being bought from Shakespeare and Co. and are my only souvenirs of this whole trip thus far! Well – those and the stickers on my laptop.

So as she was doing her thing, I too was doing mine. My rain coat that I was wearing had its pockets stuffed to avoid the fees. You can only have so much in the bags, but if you're wearing it, it's all good. My coat pockets literally cover the entire inside of the coat. I had books from my waist all the way up to my arm pits. And my camera was in there somewhere too.

By the end of it all, I was down to two books and my camera in my pocket. All the extra time the woman took getting her butt groove just right in her Air Berlin stool really paid off in my comfort level. I hate to think how it would have been, had I not transferred some of that stuff.

So then, she was ready and she took my tickets. Just to print out new ones. What's up with that? Why bother with the self check-in if she's going to print new ones? I'll tell you why – to avoid the normal check-in line. I still don't understand why people wait in those lines, like suckers, if a quick scan of your passport gets you the fast track.

Now, this is where the slight snag was hit. She handed me the ticket for Düsseldorf. That was no problem – but then she came to my ticket from Düsseldorf to Krakow. She looked at it, halted, checked my passport again, and paused. Much German was quickly spoken between her and her neighbouring employee. All i could make out was “Krakow.” She eyed me weird, and then looked at my passport again.

“Do you have a visa for Poland?”

What? A visa? Clearly not. Look at my passport – it's Canadian. Visa. Pssh.

But I said nothing. More hurried German. “Where is your visa?”

“I don't need one.”

More hurried German.

“You need a visa for Poland. I can't give you your ticket. You don't have a visa.”

This was going to be a fun game, to be sure.

“I don't need a visa. I'm Canadian.”

But she would not budge. She was adamant in this, and would not change her stance. She flagged her boss over, and talked with him “german german german krakow german german.”

“Sir – do you not have a visa?”

Are you kidding me?! “Nope. 90 days in country without one. I'm Canadian.

The both eyed me strangely, then relented, and handed over the ticket. Sweat was on my brow by this point, let me tell you! But then I had my ticket, and all was well – wasn't it?

First, I'd like to point out a few things about this situation:

1. Because there's no passport check in Poland, due to travelling from Europe to Europe, there needs to be something set up to avoid this from happening.

2. Maybe the airlines could have a computer system that, when nationality is entered, and destination is entered, the appropriate information is displayed on the screen for them?

3. People must have been turned away in the past for thinking they needed a visa they did not. Honestly, I wasn't sure – I was just arguing to get my ticket, and I'd deal with the fallout later.

4, If there is no passport check in country, and they eventually relent because someone like me keeps telling them they're wrong – that is some crap security! I mean, if I needed a visa, then what? I'd still have gotten in country without anyone knowing or checking. Seriously – is security this lax all over Europe?

So – by this point I was terrified enough that I was wrong. I really was sure I'd checked – but... how sure was I? So I tried to find an open wireless network. I failed. I was not going to pay six dollars for one hour. But – then I found an internet point.

I wasn't going to pay six dollars for one hour – but I could probably find what I needed in six minutes – that would only cost two. Sure, that was my soda money I'd been saving – but what would I do if I entered the country and was stopped without visa? (Not that anyone checked anyway... So what would I have done? Just walked in, same as everyone else.)

I couldn't find the Canadian government site! I'd already used a full minute! But then I remembered, I linked to it on my site, so off to I went, and quickly confirmed what I thought I knew all along – but, they were airline staff. You think they'd know best? (which is sometimes wrong) also confirmed what I thought. And so too did the Poland site. So fine, good – I was out a soda, but the piece of mind was well worth it.

Seriously – not giving me my ticket? What's up with that?

So off I flew to Düsseldorf. Upon landing I quickly scanned for open wifi networks. I had written some emails the night before that I wanted to send off. But all were pay ports. Ah ha! And AirFrance gate! Air France and British Airways have a tendency to love you like other airlines done. And often, from their gates, you can grab free wifi. This was the case today as well. Remember kiddos, a smart traveller never pays for internet.

Unless they're terrified of deportation.

In which case they just might.

But this gave me two hours of youtube uploading, facebook checking, email sending, and all other sorts of nonsense. Then I noticed the time, and hurried off to my gate, where I'd have to board a bus and be driven to the airplane. Then it was another short hop over to Krakow.

On the plane I was given a Twix bar.

There's something about having a chocolate bar all your own. Knowing that every bite is yours to savour. That you can eat it as slowly, or quickly as you want. It. Is. Yours.

Food has taken on a completely different sense these days. It's the type of joy you get when you're given a candy bar as a child. Fantastic!

But then I was landing in Poland. The land where – I'll remind you – Canadians do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days. And then it was out of the airport. To the nonsense land of fear and mystery.

The trip from airport to hostel would not be a smooth one.

I walked to the train station that would take me to the central station. All the way I passed crumbling cement and barbed wire fences. You know – Poland was starting to look exactly how I thought it would. At the small train station, i waited – rock and mortar walls lined the tracks. Grey, drab, falling apart. I think Poland needs to remember this most people's first impression of their country. Maybe a – I don't know – building to wait for the train in – with heating – would be nice? Krakow is a touristy city, lets get with it.

I cursed myself for not running to catch the train leaving just as I was getting there. Who knew there would only be two an hour?! From the airport to the centre of town, you'd expect – I don't know – some regularity? And, once again, maybe a place to sit would be nice? But no – I don't fault them. Because this is what I expected Eastern Europe to be like, and they were playing right into my hands.

Finally on board, I had to pay for my ticket. Eight [insert money name here]. And that may sound like a lot, until you realize that's really only two euro. So off I went to the station. When I got there, I headed to the streets, following the signs to the street cars. I bought a pretzel, a giant New York style one (without the god awful amount of salt that New York tried to kill me with) for the equivalent of fifty cents Canadian. Ahh Eastern Europe – I had arrived!

Then the signs got weird, and once more Poland proved to be a crazy country. Getting the tram to my hostel took an hour. Not the two minutes it should have.

First I found the stand for tram 10, bought my ticket, and waited. And waited. And waited. Where was it? A sign pointed 10, down an alley. Really? But it wasn't coming here. So off I headed, down steps, across the street. There too was a tram ten stop. But a girl there told me it was for the other direction. I'd need to head back to that from whence I came. So I did. No ten, no ten, no ten.

I went to check the times. It should be here – wait – Sunday? Ohh good, the tram runs once every two hours, instead of every ten minute, on Sunday. Great. Thanks.

Lets try number 19. But what 19? What direction? All the trams have a list of stops in order – all except 19, of course. So it was a crap shoot. Fifty fifty odds. Not bad. I jumped on one, and – yes! I was off the right way. Which is good, because trams don't stop at the same place for both directions, and finding the nearest place to turn around? Not an easy task.

This is the short form of the story. There was more fear, and rain, and awkward conversations that I couldn't really understand, bringing us to this point. But then, off the tram, a clearly drunk man just wanting to take his lady friend home and do who knows what with her, pointed me the final bit of the way.

And then I was home. For the next four nights anyway. And I'll tell you what – for ten dollars a night, free breakfast, free internet, and all the comfort and safety you could want... it's a bargain! Eastern Europe, where have you been all these months? Except for you Tallinn – you still don't count.

It's also worth mentioning that I could have waked from the station to the hostel in about ten minutes. Stupid lack of a map.

Ohh well – time to sleep. Tomorrow will be my first real day in Poland, and it looks to be a good one!

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... I could've sworn I commented on this post a few days back but must not've entered the captcha code. Comment fail. Anyway, it was something along the lines of "You ate some fruit! Two thumbs up!"


All original text and photographs Copyright © 2009 one.year.trip / previously.bitten | Theme Design by previously.bitten | Entries and Comments.Powered by Blogger