The Last Secrets of Europe
I must tell you this. I love Poland. I really do. When most of my Polish friends hear this， they are like ‘What? Are you kidding?’ , but hey! I am sincere. My first girlfriend was Polish and I had visited Poland so many times. I even took a lesson to seriously learn Polish language. Since I loved the Polish city Krakow so much, I eventually lived there for a while and had such a BLAST! WOWO! Poland!
OK, without ‘WOWO’, calmly speaking, besides its history and natural beauty, Poland is perhaps the EU country with the best quality/price ratio. The people are hospitable. There are so few tourists. I always feel that Eastern Europe and the Balkans are the last secrets of Europe. While other parts of Europe are already overcrowded with tourists and media exposure, Eastern Europe and the Balkans are almost immune from tourists. There is still the joy of discovery when you go there.
I ever asked many traveler friends what they felt when they crossed the border from Germany to Poland. One of them (a straight guy obviously) said: ‘Well, the roads got worse but the girls got prettier.’ Another said: ‘Well, not much difference, both sides eat a lot of sausages.’ The last one said: ‘If you happen to be an Asian or African. In Germany you do not raise much attention but in Poland WOWO! You get all the attention.’
Poland was more sparsely populated than Germany. When we left the squat and reached the said ‘best spot’ in Poznan to hitchhike to Eastern Poland, there were indeed less cars. We waited for quite a while but nobody stopped. Finally a guy jumped out of his car to tell us ‘No! This place cars can not stop!’ Then he quickly jumped back to his car.
We moved to a not-so-good spot and it took us one hour to get a ride to Warsaw.
It was not easy…… When I told my hitchhiker friends about hitchhiking in Poznan, they shouted: ‘What? Only one hour? Guess you don’t know, but Poznan is a black hole for hitchhiking! So many people, including experienced Polish hitchhikers get stuck there!’
I felt better.
The driver dropped us at a truck station. There were tens of trucks parked there.
Now, there was a difficulty with trucks. Besides the fact that most truck companies expressly prohibited the drivers to take hitchhikers, according to EU laws, a truck could only take 2 people, so one truck could only take 1 hitchhiker. We had 2 people…… Luckily we eventually found two trucks going together and each truck took one of us.
The drivers were both from Belarus. I was just reading a book about the history and national identity of Belarus as I really wanted to hitchhike there. I know, Belarus! WOWO! such a popular destination!
Just kidding. 😀
Belarus was known to be the last communist regime in Europe and one could hardly find any positive information about it on media. It was a rather closed country. I got interested into Belarus after I went to Iran. You could also hardly find any positive information on Iran in mainstream media. However, when I visited it, it was such such such such such a lovely country! The people there were the MOST hospitable in the whoooole world. The amazing history, the amazing landscape WOWO! I was stunned by Iran and still now everyday I would wake up and hope I am back in Iran again. Then I realized that mainstream media was really not always to be trusted. That was why I wanted to experience Belarus first-handedly, to get my own idea of it.
The driver did not speak much English and I did not speak much Russian so I was mainly just reading, reading and reading.
I fell asleep twice and when I woke up again, the driver told me we had arrived in Bialystok, a major Polish city in the east.
It was late afternoon. After two hours of trying, we were sure that we were stuck and really stuck. We headed back to the city, found a underground space under a church in construction and camped there. The ground was dusty and dirty but it was not as cold or windy as outside.
The Most Lovely Words I Ever Heard
The next morning I decided that I would stay in Bialystok while Kaisa continued her journey to Estonia. I was tired, really. I wanted to be in a room, with a bed and chair. I was more and more certain that the moment for me to settle down for a few years was near.
Within a few hours, I found a host on couchsurfing, a Polish girl named Kasia in Bialystok. I stayed in her place for a couple of days and headed back to Berlin.
It was quite easy for me to get a ride to somewhere near Gdansk. A couple of young girls took me. They did not speak English and they were actually a bit shy to try speaking it. I tried to use my limited Polish for communication, but every time I spoke something in Polish they would be shocked and laugh. From what I understood, they also hitchhiked a lot. In Poland it was and still is quite common for young people to hitchhike.
They dropped me at a spot they had used for hitchhiking and wished me good luck with bright smiles.
I stood there, full of good faith in humanity. Then BANG it thundered…… That was not a good sign.
Luckily within half an hour I was picked up by a middle-aged guy going to Kolobrzeg. He spoke quite good English as he lived in US for a couple of years.
I: Where did you live in US?
I: WOWO! I heard there are a lot of Polish immigrants there!
He: A lot? Oh man, it is almost a Polish city. When you land in the airport, you can basically get around by speaking only Polish. There are even many signs in Polish!
I: WOWO! Amazing!
It soon started to rain. When I finally arrived in Kolobrzeg on the Baltic coast, it was already raining cats, dogs, rats and hitchhikers.
I went to the local train station in the hope of finding a shelter and wifi. Nope, there was no wifi and the train station was filled with passengers. I had never seen any train station as busy in Poland. It was almost like in China. People were sitting on the ground everywhere.
I eventually found shelter in the tourist information office just outside the train station. The girl working there was very kind and helpful. They even had free wifi! I plugged in my laptop and within 20 minutes I found a host in Szczecin, a city about 2 hours from here.
Then I closed my laptop and contemplated for 5.3 seconds. I decided still to hitchhike.
Seriously? Hitchhiking in this kind of weather?
Yes! I went on the motorway and thumbed up, nobody was stopping. After half an hour I was even more certain that nobody would stop, because I already looked like a soaked sponge you use in the kitchen to do dishes.
I came back to the city and decided to do the most luxurious thing of my whooooole life! — take the local train to Szczecin!
I barely had time to step in the train before it started moving.
NO! I did not have a ticket with me but I knew that I could buy it on board and I had a working credit card with me (I know, I am very rich. 😛 ).
The conductor came, I said with my basic Polish: ‘Good day sir! May I pay by credit card?’
The gray-haired conductor answered with a stern face: ‘No! Cash only!’ Then he made a gesture of cash by rubbing his thumb, index finger and middle finger.
Because of security, I normally do not carry much cash with me, especially when I knew I would be out of the country very soon.
I sensed the air was getting tense……
I wanted to explain why I did not have much cash, but my Polish was not good enough for that, so I turned to the two people near me: ‘Do you speak English?’
A man in his late thirties or early forties took off his headphone smilingly and said: ‘yes, I speak English.’ I explained him my situation and he translated for me, but he said something more. The conductor then nodded and started to play on his little black machine.
Before I realized, the man already took out about 20 PLN (4-5 Euro), obviously intending to pay the ticket for me.
I stopped him right there and said it was not necessary.
He smiled again, and said the most LOVELY words I had ever heard in my journey: ‘NEXT TIME IF YOU SEE SOMEBODY WHO CAN NOT PAY FOR HIS TICKET, HLEP HIM.’
I said ‘WOWO’ and ‘dziekuje bardzo’ nonstop for 1 minute.
Sometimes I feel the world is such a cold place and people can be so indifferent, but people like him literally warm the world up.
To be continued