Friday, August 01, 2003.
Over the last three days here in Slupsk I have been relaxing and accompanying my hosts as they call on their real estate clients around the area that and in that way seeing quite a lot of the countryside.
Slupsk is quite close to the ocean and on these travels we had visited the seaside areas which qualify for the word resorts by the numbers of people packed in to each area. It is interesting to see the phenomena associated with countries with major population areas and the resulting packing of the seaside resorts. It was not a scalding hot day so you could still see the sand on the beach and there was actual space between the bodies barbecuing themselves in the sunshine.
Another interesting phenomena is the accompanying shops selling food and trinkets to the thousands of people that flock to these areas. These are sights and situations that are hard to find in New Zealand through our lack of population, not that I am suggesting they would be welcome.
there are kiosks in this area selling cut flowers, I observed
roses selling for three NBP or about $1.20 NZ.
High heels, yes my fetish, (and I might add well-dressed women), (does that qualify as a fetish, or simply lust), I am observing plenty of these high heel shoes in shoes shops and occasionally see them being worn in the street. My observation is that the most of ladies of this particular area dress very similar to that of New Zealand and by no means as fashionable or classy as the women of the Ukraine.
There is massive unemployment in Poland and the average wage appears to be very low by Western standards. From my discussions with my hosts it would appear that the average person is finding it very difficult to survive in the current economic situation. A lot of people are downsizing in their properties, but at the other end there are plenty of new BMWs and Mercedes parked in the streets.
This wonderful to be able to buy an ice cream at less than half the price of most of the rest of the world.
I received some very bad news on Tuesday that a prominent member of the photographic society that I am a member of passed away suddenly. They say that death notices come in threes and that is number three, but I suspect and my age that rule does not apply as you know more people in the older age group.
Saturday 2nd August
Last night my rheumatism started aching a fraction and I put this down to the late taking of my Voltaren. However during the night and particularly this morning, almost every joint in my body started aching. My wrists are so sore that there was a difficultly and holding the soap to wash with. I did consider not washing for the rest of the trip, but it got better.
I've always said that if you had a little bit of pain it is to let you know that you are alive. I just might say that the message last night was received and understood.
Yesterday we visited two old mansions, one was on the edge of a lake and had water all round it, with one bridge (No it was not a drawbridge) for access. It was a pretty bad condition and would need at least $1 million American spent on it, if you could work out how to get your customers that far off the beaten path. It was Selling for a very cheap price, but you would need very deep pockets to consider the purchase.
The other mansion some distance away from the one above, and again was reasonably remote, but it had been turned into a hotel with 60 bedrooms. There were two buses of German tourists at the time we were there and a Polish concert party had just pulled up to entertain them. I cannot imagine what they do in the winter for clients.
Today we went out to a small village close by where my hosts have a house on a large piece of land. There we had a little get together with members of the extended family and did a little bit of group photography, showing the results to everyone's delight on the computer. Then they wanted to see the photographs, that I had done to date and so I set the computer in motion to show them the 1400 photos. They stayed for the whole performance and with attention like that it makes you glad to be in Poland.
My hosts took me towards Gdansk by car with me doing my normal trick of falling asleep after a little bit of motion. I woke up at the important places I might add and of course when we arrived. I decided to stay in Sopot which it is about 20 minutes by train from Gdansk and when I saw the thousands of people on the streets of Gdansk I realised why I had to stay 20 minutes out. This is of course because of the holiday season and it looks like people from most of Europe and most of Poland head towards the large cities, which is making me rethink the rest of my travels through this interesting country. Perhaps it is something that needs to be done by caravan or by motorhome.
So once I was checked into the hotel we went for a walk around Sopot to get the lay of the land and then we headed in to Gdansk to meet their number three daughter who had been in that city all week. We wandered the city with the thousands of other people making our way home early evening.
I made arrangements to see Maja the following day and she was going to be my guide for the next few days which was useful for both of us me to have a Polish speaker that could speak English and for her to be able to practise her English.
It was to the station, finding where to buy the ticket, then finding the platform that the train left from and after two tries and finding people that could speak English, it became no problem and I settled down for the 20 minutes run into Gdansk.
Maja was waiting for me and we set out by bus to Westerplatte the location, during Hitlers war, of the last part of the Polish troops to surrender and the last part in Poland that the Germans surrendered. It has been turned into a large reserve with whatever buildings there, left as they were in 1945.
Then back to town walked through the old town, found a location for lunch and carried on walking, with the thousands of people, until it was time Maja to go home to the family that had been hosting her for the time she has been in Gdansk.
I headed to the large mediaeval crane that was and working condition and it worked by Manpower with two large treadmills either side of the spindle and people walked either side like a mouse does on a treadmill and with that and its gearing they were able to lift up to 2000 kg. A simple device that most efficient.
I kept on wandering looking at all these stalls and the items they had the sale. There was a wonderful collection of all things, but I have a feeling the prices were recently keen and almost up to Western standards. On looking at the selection that was available this could be a interesting country for a second-hand dealer from the West to start collecting things from country areas as I'm sure it will be one of the few countries that still has a large collection of antique brickbats available.
About four o'clock my feet started telling me I had had enough, I should have brought those more comfortable shoes, but I will persevere. Good and easy to find my way back to the station and find the correct train with only having to ask one person on the platform does this go too Sopot?
Most interesting going to the toilet, they collect equivalent of $.66 NZ and there was toilet paper at the entrance and you had to tear off a piece under the watchful eye of the attendant. I would like to know how large a piece you're allowed to tear off before you had charged in extra amount.
As I wander about I notice a tremendous amount of extremely tall people male and female, and only I feel quite tall walking about most countries except of course Holland, and now Poland is added to the list. I've seen several people that must be at least 7 ft. tall and well proportioned.
Each day I go into Gdansk there are what appears to be thousands of people walking the town, lots of performers, all sorts of people trying to make a few coins from the thousands passing. This is one place where the New Zealand dollar goes a long way except of course in hotels they always seem to be a similar price in most countries.
Sitting in the centre of Gdansk old town watching the people walked by I saw three middle aged women dressed in black striding along looking as if perhaps they had just come from a witches audition.
I saw a fat American male with Las Vegas Nevada T-shirt, a ridiculous hat, with two of the children standing in front of a view of the Church in the main street whilst his fat wife did a photograph for history.
Taking these suburban train into Gdansk every day you learn things which appears you are expected to know. You buy a ticket and in a certain spot which you have to discover you place the ticket and get stamped which allows you to travel on that ticket once. I did for trips into Gdansk before I discovered the ticket standing machine at Sopot, and only discovered the machine at the Gdansk end on my last trip. At no point on my travel was I asked to produce that ticket for inspection which on the earlier trips was just as well. I guess they call that local knowledge.
Observations, I seen quite a lot of tattoos, on both men and women, some men extensively tattooed. Body piercing is reasonably popular amongst the young people. Saw two of the fattest kids I have seen for a long time, of course they were sitting in a McDonalds booth…..eating!
Interesting experience to night, walked in to my normal restaurant that is underneath the hotel and it was almost full as usual and at the long table that is designed to take about eight people there was a very attractive 35 - 40 woman. I sat down at the bar and while I was waiting to be served I glanced at her and at that moment caught her eye, she immediately looked away and started fiddling with her hair, I thought that is interesting that has not happened before, so I kept glancing at her and she appeared to be come a little bit uncomfortable. I stopped for a few moments and then glanced back again and she put her arm around her boyfriend beside her.
They were Germans of course, and the boyfriend would have won a part a member of the SS in any of the movies, interesting how the typecasting of Hollywood has affected our thinking.
Well the boyfriend did not notice her advances, and of course that made me smile more which must have been a little bit more disconcerting. So this sort of performance went on right through the meal, occasionally she would persuade the boyfriend to put his arm around her but that did not last very long.
Well group eating always takes longer than a single person dining, and least with this person, so I finished and paid and walked out giving her a big smile and low and behold I got a slight nod. Again interesting, two ships passing on life's busy stream, never to pass again.
I'm sure there would be a good scene and one of the movies we have both seen over the years where this situation would have led to a couple sipping champagne in Monaco or some other simple location.
I sent this story out to a e-mail friend (when I was a child they were pen friends) whom I have yet to meet and she replied with……
... I just loved your tale!!! And well told it was, too, for I was able to conjure up a whole scenario ....
--- from her initial reluctance to be looked at (after all, she was already attached, wasn't she just?!)
--- to her discomfort with herself for continuing to look to see that she was being looked at
--- to her need to assert that yes, indeed, she was very much attached .... and here ... let me show you, Mr. Stranger ... see? This is My Man and his arm is around me ... and he Loves me ... and we are Happy together and he will Protect me from all comers and he will not want you to be looking at me!
--- meanwhile, HE is oblivious to the entire exchange ... unaware that if Fate stepped in, his life could change in the wink of an eye ... more involved with his conversation with others at the table and rather indifferent to the non-verbal needs for assurance being expressed by his pestering partner - who, after all, was his - so no need to pay her much attention.
--- and then she, with the signaled departure of the stranger (and thus from a position of safety), finally able to nod and smile at him in appreciation of the appreciation he had shown her.
--- this memory she will keep and reflect upon often and as she sits in front of her dressing table mirror brushing her hair in the still of the night .... she will once again wonder about what might have been had she been brave enough to answer the stranger's smile (was it taunting or simply leering or had it really been beckoning her .... to champagne toasts in foreign ports?) ... but then she will dismiss these foolish thoughts and dreams - knowing it was probably just a passing physical thing anyway and therefore nothing of consequence ... and here behind her was her man - in their bed (albeit snoring loudly) - and though not the most attentive of mates ... nevertheless he was hers and he was here and they had a life. But still... who knows what might have been........ IF
--- Meanwhile, the stranger ... a spectator of life ... had enjoyed the scenery along with the little discomfort he had created. And the food and drinks weren't bad either.
I might add that my e-mail friend lives in Hollywood.
Friday 8 Aug
Well having a great most of the buildings of Gdansk, visited most of the museum's, observed all of the people on holiday there was not much else to do, I did not feel like battling with the trains throughout Poland, so I decided to head back towards Berlin staying overnight at Slupsk with my original hosts.
So was down to the station early in the morning by an express ticket to Slupsk, good or my luggage to the correct platform, listen to all the loudspeaker announcements wondering if they concern me, finally finding somebody that speaks English, a little, yes, the train left from this platform, just then a train pulled in 30 minutes before my train was due, my English-speaking friend said this is the train to Slupsk, so onboard I got.
When the ticket conductor came around he indicated I was on the wrong train and I should have been on the express, I ticket was not valid for the train, all that's what I think it was indicating, he couldn't speak English, I could not find anyone that could speak English, so in the end he just indicated for me to sit down, so I did wondering what time this train got in on if the other was the express. My hosts were expecting me on the express at 11.33. Fortunately the train I was on got in at 11.15 so all was well.
Later that evening we went down to buy my ticket for Saturdays travel but a ticket to Berlin was international travel and that was closed for the evening. Opened again at 6 a.m. which I had no intention of being there at that time. We saw on the timetable that there was a train at 11.15 so we were down at the station at 9 a.m. to buy a ticket to find that the first train was at 1315. Oh well! Back home we went to get my hosts some more computer lessons and back to the station at 1230.
Well the train arrived on time I got on board no problems. About 2 1/2 hours later we pulled into a station and there were the riot squad complete with helmets, body armour, Perspex shields, and good sized combatants, all standing about a metre apart facing the train. As the train pulled to a stop they all did a left turn and double marched down the platform to the rear of the train far enough away so I could not see what they were doing. Looked out of the train onto the platform on the other side and long behold their was a squad of riot police there facing the train.
At that point I wondered whether my Visa was current, or what they knew that I did not know. I saw them all move all the platform on my side in the remote distance but could not see if they had anyone within their midst or what was happening and the wonderment spread throughout the train. As the train pulled out the squad on the other side stood the use and moved off the platform So was the me something to do with our train. I then wondered if the Communists had come back into power because I had not seen a newspaper the least 12 days saw anything could have happened.
Well that was a little of excitement, so then it was on to Szczecin, and wait for two hours for the train onto Berlin. Whilst I was there I went to the information to find out what platform it left from, went on and had some sausages and chips, found my way to platform two, waited for the train, it arrived quite full and then with everybody else getting on it was packed, so I said to hell with that, back up the stairs, found a taxi, taken to a reasonable hotel and I will try again in the morning. The taxi seem to take a long time to get to the hotel which I thought was unusual, and the fear that was 66 zl.
Uneventful night, and uneventful breakfast, how the hotel to a taxi, back to the railway station, taxi fare 21zl. Guess I went to the hotel last night on the scenic route, but that is a risk you run when you cannot speak the language and you are a stranger in town.
Checked with information, found the next train towards Berlin left at 1030 instead of 915 as I expected so settled down on the platform it was to leave from and started reading a good book. Around the time it was due to leave and no train there, people started moving so again I found somebody that could speak English and yes the train was leaving from another platform. So I had to lug the suitcases up a flight of stairs to the overhead bridge, then down on to another platform, then into the train one bag at a time and into a carriage.
We went through passport control on the train, the Polish border patrol could not find my Polish Visa, so I found it for them, he smiled sheepishly, through the German border patrol, then to a rail station just inside Germany. There was then manoeuvring the suitcases off the train, down a flight of stairs, up and a flight of stairs, onto a train that was packed full, standing in a area in the middle of a carriage where bicycles were carried along with the cyclists, watching people manoeuvre past the past the bicycles as I stood in a corner with my two suitcases for the next hour. Finally Berlin of the train after helping the cyclists move their heavy bikes up to the raised to platform then another flight of stairs and a resolution that I have served by time travelling on trains and I would not repeat it again if possible.
to the airport, to the Lufthansa ticket counter, asked
if I could go to Frankfurt today on the ticket that I
had, (technically I was only allowed to use Frankfurt
as a transit point on my way to St Petersburg ) and as
is often the case people at the airport are much more
flexible than travel agents. Yes I could use the ticket,
left in 60 minutes, oh you want to go on to Amsterdam! Well as you have a round the world ticket, I can rewrite the ticket but it will take a hour to do this, but you'll travel on for nothing. At this point of time all I was interested in doing was getting to my destination so I bought a return economy ticket from Frankfurt to Amsterdam return.
Up to the first-class lounge, have some liquid and food for lunch, then onto the plane, to Frankfurt, change planes, onto Amsterdam, wait for the luggage to arrive, on out into the arrival hall, to be greeted by my friend Hank Buyck then onto was home to be greeted by his family. For those of you that know Hank he is looking well along with the rest of the family.