Saturday, June 10, 2006

Safely in Poland (June 10)

After such a nice day, I knew the good weather couldn't last. Sure enough, it rained and drizzled this morning.

No problem. Today was a travel day. After breakfast I headed to the train station, bought some food for the journey, and caught my first train.

Once we were out of the Budapest area, the weather cleared up, and by the time we reached Vac (pronounced "Votz"), we had beautiful views of the "Danube bend," where the Danube passes through hills and then finally turns south. As we pass by Visegrad, we had a great view of the ruined castle on top of the hill.

From there it was through Slovakia to the Czech border where I had a two hour wait for my next train. This time I shared the compartment at first with two women making very long journeys. One was a Polish woman heading to the Baltic coast. The other was a German woman from Mainz who was traveling to the Polish border to visit her father's grave on the one year anniversary of his death. The second woman was rather fearful. She was afraid of Budapest, and so had never gone (I could never figure out why she was afraid). She was afraid of Prague, apparently in part because no one there spoke German. She was making this very long train trip because she was afraid to fly.

We were later joined by an elderly man who spoke both German and Czech. I had trouble following the entire discussion between him and the German woman, but it had something to do with how after WWI, the region changed from Austrian to Czech and he either had to or was forbidden from (I'm not sure which) speak German in the school. The German woman kept saying that she was born after the war, while the Czech man kept saying how all the lands between the Elbe and Sar (I think) were Slavic.

After he left, she complained to me how he his discussions of the past had bothered her and how she was born after the war. Her father was from Silesia and fought in the German army during WWII, was captured by the British, and held as a POW. After the war, he could not return to Silesia, since this was now Poland, but he always felt it was his homeland and wanted to be buried there. As it happens, he died there last year on holiday and was buried there, much to his daughter's disappointment, since she has to make this terrible trip now, just to visit him.

15 minutes before the stop she got ready to go. We told her she had plenty of time, since we would be at the station for 15 minutes for passport control, but she was afraid she would miss the stop.

After she left, it was a much calmer trip. The views of southern Poland are beautiful: all green fields and small woods.

Katowice, where I am tonight, is basically a depressed industrial city. Think Thatcherite England, only with no beautiful laundrettes to live things up. Tomorrow I head north to Poznan.

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