Monday, June 12, 2006

A Day in the Country (June 12) (part 2)

I decided to spend the afternoon doing some hiking in the Polish countryside. I grabbed a quick lunch at a restaurant across from the hotel called "Sphinx" (it looked sort of like a Polish version of Chili's) and then headed to the train station. I wanted to try going by tram, but all the routes have been changed from their versions on the map and I barely made my train.

I didn't want to schlep my guidebook, so I wrote out the directions for hiking and got off the train at the recommended station. Or so I thought. I bought some water and looked for the road I was supposed to take. No sign of it. So I just started walking towards the park. After about 15 minutes I reached a major intersection where an old woman was selling strawberries. I asked if her she could point the way to the Hotel Morena (one of the landmarks I needed to find). She pointed down the road.

I started walking. After a while I found a trail heading into the park marked with a red blaze. I knew the trail I wanted (marked with a blue blaze) would intersect the red trail at some point, so I started following it. Up into the hills I walked. After about 30 minutes I saw that I was approaching some houses in the distance and I could hear barking dogs (the bane of my existence as a hiker), so I decided to turn away. I came to a small town and was resigned to return when what should I find but the Hotel Morena. I turned around and started walking back up the hill, but now I turned left at the fork where I was supposed to and I finally found my blue blaze marked trail, just 1 hour after I started. I was off.

I was touring the Wielkopolska National Park, one of the only areas of protected landscape in the entire province. It was described as a post-glacial landscape of low moraines, gentle ridges, lakes, and pine forest. My plan was to follow the blue trail across the park until I reached Steszow, where I could catch a train back to Poznan. The catch: I only had two trains I could catch: the 16:42 or the 20:32, and after my one hour detour that only left 2 hours and 42 minutes to get to the station or I would have to wait there 4 hours for the next train.

As I walked along through the green fields the path began to descend through trees towards a small beautiful lake. Where I was surrounded by clouds of bugs. Why didn't I use the bug spray that I've been schlepping all over Europe just for this occasion? It was a question I asked myself frequently.

When I was swatting away gnats I was able to enjoy beautiful green hills. After the second lake, the trail emerged into fields. On my left were fields of green wheat, while on my right I saw fields of yellow mustard flowers. The path, really a road at this point, was lined with flowering trees that scented the air.

And what's that up ahead? Why more farm houses. And you know what that means, don't you? More farm dogs. By now I had picked up a large stick to bat them away if they came after me. Unfortunately, it was so flimsy that I think it would only have worked against a beagle, though one of those did bark menacingly at me.

As the trail wound on and on and began to worry that I would make my train. I picked up my pace, but as I left my map at home, I didn't have any sense of how far I still had to go. It seemed I had been walking forever, but with no signs, I had no idea if I were nearly there or still had hours to go. I decided that either this hike would turn out to have been a great decision or a terrible decision.

Finally, with 2o minutes to go, I reached the outskirts of Steszew. That still meant I had to find the train station, but 7 minutes later I was there. Good thing I made it on time. There was nothing nearby where I could have waited. No stores, no cafes, no restaurants, nothing.

Thankfully, the train came and 30 minutes later I was back in Poznan, and 15 minutes after that I was soaking in my tub at the hotel. I looked in my guidebook to see how I could have started out so wrong, and it turns out I got out at the wrong stop. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the stop marked "Mosina" was not the "Mosina" stop I needed, which was 2 kilometers further on down the tracks.

I haven't decided where to eat dinner tonight. There's a placed called Souix Cafe, which is quite garish and so I was tempted to see how perfectly tactless it could be (they've had Indian-style street performers out front yesterday, but I don't think they were hired by the restaurant, since I've seen them elsewhere.

Tomorrow I'm off to Gdansk, where I hope to swim in the Baltic.

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