Friday, June 23, 2006

Nearly Half Way (June 23)

Today marks four weeks since I left the United States for Europe, and I have to say, I've been very pleased with the way the trip is going.

I wasn't sure if I was going to either bring too little with me or too much, but I think I hit the right balance. Every time I pack up to move to a new city, I thank God I didn't pack more and buy a bigger suitcase. Between all the stairs I have to climb (under the street, over the street, through the train station, up to the train, etc. -- virtually none of Poland is accessible for the disabled), I am quite happy with my small provisions, and often wish I could have brought less, though I know that wasn't possible.

I've also been quite happy with what I did bring. I have used virtually everything I brought with me. The only exception, believe it or not, is my book on learning Polish. I keep intending to study from it, but rarely can find the time. Last night, instead of studying, I watched the last half hour of the game between Croatia and Australia (by game, you should know that I can only be referring to the World Cup). I lost track of how many players got yellow and red carded in the final 10 minutes of play.

Thankfully last night the drinkers weren't partying (perhaps because England lost). I woke up at 6 am, showered, packed, and had breakfast. I wanted to catch the 8:19 train to Bialystok. I managed, though the weather didn't help (humid downpours). Soon enough I was on the train to Bialystok.

Bialystok is one of those places where I had had second thoughts about the amount of time I'm spending here: three nights. Of course three nights really means just two and a half days. Half a day to see the sights in the city, then one day to the Bialowieska national park, and a half day in Tykocin to see the restored 18th century synagogue (supposedly one of the finest in Poland). While I was a little disappointed to find out how far out of town my hotel turned out to be, and disappointed, but not surprised, to find it is unairconditioned (virtually none of Poland is airconditioned), my views have changed since lunch.

I went to a place recommended by my book called "New York Bagels," and I was looking so confused at the board that a young Polish man asked me in English if I needed any help. We got to talking and it turns out that Patrick (his name) just finished his BA in Poli Sci, and will be attending Kingston University in London in the fall to get his MA. We talked for quite a while and he gave me advice on what to see in Bialystok. I asked him if he could recommend a place where I could get my hair cut (I had the woman at the hostel write out for me what to say, including "not too short"), and he offered to walk me to a good place.

On the way, he told me that his family had come from Lvov after the war, when the Russians deported them to Szczecin. After that they wandered a bit before settling in Bialystok. We talked about American and European Union immigration policies and finally we arrived at the barber's. The hair cut was good, cheap, and quick. Patrick had to go back to work (as a local rep for Cargill) and I thanked him profusely for his assistance. He explained that many people had offered him similar help in England and he just wanted to return the favor.

From there I made my way to the memorial (just one block away) to the resistance fighters in the Bialystok ghetto. Bialystok had been a major Jewish city before the war. Not a city with a large Jewish community, no, it was majority Jewish (70%). The Jews were ghettoized and when the Germans tried to liquidate the ghetto the resistance led an uprising. There was a memorial for two mass graves. One was for 3500 people buried during the ghetto, the other was for 125 people killed during the uprising: in the words of the memorial "75 heroes and 55 martyrs" who were buried together in a mass grave.

Afterwards I found the tourist office and made a reservation to visit Bialowieska park tomorrow with an organized group (the only way to see the restricted area with the bison). To see pictures of it, go to:

My hour is almost up, so I'm going to sign off. Since I won't get back from the park til quite late tomorrow evening, I may not post again for a day or so.

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