Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hot beer, gingerbread and unlikely encounters

More on my recent trip to Poland! The day before Halloween I traveled from Warsaw to Torun, one of the bigger and certainly more beautiful cities there, to visit a Bulgarian friend, V. She is currently living in a small village near Bydgoszcz (yeah, I can pronounce that) with the European Volunteer Service program. I've met EVS volunteers here in Bulgaria, too, and it sounds like a pretty cool program. It's basically a shorter-term European version of the Peace Corps, but all the volunteers are under 26. She works for an adult group home for people with disabilities, and loves her job. All the volunteers live together, and come from lots of different countries, so it's an excellent opportunity to make new friends, too. We decided to meet in Torun because it's halfway between Warsaw and Bydgoszcz.

While it definitely has all the tourist kitsch necessary to make it a major holiday destination, Torun seemed a lot more relaxed and less crowded than Krakow. It has gorgeous architecture, a beautiful location on the Vistula River and a rich history. Like Gdansk, it was once part of the Hanseatic League. It was also the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, whose house is now a museum. Another famous attraction is Torun's gingerbread (or piernik in Polish). I loved wandering around the winding back-alleys and medieval ruins of the old town while scarfing down these delicious cookies. And, appropriate for the weather at this time of year, we also drank a lot of hot beer, which gets mixed with different spices and even comes in flavors like strawberry or raspberry. Needless to say we had a pretty great time.

I had some difficulty getting back to Warsaw because when I arrived at the train station in Torun I found out that the 15:30 train listed on the departures board not only didn't run that day, but no longer existed. So much for relying on printed schedules! In future I plan to always ask someone to make sure I know where I'm going (and when). So I took a later train that included an hour-long stopover in an even smaller town called Kutno. Since it was dark already and I only saw the train station, I don't know much about the place. I do know that the main building is currently undergoing repairs, because there was nothing open and passengers had to wait on the platforms for the trains rather than inside. That would have been fine if there was any information about the platform numbers for trains to Warsaw written in plain sight. So there I was, freezing my butt off at platform number one, hoping to find someone who could help me find my train before it left without me, when I was approached by two Catholic priests. That's pretty normal in Poland but the weird thing is that they were Americans. And, ironically, they asked me if I could help them find their train! After realizing that I was just as lost as they were, one of the priests found someone who spoke English and could point me in the right direction. My train came almost immediately after that, so I had to hurry, and I have no idea where they were from or what they were doing in Poland. But I'm glad they were there and I hope that they found their train platform, too. When I got home and told my aunt this story, she was delighted, saying that it just goes to show how lucky I am (we talk about this a lot, because I get lost a lot) to have been offered help by priests. Of course. This is Poland, after all.

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