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27 September 2005

darkness or no darkness, the darkest

happy birthday brad!

checked out and was out on the street shortly before 1000. mieszko and his dad arrived in the car and we were off back to their apartment.

the breakfast was perfect... omelette, sausage, tomatoes, ham, bread. wow.

before the airport, one more stop... la fragola for warsaw's best gelato. i had lemon, strawberry, and cherry. gigantic flavor.

airport... checked in and said my goodbyes [thank you again!].

poland is one of my new trip highlights. the people were so friendly, the cities were beautiful, and the food was great. i'll definitely be coming back.


two hours from warsaw to rome. arrival in italia at ciampino. a little airport on the edges outside of the circle. bus to the metro and metro to termini; quite possibly the most dirty metro of my travels to this point [see video below], certainly the first in which spraypaint covered the majority of window space to create a tightness of enclosure, the air wet and heavy, i wanted out. now. finally termini, the usual rush for the door, them: god don't let the metro leave with me still on it, me: the anxious mob of children, i hung back and waited and then rushed myself to find the out. at last into the air. i surveyed the scene, acquired satellites, and after one wrong way, i was on track to the yellow hostel.

she didn't have change and seemed overwhelmed; 90 cents in 2 cent coins, blah, she shorted me. 'i gave you 100 euro.' she handed me 30. 'right... two more.' she handed me two more. [CRACK], baby. the elevator could fit two people, no more. i was one and a half with the pack and we had to squeeze in. fifth floor, i unstrapped and unpacked and locked it all away and then went downstairs to meet dave for dinner. in the back in the corner by ourselves we had delicious bruschetta and lasagna washed down with the reddest of wines. had i not been feeling less than myself i would have gone out to explore rome, darkness or no darkness, the darkest, i was _in rome_ and she was calling me, but i was drained and feeling weak, so finally to bed. the top bunk is always more difficult than the bottom and no storage. a hot night on the courtyard; i thought about fire options while falling asleep.

video of the rome metro [1.35 mb] far from the most painted.

posted by paul at Tue 27 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

26 September 2005

cold liquid chocolate

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i woke up around 1000 and checked my email. mieszko had emailed with his schedule. today was his first day at university and as could be expected he had a lot going on. i tried giving him a call from the hostel but got no answer; decided to head out for the new city walk and try him a little later. destination: the old town which wasn't quite as old as it used to be. the day was beautiful and i was ready to explore. i was still fully charged from my extending rest in prague; i'd definitely made the right decision to take a break.


down to the old town. beautiful. got some food and walked lazily through the streets. tried mieszko again and got through; we made plans to meet in front of the palace of culture and science at 1700. i checked my map and found the pałac kultury i nauki. that must be it... right by the train station... i'd walked by it on my way to the hostel the night before. an unfamiliar beep from my camera. hmm. i'd charged the batteries this morning. memory card full. blah. i'd been taking a lot of pictures and it had been a few days since i'd copied my pictures from my camera to my computer. i contemplated going through the pix on the camera and deleting bad shots in order to gain some space on the card, but decided against it. it was afternoon; decided to start heading back to the area of the palace. on the way i was forced to delete some shots in order to capture necessary others.

back at the hostel i confirmed with the hostel staff that the pałac kultury i nauki was indeed the palace of culture and science. but why was i asking... most of the exhibits would be closing soon. 'i'm meeting someone there.' they explained that the building was quite large and had multiple entrances. this will be interesting.

walked over around 1630 and found what i believed to be the main entrance, under the large letters which spelled out the name of the building. mieszko told me he'd be wearing a pink shirt and a hat with the name of my father's business on it. at 1705 i still hadn't seen any pink shirts. i must be at the wrong entrance. at 1710 i decided to circle the building and that's when i saw a pink shirt. hat... yes, but this wasn't the brown and yellow hat i was familiar with. closer. closer. i couldn't read the words until i was right on top of him... [dad, when did you have purple hats made?]. as he passed me i stopped him... 'mieszko?' 'paul?' rendez-vous confirmed.

mieszko introduced me to his parents and asked what i'd seen so far. just the old town. he had some ideas... first to lazienki park. we got in the car and began driving. strange to be in a car again... it was a good feeling. my guides pointed out interesting sites along the way. we arrived and began walking... first past the chopin monument. a beautiful park. we dropped mieszko's mom off near their apartment and then continued on to more sites. finally to a wedel chocolate restaurant where i drank _deliciously amazing_ cold liquid chocolate. wow. back in the car and over to mieszko's home where his mom had prepared an amazing meal. wow again. home cooked meal. the entirety of the time i spent with mieszko and his family was absolutely incredible; so friendly and welcoming... thank you so much! i regretted that i'd be leaving tomorrow. had i known i would love poland so much (and meet so many nice people) i would surely have planned to stay longer.

my flight was leaving at 1330 the next day; mieszko planned to pick me up at the hostel at 1000 and bring me back for breakfast before taking me to the airport.

posted by paul at Mon 26 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

25 September 2005

with such short notice

today was a travel day and typicaly on travel days i investigate transport times and buy my tickets first thing in the morning (if i haven't already done those things days before). for some reason i wasn't in a rush to purchase my warsaw train ticket this morning. not only was i not in a rush to buy the ticket, but i hadn't even investigated hostels for tonight. the hostel i'd been staying in in krakow was the first i've encountered that had no official checkout time (i wish all hostels employed this policy). i wasn't in a rush to check out, to purchase my ticket, or to find a hostel in warsaw for tonight. in general, i wasn't rushing to leave krakow; i really liked it here.


a few weeks ago my dad had emailed me to let me know that one of the people working for him was from poland and that he would be returning to his home in warsaw a few days before i was scheduled to arrive. amazing timing. i'd emailed mieszko about a week ago and told him that my schedule wasn't very concrete; i wasn't sure how long i'd be staying in krakow and that i'd let him know when i'd be coming to warsaw. the last few days had gone by quickly and i realized today as i was packing that i hadn't told him that i'd be in warsaw this evening. i emailed him and told him i'd give him a call tomorrow morning. then i checked hostelworld.com... interesting, absolutely no dorm beds were available in warsaw. hmm, that's a first. mieszko had very kindly offerred to let me stay at his place, but i felt bad about asking with such short notice. dimi suggested asking the hostel staff to assist.

the girl working at the reception desk was amazingly cool. checked train times for me and called a hostel and made a reservation. problem solved. trains ran pretty much every hour between krakow and warsaw, so i had some time for one last krakow mission. i wanted to see oskar schindler's factory. dimi and anders were hanging around the hostel; i invited them to join me.

after a 20 minute walk, we arrived on lipowa street. looking for number 4: found. i knew from other hostelites who had visited the factory that it's possible to enter and look around. dimi, anders, and i wandered around from one building to the next; all apparently shared the 4 lipowa address. finally we came across something which looked promising; dimi thought he recognized the gate. we walked back out onto the street and saw the sign. a very nice man explained to us that we could go inside and watch a slideshow and see schindler's office and sign our names in a guestbook. the gallery tells the story best.

anders beat dimi and me back to the hostel for a certain reason. packed and out. 50 instead of 20, back up. note from lewis, back up. i made it to the train station around 1630. jeden, warszawa. two tickets, interesting. i found the correct seat and the train was rolling.

a few hours later the train arrived during the dark. when i emerged from the train station, the city that greeted me was pretty much what i was expecting: warsaw : krakow :: glasgow : edinburgh. a skyscraper industrial city, at least from this side. several people had told me (and i'd read) that warsaw had been hit very hard during world war ii. seems they've done a lot of rebuilding since then. got my bearings and found my way over to the hostel. went out for some food and then to sleep.

posted by paul at Sun 25 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

24 September 2005

quickly to the surface

the highlight of this day was not the tour of the salt mines in wieliczka. don't misunderstand, the mines were impressive. i spent three hours underground with two tour guides wandering through the extended labyrinth of tunnels on the upper three of nine levels. down a forever wood staircase covered with marks from past visitors; the whole mine was marked. large hollows left when the salt was removed. several turned into beautiful chapels, the most impressive kinga's, the staircase, the floor tiles, the sculptures on the walls all carved from one large block of rock salt. i inhaled deeply near a salt lake. a museum explaining the techniques used by the miners. nine of us crammed into the top level of the lift and the door shut, raised quickly to the surface through the darkness, shaking.

no, the highlight of this day was not the day at all. it was the night. i hadn't intended to go out at all, just a dinner and then back inside for some writing, but as i became unalone and the group grew to six in an unusual string of coincidences, i was caught up within the night and decided not to resist.

after i returned to krakow from wieliczka, i met a new roommate, the egyptian greek australian dimi, back at the hostel. i asked him if he wanted to join me for dinner. in the town square, ellion surprised me as i stood in line waiting for an atm. swiss ellion had been forced to relocate from our hostel along with many others the night before due to a lack of beds. i asked her to join us to the infamous polanski's; no chicken cutlet for me this time. delicious pierogis and potato soup. on the way there she told us she had been looking for a friend who used to live in krakow, now working in nigeria, currently back in poland. she'd been unsuccessful in locating him.

after dinner we returned to the town square and ran into australian anders, another relocated hostelite. moments later, ellion's missing friend, half german half polish kaspar, saw us standing near his table, came over and invited the four of us to sit down with him and his polish friend, andreon. kaspar had lived in krakow before relocating to nigeria temporarily for his job; andreon still lived in krakow. we had found one of the traveller's best friends: locals. and not just any locals, these locals were on a mission tonight. kaspar explained the plan to check out a birthday party for a friend of andreon's at a local bar before moving on to others in the extensive krakovian underworld. i'd seen the salt mines of wieliczka's underground; it was time to see the bars and clubs of krakow's.

first to a basement bar of brick with curved ceilings similar to those i'd seen in prague and cesky krumlov, completely packed. a narrow passageway led to a chamber where a three piece band was rocking hard in english and polish [the long haired singer seemed out of place in this land of the shaved head]; the crowd was devouring their music and cheering and i was cheering along with them. kaspar's drink of choice was a mad dog (fiescu pies?)... some devious creation topped off with a few drops of tobasco sauce... and the rest of us allowed him to lead us down the stinging path. i feared for my night and for the next morning. we didn't stay long... we were on a mission. the next two bars were protected by large doormen. fortunately, we had the keys. i'm not exactly sure what he said to them, but kaspar unlocked the lock and the doormen ushered us in. no cover, no questions. the second club was covered with pictures, the third filled with frenetic dancing. the night was incredible... kaspar took us to bars we likely would not have found without him and got us in to places from which we likely would have been turned away. [thank you sir for an incredible night; i'll definitely stay in touch]. wish i'd had my camera with me.

it cost me 50 zloty to upgrade anders' age.

that girl has the world in her eyes.

posted by paul at Sat 24 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

23 September 2005

never find me

my plan to take a well recommended bike tour of krakow failed when i woke up late. i spent the day wandering the city and took a nap in a park. upon waking for the second time today i found drool on my sweatshirt. inventory of my pockets checked out.

over to polanski's for some lunch. pretty much a regular. a self service restaurant. order, sit, wait for your number. the number came up and i went up to the front to grab my chicken cutlet. hmm, two identical chicken cutlet plates. i'll just take this one. back at the table the chicken seemed a little soft. taste. ah, fish. errr. hmm, not bad. i looked left and then right. they'll never find me. i'll just eat this delicious fish and they'll never know.

i had failed to look the one place she was standing... up.


'you took the wrong plate! that is fish. you ordered chicken.' her tone wasn't the typical american waitress 'oh, i think you made have made a mistake and taken the wrong plate.' oh no. she was giving me a stern talking to. ha! it was almost amusing... i'd heard these same waitresses lay into other customers (polish customers) for asking for things that weren't on the menu. i apologized and asked her what she wanted me to do. she stood over me staring for another few seconds letting me think about what i'd done. you just think about what you've done young man... you've taken the wrong plate. 'return the plate and take yours.' i returned the plate one bite less than i'd found it. grabbed the other, my chicken. yum. when i left i apologized again and she smiled and said 'that's all right. they look exactly the same.' um, exactly.

went out with a big crew from the hostel. ran into an equally matched group of germans and formed an international supergroup comprised of rock stars from germany, wales, ireland, australia, england, and america. late night.

das ist verboten.

posted by paul at Fri 23 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 September 2005

remembering auschwitz

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a sickness began inside me as the bus neared our destination. a blurring of thoughts that i was trying desperately to sort out. a swirling of questions. through the distracting conversation of the past few months of my trip that i didn't want to discuss at that moment. please, just let me think. just a moment of silence to concentrate. but maybe she had a sickness too and that was her way of dealing with it.


is it wrong of me to visit a place where thousands of people were murdered? what are my reasons for visiting? this is not a tourist attraction. how could this have happened? how was this allowed to happen? i need to know every single detail about the events that led up to that moment. the victims in the train travelling sixty years ago and what they must have been thinking. and more the sickness and watery eyes.

she asked me if i wanted to split up and walk around separately. yes. i needed to be alone. to process.

not a word was muttered during the fifteen minute film. not one word.

and the day brilliant and warm didn't make me forget for an instant about what happened here and i owed it to them to constantly think sixty years ago. the barracks were brick; i didn't expect that. several barracks were open and contained exhibits.

an entire room filled with the shoes of victims.

an entire room filled with the shorn hair of victims.

pots and pans, clothing, brushes, eye glasses, luggage. all taken.

starvation cell. standing cell. in the basement i had to remind myself that there wasn't a long line of people waiting to enter each room sixty years ago. there was terror and fear and cruelty and inhumanity. complete inhumanity. in that building the first experimentation with zyklon b gas.

crematorium i where thousands of people were murdered. and i stand in the room and lean against one of the walls.

we meet and take the bus to auschwitz ii, birkenau. the scale of the camp completely staggers me. i had absolutely no idea. and i try to remember. as far as i could see, the barbed wire and barracks. the barracks were open and i walked through several. five to a pallette. the terror. a group of children are walking towards me on the rails carrying the flag of israel.

in the back of the camp, four crematoriums all demolished by the retreating nazis in an attempt to cover up their crime. but people are here remembering.

as i walk back towards the entrance, i turn right and walk through a gate and walk on a stone road. two men are working to conserve one of chimneys remaining from a barrack that was gone. at the end of the road i realize that there is not a gate to the main road. and i stop and stand there and just think for a few minutes before turning around to walk back. one of the workmen approaches and tells me there is a small opening to fit through. i return and find it.

back to the entrance. standing on the rails.

we're quiet during the bus ride back to krakow on this overwhelmingly heavy day filled with remembering.

posted by paul at Thu 22 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

21 September 2005

filled with a chaos

my first morning in krakow, i woke up at 0820 and was disappointed with the complimentary breakfast of toast and jam and the trickle of water in the shower. i should be so lucky in southeast asia.

a beautiful morning to the wawel castle where i toured the state rooms and armory. giant two handed swords, halberds, spears (one much like a two pronged pitchfork), maces, and morning stars with long spear shafts. i tried to imagine a battlefield filled with a chaos of men wielding these weapons, not just displays at a museum but blades slicing through and the heavy falling hard crushing. so often forgotten i fear that these displays were used for killing in a most gruesome and horrible way. it's necessary to think hard to remember. i decided not to purchase a ticket for the cathedral bell tower and royal tomb, perhaps i'd come back later, but now i wanted to continue the walk.

to the jewish ghetto, once contained within a wall, and the reminders of the second world war are everywhere in europe. this synagogue survived.

slowly along the wistula river where a woman walked with three children, two on razor scooters and one on inline skates, swirling around me. past the castle and back to where the light seemed perfect, finally to the town square. excavations are in progress. excavations make me happy.

the story of the troop of school kids and the lone stone monk will be lost here because it won't work in print, but the moment caused me to laugh for five full minutes along with the kids. i consider this one of my first successful people photos. imagine the mischief in him.

i met up with anders and chen for dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hostel. delicious potato soup, chicken cutlet, and potatoes.

posted by paul at Wed 21 Sep 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)