May 4, 2011

adventures in europe: poland

on that same first free travel adventure, my friends and i decided that we really wanted to visit auschwitz. we had studied and learned a lot about the holocaust and had just watched the film "life is beautiful" with the rest of our group. we knew that it would give us an appreciation for life that we had never experienced before. the only thing about auschwitz is that it's located in poland, which is rather far away.

we had traveled from florence to venice to budapest to vienna, and now we were planning to take an overnight train from vienna to krakow, poland, the city closest to auschwitz. typically we would have purchased a couchette like we did before, and we would have just slept in beds on the train until we arrived in krakow the next morning. but all of the couchettes and seats on the train heading straight to krakow were booked, and our only option was to purchase seats on two separate trains, making the a switch from one train to the other at 4:30 in the morning.

so at 4:30 in the morning, our train would arrive at some tiny polish town's train station where we would get off and get on another train to krakow. the other problem that we didn't realize was that when we arrived at our tiny polish town's train station, we would have exactly 7 minutes to locate and board the train to krakow.

so we left vienna that night carefree and excited, but as we traveled in the middle of the night to poland, i decided to review our train book and discovered that we would have only 7 minutes to make our change. i also noticed that the town we would be arriving in was called katowice and that i had never heard of it and didn't know anything about it. and as our arrivals and departures through various towns began to be delayed, i realized that we wouldn't be arriving in katowice at 4:30 in the morning.

as a general rule, the farther east that you travel in europe, the less english that is spoken. another general rule is that the smaller the town, the less english that is spoken. and as we approached katowice at nearly 5:00 in the morning, a sick realization hit me: my friends and i were about to be stranded in a tiny polish train station, in the middle of the night, where possibly no one spoke any english, and where there was no train for us to board.

and sure enough, with one step off of the train, all of my fears were realized. i stepped off of the train into a living nightmare, the single creepiest place i had ever been in my life. strangers were scattered on the platform just staring at the 6 cute, american girls who had just arrived. and there was not a single train waiting for us in the tiny station.

you had to walk up and down stairs to actually get to the train platforms, and so we went downstairs to find the information desk only to find that there was no information desk. there was a ticket counter, however, and so we all walked rather quickly to the woman shielded behind the metal bars enclosing her counter.

"yes, ma'am? we're looking for a train to krakow that was supposed to leave at 4:37. our train arrived here late, and we need to get there as soon as possible. did that train leave already, and do you know when the next one is coming?" i said as calmly as possible. and then my next fear was realized: not a single soul in the station spoke a single word of english.

panic started to set in as we girls realized that we were completely helpless in the scariest place we had ever been in the middle of the night. we started running down the long hallway and up and down stairs to various platforms in search of the train. but there was no train to be found.

so we finally chose a platform randomly and walked up the stairs to it to just stand and wait, and i began to pray. this was my exact prayer: "dear LORD, this may be really silly. but i am really scared. actually, i'm pretty terrified. and in this moment there is only one thing that i truly want, and that is my train. i don't want the next train. i don't want a train a few hours from now. but i want the 4:37 train that we just missed to come pick us up and take us safely to krakow. i know that's crazy, but..."

my prayer was interrupted mid-sentence by my friends getting my attention. i looked up and realized that a train was coming on another platform. we went downstairs and then back up the stairs to that platform. and upon walking up and seeing the electronic sign beside the train indicating where it was going and what time it was to depart, i read the following words: krakow 4:37.

No comments:

Post a Comment