<Note: This posting should have been made a couple of days ago but my internet service was spotty.>
The night before this bus trip to Warsaw, I was a bit concerned. Aleksander, my host, had purchased my round trip bus tickets online. Receipts were supposed to be automatically emailed to me for the trip this morning.
Two hours after purchasing the tickets, the emails hadn’t arrived. Aleksander was getting a bit miffed, as was I. He called the tour company, Lux Express out of Estonia, to complain and press for the urgency of emails. By the time I went to bed at 1:00 a.m., the emails still hadn’t arrived. My bus was departing at 9:50 a.m.
Aleksander promised he would be up early to contact the bus company again. I awoke at 8:00 a.m. and Aleksander was still in his room. I saw no lights on. I was not about to bother him, so I went about my routine to get cleaned up and packed for the hoped-for bus trip to Warsaw.
About half an hour into my preparation, Aleksander emerged from his bedroom. The emails had been sent, he assured me. They would show up in my box very soon. He was right. Within about fifteen minutes, my confirmation emails for the bus trip to and from Warsaw showed up. I was on my way.
I left Aleksander’s apartment a few minutes later. I caught Tram #20 for Krakow’s Main Market Square—the tram I usually take—and got off at the Lubich stop. From there, it was a four block walk to the train station. I arrived in plenty of time to grab a snack and hover around the station until my bus arrived.
The cost of the ticket for this four hour bus ride is fifteen zlotys which is the equivalent of about four dollars. Every time I see a number like “15 PLN” I still superimpose the American dollar amount over it, despite the “PLN”.
The bus ride turned into something of a joy. For my four dollar investment, I got to ride in a state-of-the-art bus with individual TV screens offering miscellaneous entertainment options and free internet. I’ve been reading the New York Times. Chargers are available for laptops, cell phones and iPads. There is a bathroom on the bus and a coffee maker offering coffee, tea, cappuccino and mochas. The seats are spacious and recline offering plenty of legroom for napping. Curtains block the sun, if one is so inclined and air conditioning is available. Again, for four dollars.
I supposed if the bus were packed out, perhaps four dollars would be enough to support this route. But there were only eight people on board. That’s thirty-two dollars for this ultra-modern bus to drive four hours. And we picked up no one on the way. I know that the cost of living in Poland is substantially lower than that in America. But, again, four dollars???
I took a nap for about thirty to forty-five minutes during the trip just because I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Besides, on a bus, what else am I gonna do? Write on my blog?
The bus route didn’t really grab me. I did spend quite a bit of time just observing the countryside, the architecture, and the people. Surprisingly enough, we did not spend too much time on the expressway. I would have thought that it would be freeway all the way between two of the largest cities in this nation.
The landscape was rather bland. Flat plains with marshes stretched for miles. Simple forests sprouted up here and there. I suppose I am being a big arrogant by describing them as “simple forests”. But I come from the Pacific Northwest where trees are gargantuan and majestic and woodlands stretch for millions of acres. It is important for me to remember that Poland has been developed for a thousand years meaning that these forests have probably been harvested many times over. Yet Oregon is larger than Poland and our climate lends to larger trees.
Outside of Krakow I did note beautiful farmland, perfectly symmetrical. Krakow is a city of about 700,000 people, a bit larger than Portland, so it took about thirty minutes to get out of the urban area.
As we neared Warsaw, the bus swung onto an eight lane freeway that looked like it had just been constructed. I have to admit that, while I know Poland has been free since 1991, I still have it in my mind that it is living in a communist system even after visiting last year. Yet, the people are free and prosperous, constructions cranes abound (we just passed five of them) and many areas look like they were plucked out of suburban America.
Business parks and office buildings are everywhere in the larger cities. Shopping malls feature every perk and creature comfort that we expect to see. At rush hour, cars are backed up for blocks at major intersections. The economy is thriving, indeed, Poland has been one of the EU’s champions lately because of its efforts to not just throw off, but annihilate all vestiges of the Soviet system.
As I trek through Poland and glean all this family genealogy, I feel a certain sense of pride for this part of my heritage. I’m proud that Poles have been so resilient, that they have refused to let go of their ethnic identity and their nationalist pride. I’m proud that they are so happy to have their freedom and will never let it go again.
And I’m proud when I hear about what they were forced to endure by the Russians for the “privilege” of living in a socialist system. They endured and persevered. The memories are palpable today; after all, it’s only been twenty-five years. Even Aleksander, my host, can remember and describe what it was like under communism. And he was only a child.
So we are nearing our destination in Warsaw. I will take the bus to my little temporary apartment where I will meet my host, get settled, get a bite to eat and probably start the research process. The archive here closes at 7:00 p.m. which is great for me. I don’t plan on any sightseeing. I was here last year and saw quite a bit. This time around, I’m a man on a mission. How much will I achieve???
OK, I checked out the archive facility. After finding my apartment and meeting the gentleman who owns it, I got settled in and cleaned up. Then I hopped the Metro to find my destination. I got a bit turned around, but found it easily enough.
As I walked toward the building that houses the archives, I began to notice the area. It was very familiar. As I got closer, I realized that I was in Old Town. This is the area that was preserved after the war. WWII resulted in the almost complete destruction of Warsaw. Only a small portion, perhaps a few hundred acres, of the older section survived Allied bombing.
Last year, when I was looking for places to stay for myself and my traveling companion, Barry, I purposely chose something in this area because it seemed more authentic than a modern building. And I hd been right. It’s packed with restaurants, coffee shops and underground pubs. The architecture is stunning. It makes me wonder what Warsaw would have looked like had it not been bombed to smithereens.
Anyway, it turned out that the archive was only three blocks from the apartment Barry and I rented last year. I couldn’t believe it. I guess “irony” is my middle name.
After familiarizing myself with the area, I returned to my apartment. The search will begin Wednesday.