We made it through our first connection in Ostrava just fine, and were on our way to Katowice. This is where it gets more interesting. Katowice is a small hub station in Poland, but our tickets didn’t connect in Katowice, but in Zebrzydowice, which we deemed “Zebraville” since we hadn’t a clue how to pronounce it. Zebraville was a stop on the way to Katowice, and since we also lack any extensive knowledge of trains and train stations, we accepted this for what it was. About an hour into our train ride Caitlin spotted the sign for our stop so we got off. Trains often only stop briefly, so we hurried off and then the train pulled away as we got our first real glimpse of the area. It looked like a depressed Polish village during one of the world wars. There was a building, but nobody was inside save for a few homeless. And boy was it cold outside. There was a schedule posted on the door of the station, and there was a train to Krakow, but only one train per day: at 3:33 am. It was only 5:15 in the afternoon.
Then we met Tomasz. He came strolling across the sole platform and looked at surprised to see us as we were to see him, since none of us looked like we belonged in Zebraville. He asked where we were from and how the heck we ended up in Zebraville. We told him our tale (thus far), and he replied in turn. Turns out that’s Tomasz is from Poland, though he’d never heard of Zebraville before and didn’t actually know where we were (he was waiting on a friend to collect him), but he had a smart phone and looked to see if there were any other trains in the area heading toward Katowice we might catch. No such luck. We’d resigned ourselves to our cold fate, regretted not buying a deck of cards yet, and settled in. Tomasz asked if we would like some tea from a shop someone had told him was few blocks away. I started to say yes, then realized we had no Polish currency as of yet, and there wasn’t an ATM in sight. No tea for me. However, this lovely man returned 10 minutes later and said he would love to buy us a cup of tea, and then we could sit inside the bar (where it was warm) until our train came. You always worry about accepting kindness from strangers these days, with the sad state of our world and all, but we cautiously accepted Tomasz’s offer. It was indeed warm, but we sure were a spectacle in this town. I should also mention that NO ONE, save Tomasz, spoke any English whatsoever. (Again, not judging, as I speak no Polish.) This was definitely the local old-timers bar. So while Tomasz ordered us tea and a“welcome-to-Poland” shot of vodka, the locals crowded around our table to have a look at the misfortunate travelers. Then bilingual Tomasz asked the women working the bar if there were any busses to Katowice. It may have actually taken a village to figure out, but there were connecting busses that would get us to Katowice.
Tomasz traded some currency with us, and just flat out gave us some money on top (in addition to buying us drinks and our first bus tickets), and explained to the bus driver that we needed told when to get off the bus. We bid him a fond farewell, and moved another step closer to Krakow. When we got to our stop, the bus driver indicated that we should get off, and we awaited the next bus. After about 15 minutes of waiting, and with 5 minutes until our next bus arrived, the bus driver came back over on foot, and said a few sentences in Polish. I didn’t understand any of it, but he’d indicated to a parking lot around back, a car across the road, and the bus sign. When he went over to the car to get a cigarette it all made sense: he was done for the night and had parked the bus, but was waiting to go home until our bus came to make sure we got on our way. Another kindness from a stranger. He chatted in Polish to thenext bus driver, we paid for our tickets (with our money from Tomasz), and finally made it to Katowice. But not to the train station – oh no, that would be too simple. And of course no one speaks English to just ask them where it is. So I called my dear sister Kelly, back in Virginia, and had her Google our location and directions to the rail station. This was no small feat, as every street name must be spelled since they’re in Polish and neither of us can pronounce them. While we were walking we found a taxi that would take us for a very reasonable price (thanks again to Tomasz and his money). We arrived at the rail station, went to the ticket counter, and asked about tickets to Krakow. The man looked at us as though we were mad, because believe it or not, the next train wasn’t until 3:30 in the morning…..the same train we would have caught from Zebraville. It wasn’t quite 10 pm yet. But at least we were inside. And there was food that could be purchased (yet another thanks to Tomasz).
You better believe we made that train. We didn’t really know when our stop was, so I stayed watch for it while Caitlin and Niamh attempted to get some shut-eye. Around 4:45 I asked a ticket inspector what time we would arrive in Krakow, and he wrote down 6:05 on a piece of paper, since he understood the question but didn’t know how to answer in English. I set an alarm and tried to get some sleep, too. It was the slowest train and stopped in all kinds of places similar to Zebraville, and we didn’t actually make it to Krakow until almost 7. But it doesn’t end there. Couldn’t be that easy. According to our ticket we were to go to Glowny station in Krakow city centre, within walking distance of our hostel. But the train stopped one station short, on the outskirts of Krakow. We waited on the train until the ticket inspector came along, and I again enquired about getting to Glowny and he said, “No, finito, OFF!” So we got off. But still no one around here spoke English (including the women at the ticketing counter), there were no ATMs, and no one even sold maps. I rang the hostel we were supposed to be at and explained where we were and asked the best way to get to there, and the man sort of laughed. He said it was complicated to explain, and that I should ask someone to direct me towards the city centre and ring back. Great. Except no one speaks English! So we asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to go to the address of the hostel, and he said 30. We only had 20 left of Tomasz’s generosity. The taxi driver said no. Another taxi driver appeared, and Niamh asked him how much to the address. He said 20, we said yes, and we finally, finally made it to the hostel. We were only supposed to be at that particular hostel one night, then we were moving to a much cooler one around the corner. But since we hadn’t cancelled 24-hours in advance, we were still charged even though we hadn’t made it the night before. It was 8 in the morning now, but we decided to sleep until checkout at 10. Hey, we’d already paid for it, right?
In the end it took us 22 and ½ hours to get from Prague to Krakow. It’s never how you’d prefer your travels to go, but there are some experiences money can’t buy. It’s all part of the adventure, right? It makes you really appreciate when things run smoothly, and it’s nice to know that white knights still exist…..you only get to meet the Tomasz’s of the world when you’re facing the dragons.