Wroclaw (Or However You Pronounce It)

zenosyne n. The sense that time keeps going faster.

A quick tip: If you mention the name Wroclaw as it is spelled to any Polish person, they will look at you like you’ve gone insane and you’re mumbling utter nonsense.  After a couple repetitions of the world as if that’s going help and finally spelling it out for them, the light bulb will click on and they’ll say, “Oh!  Vratslav!”  Right, Vratslav, of course.  How ever did I not draw that pronunciation from that spelling?  Seriously, the Polish are about as bad as the British in that regard. 

As was to be expected after my exhausting day in Warsaw, I slept like a baby and woke up incredibly sore.  Those who have never played volleyball often look upon the sport as being on low end of physically strenuous, but they would be surprised to find just how many hidden muscles the sport works, even if you don’t notice it at the time.  Needless to day, I was less than excited about having to get up, put on my pack (which ended up being just as comedic as I’m sure you’re imagining it to be), and walk to the bus station.  Once there, I could at least have four hours of no movement to forget about how sore I was.  Unfortunately, while it seems like a good idea at the time, lack of movement is rarely the solution for sore muscles and by the time we pulled into Wroclaw, all the bus ride had done was allow me to stiffen up, making the walk to the hostel even more painful than the morning had been, if that were possible.  The sign reading “Grampa’s Hostel” the “G” bearing a little bowler hat and a mustache was a welcome sight.

While my legs didn’t exactly feel up to doing much exploring that night, I was also only in Wroclaw until the following afternoon, and because my stay was so short, I figured I had best at least scope out the city tonight to see what kinds of things I wanted to see the next day.  The center of Wroclaw is divided by a series of small islands, on one side of which was my hostel and on the other, Old Town.  The don’t call Wroclaw the “most colorful city in the world” if no reason.  Wroclaw’s Old Town is incredibly vibrant, as each one of its narrow buildings squashed side by side into long rows is of a different bright color.  While the Baltics were colorful in their bright pinks and yellows, they still blended together in a warm Spring palate.  In Wroclaw, nothing matched and there surely wasn’t any color coordination to the buildings, which in the end, sought to bring out the color of each of them.  The massive town square in particular was in incredible cool place to stand, and see these rainbows of buildings on all sides, disturbed only in the very center by a large brick cathedral and a fountain of blue glass that almost looked like melting ice.  With the temperatures of Poland at the time, the image was appropriate.  It was so hot, in fact, that the city had actually hooked up massive sprinklers to fire hydrants and set them in the square so people could walk through them to cool off. 

Usually, I make an effort not to drink very much when I’m traveling (partially because it’s expensive but also partially because I feel as though my liver deserves a bit of a break in between school semesters).  But with the heat of the day, that night seemed to practically beg for a beer, so on my way back to the hostel, I stopped at a small convenient store, picked out the cheapest bottle of beer they had, something called Strong which cost me 1.99 Polish zloty, which is just over $0.50.  That night, back at the hostel, I made myself some beans for dinner, then plopped down in the neon green and purple colored common room with my beer and the hostel guitar.  While I have been traveling with a ukulele this time, which suffices as enough of a stringed instrument to curb my cravings and maintain my callouses, it is hardly the same as a good old steel string acoustic.  Thus when I saw that thing propped in the corner, I was quick to claim it and I sat there quietly playing until the common room got a bit too crowded for my own confidence.  By this point, I had nearly finished my beer and found my head feeling unusually lightfor only one drink.  I turned the bottle around and there on the back label, it read 8.1%.  Well hell… I guess the beer brand wasn’t called Strong for no reason. 

But the most exciting event of the day was that I got to talk to my grandma for the first time since I left the States back in January.  As my grandma tends to avoid technology, there really isn’t any ways for me to get in contact with her, short from sending hand written letters, which I did do about a month back.  But now that I’m on the road again, there’s no real way for her to pitch in her own side of the conversation.  But, as my mother was visiting Butte for the 4th of July, she had stopped by my grandma’s where I could then video chat with her and my grandma at the same time.  Seeing my grandma again for the first time in ten months (yes I had talked to her in January, but I hadn’t seen her since August) was a weird experience, and it kind of broke this strange timeless reverie I’ve been living under.  For the first time in my travels, it hit me just how long it had been since I had last been home, and how much longer it would still be before I was home again.  Traveling makes it easy to lose track of time, because days, weeks, months, all become relative. Depending on where you are and how much you like it, days can seem like weeks and vice versa.   Most often, I don’t even know what day of the week it is.  The day of the week doesn’t matter because we don’t have certain obligations that come with Mondays

The only thing we need to know is what date and time our next train or bus is leaving.  It’s actually quite surreal when you start thinking about it, and it can be dangerous because it’s easy to fall into a haze of timelessness, of false immortality, and lose grasp on the concept that the world outside still goes on as usual.  At the same time, it’s also liberating to be free of something so conventional and standard as time and very healthy for the soul to just focus on living for a time.  And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.  Until August 25th, when I have to return to the real world, I am living day to day, whatever those days might actually be.

I went to bed pondering all of this only to be woken not long after by, you guessed it, snoring.  Just once, I really want to sleep in a room without someone snoring next to me.  Just once, I want to sleep peacefully through the night without some rude disturbance waking me up and keeping me awake.   At first, when I woke up to the snoring, the room was illuminated with light and I assumed it had to be close to the time when my alarm would be going off anyway.  I took over at my watch, which was reading 4:00am.  Dammit.  So much for that.  These long days were absolutely killing me.  I plugged my iPod into my ears, cranked the volume up high enough to drown out most of the snores, and attempted to fall back asleep.  I did, if only fitfully and intermittently, until it finally seemed late enough to justify getting up and enjoying me first and last morning in Wroclaw.

It turns out, however, that there really isn’t much to Wroclaw’s Old Town outside the bit that I had seen the previous night, which brought me to the question: what do I do for the next five hours until my bus comes?  Thankfully, I’m an unconventional tourists and a creative traveler and thus I decided to turn my day into more of a listless scavenger hunt.  Aside from its colorful facades, Wroclaw is also rather famous for its little eccentricities hidden around the city, particularly its collection of metal dwarves, the mascot of Wroclaw, if you will, that are scattered around the city in unusual places.  I found one beside a bank, for instance, with its own dwarf size ATM molded into the concrete time.  I found others hanging off street signs, sitting atop water pumps, peeking out from around corners, climbing up light posts, you name it.  There are supposedly over 300 of these little guys scattered throughout the city and I’m sure I only found about 30 of them.

In additional to these oddly charming urban gnomes, I soon found Wroclaw to be home to some of the coolest graffiti and street art I’ve seen on my travels.  As I think I’ve mentioned before, I love street art because it makes the very act of creating art an act of social rebellion, which as a transcendentalist writer, is a romantic concept.  And Wroclaw’s graffiti was both meaningful and beautiful.  Some of it, was utterly impressive with how massive it was and how far it extended up eight story buildings.  I couldn’t help but wonder how such feats were even accomplished.  The thing about graffiti is that it tends to be located in less than desirable places and Wroclaw was no exception.  So there was me, scouring through dirty back alleys that were the opposite of the bright clean facades of Old Town alone for hidden gems.  Part of me is glad my mother can’t read about my adventures until after they’ve happened and I’m confirmed okay because I’m sure the image painted above would be enough to give her a heart attack.  Sorry, mom!  I promise I’m being careful (by my standards, at least). 

Not only did I survive but my explorations passed without incident and before I knew it, I had collected my stuff from the hostel, and was on my way yet again.  Another day, another city, another new adventure waiting.