Poznan: Goats Galore
ilunga n. (Tshiluba- Southwest Congo) A person ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive not tolerate the third offense.
One nice thing about traveling through Poland is that I always know what to expect of the bus I’ll be on. All of my tickets through Poland are through a company called Polski Bus, which is not only the easiest connection between all the major cities, but the cheapest. I believe my cheapest ticket I booked was somewhere around 5€. While the bus itself is rather nice and pleasant, a fairly spacious double decker that has thus far not forced me to sit next to anyone, the process of getting on it is always a bit of a pain. Why? Because Polish people don’t know how to queue. I can be the first person standing next to the bus ready to put my pack in the undercarriage and somehow I still get pushed to the back of the line. You disorderly, archaistic cretins, it’s not that hard to form a simple queue. Oh God, clearly I’ve been in England too long.
But once I’m on the bus, I have no complaints. Polski Bus is quite a nice company, with free wifi on board with which I always tell myself I’m going to get blogs finished and posted. Considering I’m about three posts behind at this point in time, it’s clear that I have failed spectacularly in that regard. I just have no attention span on buses. I lose myself staring out the windows and before I know it, we’re pulling into the next city and I have written nothing. Poland, in particular is full of beautiful scenery that doesn’t take long to capture my attention. Driving through Poland reminds me very much of driving through Montana, with intermittent forests and rolling plains of golden wheat that shimmer in the late day setting sun. While there may not be the mountains of Montana, Poland still has the small single traffic light towns and the simple lifestyle of home. In such instances, I find myself missing the Montana summer, driving alone down deserted two lane highways, hot wind whipping my hair around and music blasting from my speakers. Driving, just driving, is one of my favorite parts of summer and it’s something I lack here.
I arrived in Poznan and immediately found my way to at least the most interesting named hostel I have stayed at thus far: the Frolic Goats Hostel. I had originally booked this hostel because the name intrigued me, but I would quickly that Poznan is big on goats, and when I say big, I mean it is their town symbol. Everything is goats: statues, figurines and souvenirs, people dressed up as giant goats on the street, everything. At noon, the town hall clock tower, a giant demonstration of renaissance architecture that towers about the little colored 13th century merchant houses that line the rest of the square, opens up to reveal two goats butting heads. It was exactly as cartoon cliché as you might imagine. After settling into the room that I thus far had entire to myself (fingers crossed that it would stay that way), I wandered out into Poznan right around dusk, mainly in search of food. As my hostel was only about a stone’s throw from the main Old Town square, what once used to be the town market, places to eat were definitely not hard to come by. Unfortunately, when one stays in such close proximately to the main area of attractions in a town, you trade off cheap prices for convenience. Not wanting to pay an astronomical amount for food, I wandered just slightly away form the main center of Old Town and eventually found myself at a cute little restaurant where I ordered some cheap goat cheese and spinach pasties and nestled myself away in a second story cubicle that had its own window overlooking the street below. I sat there for a good hour after finishing my meal, reading, writing, and watching the occasional passerby on the street below.
As I walked back to the hostel, I noticed that Poznan seemed surprisingly lively at night. While it wasn’t exactly small, it also did not strike me as some major party city either, so the multiple clubs and late night bars crowded along the small stretch from the restaurant to my hostel was an oddity. Either way, I had no plans on going out and was really looking forward to getting my first good night of undisturbed sleep in a while. I got back to the hostel and climbed up on the bunk I has selected. In general, I actually prefer top bunks, even when there are plenty of bottom bunks available. In this particular case, however, I came to regret that decision. The moment I shifted the whole of my weight onto the foot of the bunk, I went crashing through it and a few confused second later, I found myself comically straddled between the top and bottom bunks. After managing to disentangle my limbs, I examined the bed to find that one of the wooden slats supporting the mattress at the foot of the top of bunk had been broken. Not wanting to get in trouble for breaking it myself (and hey, maybe I did, but come on, I don’t weight that much), I placed the slat back in its place, as was still long enough to reach from one side of the bed to the other, thus supporting the mattress… provided there wasn’t the full weight of a human on it. A logical person would have probably switched beds, considering I had the pick of th whole room, but keep in mind that I can be incredibly lazy and I simply couldn’t be bothered to change the sheets that I had so carefully made. Deciding my bunk was perhaps not the best place to do some writing, I went out to the kitchen, made myself a cup of tea, and did my work out there. When it came time for bed, I went back into my room, climbed back onto the bunk, and what did I do? I fell through again. For such a scholarly person, I am rather slow to learn, apparently. This time, I could feel fall wrench my shoulder in the wrong direction and my shin cracked down on the broken board. I remained there for a few moments, all but my mouth numbed by the pain throbbing through my shoulder, before finally puling myself out. Again, the normal person would have switched beds, but at this point I was so tired and frustrated that I fixed the slat again, crawled back up the ladder, and all but somersaulted over the danger zone onto the head of the bed. I would like to point out, that I did not fall through again for the rest of my stay. Once bitten, twice shy, they say.
While I was gratefully alone in my room that night and (for once) wouldn’t have to put up with some big guy snoring all night, as I shut out the light and climbed carefully into my bunk, avoiding the giant death trap at the end of the bed, I became aware of the thumping club music drifting in through the open window from the bar next door. Club music? Really? People, it’s a Monday, come on. I got up, shut the window, which at least sought to mute the majority of the noise, and rolled over and went directly to sleep.
The next morning as I got dressed, I noticed, not surprisingly, a row of bruises forming across my legs, a considerably large one on my shin, one of my hip, and some small ones across the warms. Thankfully, my shoulder seemed to be just fine, which was the only bit I was truly concerned over. I began my explorations of Poznan in the nearby Old Town. Despite suffering a great of destruction during WWII in 60% of the Old Town area was destroyed, Poznan’s Old Town had been rebuilt to closely resemble its 13th century original, and today stood as the third largest Old Town area in Poland. The Old Town churches were no less marvelous and the main Parish church of the area, a grand pink Baroque building, was perhaps the best. A guide pamphlet I picked up descried its interior as “splendid, and between the richly decorated alters, rose colored marble pillars, gilded ornamentations, and fresco covered ceilings, I couldn’t help but agree. Poland thus far had not been home to man spectacular churches so it was refreshing to find another on of these marvels of design and architecture.
But my favorite aspect of Poznan was its collection cafes and little restaurants. Never had I seen such a collection of unique places to eat and get coffee. It was like Pinterest had come to life and manifested itself in this one little city. As I passed by, I found myself wanting to go inside all of them and sit reading for a while just for the environment. Unfortunately, businesses seem to frown on one using their establishment and not buying anything.
Another thing I noticed in Poznan that I hadn’t really noticed in other Polish cities: the overwhelming prevalence of gypsies. Gypsies are not exactly new to me. They are quite common to the traveler and I grew quite accustomed to them when I traveled in southeastern Europe over my last trip. However, on this trip, I hadn’t really seen any since Stockholm, so when one ambushed me as I was coming out a church, her hands open and grabbing and me while she yelled something in some foreign language at me, I was taken a bit by surprise. It’s not usually as scary as it sounds. If you repeat, “No,” at them enough and walk away, they’re harmless, just a bit annoying. That makes me sound like a terrible person but here’s a couple thoughts on gypsies. First of all, beggars are a bit of an awkward subject in general, in any city. I pity them, I really do, but as much as I want to help, I know I simply can’t afford to help everyone I pass and so I harden myself, and avert my eyes, which we as humans have unfortunately gotten very good at doing. At Oxford, that is particularly difficult because the homeless population is so damn polite that you feel bad for saying no. A common exchange while walking down St. Giles on the way home from a club: “Excuse me, d’you have any spare change, love.” “No, sorry, I don’t.” “Ah that’s alright, bless you.” Damn you! Be mean! Make me feel less bad about eating my greasy 2am kebab on my way back to my warm bed.
Gypsies, however, are not your typical homeless. It’s easy for tourists and travelers to get roped into feeling bad for them and giving up some spare change to the dirty little kids that come up to you with sad looks on their faces. But as you spend more time traveling, you learn a bit about these gypsies. For starters, if you sit and watch carefully enough, you can actually observe how the system works. I have been sitting at cafés and watched gypsy women literally hand off the baby they are carrying to another gypsy at shift change. They use these babies and children to gain the sympathy of travelers. It’s no different than child slavery and it’s despicable. If you ask locals of many of these cities, they
But the moment that really cemented my distaste for them was back in Kotor. I remember after climbing the fortress, I was walking through Old Town, specifically staring at the very odd cat museum and wondering if I should pay to go inside, when a young boy, probably around twelve years old, approached me. He held out his hand, looked at me with those sad eyes, and said something in a pleading enough tone that the language he spoke it in hardly mattered. At the time, I was munching on a large bad of salted peanuts and, in a spur of compassion, thinking this kid might be hungry, offered him the rest of my bag of peanuts, which was a considerably large amount. He took one look at it and then looked at me as if I had spit on him. And in that moment, something important changed in me. For the first time, I fully understood the extent of their scam. They weren’t hungry children looking for their next meal. If they were, he would have taken that from me in a second. No, he wanted money to pass on to his boss/parents/whatever and nothing more. From that moment on, I could no longer look at a gypsy without feeling a twinge of disdain for their little charade.
Anyway, so I was back in gypsy country it seemed. After exhausting Old Town in a matter of a few hours, I wandered into the main sector of Poznan itself, past Freedom Fountain (where little kids were swimming and splashing around to find relief from the hot day), the Grand Theatre (where I myself stopped and put my hot swollen feet in the slightly green tinted water of the adjacent pond,) University Aula, the Emperor’s Castle, and the June 1956 memorial monument. June 1956 is famous in Poznan for a series of mass protests that occurred there against the government of the People’s Republic of Poland in demand of better working conditions in factories. These protests were responded to with violence, and in the conflict between the 100,000 protestors and the army’s 10,000 soldiers and 400 tanks, somewhere between 57 and over 100 people were killed with countless injuries. The event, while tragic, became an important turning point in Poland’s shift away from a Soviet controlled government. The monument stands today as a commemoration of those who died to make that happen and in the years since its erection, other dates have been added to represent subsequent blood shed for Poland.
Looping back to my hostel, I came across a massive brick building called Stary Browar, meaning Old Brewery in Polish. But inside, I found no beer, only a large and fancy shopping mall. A bit of later research taught me it had once been a brewery, but after they began using it as a bunker during WWII, they shut down beer production in 1944 and it sat vacant for many years until they finally decided to turn it into the shopping center it was today, one of two massive ones I would discovered throughout my day. This one city, it seemed, had more shopping than the whole of Montana. Speaking of shopping, while these major shopping malls are no cheaper than your typical shopping in the states, the little shopping stalls along the streets of many of these European countries offer crazy ridiculous deals, which is why I ended up walking around Poznan with a brand new pair of lightweight hiking sandals that coast me less than $10. With now four pairs of shoes to tote around, I knew I didn’t have room to buy them, but I had also been craving such a pair of shoes. In the heat I had been running into, it was simply too hot to wear my hiking boots and my Toms all day long and my hostel flip flops could definitely not support my feet with as much walking as I did in a day. From a practical and economic perspective, it was easy to justify my purchase. From a packing one, not to much. I guess they could always strap to the outside of my pack if necessary.
At this point, my hay fever was driving me nuts. The irony is never lost on me that I love nature so much and yet nature just seemed to hate me. My allergies have been quite bad over my travels, and every day, I tell myself I won’t need to take a pill right away, and every day I regret my decision. You would think I would learn after enough time spent sniffling and furiously itching my nose like a crack addict as I walk down the streets. I took a vrief intermission from the day for a refreshing lunch of antihistamines and watermelon, I decided to cap off my day by checking out the opposite side of the city, more of a natural area that held a large inter-city lake called Malta Lake. The walk up there took me over the river and through a less busy area of Poznan, which I must admit was refreshing. Here, I found some more unique little cafes, these ones with reasonable prices not meant to feed on tourists, and some occasional graffiti pictures on the wall. Oddly enough, Charlie Chaplin seemed to be the subject of many of these images but the asshole in me instantly thought upon seeing these, “Ooh, let’s play the game, Charlie Chaplin of Hitler?” It was Poland, after all.
That night at the hostel I returned to the common room for my nightly tea where talked to young Canadian girl for a short amount of time and observed a Russian women applying some thick spray on foam onto her legs and arms and letting it sit there as she watched television on the couch. Russian people are weird (no offense intended if I have any Russian readers out there- I just happen to have encountered some very odd ones). My room was still thankfully empty for my second night there and I was thus able to get another sound night of sleep. When living the hostel life, you make sure to appreciate any of those you can get because you never know when the next one will come along.
When I woke up the next morning, it was down pouring outside. While this brought a nice break in the heat that had been hanging over me for the last five days, I hoped it would at least let up in a couple hours so I might walk to bus station without getting soaked. It did let up a couple hours later…and started up again the moment I walked outside to go to bus station. I couldn’t say I was surprised. My luck with weather is almost comically bad. I say almost because I have no doubt it is funny for the third person observer but it is generally less than funny to me. Normally, I really like rain, particularly summer rain that feel warm as it hits your hot skin and gives birth to the wonderful scent of rain of hot pavement. Had it not been for the 30 pounds of stuff on my back that I didn’t particularly want getting wet (especially my down sleeping bag), I would have actually probably really enjoyed the walk. Alas and alack, the pack on my back significantly detracted from my enjoyment and by the time I reached the bus station, the rain was finally letting up and I was soaked and less than pleased about the sitcom worthy timing that accompanies everything in my life.