10 June 1999
I am sitting on the slow train from Prauge to Wroclaw, Poland, typing on my friend Lisi's Psion palmtop computer -- they are very popular in Europe. It is the same size as my palmtop, but has much more memory -- the keys are bigger than mine, but still a bit small for comfortabe typing. This cool little thing could clearly be the solution to my journal/travelogue problem. However, if i did get one, i would prefer that it did not have a german keyboard.
We are very excited to be embarking on this excursion to the lakes district in northeastern Poland -- the three of us have been talking about it for a long time. Time goes so fast now, it is amazing to us what we have done and how quickly the plans pass beneath us!
Cheryln and woke up in Brno, Czeska, packed, had the hostel put breakfast in a bag and hurried to he tramstop. As soon as we arrived at the stop, we ran into the same three asian guys we had seen at the museam. We all laughed and came to the conclusion that we had stayed at the same hostel AND been on the train from Budapest together. We all had a nice chat on the tram -- making a bit of a scene, five people speaking in English deep in Czeska.
When we got to the station we helped them buy their ticket to Praha and joined them on the platform. The station on a hot summer saturday was facinating -- it seemed everyone had a bike or a canoue paddle or grandparent or somesuch. It was a very warm and comfortalbly happy bustle.
We all sat together on the train -- it was open seating, so the 3 Tawianese sat in four facing seats around a table with me and Cheryln, who was fighting a colld and hoped to sleep a bit was just across the aisle.
While we were in Brno (and Budapest and Croatia) Cheryln and i had talking about the unebelievably short skirts that so many women were wearing. It is clearly impossible to function as a normal human in them (of course, that is part of the reason for wearing them)! We had been joking about how hard it would be to ride a train in one -- wih people sitting accross from you for hours. Well, on this train we had a woman across from us in a very short skirt (although not NEARLY as short as the norm in Brno!) and it was amazing the acrobatics she had to go through just switch positions or to stand up let lone to sit for 3 hours. It is really seems stupid.
As we watched the great Basin give way to mountains followed by the flat Bohemian basin we chatted and napped. Towards the end of the ride i asked the Tawineese about Chinese writing and they gave me a little lesson, showing me the diferences in methods, teaching me a couple of words and translating our names.
While we sat around the table writing we gained a huge crowd! There was a large group of very western dressed rural Czech 11 year olds going on a field trip of some sort on our train. They were facinted with the writing lesson; none spoke to us at all, in fact they were quieter than any time during they whole trip, but about 10 or 15 of them crowded tightly around us! Watching the Chinese writing and listening to our conversation. It was one of those experinces that many would preceve as rude -- I would probably consider it rude if it happened at home, but instead i thought it was reallly cool. It was a fun experince and i enjoyed learning! As the train pulled into Praha, we exchanged addreses with the Tiawanese Medical students.
We arrived on time so we had about 35 minutes before we met Lisi's train -- a walk downstairs told us that it was the SAME platform that we arrived on; so we went back and settled and waited.
Praha's main station, was quite deserted on this sunny saturday afternoon, we were alone on the platforms -- kind of strange. We had only 50 Kroner in Czech money, about enough for water... i went looking for water and train information and returned with the later and not the former just as Lisi's train arrived.
This München to Praha train is called 'Anton Dvorzak' but it could also be called the 'Backpacker Express', it was absolutly packed with young Americans hanging out the windows with eagerness to see the wonders of Prauge. There was hardly a non-English voice in the din and Lisi said that no one got on after München. Waiting for this eager but green bunch was an equally huge throng of local hostel runners, private room hucksters, tour guides, money changers and pickpockets. It was a very amusing sight!
In 5 minutes the platform was as deserted as before the train arrived. We had a nice reunion with Lisi -- it was good to see her and the most worrysome part of our plans for the 2 week excursion had been actually meeting up. We had just over 2 hours until our train to Wroclaw -- so while Cheryln sat with the packs, Lisi and i went to run errands. We had to phone Wroclaw to confirm or cancel our three different hotel reservations -- So we had to buy a phone card. Lisi had some Czech money, but it turned out to be very old -- it still said CSSR on it! We figured that it would not be useful -- so she changed 20 Deutschemarks.
We got the phone card, which took half of the money and made the first call -- it took 1/50 of the card. We could not reach the others -- so we now had a full, expensive, phone card and we discussed the possibility of starting a business at the station buying unfinished phone cards and sellling them to incoming backpackers.
Then we headed out of the station in quest of food and water. And a camera battery for Lisi. At a supermarket we grabbed 3 liters of water for 20 Kroner (about half dollar). Then, ploughing through the crowds, we found a department store reasonably free of tourists and got the battery. The good news: it was MUCH cheaper than in the US or Germany. The bad: it took the other half of our money and i still had not gotten anything to eat. We had quite a lot of bread, cheese fruit and yoghert on the train, but we figured that we needed a bit more. I was thinking french fries. As we walked back, none of the hundreds of burger stands had anything vegitarian. Besides, we had only 6 kroner.
Well, close to the station is, of course, a McDonalds -- to make all those kids on the train happy. They had a sign out front saying that they took Deutschemarks (and USD). I figured, if there was ever a time and place where it is excusable, this was it, Prauge, and only here for an hour. Got a huge thing of mcfries, paid with a 10 DM note and, here is the best part, i got a BETTER exchange rate than Lisi did at the station!! So now i have 150 Kroner left!
We got on the train early and settled in to our reserved compartment -- we were hoping that we might have it to ourselves. A few minutes later a very cute young Czech conductor came around and placed our reservation cards in the slots. He was very smily and we all liked him.
When the train left, the conductor came by and flirted a bit, smiling and offering his help in 3 languages! Not only were we alone in the compartment, but we we almost the only people on the train! We really nested in that compartment as the three of us caught up on the 7 hour ride...
This was the direct train, but also the slow train, north out of the Bohemian basin and into the mountains. The countryside was beautiful as we crossed into Poland -- small mountains with the occational villlage dotting the agreiultural landscape. Customs was easy, but we were disappointed that we did not get an entry stamp again -- we have NONE for Poland!
As soon as we were out of Ceska and into Polska, we were in Negwerland. This is not a real entity, but the area where Lisi's Silesian German family lived until the end of WWII. She has returned with her father many times and knows it well.
It is relly fascinating listening to the stories of her family and of my family about the area that is now Poland. It is pointless to try to take sides, clarify facts or decide a winner -- it is simply a lesson that war and nationalim benifits none, and that it is the real people who suffer from the stupid decisions of the leaders.
* compartment was a mes * slow train diesel * arrival, tired, buying water, hostel sowr sleep .
The fasions here are amazing the women are all very dressed up at all times, while the men (except in Sarajevo) are frumpy and casual at all times. And the women's daily fashion includes slinky evening gowns, skin tight EVERYTHING, ultra short skirts, crop tops, super low necklines, lots of skin and often see thruogh dresses, skirts, pants and shirts. And always exceptionally high heels. I heard someone refer to it as 'prostitute fasion', and that is really what it looks like. Very weird and a little frightening.
It is especially frightening to see it happening in Eastern Europe. Only a few years ago Eastern Europe was one of the most, if not the most, progressive places in the world on the issue of gender equality. Women were treated, in general, as equals and were in many of the same jobs as men. An now, this trend towards clothing that objectifyes women seems to be accompined by an extreme degridation of women's place in society. It is not Italy yet, you still see women in many jobs, but the difference is clear, women now are apendages of men, primarily. It is very sad.
Of couse the fashion issue brings up an interesting travel issue -- we have been gone for so long, we don't know what is a local fashion and what is an international trend! Hell, much of what we see people wearing could easily be what people are wearing at home! It is CLEAR that people here get their fashion ideas from Americian TV.
© Copyright Mark Canizaro 2000
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