Now that I’ve been in Poland for two months and am approaching the halfway mark for my time here I can see that I really don’t have long left, judging by how quickly the first half went! This week was a bit different because of the Easter break on Thursday and Friday. Easter is very important to Polish people so there were a few different events on over the holidays and the shops were closed on Easter Sunday and Monday. The city and my dormitory especially have been very empty because many of the students went home for the holidays. It has been a good time of reflection for me too.
On Monday in my Sociology of Multiculturalism class I found out that I will have to do a presentation on Northern Ireland, but we are in groups of 4 so I have some Polish people with me. We also got to discuss a little about the Polish migration to the UK and Ireland since they entered the EU in 2004 and I got to hear their views on it, most of them having a relative or friend there! That evening it was my roommate’s birthday party so Cris and I went for a quick shopping trip to Tesco (where the best birthday presents are sold, of course) before coming back to the flat to join the party. I found out that having a roommate is particularly unhelpful on their birthday – it was a very late night – but, as it was his birthday, I had to be understanding.
On Wednesday I began to plan my trip over Easter. Kaja helped me to get the train tickets and I was able to book the hostels myself. It turned out to be a rather costly day as after paying for hostels and trains I went shopping and paid for my accommodation! In Poland you can get very cheap food but some things, if not most things, are a very similar price to that at home. I’m really bad with handling money and I find it really difficult to consider how much I’m actually paying for things because often I just expect things to be cheaper, but it’s certainly not always the case!
The Easter holidays began on Thursday and classes begin again on Wednesday but in reality it made very little difference to my schedule especially as I’m off on Fridays and Tuesdays every week anyway! However, I still took this opportunity to do a little travelling around Poland. Having had little time to myself what with sharing a room and meeting lots of different people, I wanted to go away by myself for a few days just to stop, think, reflect and pray. And so I did! On Thursday morning I stood for 2 hours on a crowded train to Toruń but it was completely worth it. It was a beautiful day and I just fell in love with the city. The journey itself wasn't too bad either because for me it was nice to see the countryside of Poland (as above). After checking in to my hostel, Hostel Orange, I spent the day seeing all the sights of Toruń when my trusty guidebook of Poland was most useful, and so I must thank Andrew for that! I had such a lovely day strolling through the pretty streets and reading by the Vistula river. After this day I realised how nice Polish people are. I met complete strangers who went out of their way to help me. At one viewpoint of the city at the top of the tower in the Town Hall the security man told me ALL about the city, although I reckon he just wanted to practice his English! Another lady in the gingerbread shop (Toruń is famous for its pierniki) could see that I couldn’t decide what to buy so she placed lots of them out on the counter and told me all about them! It was so lovely of her and really made me happy! In the evening I chatted with the four Erasmus girls from France and Turkey in my room for a couple of hours. They were also travelling to take a break from their studies in another city in Poland.
The next morning, Friday, I got up early to catch a train to Gdańsk, a city near the coast at the Baltic Sea. This time I got a seat and had the opportunity to practice my Polish again because I was in a room with a couple of students and also an older lady who wanted to find out about my life and tell me about hers! It was very endearing and I enjoyed our chat even though we didn’t understand each other all the time! Going away by myself was the first time I’ve really been forced to (try to) speak Polish and I’m glad I forced myself into that position. In Gdańsk I spent a few hours going to see all the sights outlined in my guidebook and taking photos of them, but I got bored of that quite quickly so I jumped on a train to the neighbouring town of Sopot. Sopot could be the holiday destination of the rich and famous judging by its grandeur and, of course, it has the beach! I loved this town and, although it was very cold that day, I ventured down the famous pier, Molo, Europe’s longest wooden pier, and then on to the beach itself. It was SO nice to be back on a beach but I couldn’t stay long. Strangely enough, it actually is rather baltic beside the Baltic sea! Back in Gdańsk I met up with a Polish friend who lives there and a Spanish friend who was with her. We had another look around the city, taking lots of photos. That evening the other guests in the hostel weren’t quite as friendly as the previous night so I just watched a film I had bought earlier that day in the living room of the hostel which was really quite nice. I have to recommend Zachariasz Zappio House to anyone travelling to Gdańsk!
On Saturday morning I spent much time deliberating whether to go to a particular National Park and working out the train times, etc. However, in the end, it wasn’t possible to go so far away so I went to another town just up the coast, Gdynia. Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia are collectively known as the Tri-city area because they are so close together and the transport links between them are excellent with trains leaving frequently. When I arrived in Gdynia I needed my hat and gloves but the sun was shining and it was really a lovely day. After lots and lots of walking around the city I found a ship in the harbour called the Dar Pomorza. It is a touristic museum ship so I was able to go in and have a look throughout the ship including the engine room and living quarters. After that I had lunch in a little café on the pier where the waitress appreciated my attempts at the Polish language as she couldn’t speak English. Back ‘home’ in Poznań I think it is much more common for people to speak English, so I had to go away to actually get to try it. Most of the time in Poznań when I try to speak Polish, the waiter or assistant or whatever will reply in English because they can tell I’m a foreigner! Back in Gdynia, I walked up some hills to find the park at the top where I would sit and read for a while. It was a little haven of peace and tranquillity which overlooked the hustle and bustle of the large industrial city below. I didn’t want to stay too long though because I had to catch my train home in the early evening. I headed back to Gdańsk where I had one last look around the city, had a quick white chocolate mocha and then made my way to the station with my rucksack. At the station I was told I had the wrong ticket so I had to get a new one if I wanted to get home before 3.30am! Thankfully, another kind Polish person who spoke English overheard me attempting to talk to the ticket seller and sorted it all out for me. Unfortunately, the train that got me home earliest was one that took me eight hours to get home! So I saw most of the cities in the North West of Poland and got a lot of my book read! On my outward journey I had a few difficulties with my tickets as well because I had student tickets and in Poland I have to get my student card stamped every month to make it valid but I hadn’t known this before these travels! Thankfully, I got away with it with the support of the Polish people around me who argued on my behalf the fact that I was foreign and didn’t know!
I was rather tired come the next morning but it was Easter Sunday so I wanted to go to church as usual! The service was a little different with some of the children taking part and we had communion. After church another Erasmus girl and I got a lift in the car of one of the American members of the church, firstly to his house to collect some things and then on to the Pastor’s house where we were all meeting up for lunch. I spent a really nice afternoon eating with and getting to know the other people in the Church and other visitors from New Zealand and Sweden. We even got to participate in an Easter-egg hunt! Later in the afternoon I went for a long walk around the city with Anna, my German friend, as it was such a lovely, sunny day. After strolling through some parks and alongside the Warta river we headed back towards home where my legs desperately needed a rest after a busy weekend!