Katowice, a city of 250,000 souls, is an hour train ride from Krakow. I passed near the city on my first trip to Lubliniec and heard whispers of its coal mine past and present. While I should have planned for more than a four hour trip, I secretly wanted an excuse to test out my new video camera and walk around. With a Monday journey to Latvia on deck, I didn’t want to overdo it, but I also wanted to be out and about. The ongoing goal is to visit somewhere new in Poland every two weeks, although due to a busy travel season ahead, once a month is more realistic.
Katowice did not disappoint. I found it super easy to navigate and in my case get to Spodek, the famous sports and entertainment venue where Metallica, Genesis, and The Cure played their first Polish concerts. I wasn’t there for a show though, but to catch a glimpse of the saucer-like structure. Any chance to see a potential UFO or a fake one was in order for this Star Trek fan. I loved the fact that Spodek was the largest indoor use facility in Poland for over forty years. Even now, it’s still number two.
After enough time to get in some shots, I meandered through the city and looked at the varied architecture. This one building in their center square caught my eye simply because it was blue. I found myself next in a beautiful church and eventually at a large park where a parachute jumping tower stood like a lone soldier. I’m still processing a day later how that tower was used prior to the German invasion in World War 2 and I’m confident again after the Red Army made their arrival to the city. Seeing a bit of history is always rewarding.
With the sun out and the temperature just right, I finished off my trip roaming the park and watching the various dogs at play. It was a great trip, although I could have done without the temperamental self register at the grocery store in the mall. For over five minutes that sorry bastard would not let me put my backpack in the bag area. Despite pressing the help button, no one was eager to give a hand to this American as the line grew. I confused a well dressed man as a store employee and gave him a wave only to retreat just as quickly as he brushed past me into the mall. I gave up, threw the bag on the floor, and the register finally let me scan my items; including a double scan of a loaf of garlic bread I thought needed to be ingested. Note to self, don’t buy that item again.
From there I thought it would be a quiet ride home. If someone told me I would be on a train returning to Krakow in a compartment full of rabid Backstreet Boy fans, I might have just laughed at the absurdity of it all. Truth be told, when I stepped on the train and slid past a corridor full of eager people ready to disembark at a future stop, I saw the pulled curtains and wondered what I was getting myself into.
With my camera in hand, a more confident me might have filmed as I pulled open the door, but I didn’t have a chance as one of the five women in the compartment let me in. There were a few giggles and immediately I was asked what my level of fandom was for the Backstreet Boys. Music boomed in the background. These five moms were at the end of a nine hour train ride from Szczecin. The almost empty bottles of water, Coke, and a fifth of vodka made that clear. I smirked at the empty plastic cups spread across the table and wondered if the right Kuiper son was traveling this day.
For the next hour, I had more fun on a train than on any other journey thus far in Poland. How is it not easy to join in with a choir of women singing BSB songs from the late 90s and early 00s? I can only imagine after selfie time and some impromptu dancing what would have ensued had I accepted a shot or two of vodka. I guess we’ll never know.
Traveling in Poland continues to be more exciting and rewarding with each trip I take. Here’s to keeping the momentum going and for more adventures to share along the way.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles was a popular 1980s movie that I was too young to appreciate, let alone allowed to see by my parents. Yet my life from May to the present has consisted of all three modes of transportation. You can throw in a boat for good measure, if you would like. For those Stateside, many are only familiar with their personal SUVs, trucks, and muscle cars with the occasional plane ride mixed in for the winter getaway to the Sun Belt or a Mexico holiday. Unless you are Amtrak Joe, you likely have had more time playing with a train set at Christmas time, than actually riding one with any consistency.
Before I ventured across the pond, (yes I will overuse that phrase in the years ahead), I took a twelve hour jaunt from Boston to the Washington DC area. In a previous post I might have said eight, but what’s a few hours among friends with a three hour bus ride thrown in for good measure? The point being that if you were around me after my train ride and the thousand stop journey, including a point where I thought I would have to get out and push (somewhere across Long Island Sound), you would know I flew back to Maine not wanting to see what punishment the train could cause to the other side of my neck for a return trip.
I also was quick to point out to anyone that would listen that Poland trains were far superior to anything the USA had to offer and I would be content riding them whenever that might be. Fast forward to the present and three separate round trip journeys. I went three hours north to Warsaw to spend time in my favorite park. That was a disappointment between the unkempt trees, the added graffiti, and a restaurant that was long shuttered and left for squatters. My trip was saved though with an early morning run through Lazienki Park and glimpses of royalty and a palace that I had overlooked on previous trips. I loved the entire scene, even with the light chilly rain that fell throughout my jaunt. The only part missing was a partner in crime to stroll with in some Victorian recreation.
There was a point here somewhere, aside from the fact that also on that run I smiled at the anti war messages painted roadside in front of the Russian embassy, and that point was that riding the train was not how I remembered.
The wagon or carriage, whatever we want to call it, was clean and that was a given. First class where one paid a few extra Euros for the right to share a cabin with five strangers as opposed to an open seating area with others was underwhelming. I think I was hoping for either a cabin straight out of Harry Potter or one that’s so common in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc with the four sleeper racks. It might also prove my age that the last time I was on a real train that didn’t serve only as a city’s metro system was from Yaroslavl to Saint Petersburg for an overnight journey. This was during my undergrad years.
As for the train from Krakow to Warsaw and back, the seats were comfortable enough. I had a corner seat, thankfully so I didn’t have to be wedged in between anyone. Granted it’s not like I’m dealing with Americans on these trains. Obesity is nowhere the same in this country so the uncomfortableness some people feel say on planes Stateside has not been my reality here thus far.
The only issue in the shared quarters is people having to negotiate where they put their legs and their bags. Certain individuals who I can’t name because well I simply glared at them in disgust have no issue lugging their oversized wheeled bags into the cabin and leaving it in the middle as a stage prop. There is no qualms about throwing multiple bags on the rack above our heads even if it looks like there is only space for one bag per person.
Once people get settled there is a wide cross section on the proper dos and don’ts that depending on one’s age dictates certain protocols. I believe that people expect it to be quiet in the carriage but then again that doesn’t stop some from taking phone calls, watching movies without earphones, and playing music. Granted this is usually done when people don’t expect their cabin buddies to return.
I had that blessing when I went for a bathroom trip on my return ride from Jaroslaw. I was gone a few minutes and this older woman was blasting her phone to Tik Tok videos. After a death stare, and the fact I mouthed some choice words whether she understood them or not, she put the phone away and went on to read her Vogue magazine.
While it’s slightly off topic at this junction another older woman was looking for her seat. I don’t know if she was blind or just confused but the seat numbers are to the left of each door. After the conductor checked our tickets and identification, a minute or two passed and the conductor returned with this same woman. She pointed to the far window seat where my Tik Tok wanna be had transplanted herself.
There was a weird exchange, because clearly my buddy had taken the wrong seat on purpose. She planted her three bags above her head and her coat as well. Begrudgingly she slid over, directly across from me. She wouldn’t even move her bags without some prompting. I watched the entire exchange and wondered why she thought she was better than the others in this compartment. Come on now why can’t she have the window seat?
The blind bitty, left and then returned two times with a multitude of bags. My favorite part was when she unceremoniously extended the table and plopped her reading material down. I swear she gave a cross eye to the Tik Tok lady. I might have wanted to see a cat fight but aside from a snarky “Dzien Dobry,” it was rather mellow. Things went quiet after that with eventually naptime ensuing for the elderly in my area. Look at the ingenious way to keep out the light in the photo below.
I wouldn’t trade this train ride with Warsaw or my trip to Lubliniec because for once I didn’t have to hear the banter of couples who decided the hallway was the best place for a two hour long conversation. Or did I have to watch those same passengers linger in front of our window to stretch their legs.
But best of all, or should I write “the most classic moment” is that I didn’t have to sit across from two guys who decided that finishing the bottle of vodka before 11am on our way to a pilgrimage site was a good idea. Those old timers started with soda and then changed over using two small plastic cups for cover. The best exchange was watching one of them debate on where to throw out the 1 liter bottle.
Riding the train is eventful that’s for certain. There are informal rules but already I have seen them broken by many. Nevertheless, I prefer this method of travel. Where else can I enjoy the views of the countryside and see a country I never truly explored from the vantage point of a leather seat?
I imagine there is more to discuss on this topic but like my train rides time goes quickly. I promise a part two to trains, but we’ll get off at this station and plan for another ride together in the near future. Till next time.
If there is one major regret from my time living in Italy it would be that I deleted my journal and blog entries from that time period. How many times have I done the same with this very website? With the exception of the memories I have, I no longer have a record of my feelings on certain days or observations, and what I found revealing.
Fast forward five years later, now in Poland, I’m going about this a different way. Too many family members and friends have asked for some sort of ongoing vlog. To remedy this situation and to share more of my overseas journey, I have set up a YouTube page and Instagram account. I’ll share the links below.
I’m not sure how committed I’ll be to these new ventures. Still, I’m starting with some shorts and we’ll go from there. Concerning the blog, I have pictures to share from over the weekend. My latest adventure, three weeks post Covid, took me to the Ukrainian border. I don’t know if it was twenty miles or thirty, but the point being I was fairly close. My family was concerned simply due to what the media has shared back in the States. I can assure you the only thing I saw was an amazing sunrise over Poland’s “corn basket.” Is that even a term I can use?
I find it funny how I found my room for the night at an old manor wedged between Jarosław and Przemyśl. There was no available place to stay in P town so by default I looked around for any hotel, motel, room; whatever that would suffice. I know next time I’ll do more planning in this area. These are both what I would consider provincial towns, one around 40,000 people and the other 60,000. While not small, they are far from the big cities of Poland.
Taking the train for three hours was one thing but the fact I couldn’t get an Uber (there are no drivers in that area) made my traveling costs increase. Talking about prices, my roundtrip train ticket was around $31. My taxi fare to and from the manor ran about $28. That’s crazy to think 12 miles of driving was almost the same as trekking across the lower part of Poland.
As for the manor itself, I loved the decor as it was a hodgepodge of styles from suits of armor, classic cars, old radios, and Victorian style parlors. I can’t leave out the main seating area for the restaurant that is a hunter’s dream. The food worked for the evening and the grounds were serene. Best of all, a mile up the road were unparalleled views of the vast countryside. I’ve seen corn before but never so much in one place.
Even this morning when I went running, I continued to explore by foot the agricultural vistas which included a run in with a deer bounding across an open field for the tree line. An introvert by nature, just putting myself in a new situation was deemed a success. I was patting myself on the back after I managed enough Polish to get the hotel attendant (who spoke no English and worse Italian) to call me a taxi so I wouldn’t miss my train.
Back in the States I don’t think I would celebrate over such a trivial thing, but in this case I either had to walk back 5.5 miles to catch the train back to Krakow or figure out a way to communicate to get there faster. Being in Poland for me is about self discovery, pushing my limits, but also celebrating little moments. This overnight trip was one to celebrate and I’m sure the first of many. Who knows I might head back out towards the manor. It’s the only place I have seen so far where the taxi drivers go about 75 on a narrow country road.
Sixteen plus years as a published author, Jonathan has been independent the last eleven. With readers across forty-seven countries and six continents, he has readers around the world. Writing across genres, he loves good dialogue and flawed characters.