If my original choice for a beer was decidedly dubious and I suspect more of an alkie stop, my actual choice turned out to be a very insipid bar restaurant serving only half pints of weak beer. Even at the time it barely sufficed. After drinking up I retraced my steps towards the station, abandoned my idea of going back to ‘L supermarket’ to try to buy salad and instead followed the red and white chimney and the yellow derrick back to the station.
I have now purchased my ticket back to Gdansk, arriving an hour later than my host predicted I would, and am sitting in the cheapest beer stop Ive found in Poland yet. Close to, but not at the station and full of men. I’m sitting in a shady spot on the street right in the smokers zone. Confused about whether I must go in to order or sit and be served, I wait for some time before turning to some men and trying to find out. No English spoken here despite these men being in their early twenties.
I enter the bar hoping not to lose my streetside seat and a woman from the outside smokers zone follows me in, extinguishing her cigarette on entering. The bar is small and dark, there are many bottles of beer on the counter and just one draft tap. I ask is it dark or light beer and she tells me it is light. I enquire after wheat beer, she speaks English and shows me a warm bottle sitting out on the counter. I order a pint of the draught. It is just 6 zlotys, the same as I paid for an insipid half a little while ago and equal perhaps to £1.20. That’ll do nicely thank you. In Gdansk, beer has generally been 9 or 10 zlotys with 10 being around two pounds.
The street is busy with many people passing by and despite it initially feeling a bit edgy because of the dominant male presence, it is in fact very ordinary. No one is interested in me. I realise I have walked much further today than I needed, had I turned right when I left the station instead of walking straight ahead, my day would have been very different for I would have walked directly to the castle.
As I sit, I watch a man limping as he crosses the road. Road etiquette is interesting, zebra crossings exist but are optional stops not mandatory. On seeing the limping man I am reminded of how few disabilities I have seen whilst over here. Where are people I wonder? I suspect they are at home, discriminated against indirectly if not directly, for they are not visible.
I ponder on my day of freedom and think how Ive had no evening of drinking since Ive been here, which so often serves to make me feel safe in another country. A touch of the surviving the slightly risky with alcohol breaking down communication barriers. Tonight will be no exception.
Having been here I know I want to travel further in Eastern Europe. I think it might suit me to spend 2 or 3 days with a couch surfing host to get the lie of the land before launching myself out on my own. I have so hated my lack of autonomy but appreciated the easy entry. I do think though that I need some idea of a plan. When in Australia, it seemed easy, you follow the coast, that’s it. In Finland, head north and then follow the coast. I wonder if I can find such a plan for Eastern Europe, it is harder with landlocked countries.
It occurred to me earlier that buying an anywhere anytime ticket for the train may feel expensive but would eliminate anxiety at times such as this morning when I was anxious whether or not I was on the right train. Eastern European journeys, I wonder if there’s a backpacker list? 6 zlotys a beer may mean another pint but I’m unsure what I will find in the loo here which is a prerequisite!
My alarm is set for 16 mins before my train. I am 2 mins from the station. I have my ticket, I know I will probably be on this side of the tracks as I arrived on the other side. I have my second beer, what could possibly go wrong? The toilet was interesting, one loo, unisex but with both sit down and urinal and, of course, plenty of liquid on the floor in front of the sit down loo. At least the sink had a tap that worked. In the supermarket earlier on, the loo was fine but the sink tapless!
It’s probably fair to say there has been no laughter on this trip, at least no real laughter. I forced laughter last night at the very silly stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love and I pretended to have ecstatically enjoyed much of the previous evenings opera. Such a strange week, I have no idea why either of us thought it a good idea but am pleased that I am not staying for another week. Whilst I do now feel ready to jump on a train and go who knows where, to have made fixed plans would have added to the stress of this week already. I remember my host and realise I must text her, let her know which train I will return on.
There is much I have not spoken of, thank you iPad, yes I know you are running low, 10% battery left after a full day of writing. I had forgotten how much hard work brain power is for you. I have not talked about my initial experiences of Gdansk nor our day to Hel, not of the Sunday market or the strawberry fayre. Forest moss has not appeared and I know my tenses have all been confused in my writing for I have had little time to amend and consider my words. Raw material.
So, I have seen a little more of the country today, what have I learned? That old people do not inhabit Gdansk but do exist. That rough edges are everywhere if you but look. That prices vary hugely from place to place. That there will always be those who are free from convention and those who are not. That not needing to be anywhere at a set time is a good plan. That I like my freedom but at the same time perraps like coming from a position of security. Much more, I’m sure. I think any country feels alien initially?
I am re connecting with Couchsurfing. On this trip I have been logging in to 50+ and 60+ discussion forums. I have ‘picked up’ a lively 75 year old Australian who wants a travel partner, perhaps we will meet, perhaps we will do a few days but I can’t really see it being viable. I have suggested Berlin, seperate travel and accomodation but let’s explore together. I’ll see what she says. I think I might both love and hate a travel buddy, it’s hard, I feel trapped with too much attention from another and adrift with none.
I must drink up. My alarm will go in 7 minutes and I have just 7% battery left. Pigeons run around my feet. I am definitely tipsy. The men I spoke with have been joined by friends and continue to talk. I look around. It is still all male but it no longer feels the slightly risky option it did when I arrived. Such is life. The unknown is always a little scary but once familiar is often as tame as can be.