Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Into the hinterlands of Poland

I took a 90 minute train-ride back to Gdansk today to rent a car. The only way to get to Dobrzyki is to walk, hitchhike or drive. Seeing as I want to explore a couple of other places nearby and I only have two more days here I opted for the rent a car scenario. Luckily Avis tries harder and as a result they have some English speaking reps in Gdansk, among them  a woman named Marcelina who assured me that despite my lack of an international driver's license, they would be happy to rent me a car. After getting off the train and asking everyone in the main station, Gdansk Glowny, where the Avis agency was and drawing only confused looks I got on my cell phone and called Marcelina back and asked where was the Avis office. She gave me directions and within a half hour I was on the road struggling through heavy, slowly moving Gdansk traffic on my way back to Elblag. Nobody rents cars in Poland, Ewa tells me, which is why the word Avis means nothing to the average person on the street.

The Polish drivers have some awful habits. For starters, they all speed. What's worse is that they pass even if there is a car coming in the opposing lane! That's right. Both the car being overtaken and the oncoming car pull onto the shoulders to let the passing car by. Pretty unnerving - reminds me of Mexico. At least people drive on the right here so it's pretty easy after you get used to the passing weirdness. My trusty GPS led me out of  downtown Gdansk and into open country where I drove the 50 odd kilometers back home uneventfully.

Anyway, the car is huge. I wanted a station wagon so I could sleep in it if I chose. This thing is some sort of European Ford, a diesel, and is larger than most other cars hereabouts. But it's quite roomy and will definitely get me there. I have no idea how much it's costing and I don't want to know. I must get to Dobrzyki at any cost, period.

I listened to the radio for a while and guess what, many of the songs I heard are by American and English groups and are sung in English. The announcers are Polish, of course, so it's quite a contrast to the ear to hear him come on and talk quite unintelligibly during the segues. But imagine if all the pop music we heard in Alaska was in Spanish, or German. How strange would that be?

As I was discussing my plans with Ewa and Daniel they began offering me camping gear which I think will come in handy: so now I have two camping mattresses, extra blankets, a pillow, and a butane stove. I bought a bunch of bread, cheese, hard sausage, and beer and stashed it in the car for an early departure. I'll stop and get some more of those Kortland apples and maybe some of that smoked eel before heading out.

On my schedule is a visit to Dobrzyki, of course, as this is the only reason I'm in Poland at all.  I also want to visit the place from which Hitler ran his disastrous Russian campaign, a bunker called the Wolf's Lair, and the Bialowieza Forest (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) that is reputed to be a piece of the primeval woods that covered this country before the time of the Romans. After calculating the route with my Europe Roadmap software it turns out to be over 230 miles to the forest so I'm not sure I'll make it all that way in the amount of time I have. The Wolf's Lair is 100 miles beyond Dobrzyki so I might try that one.

I'll go back to Berlin on he 20th mostly because I have good tickets for a chamber music concert in the Berlin Philharmonic Chamber Auditorium on the 21st. I'll be listening to a Haydn String Quartet, a Brahms Piano Quintet, and something by Shostakovich. I'll be listening to works by two German composers IN GERMANY. Imagine that!

As there will likely be no Internet in the hinterlands you might not hear from me for a while. I'll be in touch as soon as possible.