Monday, November 16, 2009


I finally made it to Poland. I'm at Ewa and Daniel's flat with a rainy day in progress. Time to do some journaling and blogging.  After an all day train ride yesterday (Sunday) from Berlin, starting at 7:59 am (German trains run on time, exactly), arriving in Elblag, about 35 miles ESE of Gdansk, at around 7:30 pm. Ewa was at the train station to meet me, bless her heart. We went to their flat and she pulled my dinner out of the oven where she'd been keeping it warm. They have a very nice situation here for Couchsurfers. I have the office with a comfortable bed and desk for my use while I'm staying with them. They got me set up with their wireless Internet connection right away too. At first we couldn't get it working but Daniel is a geek and he reconfigured his router passphrase to allow me to get on. Thank you Daniel.

So far my Couchsurfing experiences have been abundantly, fantastically successful. Jana knows Berlin well and in addition is an artist and graphical designer so she's very familiar with the art and museum scene in Berlin. Staying with her was a terrific experience. Oh, and did I forget to mention she is also a fantastic cook? Now, here with Ewa, my quarters are extremely nice and both hosts extremely welcoming and friendly. Ewa was full of questions about Alaska. Daniel doesn't speak any English but they were both highly entertained when I showed them my videos of brown bears at Chenik last summer. And she asked, Does it take some special skills to live without running water? I replied, No, you just have to want to live on less. That's mostly true I think although I explained that I also have high speed Internet, satellite TV and oil heat. They're both off at work today so I have the place to myself and am enjoying my morning tea with fried eggs and toast.

BTW, I learned today that sour cream can be used in place of sweet cream in tea if you're willing to add a little extra sugar. I am and I did. Finding stuff in the supermarkets has been interesting, especially here, so today after searching the dairy isle I bought a container of what I thought was sweet cream for my tea. It was not -- it was sour cream. Rather than walk up and down the four flights of stairs again to get the right stuff, I merely dumped in another half a spoonful of sugar. Not bad. And I bought a couple of bottles of beer, one is a Polish brand, Specjal Jasny Pelny, the other a Czech brand, Starovar. French wine here is fairly expensive (80 or 90 PLN) so I will wait for Berlin or Paris to resume my search for the perfect Cote du Rhone. Poland doesn't use euros, by the way. They use the Zlotych (current exchange rate is $1 USD = 2.73 Zlotych or PLN). So the Polish beer cost 76 cents while the Czech one was 91 cents (0.5 liter bottle).

This town is a small city actually and appears a bit down on its luck especially compared with central Berlin. Of course I haven't spent any time in the hinterlands of Germany so my evaluation is conditional. Buildings throughout Poland are in need of repair, the train stations run down with lots of dirty windows, many broken, etc. I passed through farm country on the way here and noted that the farmhouses look old, very old. Most are made of brick or stone with tile or shingle roofs and many of those roofs are sagging and moss covered. The farms themselves look nice though and the dairy cows look like, well, the dairy cows in New York State. Another interesting thing I noticed again and again from the trains and Metros I rode both here and in Germany and France is that folks often have a tiny plot of land in the suburbs where they hang out on weekends. Alongside the garden is a small structure, a shed, or in some cases a tiny cabin or house, where people can spend time tending their gardens and getting away from the daily grind. Some of these little places are pretty cool looking. I'll include some pics later on.

Yesterday during my train ride I actually walked around in the sun for while during a one-hour changeover in Szczecin (German: Stettin), a city on the Odra River (German: Oder) which forms the modern border between Germany and Poland. (I've included the German names for those of you who learned geography when I did ;-)) Fishermen were out in force on such a sunny, mild Sunday.

Here is a shot of the fishermen on one of the canals that hook up with the Odra River. Notice the length of the pole this guy is using. It's got to be over 20 feet long! These long ones don't have a reel -- the length makes it possible to get the lure or bait, mostly canned corn or lures, out to where the fish are. And the fish? Tiny little silvery things no longer than about 6-8 inches, maybe some sort of smelt or alewife, I dunno. But one fellow had a whole string net full of them. I'm pretty sure bringing in a large salmon using one of these would be difficult, if not impossible.

Above is the wheelhouse of one of the many barges tied up alongside the walk on this Sunday. Reminds me of the barges on the Erie Canal in NY State except these are considerably bigger.

And this last one is an old station house I found out behind the Szczecin Glowny. Glowny is Polish for "main station", the same as Germany's Hauptbahnhof or HBF. At first I thought glowny meant some sort of city or suburb. Silly me.

Later: 5:30 pm
I took a little walk about in the main part of town earlier. It's a drizzly, gray day so I didn't take any photos. Except for one of a tiny market that sells veggies and, somewhat improbably, smoked fish. I bought one of the ones named "ewak" in the photo below. It was delicious and reminiscent of the smoked Lake Erie whitefish, we called them smoked ciscoes, that we used to get once in a while when I was a boy in Buffalo. Oily and flavorful, the newspaper it always came wrapped in would soon become translucent. Ciscoes didn't last long at our house. (I learned later from Ewa that the fish I bought is a zuwak or butterfish.) Ewa says they like the smoked mackeral, the ones in the lower right in the photo. All the salmon I've seen here, even in the gourmet shop at KaDeWe in Berlin are Atlantic salmon from Norway and are farmed. I had some in Paris (accidentally) and thought it not very good. In the photo below that longish, dark colored  "fish" up above everything else is a smoked eel. I'm gonna buy a hunk of that tomorrow.

And in a similar tiny market a few steps away they had several varieties of apples on display. There were some labeled Kortland. I couldn't believe it! Those are one of my favorite apples and I assume they're native to New York, named after the city of Cortland. I bought one and eagerly bit into it -- perfect white flesh inside, snappy and slightly tart, unlike those, at least in my mind, awful, cloyingly sweet New Zealand apples that seem to be everywhere these days-- in Alaska, even in Berlin and Paris-- almost as bad as the mistakenly named Delicious apples whch are IMHO best used for horse fodder or pig food. The apples were wonderful, a special treat.