So I had heard rumours of lots of drinking in Poland. We (myself and the Irish guy I am hitching with) were picked up by a ‘party bus’ where I couldn’t tell if the people inside were family or friends. They didn’t speak any English and one older guy drank beer and laughed when we spoke. It was rather early for drinking beer. One by one, the six people started exiting the van until we were dropped by a park with the older guy who bought us beer and tried to talk with us. We had been in Poland for hours, rather than minutes. When we parted ways, we cooked pasta and pesto in the bus shelter in my tiny cooking pot. Style is portable.
After finishing the past, a young guy on a bike invited us to join him in the park for a beer. We told him we had just had one, thank-you, and have to continue on our journey.
Poland is very hitch-able. A mum and her daughter happily picked us up. We started to see hitchhikers all over the place. Sometimes we were dropped on the opposite side of the road from other hitchers and at others, we were dropped in the same place, bringing in issues of hitch etiquette. Where is it OK to stand when someone else arrives before you?
A Subaru whizzed us into the exact street we desired in Wrocław. We met another surfer and our hosts flatmate before our host arrived. He introduced himself with his name followed by this is Polish vodka, we drink. Shot after shot followed and soon we were eating pizza as the vodka flowed. In the centre we watched a fountain light show. Water sprayed into the air and decorated by lights shining from below. Sometimes projectors made pictures on the water and the air shook from the sound of the huge speakers all around us. I once saw something similar in Korea, but this was bigger, better, and warmer. When I watched the show in Korea, my Korean friend stood whimpering and shaking of cold, begging to leave.
Alas, my first view of the city was hazy.
The following day we cooked together and refreshed our images of the city. It is an interesting one with a diverse collection of architecture.
Heading to Kraków, I was picked up by a guy travelling to Oświęcim (Auschwitz), the town famous for being the death camp of around 1.3 million people, 90% of which were Jews. Immediately it was an option to continue with him and head to the camp. I had heard about it elsewhere in Poland, but I was uncomfortable with the idea. I feel a place such as this should never be forgotten because of the atrocities that were committed there. Equally, I believe that it shouldn’t be treated as a tourist attraction where people run around taking photos and forget the reality of what happened there. When in Kraków, there were brightly coloured signs advertising cheapest price tours of Auschwitz and in the end, I decided that it was disrespectful to go to such a place.
This is my own opinion and fits my own view of the world. Do what works for you.
The city itself is very pleasant and I enjoyed a couple of days walking the streets and playing games with my hosts. We even cooked pizza from scratch. In Poland they sell baguettes with cheese and mushrooms. They taste very good for lunch or in the early hours of the morning.
Heading North, there was a long journey to reach Lithuania. I have always struggled to remember whether Lithuania or Latvia was the Northernmost. Finally after visiting, I remember.
Lithuania is the only country in the world that has a higher rate of suicide than South Korea (my last home for a year). Of 100,000 people, 34.1 Lithuanians commit suicide per year while in Korea, it stands at 31.2. Compare this with the UK which stands at only 6.9. Suicide is considerably higher in males than in females. Why?
A vegan man picked us up and told us of his plans to open a vegan cafe. Then he gave us delicious (non-vegan) cheese filled pastries and fresh raspberries. He was a very nice man. Despite his help and that of a microscope maintainer and a guy who looked like a businessman (we had no common language to communicate), we ended up stuck on the outskirts of Warszawa (Warsaw) for the night. Initially we had difficulty as three of us tried to hitch from the same place and in the end we realised that we would not be able to catch a ride, so we ate apples from a tree. Then the three of us headed to the supermarket which was closed, which seemed like a perfect time to continue my new venture into the world of skipping (freeganism). Outside the store, the rain started as we pulled out packet after packet of cheese and dessert. There was flavoured cream cheese and other Eastern European cheeses that resemble soured cream at times and cottage cheese at others. The desserts were chocolate or fruit and we even found a wheel of camembert. After a couple of minutes, the skies really opened and we ran for cover. We found it at the side of the supermarket and it was here that we began to consume our feast. We cooked pasta and smothered it in cheese, while eating multiple packets of dessert because they were there. We even found kefir, a sour-tasting milk type liquid. And it didn’t matter if we didn’t finish it all, because it was already waste when we got it. This is still a very new experience for me and I will comment further on skipping and my thoughts about it at a later date. For now, consider it free dinner from a (clean) bin.
When we had devoured countless desserts and the pasta was ready, a car circled slowly around the car park, watching us. We were in a pretty remote area, but thought nothing of it until it came round a second time. Then a third. I always believe that it is important to respond to your intuition. Let’s go, I said. By the time we had packed everything, the car had circled six times, getting faster and faster each time. There were small, blue, neon lights in the windscreen. We slipped between the lorries and soon found a much more public place to eat by a petrol station. It may have been harmless, but I felt more comfortable in our new location. At this point, the Polish guy that we were eating with pulled out his ice axes to show us. If he had have shown us before, I might not have moved; they are far more threatening that any size of knife because they appear as if they have been designed to smash through somebody’s skull!
I’ve never been a fighter.
Use your head; put yourself in a situation you want to be in; get out of one you don’t like.
Then I had a new experience. The three of slept under a bridge. It was far more comfortable than I had previously thought. Better than the tent has been at times. If you cover your face from insects and put in headphones, it works well.
In the morning we were taken around bakeries as delivery man deposited bread for old people before a French speaking man drove us a short distance before giving me some sort of a glass pipe. I understood that it was for smoking weed, thanked him, then threw it away! Our next lift was on the way to a truck driving examination for driving big trucks. His brother drove and at one point, I thought we were being run off the road by a lorry as we started to be pushed wide on the wrong side of the road while overtaking. It’s normal, they said nonchalantly.
My next lift was lovely. A Polish girl and her father. They bought us cold drinks in the store and chatted with us pleasantly before we found another hitchhiker aiming North. He was grateful when we (grudgingly) piled our heavy bags on our laps, to fit three of us into the back of a small car. When dropped off, we separated. We decided to walk around the corner, to the next road while he chose to stay at the services. Five minutes later, a car pulls up with him inside and takes us North.
What goes around comes around.
He couldn’t speak with the guy inside and only managed to make him stop through hand signals. It took great lengths of time to find a language that the man understood. It was Russian. From this, we learnt that he was from Kazakhstan and was travelling North to buy a car. He did this often. He had lived all around Europe buying and selling cars. Kazakhstan is a long drive I thought aloud. He agreed (via a translator). And so it was like this that a Kazakh, an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Slovenian entered the country with the highest rate of suicide in the world.
Lithuania is very flat. Some parts look like the flat parts of England. Not the good parts.
Finally we entered Vilnius with a 22 year old who had just been to his uncle’s funeral. He was smoking a joint and he had a baby and fiancee at home. When he had enough money, he would make her his wife. It seemed like a difficult financial situation. He was a saxophonist.
Our host in the city walked us around by night and explained us a great many of the troubles in the city. He also showed me his knife. And some others. His grandmother cooked us both breakfast and lunch. More pancakes than I could possible hope to eat which were accompanied by homemade runny jam and more sour-milk type liquid.
I know remember which way around the countries are from this part of the world. My next stop would be Latvia.
The flag of Latvia is burgundy and white.
Maybe Lithuanian’s are pessimistic by culture?
This is our feast from the stuff that we found in bins: