I love moving every day or two to visit new places. The new people, the new sights. The unexpected experiences that you stumble over. Sometimes though, it is nice simply to stop. Just for a little bit. Take a few days knowing where you will be sleeping at night and wandering through streets that you begin to recognise. Stop thinking about when you will get your next ride and maybe just sit down in the park to read a book. Balance in life is important.
I chose to stop with some friends in Kraków (Poland). It is a city that I find attractive and it has a nice vibe to it. Their house was in a quiet area but only a short walk from the centre and certain shops run 24 hours. Plus when you get hungy, there is always a zapikanka to be found, not far away. Bread, cheese, mushrooms, and sauce. Simple but satisfying.
Photography is an art form that incorporates both the visions of the photographer and the environment where the photographs are being taken. I always found nature photography to be particularly impressive because it is hard to manipulate the environment. We have very little, big scale control over the landscapes around us or the animals within it. Steve Bloom is a wonderful nature photographer who once held an open air photo exhibition in Leeds and I was reminded of it as I stumbled across another open air photo exhibition outside the old house of Pope Jean Paul II. There were pictures of a lynx, an owl eating a hedgehog, and a badger amongst many others. Each picture was more than a metre high and seeing close up details of insects and leaves at that scale was, and is, phenomenal. A misty blue forest scene was my favourite.
When I was little, I had a batman costume. As my mother handed me the cape, she told me that it can’t make you [me] fly and that you [I] mustn’t jump out the window because another little boy tried that and he broke into a hundred-thousand tiny little pieces. I remember thinking that it was a silly thing to say; everyone knows batman can’t fly! All the cape did was give me magical fighting abilities to take on the world. My love for batman never fully disappeared. I still remember that GPZT is the password to access the final level on my NES game, Batman (Return of the Joker); a game that was released in the early 1990s. My mum ordered the game for me from a catalogue because this is how we lived pre-internet. It arrived, via post, in a yellow box with a picture of the jokers grinning face on it. I still feel excited about it now.
So I loved Batman. The new series by Christopher Nolan blew me away (Heath Ledger as the Joker) and I loved Batman all over again. It was very exciting for me to go and watch the final movie of the three part series in a Polish cinema. It wasn’t as good as I hoped, but it could never have lived up to my high expectations. This is why it makes sense to eat vanilla ice cream. When you choose quadruple chocolate, you expect fireworks in your mouth. When you choose vanilla, you expect a simple flavour. But it always that much more delicious than you expect, thus you gain greater satisfaction.
There is a museum of modern art in Kraków. Inside is a white room decorated only with black letters. I found it calming. As often happens, in the museum I got reprimanded for touching the exhibits. Once I went to a museum with two friends. One liked touching the paintings while the other was very respectful. It culminated in two of us licking a painting purely for the displeasure of our friend. This is what friends are for.
In the museum is an exhibit with footballs and holes in a painted wall. You can kick them at the holes. I like kicking footballs.
For my Birthday as a child, I was once bought an electronic chess board. My dad is a winner at unusual presents. At the age of ten, he bought me two paintings of birds by a famous bird artist. Fortunately others intervened and these paintings were swapped for a Newcastle United football kit. I played the chess game several times on the easiest level. I never could beat the computer. I could barely take a piece from it in fact. There is a small, wooden, and rather artsy, underground bar not far from the main square of Kraków. Here I spent several hours teaching my friend how to play chess. It is far more satisfying than losing to an electronic chessboard. Especially when the person understands so well.
Making cakes is fun. I made brownie with the wrong ingredients. It was.. different.
Here is a game to play. Celebrities. Divide into two teams and write the names of many celebrities onto separate pieces of paper before folding them up and placing them in the middle of a table. One person from each team draws names and describes the celebrities for 45 seconds, trying to score as many correct answers from their team as possible. Then you switch teams. Continue until all celebrities are done, then repeat. Except in round two you can only act, not speak, and in round three you can only say one word and not act. In round four, you can only make noises, not words. We played this many times and it never became less fun.
Some people love the country. Some love the city. My friend loved the city and I, the country. Cities are fun and I enjoy my time in them, but I can’t stay in them forever. I was taken to a forest and we walked idly, purposely, doing nothing more than enjoying the trees around us. In the forest, we found a monastery which only allows women in on four days of the year and it just so happened to be one of them. There were some red bugs on the wall that I hadn’t seen before and I tried to take a picture of them. In the grounds of the monastery was a large group of American children. In the forest, two dogs were yapping at us with little dog syndrome. I hate little, yappy dogs. We found a fallen tree that served as a bridge so we could cross a dry moat. The day in the forest was a good day.
Pizza is delicious. I had delicious pizza in Kraków. Then I got my hair cut. Short on the sides, longer on top. Try new things. I am considering a facial piercing, purely for the experience. When I was eighteen, I got a tongue piercing. After a couple of months grinding my teeth down upon it, I took it out. It was the same time that I moved to Cornwall, dyed my hair black / midnight blue, and started living in a caravan in a field. Learn from your experiences.
Sacrilege to books. I bought a Kindle. I love the feel and smell of a book in my hand. I hate the idea of an electronic book. More than that, I hate to admit how amazingly convenient it is for travelling.
At this point, my time in Kraków was done. I was heading North to Warszawa to take part in a language immersion programme that I heard about a few weeks before. Speak to people and stay in a hotel for free, with free meals. Hitching North, I was picked up by a guy who spoke no English and I used my Polish phrase book (on my kindle) to communicate. He phoned his son who invited me to stay at his house, halfway between Kraków and Warszawa. I told him that I could come for dinner, but I had to get to Warszawa by that evening and he said he would try to find a ride for me. There was no luck so I was dropped on the main road at some road works. There are roadworks everywhere in Poland (which is great for hitching). As the cars came to a standstill, my Polish driver walked the lines and knocked on windows for all of three minutes before a family agreed to take me North. Using my Polish phrasebook, I explained that I was vegetarian and when we stopped at McDonalds, they bought me some French fries.
My first night in Warszawa was spent exploring the city and drinking cherry vodka with fresh lemon juice. Maybe the most delicious shot I have ever tried. In the early hours of the morning, I was standing on an open air barge, looking at the stars above me, with loud music making my body vibrate. I was overwhelmed by happiness. After cheesy chips, we arrived home at eight in the morning. In broad daylight, I fumbled around with my alarm. I had to be up by eleven in order to make my free tour of Warszawa at twelve (it was part of the offer from the language immersion programme that I would spend the next week volunteering with). Unfortunately I pressed the wrong buttons, overslept, and arrived for the tour at 14h45. It finished fifteen minutes after that. As a plus, we then went for a multi-course Polish lunch which the company covered. I managed a few bites of beetroot soup and fried cheese before giving up and offering my food to the others.
After lunch we moved to some outdoor terraces and sat talking, getting to know the people that we would live with solidly for the next week. As day turned to night, we ended up settling in a cross between an alleyway and a square, surrounded by bars. It is the only place that I have seen people drinking outside in Poland; normally there are highly enforced spot fines from the police. We sat on the floor, under the night sky with no pretences. Just talking. Enjoying the moment. Life, once again, was wonderful.
Never give up on happiness.
Later in the night we went to a live forest party. I jumped onto the back of a lorry to sneak into the venue, then we danced the night away under open skies as the DJ pumped out loud tunes into the night. I only had to do one thing. Get to the bus by ten the following morning. I woke up at five past ten. I had missed the bus to the venue, nearly 100km from the city. I was that guy. The guy who was two and three-quarter hours late for a three hour tour one day and missed the bus the next. My couch host made some breakfast and I idled around, unsure of my plan of action. Offered a ride to the train station, I gratefully accepted with the intention of taking a train to the nearest town and being collected by the organisers of the project. As we neared the train station, I changed my mind and asked to be dropped on the main road. Hitchhiking would be faster than taking a train. My host drove me to the road and we started talking. We talked and talked some more. Before I knew it, she had driven me the 100km to the programme and dropped me off, not more than an hour later than anyone else. I am ever so grateful.
If you believe it enough, everything is going to be OK.