I am sitting on the floor. My back presses against a door to keep it open, whilst my knees I struggle to keep to my chest so that people can try to get to the bathroom. I am wedged in between a sleeping teenager, a girl my age attempting to read, and a rotund drunken man who has begun to sing a song in what I assume to be Polish.
The journey lasts three hours.
By the time I arrived in Krakow on Friday, it was already dark at 5.30pm. After a full 13 hours of travelling, finally I had arrived, and boy, was I exhausted! So, I felt exhilarated to see once again the bright face of my dear friend Justyna, buried underneath several layers of clothing and a thick beanie, waiting for me with a big smile warmer than her outfit. In the meantime, a thick fog had spread over the city, smothering anything that was more than a few metres away. As a result, I didn't really see much of Krakow until Sunday, as Justyna had something special planned for Saturday. That night, we ordered a 'spinaci' pizza (minus the spinaci) and I told her about my adventures on the train. Which included being proposed to by the drunken guy and making friends with the girl (and being invited for a smoke with her and two random guys in the bathroom). Exciting, indeed!
Day 1: The Trip to the Tatras
Wake up at 7am. It's dark. Shake off the grogginess, shower, put on three layers of everything except underwear. Laugh at yourself in the mirror.
Drive two hours in the fog. Watch the early morning sunlight being filtered through it as you cup an energy drink in your hands as though it were warm.
Arrive. Park. Watch people load baggage onto carriages pulled by two horses. Your breath comes out in steam. You feel sorry as your friend comments that several horses have died from the trip. You feel even sorrier when she says you're about to spend around 8 hours hiking (and the last time you excercised was around two weeks ago).
Walking slowly uphill, you're already about to die after twenty minutes. The cold presses on your head, and your backpack is heavy and drags you backwards. You know that in 40 minutes you will leave the easygoing tarmac road, and it will be rocks, mud, and frost all the way uphill for three hours after that. You think 'There's no way I can do this. I can't. I won't.'
You stop. You breathe in, long and heavy. Something catches your eye. Clusters of long, thin, slightly curved ice tubes, a silvery-white colour. They look like strands of fibre optic. As we approach the bare soil, we notice not one, or two, but hundreds of these shimmering bundles everywhere. Fascinated, I ask my friends what these curiosities are. She replies; "I don't know, I've never seen them before."
We continue to hike. My initial frustration has left me, and we trudge rhythmically forwards and upwards, through forests, past waterfalls, over frosted boulders reflecting the pastel yellow sun. I notice that the ice tube clusters seem to have gathered only where the soil is exposed. I briefly recall a Geography lesson from years back.
And then it hits me.
"It's transpiration!!", I exclaim.
"Huh?" Justyna raises an eyebrow.
"You know when you have evaporation? This is water vapour from plants, or in this case, the ground, going up to the sky and being frozen on the way."
And, as though to prove my point, we come across a large patch of bare soil, not only with these little tubes, but actually icicles emerging from the ground, pointing like spears to the sky. Happiness wells up in my chest, gives me strength to continue.
As we climb higher and higher, I stop to gaze, gobsmacked. Imagine a panoramic view of berserkly rockied mountaintops, with snow falling down the sides. As we try not to slip, walking uphill over a frozen stream, a steep side of the mountain comes into sight. It is glinting in the light, and when we approach, we stop in our tracks as we the reason see why.
A glittering waterfall of ice stands magnificently before us. Large falling bodies of water, frozen in space and time, drop steeply to the ground. You can see every wave, each ripple- carved into the waterfall's surface, still and shining, caught in a flow over the sides of the mountain. Like the folds of a woman's dress flow over the curves of her body, so the river drapes the mountain.
Wonder upon wonder is thrust upon us, everywhere we turn, we see magnificence and beauty. And when we finally reach our destination, a tiny hostel nearby a frozen lake which is dwarfed by the sheer size of the surrounding mountainrange; we felt not tired, but re-energized, reborn, filled once again with that initial wonder and fascination, with not only nature, but life itself- that wonder which we somehow lose in the process of our mind's petty rountine: work, stress, worries - and in the process of losing this wonder, we forget how to live, what it means to be truly alive.
If there ever was a time in my life where things were so dark that I wished I were dead... well, this day made me grateful that that wish never came true.
END OF PART 1
The trip will be divided into three parts in an attempt to do justice to the experiences that I attempt to describe. Also, since my funds are running a bit low, will not be sure if I travel anywhere else until mid-December. But, more on that later...
Also, what would you, dear Readers, like to hear about? Tips on travelling with a student budget, good places to eat/visit? Have any of you ever been to Poland, and what was your experience?
Comments below :)