After the horror that was my two days in Lublin, Krakow appeared as nothing more than a peaceful dream. Ok, maybe not too peaceful. There were those EIGHT Spanish guys in my room, and there were those two girls who were happy that some guy randomly spiked their drinks in Hungary (really?! are they still smiling looking back at that?!). Speaking English and signing up for organized tours to Auschwitz and the salt mines was definitely a bit of the “easy route”, so I think it left me dealing with nothing more than the tourist industry and not the true culture of Poland.
In order to get in touch with a little more of an authentic Poland, I headed off on a train to Wroclaw (pronounced vrots-laf) on the west side of the country. The train ride itself lasted only 4 1/2 hours, but when your stomach growls every five minutes while you watch your car-mates feast away – even after you think they couldn’t possibly have any other amazingly large piece of food left in their bags – the ride becomes excruciatingly long.
Hanging on by a thread, we arrived in Wroclaw, where I began my search for the elusive Tram 22 just as my hostel instructions instructed. I checked every tram stop outside of the station, but none with “22″ posted were found. This is where I usually start to get depressed because this is when I have to bust out my little piece of paper so I can point and gesture at the address.
I thought a good place to start investigating would be at a stand near a tram stop. They usually seem to be full of information since they view it all day after day. Since I was new to the town, I thought I’d give the phrase, “Do you speak English?” a whirl. Unfortunately, that got us (the stand owner and I) off to a bad start. The reaction quickly reminded me of Lublin, especially the time the guy actually stepped away from me in a “I don’t want anything to do with you” way when I just needed help finding a bus. The shop owner here wouldn’t even look at me in the face!
Disheartened, I moseyed down the sidewalk until I mustered up the courage to attempt with a lady walking down the sidewalk. She actually attempted to communicate with me, even though it was all in Polish. She did, at least, seem concerned and proclaimed it was quite the journey, but I was still out of luck with Tram 22.
I walked back into the train station to hit up the information stand inside in hopes of them providing me with said information. I stood in line for awhile, during which time old men cut in front of me when I least expected (WTF?!). Finally, when it was my turn, I asked if the guy spoke English. He didn’t. He immediately pointed to some obscure location across the station, I think just to get me off his back. No way, buddy. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. You’re the information desk! I handed him my paper with the address and the words “Tram 22″. In response, he pointed to outside in a shooing kind of way. Fine, I’ll leave, but just so you know, buddy, I was already there!
I needed to think. I walked along the side of the building where the taxis gather. I didn’t want to admit defeat and take a taxi. I wanted Tram 22! Those taxis were looking mighty inviting, all lined up and ready to go to whatever address I so desired… so easy route… so not going to give up! Another man was walking around that area – someone young and well-to-do. I pressed if he spoke English, and to my shock he did quite well! Alas, he was not from around the area and so couldn’t say where the tram arrived. Just my luck! He suggested I try to ask someone waiting at the tram station. It was just my next plan of attack. However, the girls I asked were absolutely clueless to say the least. That was the exact point when I waved the white flag and decided to take a taxi to the hostel. I turned around just in time to see the last car in lin jetting off. “Hmm… guess I’ll ask around a bit more.”
My redeeming moment came when the lady at a ticket stand had at least a little more direction. She sported her glasses and began to jot down a bunch of numbers and some sort of picture. The picture made no sense then, or even now, and when she saw I was still confused she started talking to the guy behind me. Just as I was feeling jipped and pushed off, the guy she was talking to motioned for my piece of paper and spoke English to ME! Excellent! I bought a tram ticket and away we went, but not on the elusive Tram 22. Never actually found that one.
We remained on the tram for only a few stops and then walked a hell of a long way after that. I learned his name is Paul and he was a studying to be a sports teacher. He said that he learned German in school (makes sense since they are so close to the border in Wroclaw) but learned English just by chatting with his sister. It was quite impressive! Along the way, Paul motioned to help with my little red bag, but when I realized it had ALL my important things in it, I had to make some excuse to search for something in order not to offend him when I held it tight. After thanking him for his time and effort, he explained that it was quite common for Polish people to help out like this. Really?! Common?!? Maybe he meant “uncommon”. His English wasn’t perfect. This was definitely a far cry from being shooed and stepped away from when asking for help to this point.
Long story short, Paul walked me ALL THE WAY to my hostel, had to buy ANOTHER ticket for a tram from there, and absolutely refused my money for a new one with a stern, “No way.” It was extremely nice of him to go completely out of his way like this, which got my mind going on if I would be so helpful if asked for help back home. I’m not so sure! What about you? How far would you go to help someone who didn’t speak English?
In the end, I settled into my interesting hostel with no help from Tram 22. After confirming from another group who was forced to take a taxi from the train station, I was assured it does NOT exist, no matter what the people at the hostel say. Most importantly, I was introduced to a side of “Polish Hospitality” I had not known up to this point in the trip.