In November 2015 I was on a bus going down to Kraków from Łódź, about 4½ hours on the motorway. It was a big double decker, air-con, leather seats and Wi-Fi sort of bus, but a bus none the less. I know it was a bus, It had Bus written on the outside, “PolskiBus” in large friendly letters (thank you Douglas Adams for that addition to the language), as if to gently remind you not only what you were about to board but where you were boarding it.
A PolskiBus Bus, yes, it’s a bus, it says so.
It was a wet and miserably grey Saturday morning, quite unlike the stock photo I have placed above; I stood in the queue at Łódź Kaliska bus station with Asia, my friend and travelling companion, well, her name is Joanna but the Polish very rarely use their given names on a day to day basis unless they are in a formal situation, they opt instead for diminutives and Asia is a diminutive of Joanna. It’s a quirk of the Polish that I really like and Asia herself once told me that she thinks that Joanna sounds too much like something to do with Joan of Arc so she prefers Asia (that’s Ah-shah not Aye-sher); anyway we were standing in the queue to deposit our bags in the luggage compartment of the bus, which we did and then we boarded the vehicle and took our seats, I took a window seat on the vehicle’s off-side, Asia sat next to me and we settled down for the journey.
About halfway into the journey I saw this 4×4 Jeep type affair with a “STRAƵ GRANICZNA” sign across its roof flash past us. The Straż Graniczna are the Polish Border Guard, they are the people who man the passport security checks at the airports, sea ports etc., they also patrol the country in a very pro-active way, unlike our own dear UK Border Force of whom I see very little evidence on a day to day basis. Meanwhile the Straż Graniczna are out in all weathers actively ensuring that Poland is not over-run with illegal immigrants and dodgy contraband or counterfeit goods.
Shortly after the SG vehicle had passed us we slowed and pulled off of the road into the car park of what I took to be a Motel. The door at the front of the bus opened and two SG officers boarded the bus, one male and one female. The female officer disappeared upstairs, the male officer began at the front and started to check everybody’s ID cards. It was all very good natured and relaxed, just something that happens from time to time.
Two young people, a girl and a boy, probably in their late teens or maybe early twenties by the look of them, were escorted from the bus; backpacks in hand they were led off towards the parked SG vehicle. As we sat there I began to wonder why they had been selected. Were they rouges, villains, rascals? Maybe they were sweethearts, run-away from their feuding families to be with each other, yes, I liked that answer.
Then it was my turn. My passport was in my bag, my bag was in the luggage compartment at the back of the bus. Asia, my friend and travelling companion, explained in Polish to the SG officer that I was English, then the officer said to me, in English,
“Excuse me sir but I need to see your ID.”
“It’s in my bag.” I said, indicating the rear of the bus
He thought about this for a second, no doubt picturing the mound of bags and suitcases that would have to be shifted to find mine.
“What nationality are you?” he asked,
I was going to say British but at the last moment I said “English.”
“OK” he held up his index finger, “But next time…”
And he moved on to the next person.
After about 10 minutes the inspection was over. The bus door closed, the engine started and we began to pull away. The two sweethearts were still being questioned by the SG. There was shouting, the bus stopped again, the two lovers were running towards us. The bus door opened and they boarded. A happy ending after all? I’d like to think so.
We were soon on our way again; forging south towards Kraków. It was a grey November day, the weather took a turn for the worse. Ploughing along the motorway, rain streaming across the windows, the noise of the air conditioning/heating, the bus’s engine, cars, buses and lorries flashing by in the other direction or crawling past to overtake; it’s a sensory immersion experience, quite satisfying in a way, especially when you think that outside it’s cold and wet and inside you are warm and dry.
By the time we arrived at the main bus station in Kraków it was getting towards late afternoon. Thankfully the rain had stopped but buildings and pavements bore testament that there had been a lot of rain. Why was I in Kraków? Going to a concert of course.
The previous day I had been in Łódź attending a concert at Łódzki Dom Kultury which is a multi-purpose venue hosting theatre, cinema, concerts, exhibitions etc. although not all at the same time I would hasten to add, there is also a restaurant on the first floor serving, amongst other delights, rather nice pierogi. I was supposed to be in Łódź for two nights, Friday and Saturday.
Two nights, Friday and Saturday, of music in ŁDK, that was the original plan but some weeks beforehand both Asia and I had received an invitation from Ryszard Kramarski, the leader of the Kraków based band “Millenium” to go to their concert in Kraków on the Saturday evening. Well, when you are invited by the main man who were we to say no? So Friday was in Łódź and Saturday morning it was on the bus to Kraków
I had first met Ryszard Kramarski in 2014 at an open air festival in Gniewkowo and then again earlier in 2015 in Kraków when I had been treated to a tour of the Lynx Music recording studios. I should perhaps just point out here that Ryszard Kramarski is not just a talented songwriter, keyboard and guitar player but also runs his own recording studio and record label Lynx Music; he makes a fair cup of coffee too.
Hey now, time for a beer.
Anyway, back to November. Asia and I collected our bags from the back of the bus and set off into the Krakowianin twilight to meet some other friends who were also going to the Millenium concert. The meeting place was a pub, quelle surprise; Viva la Pinta on ul. Floriańska. We were the first to arrive; the pub was not particularly full so we claimed a table, dropped our bags and bought some beer. After a while Asia went out for a cigarette and I sat there nursing my beer and contemplating the day so far.
Two women entered the bar and came up to the end of the table. They were speaking in Polish, of course, and I thought that they wanted to sit at the other end of the large table we’d bagged. I gestured, not having the Polish to articulate, that it was a big table and there was room for all. It turned out that these two were part of the group of people we were meeting. Then Asia reappeared with Artur, a guy I had met some time earlier also at the music festival in Gniewkowo. One of the women was Artur’s wife, Gosia; the other woman was Gosia’s friend Ela. Introductions were made, greetings were exchanged and we all settled down to chatting and more beer.
After our collective thirsts were quenched we left the pub and walked out into the still wet streets to go to the concert venue. It wasn’t raining but there was a fine mist in the air, not enough to make you properly wet but enough to get you damp around the edges. After a dozen minutes or so walking we arrived at the concert hall. Those of us with bags divested ourselves of them along with our coats in the cloakroom and went to mingle in the foyer.
The auditorium was opened and we all filled in. The seats, for it was a civilised, seated concert, were large and very comfortable. I settled down to enjoy the music. The sound quality was, it almost goes without saying, superb, as was the concert itself.
Afterwards, Asia and I were lucky enough to be included in a select group who attended the “After Party” in the venue’s bar. One of the other in that group was a chap called Mirosław, I had met Mirosław through Facebook and later at other concerts in Poland. Now, there is a brand of beer in Poland called “Miłosław”, not quite the same but if you say it fast enough it sounds like Mirosław; anyway, Mirosław and I decided that we ought to drink Miłosław and naturally we had to pose for a photograph, as you do.
The band came and joined us and we all sat around, drinking beer (shock horror!) and chatting, well, I was chatting to the best of my ability and a few brave souls decided to try their hand at English, anyway, a good time was had by all. Then it was back to Artur and Gosia’s place to spend the night, a small group of us got a taxi as they live out in the suburbs, two taxis actually, we’d picked up Robert, another friend. When we got “home” Gosia treated us to an impromptu supper of cold meats, some sort of salad (rubbish description but it tasted really good), hard boiled eggs, tea, beer and other good stuff. Polish hospitality, you can’t beat it.
Beer for breakfast? I must be getting old.
When I awoke the next morning it was bright and clear, only a few fleeting clouds in the sky. I was feeling just a little jaded afer all the beer and the late night, I think everything had caught up with me, especially the beer. After a perfunctory ablute I joined the others, well, I say others, Gosia had already left, gone to work and Robert left soon thereafter. Artur, Asia and I sat and discussed the previous evening, as far as the constraints of language would allow. There was beer for breakfast.
No, no, there really was beer for breakfast. Somehow, I didn’t partake, I was offered a can but I thought that another beer, here and now was the last thing I needed. A photo was organised, I held my can of beer but had the top of the can discretely turned towards me so that it wasn’t obvious that my can hadn’t been opened. I must be getting old.
After breakfast, Artur walked with me and Asia to the local tram stop where we said goodbye to Artur and Asia and I got onto the tram for the city centre. At the main railway station I said “Do zobaczenia” to Asia, thanking her for being my travelling companion. I realised that I was feeling sad, leaving Asia there on the platform. I wanted to ask her to get on the train and come to Warsaw with me, we had had such a good weekend it seemed a pity to end it; but she had things to get back to and I had a plane to catch the next day.
I boarded the train for Warsaw, sat back in my seat and watched the sunlit countryside glide past. It was a very different day to the day before. When I got to Warsaw I checked into my hotel, went out and had a meal; tomorrow I had to return to England but for this evening, Warsaw was mine! And then, like a steel ball-bearing caught in a magnetic field, I was inexorably drawn towards my favourite bar in Warsaw, JaBeerWocky. I sat at a table, enjoying the Polish brew and indulging in a spot of people watching, as I am oft-times wont to do.
I was going to use the analogy of a black hole there; true, alcohol will damage your health if taken in excess, but being crushed by overwhelming gravitational forces as you are drawn towards the event horizon wasn’t really what I had in mind.
I had a few beers; I went back to the hotel. Dobrej nocy wszystkim.