I was just in Poland. I have a lot to say about Poland. Poland is pretty great. Elizabeth Ryznar is a wonderful tour guide. A wonderful, Polish-speaking tour guide. Seriously, go visit Elizabeth in Poland. You won't regret it.

I think the most reasonable place to begin my story is at the end.

I had a Plan A to get out of Poland. It involved arriving at the Krakow central train station at 12:15, buying a ticket to the German city of Cottbus, and then taking the train from there back to my home in Golm. The reason that a train directly back to Berlin was not Plan A was, as in so many other cases, money. Buying train tickets within Poland is very cheap, and but international tickets are not very cheap at all. My student fees include free public transit within the German states of Brandenburg and Berlin, so all I really had to do was get to the border. If my plan had worked, I would have been back in Golm by 2:00 am. But there were two problems with my plan. The first problem: I dropped my student ID on the way out the door to my building when I was leaving home, so I had no way of proving that I was entitled to free rail transit. The second problem: the woman at the train station's international desk had never heard of Cottbus, which is a little frustrating, considering that it is a city of 100,000 directly on the Polish border. The unnumbered problem: I got to the train station at about 12:38, meaning I had seven minutes to attempt to buy my ticket. This absolutely did not happen.

Elizabeth and I then spent about an hour and a half attempting to figure out whether it would be possible to take a bus to the border, and finally settled on the idea that the 19:45 train to Szczecin would be the least worst option. Overnight trains are never that great, but I had to be back in Golm by 3 on Monday for class, so I decided to just eat to keep myself awake and try to get some reading done. I wandered around Krakow for some time, bid Elizabeth good-bye, and got to the station by 6:45. This is the earliest I have ever been for anything ever, which makes the following events even more unfair.

It turns out that, in Poland, every platform has two different tracks. In Germany, the layout is the same, but the tracks are called, for instance, "Track 3" and "Track 4." In my case, all I knew was that I was leaving from platform 3. The big sheet of paper listing all departing trains was behind a pane of glass that was sort of fogged over, so I couldn't really read what was going on. My ticket didn't have a train number on it (or the platform number, or really any other useful information).

While I was waiting on the platform, a huge long train pulled up, bound for Berlin, and made up entirely of sleeping cars. I thought to myself "man, I wish that was my train." I had paid 62 złote, or $20, for my ticket, so such luxury was quite unthinkable. But in fact it turns out that that was indeed my train. It apparently was going through Szczecin on the way to Berlin. Despite the fact that Berlin is on the way to Szczecin (if you ask Google Maps). I instead got on the train a couple minutes later from the same platform (but the other track), bound for Trzebinia. Which is actually really near Kraków. I really should have realised that this was not my train, as it was really tiny, but I had just got into my head that the other train was definitely not my train. And this was an assumption I absolutely failed to question.

When the ticket-taker women came by, she looked at my ticket and spoke some rapid Polish. When I told her "Ja nie rozumiem," she sighed and started shouting into her walkie-talkie. She conversed in this fashion for at least ten minutes, and then finally came back to me and tried to make me understand. But she wouldn't talk slowly, so I couldn't get any information. Eventually another passenger volunteered some broken English, and I learned that I should get off at Trzebinia and wait for another train. So I did. The ticket taker literally led me by the arm to my platform and then waited for two minutes with me, until my train came. She was so kind, even though we couldn't communicate at all. I told her "Dziękuję bardzo," and climbed on the other train. The ticket-taker man on that train also didn't speak any foreign languages, but he managed to communicate to me that I had to move all the way to the back of the train, so I did.

So there I was, in the last compartment on a train bound for I knew not where, at night, with no one to talk to in English, German, or Russian. And that's actually the climactic moment of the story. Sorry.

Eventually a different, English-speaking ticket-taker man came and told me to get off the train at 10:00 in Katowice and wait for the midnight train to Szczecin. So I did. Katowice was boring and depressing and a little bit cold, but eventually the train came. On this particular train, there were no free places, but I heard a small group of student age people speaking English in the hall, so I asked them what was the deal with Polish Rail. They didn't know.

The group of people turned out to be two Spanish girls, a Hungarian girl, and a Polish guy. The girls were studying abroad in Poland, and the guy had apparently been grilling them about their opinions on Polish men. I scared him away, for which I received many thanks. Anyway they shared a little bit of food, and we commiserated about Polish Rail. And then we all sort of fell asleep sitting up in the hallway, except the one girl who was studying for an exam. Finally, at Wrocław, the train emptied out, and we went to get a compartment. The rest of the trip was really uneventful. The girls got out at Poznań, and then eventually, at about 9 in the morning, the train reached Szczecin. I then was able to catch another train back to Berlin, and to Golm. I will presumably never see those kind foreigners again (I actually forget their names), but I cannot imagine how miserable I would have been without them.

One more annoyance: I had dropped my student ID on the way out the door to my dorm in Golm, and my ID doubles as my rail pass within Berlin-Brandenburg. So I actually had to buy a 9€ ticket back to Golm from Angermünde, which made me pretty unhappy. I arrived in Golm at 1, after 17 hours in transit.


  1. Eek, I am sorry to hear that that's what happened! I fail as a tour guide. At least you'll never ever have to see Polish rail again for a really, really long time.

  2. At least you did't have to shovel coal in to the boiler!!!!!