Or "How I got to Mazuria. It's not as straight-forward as you'd think"
Mazuria is the Polish lake district, and possibly the most popular holiday spot in the country. Despite this, much of the countryside has remained largely unspoiled, and thus is home to many rare and endemic plant and bird species. Since the lakes are interlinked by rivers and canals, the only practical way of travelling through the area is by renting a boat, or perhaps, if you do not own a yachting license, both a boat and a skipper.
I spent six weeks in Poland in summer 2005, working with an architecture office in Warszawa on a traineeship. It was arguably my best holiday to date. On my first weekend I travelled to Gdansk and Gdynia where I caught a WS concert. My subsequent weekends were spent in Krakow, Wroclaw, Mazury and Berlin (Germany) - and yes, eventually, I did spend one weekend in Warsaw. I had mapped out where I wanted to visit before jetting off to Polska, reasoning that I'd iron out the details as soon as I'd get there. This from the girl whose travel-smart boyfriend had to spell out how to get from the Berlin-Tegel airport to the Berlin Ostbahnhof train station. Really, he gave me six pages of explanations, maps and bus departure times.
The trip to Krakow was organised by IAESTE Poland. No plus points there. The trip to Gdansk and Gdynia was made easy by the fact that ten other trainees were interested, and a Polish new buddy of ours agreed to travelling with us. Having a Polish-speaker sure did help, because it takes time and patience to master "Prosze bilet weekendowy do... Jedna."
Anyway. Mazury. As time passed, I began to realise that my hopes of travelling to Mazuria were little more than an impossible dream. Poland is subject to much in-bred travelling, for lack of a better term - incredibly, most tourists signs are written in the Polish language making getting around not such a straight-forward feat. Much of the older generation is composed of non-English speakers - when they realise you are not understanding their franctic hand gestures, they usually refer to the "LOUDER AND SLOWER" technique. So top this with the fact that the land morphology makes travelling by bus or train a laughable option, and that I wasn't planning on spending my budget on hiring my own personal skipper. Or swimming through the lakes for that matter.
So why the obsession in the first place... why not catch the first train to the Tatras instead? Well, see - afore-mentioned boyfriend's dad is a well-noted travel guide rounds these parts, and whenever I'd mention I was off to Poland, all I'd get out of him was "Mazuria, Mazuria! You have to see Mazuria! It's a ramblers paradise... wild swans... Its woods conceal bunkers... they're overgrown now... built by the Germans in WW II." Inevitably, I reckoned the trip would be worth my while.
Mmm. One other detail. When BF retorted that I'd never manage to make my way up there, oh ho ho, he sealed the deal. Damn my blasted competitive spirit!. (c.f. Why I tried to learn more Polish words than you).
Slightly intoxicated girl trots into the oddly-named Loch-Ness bar, after a long day of seeing what is to be seen in Krakow with her Polish boss. (c.f. The day I got drunk with my boss). All the other trainees were there, only they were planning on heading off to the gay club. We had a thing for gay clubs, in retrospect (c.f. le Madame). I was way too tired to move and was happy to have a beer with said boss, his friend, this other Polish guy who looks like Peter Pan, and a couple of burnt sausages. Glorious.
"So Ana Marja, tell us story - where have you visited in Poland... and where next?" said a couple of IAESTinians from Krakow, who kindly reverted to English to include me in their conversation. I didn't mind. I wanted to pick up as much Polish as possible (see above). And my "Woda Niegazowana" joke was getting old. Bonus traveller's tip: You'll be considered cute for trying to speak Polish. I cannot emphasise this enough. Being red-headed helps too.
I also cannot emphasise enough the power of piwo and piwo-inspired complaining. When I told them I was so saddened I would never see the beautiful glassy lakes, dance in the summer capital, or swim in joyful drunkeness and be unable to climb back on the boat, a long-haired skinny guy propped up his head, told me he had a free space on his boat, and that I was very welcome to join his crew in two weeks time! I later found out that he had someone misinterpreted my heartfelt rant and understood that I wanted to visit the Lakes because my mother is Polish and from that area. Now how did that get that idea? *whistles*.
It was happening. I do remember stammering for a while. Peter Pan interjected "She'll think about it." They exchanged emails on my behalf.
It was awesome.