I think everyone has that one city that only seems to deal them negative vibes, mine is Katowice. Close to the border with Czech Republic, Katowice is a Polish industrial town and the likely connection stop for any train transport headed through the western border. Being that it is such a hub, you would think they must have a pretty nice station right? Negative Ghostwriter. As I may have mentioned in my last post, Katowice train station is the pits. Confusing, dirty and full of unpleasant shady people, if you find yourself changing trains there, beware.
As I was making my way to Krakow, my nifty EuroCity train came to a halt in Katowice. From there I knew I had to purchase a connecting ticket for the 2 hour remainder of my journey. Sauntering up to the ticket counter I gave my best travelers smile and asked for a ticket to Krakow. In response to my request I received a cold blank stare. I slowly started to repeat myself but before I could finish the attendant was railing off some Polish, printing a ticket and requesting a sum of money. Of course she wouldn’t be bothered to tell me the train number, time of departure or platform, I was summarily shooed off so she could assist the next person in line. Using the sparse information printed on the ticket (most fields were left blank), I consulted the Arrivals/Departures chart and tried to make sense of the mess. Ultimately I went with my instincts and choose the platform I felt was correct in my gut, I’d been lucky so far. Boarding a much older train than the EuroCity (we’re talking 70s era) and taking an unassigned seat in a musty traditional 4 person train cabin, I settled in for what should be the final 2 hour leg. After about an hour, an attendant came by to punch my stub and the suprise in his face said it all, I had obviously gotten on the wrong train. He didn’t speak English, but his hand gestures indicating I was heading the opposite direction of Krakow told me all I needed to know. I gathered from his broken English that at the next stop I would be switching trains, obviously. What I didn’t realize was how quickly that next train would be departing the station. Slowing down for the next station and before the train had come to a complete stop, I was bring urged out the door by the attendant, frantically pointing and trying to express that I needed to get over to the train 2 platforms away. The quickest suggested method; literally jumping 4 feet down into the greasy train tracks and clambering over metal and concrete with my bag slung over my shoulder… 10 heart-pounding seconds later I made it into the other train just as the car was lurching forward. Relieved to have made it, but frustrated by my mistake, I found a seat and prepared for what would now be a 4 hour trip instead of 2 hours.
6 days later when it came time to leave Krakow, I was headed this time to see a friend in Ostrava, Czech Republic. A shorter journey than before, I approached the ticket counter brimming with confidence, but there it was again, an ominous connection in Katowice. Since there was no direct train with Ostrava, I had to book a ticket to Katowice and hope that I could get my ticket to Ostrava from there. A decent train and a fairly smooth ride to Katowice, so far so good. Once I reached Katowice I again approached the sour old crone in the ticket booth, this time she had pleasure of informing me that the only train departing for Ostrava would be at 11:57pm. At the time it was around 1:00pm. Since I was already there and had no other apparent option (Katowice is apparently technologically isolated as well, so no WiFi) I bought the ticket. Ostrava was literally only 2 hours away, but I wasn’t about to start hitchhiking. So now I had about 12 hours to waste in a small Polish town with no Internet and hardly any English, oh well, Ive had worse layovers in airports. I spent a few hours walking around the area to try a little sightseeing. Once my shoulders were sufficiently aching from the weight of my pack I stopped that nonsense and took a seat on a bench in a quaint little city park.
There I ended up staying for a good portion of my day, reading and people watching. It’s always interesting to watch people in a foreign country just going about thier business. There were moments I felt as if I was back in the States, but then a passing gypsy or doner kebap vendor would remind me I was still far from home. Needless to say, I got pretty darn bored by the end of that day and as day faded into night I sought refuge in a nearby restaurant. The one positive of the purgatory that was Katowice was that restaurant. I was the only customer and they didn’t serve beer (which at this point I really wanted) but I had the most incredible Polish pancakes stuffed with ham, strong cheese and mushrooms. They looked like burritos but they were far from it.
Finally, the witching hour had arrived and I boarded my midnight train to Ostrava. It was supposed to be only a 2 hour ride, putting me at my destination around 2am, just enough time to meet my friend Chris for some post-bar late night food. However, Katowice still wasn’t done messing with me. At around 1am I was waging war against the pull of sleep. I couldn’t afford to doze off and miss my stop in Ostrava. I tried music, reading and finally resorted to standing up in the train car. Coming down the home stretch I was starting to lose the battle with the sandman, then we came to an abrupt stop. I looked out the window to confirm that we were not yet in Ostrava and indeed, we were only in a dark train stop somewhere in the outskirts of town. We were stopped 10 minutes, then 20, then 40. When the delay mounted to 2 hours my curious confusion turned to outward rage, but I was too sleepy to do anything about it. Besides, there was literally no one around to ask, or punch. I surmise that this stop was in order to switch tracks and split the train, but an announcement confirming that would have been nice. 4am came around and finally I felt the forward movement of the train. From that moment it was only about 15 minutes to the final stop at Ostrava Hln. I could have walked…oh well, the sun was rising and I hadn’t slept in close to 24 hours. I was simply looking forward to laying down my pack and getting some rest. Hopefully I’ve seen the last of Katowice, but I get the feeling it’s going to be like a bad penny, considering I will be traveling back toward Poland in a few weeks…