Warsaw


Days 7 to 11, 7th to 11th Sept 2017 – Warsaw.

I’m writing this on my last day in Warsaw and I’ll be catching the train to Minsk in Belarus later on this evening. I find I can recollect better when memory has consolidated eve0nts of the day and my hippocampus has done its job after a night’s sleep. I’ll continue this in Minsk and maybe also Moscow.

I left Berlin on 6th Sept. It was hot and sunny. The train was meant to go direct to Warsaw but for some strange reason, the Berlin to Frankfurt leg was by bus. It took 2 hours to get there but the bus was very good. It was a double decker built for long haul and very quiet and comfy; certainly not the creaky old 44a from the pillar to Dollymount.

We arrived at Frankfurt earlier than expected and no stress finding and boarding train. The train itself was a sleek Polish Railways IC one and instead of the usual serried rows of captive passengers we were in compartments of 6; with a sliding glass door, no less. A lot of Polish people seem huge and the other guy in the compartment sure was huge. He was also the spitting image of Liam Neeson and really pushed out the definition of manspread. He didn’t say a word during the whole journey. Halfway through, two women got on but didn’t speak English. The train itself was very long and I rambled up and down a bit when I got tired. 

One of the great advantages of traveling by train is being able to get up and stretch your legs. I walked down to the restaurant car and had a snack and looked at the passing scenery through the panoramic windows. It was very different to the Köln to Berlin train and was not quiet. It was like walking into an Irish pub. Loads of people crammed around tables having the craic and downing staggering amounts of beer from huge bottles. The corridors were similar. People chatting and talking and laughing. Very different from Germany.

It recently dawned on me that this is the first trip for a while where the trip itself is the main event and not just part of an event. The last few times I went on big trips around Asia, I was on my way back from work in Thailand or Hong Kong and had lots of time to wind my way back home. Also, all the acclimatisation had been done and my O’Fauna and MacFlora had forgotten what a spud or a lump of overboiled cabbage looked like. On the way over, following long flights, I was stepping into a strong work context and had to be up and running almost from the start. There were really 2 different processes and they both their own footprint, as it were; the short journey there and the long journey back.

This time, there really wasn’t a destination, more an intention to end up somewhere by travelling through somewhere and then continuing on to somewhere else. It was all about the journey. Also, my plans were not set in concrete. I planned for what needed planning, such as visas and train tickets for a few rare and overbooked trips. Apart from that, everything else is left to Whim, the god of chance. I find this way of travelling very liberating although it can increase the chances of something getting buggered up somewhere along the line. I do keep my eye on the ball though, especially public holidays where accommodation might not be available or days I was hoping to travel when no trains were running that day, etc.

Because of my psychological makeup I have a tendency to push on despite my body saying Stop. Indeed, due to general excellent physical health, I really have no concept of my body except as pink thing, a bit like a turkey’s wattle, dangling about under my jawbone. When the occasional ache or pain intrudes, I take a tablet, a potion or a lotion or rub on a bit of ointment and it disappears almost as quick as it came. This has generally been the case for most of my life. Now that I’m older, this is slowly changing but not alarmingly so.

When I go away on holidays for a week or two, I know that the first few days is about being poleaxed; where my head surrenders to the clamor of my body and I allow myself to feel exhausted. I give myself permission to feel the built-up stress. How daft is that! I sometimes get flu like symptoms but this soon clears up and by the third day or so I’m generally tickedyboo.

I knew something like this would happen during this trip so I factored in Poland to enable it to emerge. Sorry Poland, it’s nothing personal. Well, emerge it did. I was really exhausted for half of my time in Warsaw. I still got out and about but I was really dragging myself along. Luckily there’s a great public transport system here so I got a 72hr travel pass and zoomed around on trams, stopping off when the fancy took me.

As luck would have it, a small event occurred that has big consequences for me. I got blisters on heels of both feet. Not unsurprising given that I was doing a lot of walking and had new boots. The boots were mainly for cold weather and were consequently quite hot; unpleasantly hot actually. But not smelly! I think the heat inhibited healing or maybe a bug entered where the skin was broken, a bug unfamiliar to my immune system. Anyway, both blisters became infected and became very painful. Walking became a chore and then almost impossible. I went to A&E last Sunday in Warsaw and got some antibiotics and special plasters. Fortunately I had brought my European Health Insurance Card with me so the treatment was free. It’s still not healed yet and walking is still different. Maybe I should learn to listen to my body sooner?

One of the huge advantages of being in AA is the instant friendship network existing all over the world. I always prioritise attending an AA meeting when travelling. This is not because I’m at risk of relapse or feeling the need for support. Not at all, after all these years, I’m effectively cured. I go because of the collective wisdom and individual compassion I experience at meetings. I also feel right at home in an AA room. One of the pitfalls of travelling like I do at the edge of my comfort zone and away from my support network is a sort of ennui or weltschmerz, to use that wonderful German expression. The intense interpersonal connections I get at meetings soon banishes such states. I went to meetings in Berlin and Warsaw and my face became known and I got to know people. Cool.

I’ll be leaving for Moscow later this evening and will write later about my experiences of traveling there, the mysterious White Russian woman I met on the train, Soviet-era immigration and East Berlin reborn.

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