Night Train from Krakow (Fear – Indie 30 Day 6)

Night Train from Krakow (Fear – Indie 30 Day 6)

Bootsnall prompt: Just as travel can be fun and exciting, it can also have its challenging, or even downright scary, moments. Being in a new place pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us face our fears. Tell about a time you had to face your fear when traveling, and what was the result.

Pigeons squawked and waddled between our feet in the waiting room of the Krakow train station.  Two men in patched winter coats were speaking to each other in rapid Polish and kept looking over at my brother and me, the only foreigners in the place. We were accustomed to bright western train stations with clean linoleum floors, flourescent lighting, and uncomfortable plastic seats in shades of bright orange. But this place was more like what would happen in a barn mated with a train station: utter chaos, birds and dirt everywhere, and uncomfortable seats in shades of gray.

My brother, Ryan, looked out the grubby window of the station into the dark city of Krakow, “Maybe we should go back to the hostel and take a morning train.”

“But we already bought the tickets,” I said pulling my coat tighter around me to shut out the cold.

 “But the guidebook says to avoid night trains – especially popular tourist routes like the one to Berlin.”

“I told you that before we bought the tickets – it didn’t bother you then.” His opinion, as we sat at my kitchen table in Florence planning our spring break excursion, was that the route he took from Romania to Turkey a few months prior had been higher risk for theft than this one – so why waste a travel day on the train?  I’d agreed. If Ryan wasn’t nervous, I wouldn’t be either.

One of the pigeons flew across the room and frightened another group of pigeons into flight.  They swirled around and landed almost exactly where they’d been before.  “Maybe we should ask a ticket agent or a guard about safety,” Ryan said.

I agreed and approached a ticket agent with the question.  Guidebook in hand, I walked up to the ticket counter, “Dzien dobry.”  Hello. The squat, dark haired woman behind the counter ignored me.  I stood there for almost a full minute before she spoke.  I didn’t understand what she said, but she fixed me with an annoyed glare that I took as my cue to try the phrase, “Nie mówię dobrze po polsku.” I don’t speak much Polish.  Followed by, “Czy ktoś tu mówi po angielsku?” Does anyone here speak English?  Her answer? “Nie.” No.

I looked helplessly at Ryan.  That was all I had.  There was no equivalent to the question “Is the overnight train safe?” in the back of the guidebook and even if there had been, I couldn’t have understood more than a yes or no answer.  And do you think she really would’ve told us no?  “Dziękuję.” Thank you, I said to the ticket agent and turned to go back to the waiting room.  We would take the train.

“Okay,” Ry said as we sat back down among the pigeons, “The trick to not getting robbed is to look like the craziest motherfucker on the train.”

“Like this?” I joked, and began to engage a pigeon in conversation, “Hi, what’s your name?  Do you speak English?  Angielsku?”

“I’m never traveling with you again.” Ryan said.

“Oh, come on, no one will harm a pigeon charmer!  We’ll catch a couple of them to protect us.”

“Great idea…”

“Got any better ones?” I countered.

“I’ve got a titanium spork and a mini Mag-Lite in my backpack.”

An announcement came over the loudspeaker in Polish and then was repeated in German, “That’s us,” said Ry, who speaks a bit of German, “Track 5.”  We walked out towards the platforms, once we were outside it was dark and we couldn’t see the tracks, just the dim lights of our train on the far end of the station. I didn’t like the dark. My hands were shaking and I fumbled with the shoulder straps of my backpack to give them something to do as we walked further from the station, which suddenly seemed rather friendly, and closer to our train on a far platform.

Before we boarded the train, the conductor took our tickets and passports so that he could give them to the border guards in the middle of the night.  I was reluctant to give mine up, but what choice did we have? We chose an empty six-berth compartment and claimed the bottom two bunks.  The train was comfortable and clean, much nicer than the station.

“I think this train is German. It looks like the ones I’ve taken there before,” said Ryan.

There was only one other passenger in our compartment, a young man from Berlin that my brother exchanged a few words with in German as he hung his head out the window to smoke a cigarette. I climbed into my bunk and slept with my wallet and cell phone tucked close to my body. I wished I had possession of my passport, which feels so like a security blanket when on foreign soil. I slept fitfully burdened by dreams of thieves reaching in through a window over my bunk to pluck my wallet from my sleeping form and men who banged on our compartment door while screaming in Polish until the lock broke and they entered with knives in hand. Ridiculous dreams, dreams of things that weren’t even possible, but dreams that manifested the fears we had hyped upon ourselves in the train station.

In the morning, we arrived in Berlin with all our possessions and our bodies intact. We went to our hostel, dropped off our stuff, and spent the day walking in a beautiful city very pleased we had taken the overnight train so we could maximize our time there and trying to remember why we had been so scared in the first place.


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