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Ask anyone who travels quite a bit if they ever run into any stressful related travel incidents and you’ll likely receive an enthusiastic eye roll accompanied by a scoff, or a big ‘ol sigh.
Travelling can be rewarding in many ways. It can also be challenging and just like how everyone has epic travel days, some can be downright stressful and leave you feeling absolutely defeated.
I’ve definitely had my fair share of “travel day troubles” throughout my solo journeys, but in the end, everything always works out…eventually.
During my recent solo travels through Poland, I experienced one of my most stressful solo travel days to date, I think? No…yup, it definitely was. As I was planning my trip, I sort of experienced foreshadowing into what this date would entail (Oct 27th 2020, to be exact) because when I was planning out my next stop along my trip, there were a bunch of transfers to be made in small towns, where not many people would be speaking English and if a connection was missed, there was only one a day.
“Great. This should be interesting,” I thought.
Oct 27th, 2020 was the travel day I was internally dreading. I was heading to Nowy Targ, which is a town in the Podhale region in a valley beneath the Gorce Mountains and I was to arrive from the town of Żywiec.
I was really looking forward to spending two days surrounded by incredible scenery and wandering around Nowy Targ’s historical market square, exploring some nature reserves and trying some of their famous ice cream, since I’ve heard the best ice cream comes from Nowy Targ.
Before I could enjoy any of those things, I had to get there and boy, what a chore that was. My original plan to get to Nowy Targ was to take a train from Żywiec back to Bielsko-Biała then take a connecting train to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona (ya, try saying that one) and then finally from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona, I’d take a final train to Nowy Targ. Sounds pretty easy, right?
Oh, it wasn’t.
After making my way to the Żywiec train station, I double checked my schedule and I was early, so I took a seat and enjoyed my yummy strawberry jam filled pączek in the station and waited patiently for my train to arrive.
Like clockwork, my train pulled up right on schedule and off I went to Bielsko-Biała.
Everything ran smoothly taking the train from Żywiec to Bielsko-Biała and I even had time to spare to make my connecting train without rushing.
As I walked into the station to check the platform number for the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona train, I saw that the screen said “BUS.”
Bus? What bus? I’m supposed to be on a train. I quickly made my way inside the train station to ask the lady at the ticket counter if she spoke some English, so I could figure this out. Of course, she didn’t speak any English, so it was a game of “try to get Tosh to the right place in a hurry.”
Apparently, the trains along that rail line were converted to bus service due to track maintenance for about a month. Great.
*Insert big ‘ol sigh here*
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I managed to make somewhat sense of what she was saying, or so I thought and bolted outside to find the bus station. After stopping another man who spoke English, he pointed me in the right direction and off I went. I reached the bus station and asked a girl if this was the right area for the bus. She looked at my ticket and said, “Oh, this is a train ticket.” I mentioned that apparently the train had turned into a bus and asked if anyone was working inside the bus station. Of course there wasn’t. 😐
I was now trying desperately to find a bus that was leaving in ten minutes with no sign of success in sight.
I just said fuck it and walked back towards the train station where I saw a bus waiting and thought maybe, just maybe that was my bus. Out of breathe at this point and frustrated, I kindly showed the bus driver my ticket and asked if that was my bus, he spoke no English, but I understood that he said that my ticket was for the train. Ugh…if I had to hear that one more time, I think I would’ve snapped. He then proceeded to literally shut the door on my body to push me away and he drove off. LOL WTF! 😐
Feeling completely defeated at this point, I made my way back to the train station, stood on the platform and just ran out of things to do to help me find out where to go. I missed my connection to my next destination, which was the only connection that day.
*Insert second big ‘ol sigh*
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I was to the point where I felt like just eating the cost and taking a cab, but then, just when I was almost at my breaking point, a travel miracle happened.
The train’s ticket inspector came out of the train on the platform and asked in Polish where I was going. He didn’t speak much English, but he still tried to help me. He went on the train and asked if anyone spoke English. Lo and behold, a man comes to the doorway and he is wearing a Nova Scotia t-shirt. What are the chances of THAT!?
We chatted about my dilemma and him and the ticket inspector tried every train and bus route to help me out. The ticket inspector even called to the bus that I was supposed to be on and asked him if he could wait, but he had already left. Ya don’t say!
*Insert enthusiastic eye roll here*
After much deliberation, the Nova Scotia t-shirt wearing man, whose name was Cris, said, “Ok, you’re coming back to Żywiec with us on this train and you will take this bus to this place then from there a train to Nowy Targ,” as he started writing names of stations and times down on a piece of paper for me. I couldn’t believe the absolute selflessness of these people, who I didn’t know, helping me out like this. The ticket inspector mentioned he was ending his shift at Żywiec, so he would show me which bus to take and which platform to wait on. He even let me ride back on the train for free! I was blown away and never experienced help like this. To add to the kindness factor, if you could even add anything else, Cris gave me 20 złoty for my bus. No matter how much I declined, Cris insisted I take it because he wanted me to reach my destination safely. He gave me his telephone number and told me not to hesitate to call him in case anyone gave me troubles and he “knew people” that would help me. LOL
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Once the train pulled up, I thanked Cris for all his help as he insisted on carrying my luggage off the train. Once I said my goodbyes, Cris mentioned that I was to text him as soon as I reach my destination safely. I laughed, nodded and said, “Yes, of course!”
The train’s ticket inspector then walked me over to the bus station and tried to explain to me which platform the bus would be picking me up at to head to my next destination of Sucha Beskidzka and from Sucha Beskidzka, I’d make my way to Nowy Targ. Finally! Things seemed to start falling into place…or were they?
Not quite. 😛
As I sat at the bus stop awaiting for my mini-bus to pull up, a young girl walks up and we start chit chatting about my travels, why I chose Poland, the Rona and politics. This girl was a smart cookie! I enjoyed talking to her. After a few minutes of talking, I asked for her name, since we just started talking without formally introducing ourselves. Her name was Katarzyna and she was just 19 years old, but spoke so elegantly and calmly. She kept apologizing for her English, but her English was some of the best I’ve heard throughout my travels. I asked her to watch my bags as I ran to the washroom and when I came back we continued chatting about how I was trying to get to Nowy Targ and we laughed about my crazy morning so far. Keep in mind that it wasn’t even 10:30am by the time all of this has happened.
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The bus finally rolled up and she spoke Polish to the driver to explain where I was going and the bus driver said something back to her and I just knew by the look on his face, that this was going to get interesting. Here we go.
“He said the connection at Sucha Beskidzka to Nowy Targ does not run today, but you can come with us in this bus back up to Kraków then take another bus down to Nowy Targ.”
*Insert wide eyed opened mouth reaction here*
I looked at the driver then at Katarzyna and said, “Well, I guess I don’t have a choice, now do I?”
We both laughed and I paid the driver for my ticket to Kraków and off we went.
During the bus ride, we made our way through the winding country roads of Poland, making many stops to pick up and drop off passengers. The trip was to last about two hours, so I buckled into my seat and enjoyed chatting with Katarzyna about her schooling, her friends and life in Poland. She even showed me her village and house where she lived as we drove by it.
We shared many laughs, candies and chocolates as we made our way up to Kraków and she poked fun at how I pronounced Sucha Beskidzka (correctly it should be suxa besˈkeetska) as “Soochka bes’keetska.” She was telling me that my way of saying it was basically like saying fuck, or bitch. LOL. It was turning out to be a great day and in a situation like the one I was experiencing, I would usually be swearing my head off and getting really agitated, but Katarzyna’s company really helped calm me. She was absolutely SO kind to me, despite being complete strangers not even 30 minutes prior to getting on that bus.
After two hours on the road, we were approaching Kraków’s bus station and Katarzyna was even so kind as to look up the next bus that would be heading back south to Nowy Targ. We were pulling into the station and I was trying to undo my seat belt, but it was jammed. Hahaha! What ELSE could possibly happen to me this day? I kept trying, but I was stuck in the seat. We were both looking at each other and laughing as we both tried to undo the seat belt. Finally at the last minute, we got it undone and we burst out laughing when I mentioned that if we were in a fiery car crash, I’d be stuck in the damn bus and just left to burn alive. LOL Morbid? Ya. Funny? Also ya! 😀
As I got off the bus, said my thanks to the driver, I made my way to the money exchange booth to exchange some euros from a previous trip of mine to some złoty. Katarzyna didn’t leave my side until she knew I would be on my way on the bus. As I collected my money, I offered some to Katarzyna to buy herself a coffee for helping me out, but she kept refusing. She just said that she liked helping me and was glad that I was able to make it to my destination. We exchanged Instagram handles and gave each other a hug before I stepped onto the bus and waved goodbye as it pulled away from the station.
As I sat back in my seat and watched the streets of Kraków out of the window, I took a deep sigh of relief and took the next two hours to reflect on the day I just had, the people I met and enjoy the bus ride back south to Nowy Targ.
It’s travel days like these ones that make me have faith in humanity still and honestly, these days it’s harder for me to say that. Despite the fact that the Rona is/was around and everyone was wearing masks (for the most part lol), not a single person that helped me treated me like a disease laden traveller. They welcomed me me with open arms, quite literally and treated me with the same respect that I showed towards them. They didn’t sanitize their hands after shaking mine to greet me, or see me off and they never once told me to keep my six feet distance.
Polish people have the tendency to have a “cold, or unfriendly” reputation put upon their personalities by others, but I can tell you first hand that I truly experienced warm Polish hospitality and kindness on Oct 27th 2020.
To this day, I still keep in touch with Cris and Katarzyna and talk about how life is in Poland, how our families are doing and loosely talk about when I will return to Poland and think about the days when we will meet up again.
Yes, travelling does have its stressful days like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but it’s days like Oct 27th 2020 that make me realize that when you just go with the flow and trust that things will come together as they should, it makes those harder days seem worth it in the end by living through an experience and meeting great people along the way.
And yes, I did text Cris and Katarzyna the moment I made it safely to Nowy Targ. 😉
Do you guys have a feel good story of a travel day that seemed to be the worst day ever, but it turned out to be one of your most memorable days of your trip? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your stories. xo