The same dziewczyna with whom I travelled through Laos extended an invitation to stay with her and her family in Bydgoszcz. They graciously accepted me into their home, generously fed me and gave me a glimpse into their day-to-day lives. I was lucky enough to stay for a week.
The apartment was a comfortable place. Not only did the shower have a built-in radio and TV, the toilet sung too! When you opened the door and turned on the light, the radio came on! So all those pips and squeaks are covered up by none other than ’80s and early ’90s pop rock! Amazing invention. The only downfall is when you wake up and have to go the radio is a little startling.
One thing that confused me when I first walked into the apartment was where the bedrooms were. Sure, I was shown them but I was confused as to where the actual beds were. As I was to find out, my host family had couches that doubled as beds! As I was to find out, this seems to be common in much of Eastern Europe.
One morning I tried to make “Canadian style” eggs for the mother but my effort was less than stellar. What are Canadian scrambled eggs? Eggs, milk, sausage, pepper. That’s it. And it failed to impress. I believe it was missing maple syrup and bacon. Why didn’t I try to make French toast? At least the effort appears greater. It is here I learned that if you’re going to stay at someone’s house, make sure you are ready with one or two recipes to impress the folks.
Bydgoszcz (Bid-gosh-ch) itself is a moderate-sized city of 500,000 and offers a vintage look of what Poland was like before the war. Although a quarter of the population (then 200,000) was killed at the hands of the Nazis, the city itself wasn’t destroyed as much as other cities. As a result, Bydgoszcz has a very old look to it. (The city’s website, however, boasts a simple, but neat music section.)
We spent a lot of time walking the streets, visiting pubs and cafes in between viewing churches and the basilica. We stopped by quite a few churches, most of which I forget the names, except St. Peter and Paul’s… only because I took a picture of the sign. On my first night in Bydgoszcz we caught up and practiced Polish at a neat pub in a boat, called Barka, on the river. Lastly, we went out with some of her friends (one of whom said that carrying a small bottle of vodka in my jacket pocket is a “sign” of a problem) to a local pub in which there was a Belarusian musician with an accordion, kinda like the American version of Jason Webley. He sang mostly Polish and Russian songs but obliged when I asked for Ukrainian songs.
We also went to the ballet… for kids. There was a limited engagement of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the Opera Nova. My friend was thrilled to see the ballet but I was thinking of the small bottle of “research” I had left in my jacket pocket which was at the coat check. I’ll give it to the performers, especially the dwarves: they did a marvellous job of conveying the story through dance and pantomime.
After the ballet, we headed to a cafe called Cukierna Sowa, apparently it’s a local start-up. A swank joint, it had a live pianist who played classical music. I wanted to request something but my friend dissuaded me unless I asked for them in Polish. I relented. He was good. We also visited their second, more prominent, shop at the base of the bridge at ulicia Mostowa 4. They offer a wide variety of coffee creations, some with alcohol and others without. Both were neat places.
There was also the day my friend wanted to donate blood, something her parents told her not to do. She said it would be no problem… and then fainted. The amusing part about the episode is that it happened the day after an argument we had about Polish health care. We had both experienced health issues in SE Asia, she had dengue fever and I was bitten by a dog. But I told her: “This trip, I am determined to stay out of hospitals, especially Polish and Ukrainian ones.” Naturally, she thought I was overreacting and we argued about the state of Polish health care. Seriously, what do I know about Polish health care? Nothing. And I kinda like it that way.
So when she fainted, I seriously thought she was just joking around. Kind of like, haha Steve, I’ll show you. Surprise surprise, it was a true faint. No harm done, an IV and an hour later she was fine. The nurses promptly picked her up and moved her into her own room. They took very good care of her and even told her father and I to put away our cameras as we were causing undue stress. On the plus side, the episode convinced me that the Polish health care system works rather well.
After the Great Blood-Giving Debacle we were supposed to go to Torun. I said it was fine if we didn’t go since my friend needed to rest. However, after some Polish conversation it was decided we were going anyway. Kudos to my friend for having the strength to carry on despite the eventful morning!
And with that, the three of us: father, daughter and me, hopped into the car and drove to Torun.