Category Archives: Poland

Poland and Ukraine: The Homelands

Canada: Winnipeg, The Great Canadian Shield bus trip, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto
Poland: Warsaw, Łódż, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Sopot, Toruń, Poznań, Wrocław, Kraków, Auschwitz, Rzeszow, Lubaczow, Stare Brusno, Przemyśl
Ukraine: L’viv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Yeompil, Sokolivka

Although my trip to Poland and Ukraine was not as epic in terms of breadth as my Asian adventures, it was much more epic in terms of its personal meaning and maturation. I’ve added another 2 country stamps to my passport and a bunch more cities to my little Facebook travel map.

Polish FlagIt was an eye-opening experience to visit Poland and Ukraine. I can’t say I ever believed I’d go to Ukraine, nor Poland for that matter. The idea to go to Poland came as a result of meeting a very lovely Polish girl while travelling through southeast Asia in 2010. After hearing her talk about the country, the seed was planted to explore my ancestral homelands. And so, after 6 months in Canada, I ventured across the Atlantic ocean again and backpacked through Poland before doing a 4-month stint teaching ESL in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Visiting Ukraine was a shock to my system, however, and I’m still not sure I could formulate the reason why. I’d travelled before, I’d grown up in the Ukrainian-Canadian community and heard so much about the country, both good and bad. Several of my friends and family had gone there before me. But visiting the country myself was a shock. Thinking back, Ukraine isn’t as poor as folks make it out to be and despite numerous forums and message boards that boast horror stories of run-ins with the cops, nothing too major happened. The worst was brought upon me by overstaying my visa.

And now for the summary:

Canada

Greyhound busTaking the bus from Winnipeg on January 1st, we managed to hit a snowstorm as we crossed southern Ontario. During one stop for the night I managed to get myself into a little trouble thanks to a guy who fancied himself a fighter from “the other bus” that had left Winnipeg about 9 hours after we had. That left me with some busted glasses and my first story.

Finally making it to Ottawa, I stayed with family for Ukrainian Christmas and discussed my plans to go to Ukraine. I also had the chance to meet the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada. Although they gave me several contacts in Ukraine, I still felt the need to go exploring by myself.

Poland

Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland.On January 14th, I took off from Toronto to Warsaw, Poland since I’d heard that flying into the Boryspiel airport in Kyiv was extremely corrupt. I stayed in Poland for two months, immediately loving it. I was in Warsaw for a week before being persuaded to attend a crazy party in Łódż. While there, I auditioned for a Polish ice cream commercial… and failed.

After Łódż, I reconnected with the Polish girl who I had met in SE Asia in Bydgoscz and stayed there for a week. Her family was more than gracious in allowing me to stay in their apartment for such a lengthy period. We used Bydcity as a centre from which to explore Toruń, Gdańsk and Sopot. But Ukraine was calling.

Back to Warsaw I went and stayed for another 3 weeks contemplating getting a job there. Being a Canadian citizen, however, I thought it would be too difficult to get a EU work visa so I decided to leave. You might want to note that I didn’t try very hard to attain a work visa. It was Ukraine I wanted to go to. But before getting to Ukraine I had another little missions: finding an old cemetery in which a few of my ancestors are supposedly buried. But why go straight there when you can take the more adventurous and interesting route?

Poznan Goat ClockI took the train over to Poznań for a few days but there wasn’t much there other than an embarrassing run-in with the cops. I stayed for the great goat clock spectacle then boarded a train for Wrocław.

Wrocław was a neat city and it was there I met a former travel agent while we were both drunk and stumbling home at 5 in the morning. She gave me her number and we agreed to meet up later that day. She acted as my tour guide the entire weekend, showing me points of interest, facts about the city, and she even brought home made chocolate cake. She recommended I go to Kraków before Ukraine and, once in Ukraine, if I stayed in Lviv, she’d come and visit me.

Krakow Rynek at night.So off to Kraków I went. A much renowned city, Kraków was used by the Germans both as a ghetto for the Jews and a hang out for German officers. Steeped in history and untouched by the bomb-fucking that Warsaw got, Kraków is a picturesque city overrun by tourists and students. Kraków also serves as the base of operations to visit Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. I contemplated settling down and signing up for Polish lessons here. It was close to Ukraine, architecturally interesting, and I was beginning to run low on cash. But no, I had in mind to find a cemetery first (I don’t know why I didn’t think I couldn’t find it after getting a job.)

Rzeszow street at night Taking the train into Rzeszow, another picturesque city, I met up with a couple of hard-drinking Poles who introduced me to the daze-inducing Spirytus. After I recovered from that little adventure, I changed my mind and thought it would be possible to find Stare Brusno by bus. It would take longer, but be much cheaper than renting a car. Boy, that was a mistake.

The cemetery, located among the ruins of an old town called Stare Brusno, was about two hours outside of Rzeszow and the easiest way to get there would be to rent a car. My first attempt at trying to find Stare Brusno was to take a bus from Rzeszow to neighbouring Lubaczow whence I would take another bus to Stare Brusno. But while in Lubaczow, looking at the map and considering the infrequency of the bus schedule, I opted to return to Rzeszow and rent a car… my first time driving outside of Canada!

Back I went to Rzeszow to rent a car. Preparing for my solo roadtrip I brought some food and my recently purchased Behemoth and Lanki Lan Cds. The Great Steven Sirski Polish Solo Road Trip In Search of A Cemetery in Southeastern Poland had begun! (We are now in talks to make it into a feature length movie. Xaxaxa!)

Well, after a few wrong turns and sporadic blizzard-like conditions, I found the cemetery nestled amongst a forest, resting peacefully, stilted in time, sheltered from the rest of the world developing around it.

Snowy crosses in Stare BrusnoAnd such peace there was in Stare Brusno! Isolated cemeteries are very quiet and peaceful, but not in a frightening way. I noted that many of the tombstones had faded or been washed out. As a history graduate, you take note of these types of things. I also wondered who would care for such an old cemetery? Kinda makes you put life in perspective. I would find out later that there is a book being written about Stare Brusno and its inhabitants. If you’re interested, I can send you the contact details.

Goal accomplished, I had no more reason to stay in Poland unless I got a job. I debated the idea for another day but I knew where my heart wanted to go: Ukraine, my ancestral homeland, the country I’d heard so much about.

Ukraine

L'viv train station at night.I decided to go to Lviv. My cousin had been there two years prior and knew some folks who could help me get settled. Lviv it was.

Crossing the border into Ukraine wasn’t such a big deal, though the train station in Rzeszow wouldn’t sell me a ticket through to Ukraine. Instead, I took the train to Przemyśl and then had to find a bus that would take me over the border only to get in at 11 pm. I remember thinking just how unreal the entire situation was. I was finally visiting Ukraine!

What a rush it was! 11 pm. Lviv. I was in my ancestral homeland. If Stare Brusno was memorable, the fact that I was now in the country my grandparents came from was simply astounding. Hopping into a cab, I got a lift to the Kosmonaut Hostel near Shevchenko Park. This would be my base of operations while in L’viv. I was too excited to sleep and, after checking in, immediately went out for a walk in my new city. I didn’t stay out too long as I was wary of the cops and other thugs out at that time of night (it was a university district after all!)

I would spend a week getting drunk in Lviv – what would my grandparents think??? – sampling many types of vodka, experiencing the club scene and investigating the cafe culture before I would secure a job in Kharkiv on the other side of the country.

St Michael'sSo it was off to Kyiv on an overnight train to get trained for a few days before I was back on the night train again to Kharkiv. I would revisit Kyiv and spend a few days there taking in the sights, noting the split in the country that happens from West to East.

Stepping off of the train in Kharkiv, I simply had no idea what to expect. Nothing. For all the stories out there, all the blog posts, all the alcohol I’d consumed, nothing could prepare me for how I was going to react staying long term in Ukraine. I told my family back home I wouldn’t return until I was fluent in Ukrainian. Well, things didn’t turn out that way.

I stayed in Kharkiv for four months teaching ESL, touring around the city, sampling many types of horilka, making acquaintances with many of my students, and befriending a very nice lady in the neighbourhood. I spent Easter in Kharkiv and almost survived the full 5-hour church marathon, but retired an hour and a half shy of the finish mark. We went back for the blessing.

Kharkiv LeninTo be honest, I wanted to quit teaching in Kharkiv a week after being there. I didn’t like it but my boss talked me into staying. Not only would it make her life easier since the term was already starting (and she was pregnant), but she was sure that my view would change if I gave Kharkiv a chance.

She was partially correct. My view of Ukraine changed but my discomfort in Kharkiv didn’t. Not having the proper work visa was one problem, the other was the fact that I wanted to study Ukrainian and in my mind I could only study Ukrainian in L’viv. I wasn’t very happy about settling for a primarily Russian-speaking city with architecture that paled in comparison to L’viv.

I gave notice I would be leaving after my second semester. I just wanted to go. Not only that, a couple of my cousins were getting married in Canada and I wanted to attend the weddings. I didn’t want to be that cousin who disappeared from the wedding photos because of some reason like “he was busy working in a country he didn’t want to be in.”

Ukrainian village houseI made my way back through Ukraine on train (again), finally met my extended family in Ukraine and visited their village. Not only that, the friends I made in L’viv took me to see their home in the village as well. Such a difference between Ukrainian city and village life! By now I had less than a week to get back to Canada for my cousin’s wedding.

I said my goodbyes then made my way through the Polish-Ukrainian border, through Przemyśl and up to Warsaw. I flew back to Toronto in time to snag another bus from Toronto to Winnipeg. I got back just in time to attend the first wedding.

Back to Canada

Mission accomplished. I’ve been to Ukraine. I’ve seen the graves of my ancestors. I’ve walked on the land they called home. I’ve studied and learned a bit of Ukrainian and Russian. I’ve learned much more about Ukraine and Poland and those lessons are much more vivid as a result of being there myself. And now, after being out of the country for over seven months, I want to go back.

But not just yet. I have over adventures in mind and, really, I need to make more money before I head back to Ukraine so I’m not so broke the next time. Sure, Ukraine is cheap, but it’s not a good place to be if you don’t have much money (just ask the people who live there!)

For now, I’ll take the pictures and the writings and be content with the fact that at least I’ve visited my ancestral homeland. As for my Ukrainian, well, I’ll have to find a way to keep that alive while out of the country.

Przemyśl and Warsaw, Poland: A Return to… Civilization(?!)

Przemysl at night.
Przemysl at night.

And so after four months in Ukraine, I wanted to make my way back home for a cousin’s wedding to happen in July. After enduring yet another 23-hour train ride from Kharkiv to Lviv to visit my Ukrainian family, I took the bus from Lviv to Sheheni, on the Ukrainian-Poland border. I had overstayed my visa by a month and was anticipating some trouble at the border. I intended to renew it when I went to Lviv two months prior but I just never did.

The border guards were nice about it. “You overstayed, go see my boss.” So off I went to a little room where a mid-20s female border guard explained what I did wrong, scanned my passport, got me to sign a document stating that I knew what I was doing and under no duress, paid a fine ($65), and then walked across the border to Poland. Not so bad as I’d heard worse stories. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter too much but next time I visit Ukraine I’ll be sure to renew my visa anyway.

Hopping an inter-city bus I made my way to Przemyśl.

Przemyśl is a nice little town. I saw some signs for ESL schools and seriously thought about posting up shop there, or at least coming back at some point. I spent the day wandering around the ornate streets and visited several churches.

Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemysl pink building.
Przemysl pink building.
Franciscan Church interior.
Franciscan Church interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Przemysl street at night.
Przemysl street at night.

Przemysl sunsetI’d like to note the change between Ukraine and Poland is vast. First, it was difficult for me to switch back into Polish after speaking surzyk for the last four months. I tried to remember the Polish words I was taught but often Ukrainian or Russian came out instead. Further, life itself seemed different in Poland compared to Ukraine. As more than one ESL teacher I met told me, Ukraine offers more excitement compared to the Western world. In a word, Poland, Canada and other such Western countries were, simply “boring”. Both sets of women are extremely gorgeous, but the Polish seem to be a little more conservative in their manner of dress. Gone were the six-inch heels and visible underwear! The cost of things is noticeable as the Polish zloty is valued considerably more than the Ukrainian hryvnia. The cost difference is best realized by the Ukrainian babas (grandmothers) who offer Ukrainian horilka (vodka) and cigarettes on the Polish side of the border. Had I not been going back to Canada I would’ve bought a few bottles.

Speaking of bringing things across the border, the most notable difference between Ukraine and Poland – for me at least – was that there was no general distrust the law, unless you are breaking it. By way of contrast, in Ukraine, no one, absolutely no one would suggest you talk to a police officer unless there was no one else around. The cops in Poland, however, were very nice (which I can sadly tell you from experience.)

And with that, I hopped yet another late night bus back to Warsaw. The bus trip wouldn’t be without it’s uniqueness, such as a drunk man serenading another elderly lady. Four hours later I arrived in Warsaw. Again, the difference between Warsaw in winter and summer was huge. In winter Warsaw had such charm and colour. In summer? It looked like any other western city. I don’t hold it against Poland, however, as I had just come from a developing country. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with my former co-worker who had described the West as “boring”! It’s kinda shocking to go from a developed country into a developing country, especially when they’re right beside each other. How can it be that these things happen?

I took another walk around Warsaw to enjoy the last of my stay in my homelands. Another chapter, another trip, was closing. Although I was glad to leave Ukraine at the time, as time passes I miss the country more every day. I’m excited for the future for both Poland and Ukraine and truly hope that things will improve for both peoples.

So, after visiting my homelands I could only wonder, what next?

Warsaw in summertime.
Warsaw in summertime.

Przemyśl and Warsaw, Poland: A Return to… Civilization(?!)

Przemysl at night.
Przemysl at night.

And so after four months in Ukraine, I wanted to make my way back home for a cousin’s wedding to happen in July. After enduring yet another 23-hour train ride from Kharkiv to Lviv to visit my Ukrainian family, I took the bus from Lviv to Sheheni, on the Ukrainian-Poland border. I had overstayed my visa by a month and was anticipating some trouble at the border. I intended to renew it when I went to Lviv two months prior but I just never did.

The border guards were nice about it. “You overstayed, go see my boss.” So off I went to a little room where a mid-20s female border guard explained what I did wrong, scanned my passport, got me to sign a document stating that I knew what I was doing and under no duress, paid a fine ($65), and then walked across the border to Poland. Not so bad as I’d heard worse stories. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter too much but next time I visit Ukraine I’ll be sure to renew my visa anyway.

Hopping an inter-city bus I made my way to Przemyśl.

Przemyśl is a nice little town. I saw some signs for ESL schools and seriously thought about posting up shop there, or at least coming back at some point. I spent the day wandering around the ornate streets and visited several churches.

Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemysl pink building.
Przemysl pink building.
Franciscan Church interior.
Franciscan Church interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Przemysl street at night.
Przemysl street at night.

Przemysl sunsetI’d like to note the change between Ukraine and Poland is vast. First, it was difficult for me to switch back into Polish after speaking surzyk for the last four months. I tried to remember the Polish words I was taught but often Ukrainian or Russian came out instead. Further, life itself seemed different in Poland compared to Ukraine. As more than one ESL teacher I met told me, Ukraine offers more excitement compared to the Western world. In a word, Poland, Canada and other such Western countries were, simply “boring”. Both sets of women are extremely gorgeous, but the Polish seem to be a little more conservative in their manner of dress. Gone were the six-inch heels and visible underwear! The cost of things is noticeable as the Polish zloty is valued considerably more than the Ukrainian hryvnia. The cost difference is best realized by the Ukrainian babas (grandmothers) who offer Ukrainian horilka (vodka) and cigarettes on the Polish side of the border. Had I not been going back to Canada I would’ve bought a few bottles.

Speaking of bringing things across the border, the most notable difference between Ukraine and Poland – for me at least – was that there was no general distrust the law, unless you are breaking it. By way of contrast, in Ukraine, no one, absolutely no one would suggest you talk to a police officer unless there was no one else around. The cops in Poland, however, were very nice (which I can sadly tell you from experience.)

And with that, I hopped yet another late night bus back to Warsaw. The bus trip wouldn’t be without it’s uniqueness, such as a drunk man serenading another elderly lady. Four hours later I arrived in Warsaw. Again, the difference between Warsaw in winter and summer was huge. In winter Warsaw had such charm and colour. In summer? It looked like any other western city. I don’t hold it against Poland, however, as I had just come from a developing country. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with my former co-worker who had described the West as “boring”! It’s kinda shocking to go from a developed country into a developing country, especially when they’re right beside each other. How can it be that these things happen?

I took another walk around Warsaw to enjoy the last of my stay in my homelands. Another chapter, another trip, was closing. Although I was glad to leave Ukraine at the time, as time passes I miss the country more every day. I’m excited for the future for both Poland and Ukraine and truly hope that things will improve for both peoples.

So, after visiting my homelands I could only wonder, what next?

Warsaw in summertime.
Warsaw in summertime.

Stare Brusno, Poland: A Search for a Cemetery in Southeast Poland

Snowy Crosses
Snowy Crosses.

WTF is Stare Brusno? It’s an abandoned village in southeastern Poland. Why am I looking for it? Because apparently some of my ancestors are buried there. And I’m not alone in this search for this cemetery, it’s one of many old cemeteries that survived the war and preserves a part of Poland’s history (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire).

If you’re looking to go to Stare Brusno, rent a car from Rzeszow. It’s a 2 hour drive and it’s not hard to find with GPS (even though it took me all day). If anyone is thinking of doing this by bus I’d say don’t. You can get to Lubaczów easily enough but any further than that and the buses become fewer and scarcer. And this is what Lubaczów looks like:

Lubaczow
Lubaczow, Poland.

The drive out to Stare Brusno is scenic enough: farmland, forests, small old wooden churches, old grave sites, and lots of snow when I went.

Wooden Church
Wooden Church in Cieszanow, Poland.

So, Stare Brusno, “Old boor” (quite possibly meaning an “old wood pile”). Starry B, as all the cool kids call it, doesn’t actually exist any more. At some time in the recent past, Poland was divided up by the Austrians, and Brusno was split into New and Old (west and east, respectively). That division created a trio of cities right next to each other: Nowe Brusno (New Wood Pile), which was composed of Polish folks; Stare Brusno (Old Wood Pile), where Ukrainians lived; and DeutschBach (wasn’t he a classical composer? j/k, I think it means “German Creek”), where the Germans lived.

That division came to an end in World War 2. On September 21, 1945, the Polish guys (Polish People’s Army, (PPA)) got a little irritated with the Ukrainians (Ukrainian People’s Army, (YPA)) always reserving the karaoke rooms which meant that the guys had no where to take their girlfriends. Without karaoke, how else do you impress Polish women? And so the PPA burnt the village to the ground.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Karaoke probably didn’t have anything to do with it. But the part about women… 😉

Nowe Brusno
Nowe Brusno, Poland.

Finding the place was a bit of a challenge, mostly because many maps don’t show Stare Brusno any more. I was able to drive to Nowe Brusno easily enough, but locating the cemetery was a little more difficult.

After driving around for a few hours without any luck, I stopped to ask a guy walking down the road. He didn’t speak English and I barely spoke Polish. I (tried) to ask, “Gdze jest Starrrrre Brrrrrrusno?” and requested that he speak slowly to me. I think the brand new rental car told him that I was a foreigner.

He seemed to understand me, though he was just as puzzled about where I could find it. Apparently there’s more than one cemetery in the area. He suggested two different directions. I thanked him and went on my way.

I chose to go through the most obvious forest first. As luck would have it, or maybe the spirits were guiding me, a huge snowstorm hit. Not wanting a 127-hour-type thing to happen, I turned headed back to the town proper. Waiting out the storm (which was to recur a few more times), I tried the other direction in which the man said the cemetery could be.

Turns out the cemetery is actually just beyond the villages of Nowe Brusno and Polanka. For those of you interested, when you come to the fork in the road, head to Polanka. You’ll come to a roundabout, keep right (you have an option to go left which would take you into a very bumpy back road) and drive for about 4 minutes. You’ll see a cross monument on your left and the cemetery is in the forest about 1 minute later. There’s a sign that reads “Site of Stare Brusno” on your right. I don’t recommend trying to drive down into the little ditch as, well, I got stuck there. Whoops.

Stare Brusno
First look at Stare Brusno.

But there it was, in the middle of the forest, an old cemetery of about 300 graves resting peacefully amongst the snow covered trees and shrubs. It is a truly remarkable site to behold: century-old tombstones seemingly haphazardly placed amongst the trees, a gentle snow fall adding to the ambience.

I walked around it a couple of times, searching as many stones as I could. I found 3 tombstones that matched what I was looking for, another I put into the “maybe” category. Two I couldn’t find. (I’d recommend being gentle with the tombstones because they may crumble.) Some engravings, however, are completely lost to history.

So, if my ancestors are there, I didn’t find all of them.

Stare Brusno Tombstone
A tombstone in Stare Brusno, Poland.

The claim to fame this cemetery is the skill of the stonemasons. All of the tombstones were made locally and, if you look at the dates of the burials, you’ll notice that the tombstones become more decorated as time goes on. The earlier tombstones are pretty basic stone crosses. Around the turn of the century, crucifixes appear. Finally, before WW2, you see some elaborate wreaths and fancier crosses.

A thought struck me, however, while walking through the cemetery, and I apologize if I wax philosophical for a moment here, but those tombstones without the legible engravings really made me think about life. Even your tombstone doesn’t guarantee to preserve your name. It’s at that moment that it struck me how lost to history you become. All these travels across the world, teaching English, movies, music, it all stops. You become, essentially, nameless.

Wreath on a Cross
Wreath on a Cross.

And then I thought about being Ukrainian-Canadian. As a 2nd/3rd generation Ukrainian immigrant to Canada, to think that my grandparents made the choice to leave their home and everything familiar, cross the ocean, and help settle the Great Canadian Prairies, was a humbling experience. There I was, in a century-old cemetery, standing on a plot of land over which my ancestors probably, at one time, walked. What did they have back then? Certainly not the video cameras, GPS system, a heated car with power steering, an iPod, a cell phone, and not to mention Canadian citizenship, a passport and the English language that enables me to do a lot of things in this world.

A simple trip to a cemetery and I become a philosopher. Yikes.

I finally left after about 3 hours in the cemetery. I didn’t want to leave since it had been on my mind since I got into Poland two months prior. It wasn’t terribly cold but I wanted to get back to Rzeszow before sunset. But what a thought and a feeling, to finally be on the ground that my ancestors called home.

Commemorative Cross outside of Stare Brusno
Commemorative Cross outside of Stare Brusno.
Stare Brusno Church Monument
Stare Brusno Church Monument.
Stare Brusno Christianity Monument
Stare Brusno Christianity monument.
Stare Brusno Cemetery
Stare Brusno cemetery in winter.
Stare Brusno cemetery
Stare Brusno cemetery.

Rzeszów, Poland: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spirytus Sancti

Rzeszow Street at Night
Rzeszów Street at Night

Next up on my search to find a cemetery in southeast Poland was Rzeszów (pronounced zhe-shov… that’s Polish for ya). A small city, charming you might say, but I kinda felt like Bill Bryson in Neither Here nor There, you remember, the part where he’s sitting in a pub, drinking, all by his lonesome in Oslo (I think)?

I checked in early, got my bed sheets, etc. went up to make my bed. Before I did my self-guided tour oft he city, I asked the front-desk lady, in broken Polish, if she could help me find out more about Stare Brusno, outside of which is where an old cemetery is located. She agreed to look it up.

While my hostess at the PTSM hostel helped me find out more information about Stare Brusno (such as how to get there and where to stay), I decided to do some sight-seeing in Rzeszów. The city really doesn’t need more than a day or two, and I was told the city has more events (and people) in the summer months than in the winter.

Rzeszow Town Hall
Rzeszów Town Hall

My self-guided walking tour included seeing the Rynek, ulica Maja, the Piast Monastery and Town Hall Museum, Lubomirski Palace, Farny Square, and, the Revolution Monument, and on another day, some sort of military parade and ceremony in front ofa monument to Polish soldiers. I also intended to attend one of the underground tours next the town hall in Rynek, but I always seemed to show up just a little too late… or on their days off. WIFI was pretty ubiquitous (=everywhere) so I chose to post up at the Coffee Life not far away.

And about that hostel, PTSM. Interesting. I came back to the hostel after my self-guided walking tour only to find the new hostess lady (not the one who was helping me find out more about Stare Brusno), mad at me. Now, it’s not unusual for the fairer kind to be upset with me for any number of reasons, but there’s a certain seriousness in it when they don’t speak English. She keeps speaking to me in Polish and I’m constantly like “wtf?”

Luckily, however, there were two other English-speaking Poles there who could help me.  One guy was living in the hostel and attending the local university, and the other a professor from Poznań. Mr. Professor does some translating. Turns out that I hadn’t made up my bed properly. Mr. Professor and I go upstairs to inspect the crime the I’d committed.

We inspect the bed. The pillow is inside it’s casing, sheets are on the bed, what’s the problem?

Well, in Poland, they give you a thick quilt which you’re supposed to put inside the sheets they give you. Me, being kinda lazy, simply put the sheet down first and then laid the quilt on top. I didn’t think anyone would care, let alone that the lady would come upstairs and check to ensure that I’d assembled the sheets properly.

Banishment to hell for you, foreigner.

Ulica Maja in Rzeszow, Poland
Ulica Maja in Rzeszów, Poland.

So Mr. Professor shows me how to properly assemble the quilt and bedsheets. We go back downstairs and he explains to the old lady that I’m a foreigner and that it’s okay now. I apologize in Polish to the elderly lady. She’s impressed by my Polish. Asks my name, I give it to her, she says I’m Polish. For the sake of the argument, I agree.

I stay and chat. Turns out they had a bottle of vodka stashed away and some food they were willing to share. All is fine so far. But we finish the vodka. Do we go out or call it a night? That’s when they tell me that the hostel has a 10 pm curfew. It’s 9:30. Kurwa mać!

Not to be deterred, I said I had a bottle of vodka (because of my ongoing research into Polish vodka, which you can read here and here) and pulled out the Spirytus. For those of you who don’t know what Spirytus is, it’s 5% shy of being pure ethanol… the stuff you clean your house with. 95% alcohol. If you do a search for it, you’ll find all sorts of stories about how you can go blind by drinking it straight. I’m not sure you will literally go blind, but you certainly won’t remember much of the evening if you don’t cut it properly.

So upstairs we go to the kitchen to cut the almost pure ethanol and the night went on.

Even after that bottle, the Poles still wanted to keep going. Even after spending a month in Poland, I couldn’t keep up with these guys. I went with them to find another “easier” vodka, but tapped out after the first shot of that bottle. Done and done. Time to go beddy-bye.

The next day I felt like a fish, swimming, seeing everything anew and with the distorted “fish-eye” view of the world. Good thing I took some photos and videos or else I’m sure I would’ve had difficulty remember most of the city.

I walked around Rzeszow again to try to clear my head and finally made the decision to try to find this cemetery outside of Stare Brusno. And with that, I made a failed trip through Lubaczow.

Tadeusz Nepala
Tadeusz Nepala, a well known musician from Rzeszów, Poland.
Rzeszów public art
Rzeszów public art along one of the roads during my self-guided walking tour.
Lubomirski Palace
Lubomirski Palace, now home to the law courts.
Polish Soldiers Monument
Polish Soldiers Monument in front of which there was held a parade and memorial for fallen soldiers.
Revolution Monument
Revolution Monument.
Farny Sqaure in Rzeszów, Poland.
Farny Sqaure in Rzeszów, Poland.
Tadeusz Monument
Tadeusz Monument located in the town centre, Rynek.