Sometimes, but not often, I’m overcome with travel nostalgia. I think about the journeys I took in Poland in my late teens and early twenties. I recall how carefree I was and, dare I say it, how reckless I was.
On a chilly January 17, 2024, I arrived in Wrocław at around 17 p.m. I stood on the platform today for a brief moment and thought to myself – “funny how time slips away”. As I shall go into soon, it was here that I bid farewell to some very dear people some eighteen and a half years ago. On this cold and snowy January day, I felt travel nostalgia in its rawest form.
Anyway, the Intercity (IC 5602) “Heweliusz” train brought me to Wrocław from Gdańsk today in a little under five hours. Occasionally, I recalled the mayhem of my first journey to Wrocław in 2005. That was also by train – from Gliwice of all places. More to come on the unpredictable circumstances which led to this journey later on in this post.
I’m sitting in my room in Haston Old Town Hotel, looking forward to five full days of mostly aimless ambling.
I’m back, Wrocław, but I don’t know you at all.
2005 – Background to my trip to Wrocław
In all truth, the four or five days I spent in Wrocław in 2005 were not really of a touristic nature. Just to briefly go over the story behind my first visit to Poland back in 2005. Essentially, I met a Polish person, Paweł, through one of my housemates while studying at Nottingham Trent University. During our first meeting together, Paweł invited me to Poland. The only snag was – he would be travelling from Nottingham to Kraków by bus. Just the small matter of a thirty-hour journey ahead of me then.
On the bus journey over to Poland from Nottingham, I met a Polish lady, Joanna, and her daughter, Malwina. They were living in West Timperley, near Manchester. Anyway, when we got off the bus for a break (I think it was in Poland), Joanna invited me to visit her in Wrocław. I was keen to go because I’d struck up quite a bond with her little daughter on the bus. Besides, I wanted to visit as many places as I could that summer.
Before I travelled to Wrocław, I stayed with Paweł and his family in Mszana Dolna. Do read about my first contact with Polish culture in this small town in the south of Poland.
I made it to Wrocław – somehow
The plan was for Paweł to drive me to Joanna’s house in Wrocław. He expected the journey to take four hours. Paweł had told Joanna that we should be in Wrocław by midday. However, as was typical for Paweł, we left three hours later than planned. I became increasingly frustrated that morning as it took Paweł an absolute age to get himself ready.
It was raining heavily and Paweł wasn’t in a good mood. I started to get the sense that everything would not go according to plan. Eventually we set off from Mszana. Somewhere north-west of Kraków, Paweł’s car began to encounter mechanical problems. Pawel ran the car into a massive pot-hole which had a knock-on effect on the car’s stability. I’m not sure if the pot-hole incident affected one of the tires or the car’s suspension. Understandably, Paweł didn’t want to drive all the way to Wrocław.
I began to fear that I would not make it to Wrocław. We could not find a car repair centre which was either open or not busy. Fortunately, we were not so far from Gliwice, an old Silesian city, which had a reliable and swift train connection to Wrocław so we went to the station and Paweł bought a ticket for me.
Train travel became such a huge part of my life in Poland. However, as an eighteen-year-old on my first major trip abroad alone, I was very uneasy about the prospect of travelling to Wrocław on my own. I didn’t know the language and I could hardly ever recall travelling on a train in the UK. I was constantly worried about whether the train would arrive on time or whether I would miss the stop. Would Joanna be waiting for me at the station?
Anyhow, I met someone on the train, a German called Martin, who didn’t know how to have a two-way conversation. He talked the whole way through about history and Anglo-German relations. He had a tremendous knowledge of World War One. Martin was a professional bore but his ramblings did help to take my mind off the train ride, Paweł and the stress of the journey from Mszana Dolna to Gliwice. Martin and I both got off at Wrocław Main Station and went for a drink because I had some spare time before I was due to meet Joanna.
Everything went according to plan and Joanna was waiting for me at six o’clock in the agreed place in front of a huge clock. Malwina was with her and they were also accompanied by Magda, Joanna’s friend who also lived in their flat in the Biskupin district of Wroclaw. Magda, a very short and elegant lady in her early thirties, didn’t speak English although she could understand a little. As we were walking to the bus stop, Malwina was riding her scooter and I felt very relieved to be with them after a hectic day.
Everything was very confusing: one day Mszana, then Kraków and then Wroclaw – another different world. Joanna took great care of me that day. She even called Paweł’s mother, Ewa, to lament about Pawel’s ‘irresponsible’ decision to leave me alone in Gliwice while he returned to Mszana. Though, to be fair to Paweł, he was in a spot of bother and had to make a decision one way or another about what to do with the car.
Piggybacks and shopping for shoes in Wrocław
So what did I get up to in Wrocław in 2005? Generally, I played with Malwina, gave her piggybacks around the flat, spoke with Joanna about life in the UK and in Wroclaw and tried to get to know Magda, despite the language barrier. Unfortunately, Magda’s command of English was very basic.
On the morning of my second full day in Wrocław, I went shopping with Joanna. I suspected that she was addicted to shopping for shoes, or just being in shoe shops, but I didn’t mind waiting for her. That evening, Magda showed me the delights of Wrocław and we went for a drink. We barely opened our mouths throughout the entire evening because of the language barrier but I didn’t mind too much. One of the pubs we went to was splendid, with candles scattered around the interior. It was also decorated like an old prison.
Walking back to the flat, Magda took off her shoes because her feet hurt. Astonishingly, she walked barefoot for the best part of three or four kilometres. It was most bizarre. I could do little else but offer her my arm and I joked about carrying her home. She refused, calling me a gentleman to soften the blow for me.
Frankly, I didn’t want to leave Wrocław. First of all, because of the good company I was in. Secondly, because I had to stay in Paweł’s flat in Krakow which was stuffy, unhygienic and cramped.
Anyhow, I had to leave Wrocław because Joanna had family coming to stay at the flat. Magda and Malwina accompanied me to the train station. I embraced both Malwina and Magda. Magda said that she would miss me (yeah right!), and I said that I couldn’t wait to see her, Joanna and Malwina again.
When it comes to my current stay in Wrocław, there will, of course, be a hint of travel nostalgia in the air wherever my ambles take me over the next five days.
However, I’m treating this stay as my first ever visit to Wrocław. Seventeen and a half years is a long time. Apart from my stay at Joanna’s in 2005, I only returned to Wrocław once thereafter. That was for a day in the summer of 2006.
I don’t think tomorrow’s strolls will enable any memories of 2005-06 to come flooding back. My memories are of people – not monuments and attractions.
Perhaps I should give Madga a call tomorrow to see if she fancies taking a barefoot walk down memory lane.