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Poland – Part 8: A Boat Ride, Eating, Videos, AJAX, and More Eating

June 21, 10:00AM (Father’s Day)

After I woke up, had breakfast, and cleaned up, Tamara offered us the opportunity to go on a boat ride down the section of the Odra River that runs through Wroclaw.  I was interested in going, so I watched some European music videos while I waited for the others to get set.

It was going to be Yev, Jiv, Chantelle, Ryan, Tamara, Peter, Alexi, Sonia, Una, and myself on that boat.

A few minutes later,  and we were underway.


It was an absolutely gorgeous day – sunny, warm, and beautiful.  Perfect for boating around Wroclaw.


We chugged down the Odra, and then turned around.  It was very pleasant.

We also took the opportunity to ask Tamara about the racial/cultural tension that we thought we had picked up on the night before.  She told us that she thought it had much to do with the racial monolithicism of Poland.  Not sure if I mentioned this before, but Peter Brook said that the Polish audience was the most racially monolithic crowd he’d ever seen.

The boat trip finished.  We docked, and the group conversation eventually sizzled out until it was just Tamara and I talking, as we all walked down the streets of Wroclaw.  I mentioned how I have never really had the business-end of racism in my face before, and have never had the experience of being the “other”.  Tamara responded by telling me that I was very lucky to have grown up in Canada.  I agreed with her.

Deciding that we were all hungry, the group split off into smaller groups to find something to eat.  The group I was in eventually settled down at a very nice crepe place.  I got a crepe with chicken, cheese, spinach and corn.  Totally hit the spot!


After eating, we had the rest of the afternoon to do whatever we pleased.  As had become custom, we spent our time hopping from restaurant to restaurant, sampling this and that, and watching the locals.  Una, Sonia, Chantelle, and I eventually found ourselves at “Pomazanka”, which our guidebook promised would provide the “widest selection on ice cream, cakes and pastries on the Rynek.”

Sonia had apple cake.  Chantelle had chocolate cake.  Una had marzipan cake. I went for strawberry gelato, and we all decided that our choices were very good.



Had an interesting conversation with Sonia about the gay culture in Poland.  When asked for her impressions, she told me that from what she saw, since Poland is highly religious, it stands to reason that the gay culture is probably carefully hidden from plain sight.  I told her that I agreed with her – at least for Wroclaw.  Warsaw seemed a bit more relaxed.

There’s a lapse in my journaling for a few hours here…from memory, I know I eventually went back to the hostel and phoned my Dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day.

My journal picks up again here:


At this point, I was in the middle of watching one of the optional films for that day – MADAME DE SADE directed by KRZYSZTOF WARLIKOWSKI (yep – the same fellow who directed CLEANSED).  Yikes.  Granted – this was a videotape of a theatre piece, so it was weakened right off the bat.  Anyhow, the camera was too far away, so the audience never got to see the actor’s faces, and the sound was just awful. If theatre is a medium for communication, this video fell way short.  I fell asleep.  Instantly forgotten.


It was a double feature for videos that day – the next video was a version of MEDEA by ANATOLIJ WASILJEW.  It was a one-woman piece…the video was from a presentation that looked like it happened in an art museum.

How to describe this piece?

Two words:  Enraged, and Naked.  Props to the woman for the effort and the work she was putting in.  She was clearly committed, and working hard.  However, watching a naked woman yell at me from a chair for an hour is not how I like to spend my time.  I just wanted it to stop.  If it wasn’t so loud, I’m sure I would have fallen asleep there too.

Video recordings of theatre pieces always fall flat for me – even if they’ve been edited well, and recorded with video in mind.  There really are some things that only live theatre can do.

Why didn’t I leave?  True – there was nothing keeping me in the theatre.  However, I hate leaving bad shows halfway through – I always have this little bit of hope that maybe they’ll save themselves towards the end.  Still, I’m usually let down.

Anyhow, we shook off the two videos, and walked back to the hostel to pick up our tickets for that nights live show:  AJAX, THE MADNESS by THEODOROS TERZOPOULOS.


Here are some dark and blurry photos of the whole gang getting ready to see AJAX:


AJAX was a heavily ritualized Greek performance/meditation on the Ajax myth.  The show promised murder, guilt, madness, and war satire.

Like I said: heavily ritualized performance/meditation.  It was like a 20 minute mantra that was repeated 3 times.  There were 3 actors, each taking turns leading the mantra, and each putting their own spin on it.

The first guy was my favourite.  Total commitment the entire way.  The mantra involved lots of repeated physical actions, and this guy put his whole body into it.  I knew he was working hard.  How did I know?  Because he was sweating buckets.  And he never swallowed – saliva just gushed out of his mouth for his entire 20 minutes.  The man must have lost 2 litres of body fluid over the course of the show.  It was unbelievable.  I was blown away by the energy and commitment of that guy.

It went downhill for me from there.  The second guy had this highly reflective knife that he kept shining into the audience, and it was really annoying.  By the time the third guy went up, I think I had the mantra under my belt.  It was nice to see the little differences that each iteration had on the last, but it didn’t really grab me.

And the war satire was kind of weak – at least for me.  It almost seemed tagged on, like an afterthought – jetfighter fly-over soundcues, and this image of a processional of coffins.  I think I heard a Roger Waters tune tucked in there too.

Anyhow, it was OK.  Not great, not terrible.  It was awkward for the curtain call though.  The audience gave the cast some real good applause, and they were bowing, and that was fine.  But then they wouldn’t leave.  And because they wouldn’t leave the stage, the audience felt compelled to clap more.  So they stayed.  And then the director came out, and we clapped for him too.  And I could feel the applause dying down, but then they’d come up to centre stage and bow again, and people would keep clapping in an attempt to avoid awkwardness.  It was almost like they were drawing applause out of us, as opposed to letting us give it to them.

Somehow, the vicious cycle eventually ended.  We left.

Saw some interesting sculptures on the street on the way out:


Not sure what time it was, but from the photos, it looked like it was starting to get dark out.

On our way home, some of us decided to get some midnight snacks at the grocery store.  I got some orange juice (a respectable kind, with an expiry date that I felt good about), and some waffle cracker things.  Our shopping finished, we walked back to the hotel to eat what we bought.

While eating, we watched David After the Dentist:

and some more Dave’s Farm.

Then, because we weren’t tired yet, we went to Wizard Hat for an hour or so, and then went back to the grocery store for more midnight snacks.  I got orange filling Jaffa Cakes, and shared them with Sonia.

Finally, we went back to the hostel for the last time that night.  We chatted for a while in the common room, and then I had a shower and went to bed.

Click here to go to Part 9:  The Halfway Point

Click here to go back to Part 7:  An Official Tour of Wroclaw

Poland – Part 5: Exploring Wroclaw

June 18 – 10:19 AM

It had been an easy sleep.  At this point in my journey, my jet lag appeared to have mostly worn off.  I woke up, and had two bowls of Cocoa Puffs.

Fun fact:  Cocoa Puffs seem to be very popular as a hostel breakfast cereal.  Almost every hostel we went to invariably had Cocoa Puffs.  It was nice knowing that no matter what kind of situation I got into in Poland, I’d always have Cocoa Puffs there to bail me out.

Dry Cocoa Puffs though.  Because frankly, the milk I tasted in Poland was too strange for me.  It was thick, and tasted…bleh.  Apparently, I’m not the only one to notice differences between North American milk and European milk.

Anyhow, after breakfast, Chantelle, Reid and myself decided to go grocery shopping to see what the local produce was like.


Food in the grocery store was remarkably cheap after conversion to Canadian dollars.  Reid and Chantelle loaded up on local fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

During our exploration, I learned how often I feel the compulsion to say “sorry”, and how frustrating it is to not be able to do so.  So, I learned how to say it in Polish:  przepraszam (psheh-prasham).  I kept practicing it, ready to whip it out next time I accidentally bumped somebody or something.  Unfortunately, when my opportunity arose (I think I accidentally cut off some old lady in the supermarket), I said dziekuje (thank you) instead.  Awkward moment.

Another awkward moment was when I bought a jug of orange juice.  Check out the expiry date:


Holy smokes – this unrefridgerated OJ expires in 2010.  Sounds like a boatload of preservatives to me.

I opened the jug, and took a swig.

It took a few swigs to realize that something was bugging me…I’d missed a step in the process.

And then it hit me.  The seal had been broken.  The seal had been broken off of some strange unrefridgerated 2010-expring OJ that I had just bought in Poland.

I hate waste, but I hate getting sick more.  I threw the jug out.  Poland: 1, Mike: 0.


After we got back, the whole group decided to go exploring all together.  We streamed out en masse onto the streets of Wroclaw.


The first place we went to was St. Mary Magdalene’s Church.


According to my guide book:

During the Reformation it was taken over by the Protestants and was not returned to the Catholic church until after WWII.  It’s most striking feature is a 12th-century Romanesque portal that was moved here from the Benedictine abbey.  It is considered to be Wroclaw’s most valuable relic from this era.

We didn’t manage to see the portal, though.  I imagine they wouldn’t just have that out and about for tourists to gawk at.

I was starting to get used to the majesty of the high, arched ceilings.  I had seen so many churches that they were beginning to blend together in my memory.

But this church had something else to offer:  The Witches Bridge.  The Witches Bridge connects the two tall towers of the church.

We paid the 2z, and started our climb.  And it was quite a climb – it must have been something like 200 steps.  And there were spooky landings on the way up:


But the view was worth it:


We spent a good chunk of time up there, taking snapshots, and enjoying the cool breeze.  Eventually, on shaky, tired legs, we walked back down.  Some of us poked around other parts of the church.  A bunch of us eventually went back outside and talked some more about UR-HAMLET.

And then (it was inevitable), somebody got hungry.  We left Mary Magdalene’s, and went to the market square to hunt down some food.

The group was divided on diets, so we split up.  I decided to go with the vegetarians to the same place as the day before.  The soy chops were delicious:


If you go to Poland, try the ice cream.  There are vendors everywhere, and it’s delicious.  In Poland, it’s called “lody”, and it’s b”lody” awesome.  I eventually had one almost every day that I was in Wroclaw.  Mmmmm….

Anyhow, slowly but surely, the group reassembled.

It was at this point that I got hit by a reality check:  a tiny Romanian girl (couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5) came up to us to beg for change.  Absolutely heart-breaking.  I gave her 50z, and then watched her run over to 2 older boys (brothers?) and walk away.

There were a variety of opinions on what happened.  Some felt that by giving her change, we’re just making the problem worse.  Others argued that if she didn’t go back with some change, she might get beat up by the people she was with.  Personally, I was happy to give her the 50z.  I hope things work out for her.


My friends back in Toronto are really into this hobby called Geocaching.  Without going into to much detail, it’s essentially GPS-based global treasure hunting.  It’s a cool idea.

Anyhow, the reason I brought it up was because there are probably some AWESOME geocaching sites here in Wroclaw.  Nooks, crannies, and history,  is strewn about everywhere.


Click here to read the Wikipedia article on Geocaching.

While we were walking, we saw what might be the world’s ugliest car:  a Fiat 1st generation Multipla.  Check this monster out:


Holy smokes.  Barf.

We kept exploring Wroclaw.  Our next stop was the University of Wroclaw.


Funny story about this last guy:  according to Tamara, legend goes that this man was playing cards, and lost everything.  Everything.  Everything except his sword.  I guess the University is showing us what can happen if you gamble…?

We kept moving.

Photo Shoot

While we were walking, we saw this killer piece of wall graffiti.  It looked like something BLU might do.


We decided to do a photo shoot in front of it.  I didn’t get any shots of the guys, but here are the ladies:


Our photoshoot over, I finally figured out where Tamara was leading us:  Cathedral Island, Wroclaw.  Not surprisingly, the “island” was festooned with tall church towers and monuments.


This statue is of John of Nepomuk, the national saint of the Czech Republic who refused to divulge to his king details of the queen’s confession.  You can read more about John of Nepomuk here.

Our main stop was at Wroclaw Cathedral.


The inside was nice, but I was more interested in the view from the towers.  It was a pretty steep climb, and even then we had to take an elevator part way.  But the view was worth it:


Oh, and here’s me:



The show that night was OCZYSZCZENI (CLEANSED): a Sarah Kane play directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, and it was starting at 8PM.  So, after climbing down the steps of the tower, and a short stop for a drink at a local cafe, we decided to split up for dinner before we met up at the theatre.

I’m not sure what I did – there’s a big blank spot in my journal.  I probably went back to the hostel to get my ticket for the show and had some food.

CLEANSED Directed by Warlikowski

I knew going in that this show was going to be dark:  it’s Sarah Kane, what did you expect?  It’s also 2.5 hours with no intermission, so prepare to get rocked.

And, well, I found it underwhelming.  Maybe the sadistic violence of this brutal love story blew all my circuits and I went passive – it happens.  Either way, I didn’t feel much of a reaction from myself.  To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely certain what this show was trying to communicate to me (or if it was communicating to me), so in that regard, the experience was a bit of a failure.  There were some interesting lighting choices, however…


This is a shot of the CLEANSED curtain call.  Notice how some people are standing up, and some are sitting down?  Says a lot about this show, because this was one that a lot of people disagreed about.  The whole load of us discussed it and hashed it out while we slowly walked to the market square.

And we sat down at a restaurant, ordered some drinks, and hashed it out even more.  Some people got nightmares from it.  Some people got angry by it.  Some people found it hilarious at points.  Some people thought it was genius.  I neither liked it nor disliked it – I was indifferent.

But I liked sitting down and talking about it with everybody, hearing what they got out of it (if anything).

Here are a few shots of us discussing CLEANSED:


And then we walked back through the market square, went back to our hostel, and eventually turned in for the night.


Click here to go to Part 5:  A Taste of Total Freedom

Click here to go back to Part 4:  To Wroclaw