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Poland: Part 17 – Homeward Bound, Final Entry

June 30 – 8:53AM (Poland Time)

We’re on the road, on our way from Wroclaw to Warsaw.

We had gotten up at 5:30AM, said goodbye to Una, Linn, Tara, Tom and Sonia (they were staying behind in Europe), packed, and boarded the bus.

We’re making good time – there’s light traffic and good weather.  We’re at a rest stop for breakfast:


3:07PM (Poland Time)

We arrived at the airport in Warsaw around 1PM.


We hung around, got our bags checked, and eventually said goodbye to Tamara.  She’d be traveling home sometime later.  Thanks so much for the great trip, Tamara!


Security was no fuss.  We killed time in the duty free waiting for our flight.  I bought a chocolate bar with my last 10z.  We board at 4PM.


We’re all really anxious to get home.  I think we’re all pretty sick of traveling now – and we have an 8+ hour flight ahead of us.  Just look at these faces.


We just want to get home.

Eventually we boarded the plane:


7:05PM (Poland Time)

We’re already an hour into the flight.  Somehow, this plane isn’t giving me too much confidence.

The safety video (on a single screen at the front of the plane) kept flickering in and out, and I think I missed a lot of important information.

There were several instances where music would start to play for a few seconds in the cabin, and then abruptly stop.

Ryan and Jiv just noticed that there’s water dripping on them from above the overhead compartment.

My headphones don’t seem to work unless I hold them in.

And there’s masking tape holding part of the wall together.

A Lapse in Writing Cohesion

At this point in my journal, my writing really started to deteriorate.  The timestamps have less and less meaning as I travel across time zones.  I think my pen was starting to run out of ink, I was exhausted, and the boredom of the flight was starting to drive me nuts.  I’ll do my best to translate the scrawl that ended my journal.

8:50PM (Poland Time)

No idea where we are, so no real clue on what the actual time is.  Still, it’s pretty bright out.  Looks like mid-afternoon outside.  This is going to be the longest day of my life.

I’m trying to read Guns, Germs and Steel, but I just can’t concentrate.  I can’t wait to be home.

10:20PM (Poland Time)

Hannah Montana is the inflight film.  SHOOT ME.


The minutes are crawling by.  3 or 4 more hours.  Pen is starting to fail me.

11:45PM (Poland Time)

Still bright out.  Spooky.  About to get our second meal!  Surprise:  it’s a sandwich.  And the Nutcracker Suite just came on in my headphones again.  That’s 6 times in total now.

12:55AM (Poland Time)

Just filled out declaration card for Canada Customs.  There are lots of confused people who don’t speak English on the plane.  Lots of passengers standing up, and gesturing to one another frantically.  Wish I could help, but I don’t speak Polish.

1 hour remaining.  Can’t wait.  Flying over Québec.

Final Entry

Got off the plane.  Buzzed through customs.  Luggage was late getting onto the carousel, but it eventually showed up.  Said lots of goodbyes to people.  Jiv’s family offered to drive me home, and I gratefully accepted.

Noticed plenty of garbage on the streets on the drive in – though I had imagined more.

Eventually showed up at my apartment in Toronto.  Said goodbye to Jiv and his family.

Went inside.  Fingers barely worked.  Made contact with Em, the guys, and my family to let them know I was alive.

And then collapsed into bed.  It was good to be home.

Click here to go back to My Poland Journal: Index

Click here to go pack to Part 16: Last Full Day in Poland, and THE TEMPTATION OF QUIET VERONICA

Poland – Part 4: To Wroclaw

Here’s your Polish lesson for today – how to say “thank you”:

dziękuję – pronounced, “djienh-COO-yay”

It’s probably the word I ended up using the most over there.

Anyhow, where was I?

June 17 – 9:08AM Local

Nobody really had trouble getting up (especially poor jet-lagged Yev, who had gotten up around 4AM, and started exploring Warsaw on her own).  After breakfast, we tossed all of our stuff into the green bus, and got on our way.


The original plan was to pick up Sonia, another UCDP student who was coming a day late from Toronto due to prior commitments.  However, it turned out that her seat had been double-booked in Toronto, and that she’d have to come later.  It was a bummer, but it also meant we could start our journey to Wroclaw right away.

Wroclaw.  Look at that word.  Looks like it should be pronounced “RO-claw”, right?  Totally wrong.  It’s actually pronounced “VROT-suave”.  I never would have guessed.

It was a long bus ride – about 7 hours journey from Warsaw to Wroclaw.  We were able to stretch out on the seats, and relax.


There were about 15 of us in the huge coach bus, so we weren’t afraid to spread out a bit.  I shared some of my journal notes with Chantelle, who is also keeping a record of our journey.  I think Alex is too.  I’m really glad I took this notebook along – I think I’ll do this on all of my big trips.


11:50AM Local

Our first rest stop.  A lot of us are feeling restless and cramped – we’ve been doing a lot of sitting for the last few days.  We all pour out of the bus, and run around.


The weather was great!  Nice and sunny, but with a cool breeze.

Rural Poland looks a lot like rural Ontario.  I guess farmland is farmland.


After some supplies (I grabbed some orange Fanta, and some kind of Lindt chili pepper chocolate), we got back onto the bus, and kept going.

We get about half an hour at the rest stop, and then we get back on the bus and keep going.

1:10PM Local

We stopped again to walk around and get some lunch.

But not at a gas station.  We stopped at a very interesting, and historically important monastery that once withstood assault from the entire Swedish army.


According to Tamara, we were in Czestochowa, and the monastery was the Jasna Góra Monastery. According to Tamara, there’s a very special picture of the Virgin Mary at that monastery. She also told us that during WWII, the painting had been hidden inside a secret compartment in a large table in the monastery, to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazi’s. It sounded very Indiana Jones.

I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, we had less than an hour to tour the grounds. I snapped as many photos as I could.


While I snapped my photos, I thought to myself: “It really can’t be easy to worship here while surrounded by the inane buzz of tourists.”

And with that thought, we left.


By this time, we had reached our second hostel.  We would be staying at this one for about 5 days, so we made ourselves comfortable.

It was a pretty nice place – it was called Cinnamon Hostel.  Not as good as the previous hostel, but I was totally happy with it.


We had an hour or so to settle in and freshen up.  During that time, I also read some interesting things about Wroclaw in one of the free guidebooks that was lying around.

Ever heard of Project Riese?  I’ll quote my guidebook:

It was here in 1943…Hitler ordered the undertaking of a massive, top-secret underground complex known as Project ‘Reise’ (Giant).  One of the Fuhrer’s most ambitious and maniacal schemes, the exact nature of which remains unclear, Riese remains one of World War II’s greatest mysteries, about which suspiciously little is known over sixty years since.

It sounds like Hitler started a mystery mole hill near Wroclaw, and never got it finished.  We didn’t visit it, but it was interesting to hear about.  Another Indiana Jones moment.

You can read more about Project Riese here.


Eventually, we left our hostel, and started to explore Wroclaw.  We were going to be in the city for a few days, so we wanted to get our bearings straight.


Squinting into the sun, we headed towards the market square.


It turns out that the market square seemed very similar to the one in Warsaw:  large open space for walking around.  Outdoor patios.  Buskers.  Pigeons.  Churches.


Oh, and gnomes.  Did I mention the gnomes?

Let me back up.

Warsaw had it’s particular symbol – the mermaid.  Well, for Wroclaw, it was all about the gnomes.


Anj took it upon herself to start a gnome count.  I think I stopped at one.


Festival Guests!  And then food.

While we were in Wroclaw, we would be seeing shows as part of the “The World as a Place of Truth Theatre Festival“, which was being put together (I believe) by the Grotowski Institute.

Somehow, word had gotten through to the people running the festival that we were coming, and that we were rabid students who were eager to devour good theatre.

So wouldn’t you know it, they gave us free tickets for pretty much everything.  We were given “festival guest” status.


Here we are, getting our free swag.  God, we were spoiled rotten.


BIG thank you to the people running the festival.  Dziękuję!

After getting our tickets, we headed to a nearby vegetarian restaurant to fuel up.  I had some kind of samosa perogi.  Not bad.

Waiting for UR-HAMLET

Our first show for the festival was happening that night – UR-HAMLET, directed by Eugenio Barba.  We killed time until the show by hanging out in the market square.  Some of us smoked.  Some of us shopped.  Some drank coffee.  I had strawberry gelato, and watched the sun set.



And then we saw UR-HAMLET.

I’m not going to go into a big, deep analysis of the play.  I’m no theatre critic, but I know what I like.

Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it:  where else could I watch an African Hamlet in tiger-stripe pants wipe out his Balinese family with the help of a Samurai sidekick?  And do it with the seriousness of an ancient ritual?  Despite the chilly weather (it was an outdoor show), I dug it.  I had never seen Balinese theatre before, nor heard the music, and this was my first taste of it.  A very interesting, intricate style.


There was also a Balinese commedia-dell’arte-like dumb show for the first 20 minutes, that had the audience roaring.  Hamlet Sr.’s ghost had more stage time than Hamlet himself, and ended up hooking up with Ophelia in heaven.  It was awesome.

There was also a moment where bodies were being loaded onto wooden skids.  Then a forklift came on stage, hoisted a skid with 5 bodies on it about 6 or 7 feet up in the air, and peeled out on to the bumpy stone walkway to take them out of the playing space.  I was sure somebody was going to fall and break a wrist.  Luckily, it didn’t happen.

Funny story:  so it’s (what I believe to be) the climax of the show, with Hamlet wiping out his family with his Samurai sidekick.  Balinese men are being stabbed.  They’re going down.  The music crescendos.  The last man falls.  The music stops.  All silent.  My stomach chose that moment to release the loudest growl in my life.  Like…monstrous growl.  I got a few dirty looks from the international audience sitting around me.  It really killed the moment.  It was awkward.

Anyhow, we hurried back to the hostel to get our jackets (it was freezing out!).  And wouldn’t you know it, but Sonia was there waiting for us!  She’d taken a later flight over, and trekked all the way to our hostel to meet us!  Our travel group was finally complete.  After a round of hugs, we headed to the “U.S. Artist Initiative mixer party” that we had been invited to earlier in the day.

It was also Alex’s birthday, so we had no excuse but to have a good time.

Much dancing was done.  It was fantastic.

And then I went back to the hostel.  I had a shower.  And then I went to bed.

Click here to go to Part 5:  Exploring Wroclaw

Click here to go back to Part 3:  Our Day in Warsaw

Poland – Part 3: Our Day in Warsaw

Note:  Like my last few posts, I’m not yet done processing my photos, and so these posts will probably have more and more photos attached to them over time.

We had arrived in Warsaw around noon, and only had this day to really do any sight-seeing.  So, while some of us may have wanted to clock out and sleep our way into jet-lagged paradise, instead, we made a quick clean-up stop at the hostel, and then hit the pavement and started walking around.


3:55PM Local

One of the first things we saw was a statue of Copernicus outside of the Polish Academy of Sciences.


According to Tamara, there’s a copy of this statue in Montreal as well.  Neat.


Embedded into a pedestal was also a copy of Bernardo Bellotto (known here as Canaletto)’s painting, entitled “The Church of the Holy Cross“.

Here’s the painting:


Not a bad likeness of current Warsaw, either.  Just remove the horse and buggies, add some pavement, and update the clothing.  Smack a coat of paint, and boom: present day Warsaw.


The Info Boxes

Walking down the streets of Warsaw, we kept running into these boxes on the sidewalk.  Not small, dinky boxes – but large boxes for walking into.  We’d go inside, and they’d be like small museum exhibits.


All you Poland history buffs out there, feel free to correct the next few paragraphs if I’m wrong – I’m going on what I read, and haven’t done any independent research on this stuff.

Poland seems to be celebrating 20 years since the fall of communist rule, and that’s what these info boxes seemed to talk about.  They’d talk about significant events, like the Lenin Shipyard strike of 1980 in Gdansk, which seemed to birth/galvanize the Solidarity movement.

Other info boxes had titles/themes, like “Imposing Martial Law” (happened in 1981, thanks to one communist General Wojciech Jaruzelski, which squashed the Solidarity movement).

These boxes were followed by “Help From the West”, and “Giving Back Power”, but we didn’t stay too long to read into them.  We had lots of other things to see on this day.

Embedded in The History of Poland

One thing that Poland seems to have a lot of, is history.  You don’t even have to open a book, or Google it to know that.  Just land in the city, and take a look around: some of the buildings are pretty ancient, and reek history.  Warsaw was devestated during bombing and raids by the Germans during WWII, but the city has done a pretty good job of bringing itself back together.


What else to say about Warsaw…. the style of the buildings, according to Una Ruud, is “Neo-Classical”.  There are also a plethora of churches in the city – every time we’d turn a corner, there’d be another big church.  Lots of devotional history here.


We also saw a monument for Adam Mickiewicz, a Polish Romantic-era poet/playwrite.  According to Tamara, he was a pioneer of Polish Romantic-Nationalism.  You can read up about him here.


Every now and then, while walking along some wall or another, we’d see these white signs, covered in Polish scrawl.  Tamara told us that these signs are indicators that some tragic event took place on that spot.  For example, one of the signs we stopped at was apparently on a site where some huge shooting took place in WWII.  I didn’t really catch much of that particular history lesson – I was dragging behind at that point snapping photos.

Here’s a shot of the sign:


Other Impressions of Warsaw (5:35PM Local)

The whole day, the rain had been on and off.  It’s like it couldn’t decide.  It’d spritz a little here, and then back off…and then spritz a little there, etc.  There were some storm clouds threatening us the entire time we were out, but we didn’t get caught in any torrential downpour.  It was humid out, and the sun would come out of the clouds sporadically.

Two things that suprised a few of us about Warsaw:  the low density (I expected more cramped quarters), and consequently, the massive spaces.  There was a really huge square hidden away in the recesses of Warsaw where we stopped for some coffee/tea.  I tried capturing the size of it with my camera, but no luck.  Peter, a more experienced traveller, told me that he had seen even bigger squares throughout Europe.  I can tell you I haven’t really seen anything like that in Toronto.


Warsaw’s square seemed oriented around this mermaid statue:


According to Tamara, the mermaid is Warsaw’s symbol.

Jiv’s Massive Cat, and Ryan Leaves a Bad Impression

Eventually, we found ourselves at what I believe was the outer wall of the old city.


The wall had various ports for viewing, and perhaps aiming a weapon through.  While glancing through one of these posts, a cat caught Jiv’s eye.

“That cat is MASSIVE.  It’s huge!  It’s like the size of a tiger!  Get a load of this!”

We all gathered into the small alcove to see what Jiv had spotted.

“Jiv…that’s just a normal sized house cat.”

“Are you kidding me?  No way.  That thing is OUT OF CONTROL!”

“Jiv…I could carry that thing in my arms.”

“You guys must be blind.  Look at that thing!”

I didn’t happen to take any photos of the cat, but the general consensus was that this was without a doubt a normal house cat, and Jiv may have started hallucinating.  I don’t blame him.  I think he’d been awake for something like 30 hours at this point.

Still, it was good for a laugh.

Also, while walking past a wall, some lady banged a stick against her window, and pointed at Ryan.  Maybe she was a Degrassi fan.  Or maybe she didn’t like the gait of his walk.  Either way, she seemed upset.

Here’s a video of Alex describing the incident immediately after:

We hurried along.

6:12PM Local Time

The exhaustion was really starting to get to me.

Half-dazed, I followed the group into an absolutely massive theatre in Warsaw (it’s called Teatr Narodowy).


This is a state theatre, and hosts shows from groups like the National Opera and National Ballet companies.  We didn’t get much farther than the lobby (I believe there was a show that night, which we didn’t have tickets for), but I snapped some photos of the interior.


The Monument of Warsaw’s Ghetto Uprising (6:58PM Local Time)

Poland was in bad shape for WWII.  I’m no buff on WWII/Polish history, but it seems pretty clear that things here were really rough back then.  This monument was for an uprising in a ghetto in Warsaw – and eventually I figured out that we were more or less in the location where the ghetto had originally been.


According to Tamara, 500,000 Jews in Poland were forced into this ghetto, and routed here or there – some sent to death camps, some kept here to govern over other Jews, etc.

Here’s a Wikipedia article on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

It was a pretty somber moment, anyhow.  Alex, who is proudly Jewish, took it particularly close to the heart, and lit a candle at the monument while the rain started to pour.

The Rainbow

After seeing the Ghetto Monument, we started heading back to the hostel.  We took a subway ride on the Polish metro (which was, to me, very similar to the TTC).


Chatter had been stifled since our stop at the Ghetto Monument, but was starting to pick up again.  By the time we got out of the metro system, we were back in high (yet exhausted) spirits.

And wouldn’t you know it, a pair of huge rainbows came out to greet us when we emerged:


Along with a pretty cool brass band:


Not a bad end to our only day for touring around Warsaw.

I liked Warsaw.  I wish we had more time here.  But it was time to go back to the hostel, get some food, clean up, and go to sleep.

8:43PM Local

The showers in the hostel were clean, but the temperature was really random.  Alex and I were in separate adjacent stalls, and the whole hostel got to hear us alternately wail, scream, laugh, and curse at the water.  It was apparently pretty funny.  It was also the shortest shower of my life.

The shower got my travel grime off, and also woke me up.  At this point, I began to feel somewhat adjusted to being in that time zone.

We also met Yev back at the hostel, who had gotten chills during the walking tour, and headed back by herself.  Some of us started worrying about getting sick.

10:52PM Local

You’d think we would have gone to bed.

Instead, we went out to a local pizzeria.

At first, we had some difficulty getting in – we’re a large group, with a variety of dietary preferences, and I think we freak out restaurants when we show up all together.

Eventually (thanks to some no-nonsense British lady who translated for us), we were able to squeeze ourselves into a restaurant and order some pizza.

We clinked our glasses together:  first night in Poland.  Pretty good.  The effect of the shower had begun to wear off though, and exhaustion was starting to creep back.  After paying the cheque, we got out of there, and headed back to the hostel.

And conked out.  Hard.  Falling asleep was easy.

June 17 – 4:30AM Local

They told me this would happen.

4AM rolled around, and for some reason, I woke up.  Fully rested.  Bleh.

Luckily, the hostel had free internet access and a PC.  I checked my email.  I wrote some email.  I wrote a blog post.

Then I went back to bed.

It’s a familiar feeling…as I write this, it’s June 20 at 5:25AM, and I’m wide awake.

Oh well.  Something to pass the time.

Click here to go to Part 4:  To Wroclaw

Click here to go back to Part 2: Dazed in Warsaw

Poland – Part 2: Dazed in Warsaw

Note:  More photos will be added to this post over time, so keep checking back.

June 16 – 6:51AMEST, 12:51PM Local

We had just arrived in Poland (Warsaw, to be exact) from our connecting flight from Frankfurt.  After we landed, we walked out of the plane onto the tarmac, and caught a bus to the airport terminal.


Once we got inside, we had to somehow find our checked luggage.  There was some concern that our luggage may have been lost in the shuffle when our original flight from Frankfurt was moved forward, so we were a bit worried.  If all of our luggage magically showed up, with no fuss, or missing bits, then we were in business.

So we went down to the carousel…and waited…and waited…nothing was moving, no luggage had arrived.  We waited…and then, finally, the wheels started moving.  Bags started pouring out of a chute built into the floor.

Would any of our bags be on the carousel?

It took a few rounds, and some people lost hope – but then the first bag was sighted.  After that, one after another they poured onto the carousel.  There was much rejoicing.


Now that we had our luggage, we had to find Tamara.  And here was the tricky part: as far as I know, nobody had contacted her to tell us that we had taken a later flight.  So, she may have been waiting around for an hour, and then left when we didn’t arrive.  So, we started patrolling the arrivals area…


And immediately found Tamara.  Bless her heart, she hadn’t left, and had been waiting there the whole time for us.  She’d even brought a big green bus with her to take us to our first hostel.

It’s amazing how weary us travellers can get – especially since we don’t do much, physically, while we’re being transported.  All it is, is an exercise in sitting still.  Still, somehow it’s exhausting.  Also factor in that at this point, I’d probably been up for almost 24 hours.

While we were riding the bus, Tamara informed us that the original train trips that had been scheduled into our itinerary had been too difficult to set up, and that she had arranged for the green bus to transport us to where we needed to go.  We officially had a tour bus!  Awesome!

We flew down the streets of Warsaw.  My first impression?  The license plates sure look different.  And most of the advertisements were, understandably, in Polish.  The Stop signs were still in English though, which I found interesting.

It was rainy and gray out.  Traffic flew by.  We were all exhausted.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the road.  I was really tired.

When we got to the hostel, we all piled out of the bus and unloaded our luggage.  Tamara apologized because we had to walk up 3 flights of stairs with our luggage – but it wasn’t that bad.  At first, the smell of the stairwell discouraged me…it smelled funky and musty.  I was prepared for the worst.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The hostel was awesome.  Freakin’ awesome.  If you’re about my age, think about your ideal apartment.  Now add lots of free food just lying around.  Now add the awesome reunions with Una Ruud and Linn Farley, two other UCDP students that had come from elsewhere around Europe to meet us.  Like I said:  awesome.

If you’re ever interested in staying in Warsaw, I recommend the place that we stayed at: New World St. Hostel.  Very clean, friendly staff, great bunks, great location.  Here is the hostel’s website.

And here are a few photos:


We didn’t have access to the rooms at first – we had to wait about half an hour. But that was OK, seeing as how there was awesome free food just lying around for us to eat:  cakes, freshly picked strawberries (very common at this time of year here, apparently), crackers, bread, etc.  After our long trip, it was heavenly.

While we were chowing down, Tara Gerami and Tom Davis walked through the door, which whipped us into another hyper frenzy.  Tom and Tara are two other UCDP students who had been in Berlin, and were meeting up with us like Linn and Una.  We were exhausted, hyper, dazed, and kinda grungy. I won’t lie – even though I hadn’t done anything physical, I really needed a shower.  I wasn’t alone.

Ever played Monopoly?  Sure you have.  You know how when you pass GO, you get $200?  That’s basically what happened to us.  By coming to this hostel, we had apparently passed GO, and so Tamara dished out 200 z (zloty, Polish currency) for each of us.  Nothing wrong with that.

Finally, our rooms were ready.  I looked inside our rooms – grey bunk beds, foot lockers for personal storage, and nice big windows.  The bunk beds were nice, and were the exact same type that I have at my own apartment. A very comfortable room.


2:52PM Local

After we had settled, we realized that (despite all of the free food) we were hungry for a full-sized meal.  We all trooped out of the hostel, and went to a restaurant just down the street.

Good food.  I had a macaroni, chicken, broccoli, and cheese casarole.  I also took this opportunity to send very short emails to my parents and my girlfriend Em with Una’s iPhone (the restaurant, despite looking like the Three Bears’ cottage, had wi-fi).


The effects of sleep deprevation were really taking their toll.  The jokes were non-sensical.  I couldn’t tell if I was hungry, but I ate anyways.  In my opinion, we were all (understandably) burnt out.

While it would have been nice to just curl up and go to bed (awake for over 24 hours at this point), Tamara advised us that it would be wisest for us to stay up as late as possible so as to not completely screw over our sleep cycle.

So, instead of going back to the hostel, the lot of us hit the pavement, and we started checking out Warsaw.

Click here to go to Part 3:  Our Day in Warsaw

Click here to go back to Part 1: Departures and Arrivals

Poland – Part 1: Departures and Arrivals

Note:  As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hostel in Warsaw.  It’s 5AM, and the cable to connect my camera to a computer is buried at the bottom of my backpack.  So, while there are photos to go along with this story, they’re going to have to be added later.

June 15 – 2:45PM EST

I’ve been to Pearson Airport in Toronto a few times before, but only ever to pick up some passenger after they’ve come back from a trip.

I’ve never been one of those “departure” people.

Well, today was my day.  And man, it was confusing.

It started off smoothly enough.  My Dad, girlfriend Emily, and her sister Cassie, had brought me to Pearson to see me off.  I was able to get my boarding pass from a machine (which was nice and easy), after finding fellow passengers Reid, Anj, and Olya.  What a relief to see those three, because I honestly had no idea where I was in the airport, and had no idea what was going on.  Pearson is huge, and I was only in Terminal 1.

After our goodbyes, I stood in a line to get my carry-on bags scanned.

That was my first mistake.  Wasted 20 minutes getting to the front of that line, only to find out that I had to go to another line somewhere else in the airport to check my stowed luggage.  So there was some momentary panic while I raced around the airport, trying to find the right place.

So, lesson one:  it’s always OK to ask when you’re way out of your element, and it usually makes things go faster.  I knew this already, but this was a clear-cut example.

3:20PM EST

After some more running around, and a trip along a few moving sidewalks, I made it to our departure gate, where Olya, Reid, and Anj were already waiting.


Eventually, the rest of our comrads showed up.  And now, for your edification, here’s a list of the UCDP people who were flying with me that day:

  • Anj Mulligan
  • Reid Linforth
  • Olya Ryabets
  • Jiv Parasram
  • Ryan Cooley
  • Chantelle Hedden
  • Alexi Marchel
  • Yev Falkovich
  • Peter Freund
  • Alex Rubin

After a lot of sitting around and waiting, we board our flight.  After even more waiting, the plane begins to move.

Take-off:  6:00PM EST

Our plane took off at exactly 6PM EST.  We were half an hour behind schedule.  Already, my companions were taking bets on whether or not we’d miss our connecting flight from Frankfurt (not Brussels, sorry!) to Warsaw.  We only had 50 minutes once we had landed in Frankfurt, so it was going to be tight.

Anyhow, we’re in the air.  And I’m excited, of course.  I haven’t been in a plane since a flight to Toronto from Miami in 2004, and I sure as hell haven’t flown outside North America.  This was going to be a new experience for me.


It didn’t take long for three minor disasters to happen:

  1. I had packed a bag of mixed nuts/cashews in my carry-on.  To my dismay, when I opened my backpack, I found that the bag had exploded and that my carry-on was filled with loose nuts.  A bunch spilled on the floor, and immediately I began worrying about other passengers who might have nut allergies…all it takes is a whiff, and bam – out like a light.
    Anyhow, Ryan Cooley helped me clean/conceal the mess as much as possible, and I did my best to clean up the mess inside my bag.  Reminded me a bit of this story I had written earlier in the year…
  2. The pen I’ve been keeping my notes with started leaking.  Ink all over my hand, and some on my shirt.  Yech.  Luckily, I brought spares…
  3. The instructional safety video, which was supposed to be broadcast to the screens in front of each of us, did not work in my row.  It looked like scrambled cable.  Had to crane my neck to see it on someone else’s screen.  Not too bad, but it’s a bit discouraging when the mandatory safety video doesn’t work.

The flight was mostly eventless.  Besides some minor turbulence (which freaked out one of our more sensitive flyers), there wasn’t much to do.  My Dad had let me borrow his noise-cancelling headphones, which were awesome.  I listened to classical music on XM radio while I wrote my notes.

6:37PM EST

Food started making its way down the aisles, and it smelled pretty good…

But then we hit a patch of turbulence.  One of my companions is really not into flying, and so we consoled them while the plane shook around us.  The calming thing was that the flight attendants looked calm as ever, and kept handing out food.

I chose the pasta.  And a Canada Dry ginger ale.


I hear a few of my comrads are already taking advantage of the free beer/wine/spirits on board.  Hilarity ensues.

6:52PM EST

Great meal.  Pasta in tomato sauce, a bun, some veggies in dressing, and chocolate mousse for dessert!  Felt very pampered and content.  Was reminded again of this Louis CK video.

And it’s even better knowing I haven’t paid a cent for it!  Free always tastes better…

7:00PM EST

Around this time, I figured out that the in-flight mapping system wasn’t working, and I had no idea where we were.

I trusted our pilot knew where he was going.

Also around this time, Yev started saying that the shadows were getting longer…the sun was going down…the shortest night of my life was coming.

I’m reminded of a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey – the scene near the beginning (after the ape fights), where a character is flying to a space station.  Our flight feels futuristic.  Maybe it’s the lighting.  Maybe it’s all of the video screens winking at me.  Maybe I’m just over dramatizing it.


Or maybe it was that Phillip Glass music I was listening to…

At this point, I’ve decided that I’m bored, and that I’m going to watch an in-flight movie.  After some deliberation, I choose The Watchmen, which I had already seen, but didn’t mind watching again.

8:10PM EST

It was pretty dark outside our windows at this point.  Yev seemed to think that we were over Greenland, but how she could tell that through all the cloud cover, I have no idea.

I kept watching the movie.

9:15PM EST

At this point, I decided to get up and walk around a bit.  I stretched.  Our trip to Frankfurt is about half over.  So is The Watchmen, for that matter, but I decided to try to sleep instead of finishing it.

11:00PM EST

I had no luck sleeping at all, despite amazing noise-cancelling headphone technology.  I rolled about.  I chatted with my travel mates.  I listened to music.

It was starting to get light out outside.  The sun was coming up.

I don’t think anyone slept that much during the flight.  I saw a few people dosing, but that was it.


I knew that I’d have to stay awake for as much of the following day as possible, so it was a bit discouraging to be unable to sleep.  I pretty much figured I’d spend most of the next day in a daze.

11:20PM EST

Breakfast arrived, and according to Yev, we were flying over land again!


Breakfast is a muffin, yogurt, and orange juice.  Nice.


Muffin was good, but non-descript.  No idea what flavour it was, but I liked it.

When they brought the food, I asked the flight attendant what land we were flying over.  He said he had no idea, but that we would be landing in about an hour.

Maybe if I knew how fast we were going, I could figure out where we might be.

I found it strange that the captain never really addressed the passengers.  Never told us the route, altitude, speed, etc.  Things are changing, I guess.

11:45PM EST

It was almost midnight back home, and the sun was rising where we were.


I had no idea what time it was.  My body felt very confused and disoriented.  I felt like I’d been up all night, and I guess I had been…all 3 hours of it.

June 16 – 12:25AM EST

We began our descent around here.  Phase 1 of our journey was about to end.

Why do all pilots sound the same?  Always with that croaky voice… or maybe it’s the microphones that they use.

Lots of turbulence going down, but it was a smooth landing.

June 16 – 3:15AM EST, 9:15AM Local

I still hadn’t adjusted my watch yet, and that was starting to freak me out.

So, the main event was that we missed our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Warsaw.  We were about 20 minutes too late.  50 minutes is not even close to enough time to get processed at the Frankfurt airport.

Alex explains:


So Frankfurt airport was my first taste of Europe.  My impressions?  Honestly?  Not that different.  I didn’t feel like I was in a foreign place, really – except I couldn’t read any of the advertisements.  Everything else had English attached, so that was nice.

After some chit-chatting with Air Canada, we were booked on a later flight.  There was a lot of running around, lots of in-between-destinations stress, and we almost missed that flight too.  But we made it.


A couple of casualties though:

  1. Ryan Cooley left his windbreaker on the plane that brought us from Toronto
  2. Reid Linforth lost his watch during the security check in Frankfurt.  That really sucked for him.

At this point, I could really feel how tired I am.  My body was buzzing.  I had been awake since 9:30AM EST, and it was 3:22AM EST at that point.

The plane we took from Frankfurt was much, much smaller than the one from Toronto.  It was only going to be flying for an hour, and it looked like a lot of the passengers took this trip every day.  I tried to nap on the plane, but no luck.

4:08AM EST, 10:08AM Local

We were on route to Warsaw.

We were served some kind of cheese sandwich for our in-flight meal, which was good.  Really wasn’t sure what was in it, and sure didn’t take a picture.  Why?  I was starving.  Scarfed the thing right down.  Hadn’t slept, hungry, grumpy.

There was lots of turbulence in the smaller airplane.  Pretty shaky.  Kinda scary.

I wiped my face with a lemon scented wet-nap to wake myself up, and had a cup of tea.

Eventually, I got into a conversation with the lady sitting next to me about theatre.  She was a Bulgarian business-woman going to some sort of seminar.  We talked about Poland, sight-seeing, and Bulgarian theatre.

And then we landed.

And we were in Poland.

Click here to go to Part 2: Dazed in Warsaw

Click here to go back to the Prologue