Friday, January 05, 2007

Post-Christmas fun in Zamosc

The day after Christmas some of the buses purred back to life after their holiday slumber. The three of us (if you’re wondering who the third person is, don’t forget Booster) hopped on a couple of well-connected buses and 6 hours later we were in Zamosc, a town with a population of 70,000 in eastern Poland, very near the Ukraine border.

In Zamosc we decided to hop a taxi into the town center to save some time and cut down on the foot travel with our bags in tow. The bus station sat about 2 km from our hotel. It was 4:30 and the sun had already set. The sky was slowly fading from purple to black.

A couple minutes into the taxi ride I noticed the meter wasn’t on. In more Polish than I could understand, the driver told me it was broken. When he finally delivered us to our destination, a nice hotel in town center (a little splurge for our Christmas holiday), he scribbled 50 zloty in his notebook and flashed it to us. The going rate, as we would find out from the tourist office the next day, for a trip from the station to our hotel should have been 8 zloty. He was trying to charge us 6x the going rate! I realized that my bag was in the trunk and felt trapped. As Beth and I got angrier and angrier, the broken Polish we had been using in an effort to communicate clearly crumbled away and we were nearly shouting in English. Beth talked him down to 20 zl and once I put the money in his hand he agreed to open the trunk. I got my bag. We checked into our room and I spent the next 30 minutes or more trying to calm down.

Eventually, we managed to get our mind off of the taxi ordeal and we enjoyed a nice dinner in the empty hotel restaurant before heading out for a stroll. The town was beautiful. Zamosc, a modern day renaissance town, was built in the 16th century by and Italian architect over the course of a decade or so. As the photos show, it is beautiful. The old town center, measuring 600m x 400 m, was our home for the three days we were there. The streets were uneven and slick with cobblestones that have been around for centuries. The historic architecture, featuring beautiful stucco work and archways, was a welcome relief from the post-war architecture of Katowice. The highlight of the center was the center square, lined with old Burgher houses once owned by Armenian merchants.

Our days were filled with strolling and lots of hot cocoa. We kept the new thermos that we bought for the trip full the entire time we were there. No snow was on the ground, but the air was cold and crisp and the cocoa really warmed us up. A skating rink was set up in the middle of town and we could watch the kiddies make laps from our hotel room. We even enjoyed a little skating ourselves on our second day there. You can see Bethanie skating in one of the photos. It was great. She’s really good – very graceful. She didn’t fall once. The only fall I had was from goofing around with her. I bumped into her on purpose and I was the one who ended up falling down.

We also visited a number of antique shops, a gourmet coffee shop where I had Kenyan coffee brewed in my own small pot, the local museum, a number of ornate churches, and the old synagogue that is now closed to the public but may become a museum by the next time we visit.

Zamosc like so many other Polish towns was hit hard (that’s an understatement!) during the holocaust. We also visited a round fort, now an open-air museum, which was used by the Nazis to kill 8,000 local inhabitants from 1939-1945. Those killed there included Jews and Poles, intellectuals, rebels and political opponents, among others. The constant reminders of the holocaust that remain in every place we visit shock me. It’s difficult to put into words.

We awoke on Dec. 28 at 3 am to catch the 5 am train back to Katowice. The ground was dusted with a thin coat of snow. We enjoyed being the first to leave our tracks in the white powder on our 1 km walk to the train station. The highlight of the 8-hour train ride happened at lunch time. Bethanie and I were enjoying crackers with flavored cream cheese, when a young guy around my age asked me if I had ever had Polish sausage before. I had once in Krakow I told him. He then offered me two huge links of sausage, the length of my forearm two times over, that his grandfather had hunted and made. It was the best sausage I have ever had. “Now you can say you have had Polish sausage on a Polish train,” he told me. It was delicious! I’ve still got half a link left in the fridge. I think I will have it in some soup tonight.

No comments: