The day I went to Hell and back. Literally.

Me escaping from Hell/Hel - disguised as Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan's Express.

No really. This really is about the day I really went to Hell and back. Literally. (And I use that term advisedly.)*

I’ve mentioned Hell before, but I’m only telling you about this at the request of the Loose Bloggers Consortium (you can find their links if you scroll down the right hand side column), who are focussing on travel troubles.

And I think getting kicked out of Hell qualifies. In fact, Hell couldn’t hold me.* *

Going there in the first place seemed like such a good idea at the time. Unique destination. Bit quirky. Warm, though not quite as warm as we’ve all been led to believe. Great beach. I had finished working in Kielce, further south – it would be a change of scene.

Gosh. I should tell you where it is before I go any further. Poland.

Yes, I know. A lot of people think it’s Lurgan. But that’s completely wrong. It’s actually in northern Poland, looking over towards Russia – that odd little enclave Kaliningrad. You go west from lovely Gdansk and out along the penninsula to its tip.

Long beaches with wicker chairs on the west side – reminiscent of the north end of Long Island, New York. Poland’s only east-facing shore is on the other side of the landspit.

The Hel penninsula

I was tucked away in the forest and isolated from world events. Across the water in Russian territory, the White House coup attempt was underway.

Maybe that’s why the local police were so twitchy. When I returned to where I had stashed my bag, I realised someone had been rifling it. Suddenly the police appeared, but not to help pursue the thieves. Instead they subjected me to interrogation.

My rudimentary Polish was better than their English, which meant they didn’t get far. Having decided I wasn’t Russian special forces, they checked my limbs for puncture marks. (Bit odd, I thought they were trying to steal my watch at first.) No, no evidence of drug use either. But they still thought I was my presence in Hell, sorry, Hel was a threat to public well-being and indicated that I should leave forthwith or prepare for a night in the cells.

But how?

No traffic. And it’s a long penninsula. And my secret Russian special forces landing craft had already self-destructed.

Aha – a railway halt. With a train. Yay!

An abandoned empty goods train. Boo!

With night falling, I didn’t want to be caught outside by the paranoid arm of the local law. So I was relieved and happy when the residents of a local flat invited me inside for a drink. Kindness of strangers and all that.

Food in Poland can be a little limited. Or at least it was back then. So the only item on the menu was vodka – or some indeterminate white spirit.

Once again, communication was a bit limited too. But I gradually began to realise that even in especially in  Hell Hel, there’s no such thing as a free liquid lunch. My genial hosts were keen that I gave them whatever cash I had in exchange.

If you can imagine Appalachian mountain men (or those Cajuns from Deliverance), very big, very drunk on vodka, speaking Polish. Like many in Poland in those days, they felt the world had dealt them a bum hand and somebody (specifically me) should pay up.

There were only two sensible things to do. Firstly, with every appearance of hurt and outrage, explain that Ireland had only just emerged from its own famine from which I had narrowly escaped, which meant I was the last one they should be trying to rip off. (They were a little behind with the news. I did say it was isolated.) And secondly, nip to the bathroom, shove my bag out the window, squeeze out myself, hang and drop to the ground and then pelt it towards the railway tracks…

Where much to my surprise, the empty abandoned goods train appeared to be moving. Like Von Ryan, I ran for it. Unlike him, I caught it. And rode out of Hel in boxcar luxury.

All the way to the Czechoslovakian border.

Like a bat out of… well, you know.

Haven’t been back to Poland since. Funnily enough.

* Literally – as in the Viking Song from Horrible Histories.

** I’m just wondering when to admit a small but significant spelling mistake. I think the Hell I spent time in actually has just the one letter “l” – which makes it Hel rather than Hell. But hey, I can honestly say that my spelling has gone to Hell, will two l’s.

33 Comments

Filed under D - Loose Bloggers Consortium

33 responses to “The day I went to Hell and back. Literally.

  1. My husband tells me he has also drunk that white spirit when in Poland. He described it as central heating in a bottle

  2. Hmmm! Wondering if I will be safe meeting you this weekend? I have my standards you know! ;) Spluttttter!

  3. Hi , fantastic blog your day in shall we call it hell was certainly an experience you will never forget.
    I to have had not one day but a year and a half in hell should you or your followers care to visit my site at http://www.abusedtotheaccused.co.uk this is my story of a fight for justice of a former Police Officer, please feel free to read, this is not spam please look at the site first, many thanks John

  4. Well, unless things have changed a bit, they need to upgrade their tourist reception training in the Hel Peninsula. You mean, there wasn’t even a local Starbucks?

  5. Oh Wolf!! This could only happen to you! Makes for a great post though :) The billions of Polish who live all around me assure me it is a very beautiful country with a wonderful variety of food – far superior to here, and Vodka of a strength that would knock any self-respecting Brit’ beer drinker under the table after the first swig…I sampled a tiny swig from my Polish housemates and I’m inclined to agree…Russian vodka is a close second but as they have Chernobyl and Poland has Hell…lol…I guess that would make sense ;)Anyway it’s good to know you enjoyed your trip to hell ;) I suspect you enjoyed the “and back” bit rather more though I feel you actually rather enjoyed Hell and Poland very much indeed lol and just don’t want to admit it to us!! :)

    • blackwatertown

      I used to eat in Restaurant Sadie opposite the politechniki where I worked. That was some dire food. Though I was heartily entertained in a colleague’s flat – which was great.
      It was a fascinating sojourn, of which I can say with complete honesty, that it radically changed my life.

  6. Wow! The only thing that would have made that more interesting would be to push the bag out the window and then discover that it wasn’t possible to take your body along the same route! Of course, you might still be in Hel squeeling like a pig and that would not be good.

    Since you survived the experience intact, I salute a marvelous adventure!

  7. Sounds Hel-ish…. But perhaps only partially worse than Lurgan! BTW I should be about next week if you fancy squeezing in a cuppa somewhere?

    • blackwatertown

      Does Lurgan have a beach? I think not. So Hel is already ahead on that one.
      Hmmm… reminds me of a slogan. Life’s a beach.
      What about… Hel’s a beach?

  8. You live on the cutting edge, but this escapade in Hel-l is certainly bleeding edge. Especially once you add in the “…vodka – or some indeterminate white spirit.”

  9. rummuser

    Lucky you that you live to tell the story. The only pole that I ever came across is a pole used by pole dancers. A post for another day.

  10. What the Hel(l)! is this part of your novel? Or ……………………

    Super blog! Frank could sing birds off a bough! Act……………..

  11. …ran for the boxcar and caught it. Sooo, ya still got it HH, along with an adventure to tell your kids forever and a day. Blessings – Maxi

  12. Nigel

    This escape via the bathroom window is a work of art- two loos, low treck?

    • blackwatertown

      Very good.
      I was in the House of Lords earlier this evening, where one of the Lords offered this advice for finding a toilet. “If you see a door marked PEER – don’t enter. You might give some unsuspecting legislator a nasty shock.”

  13. Hell hath no fury, according to BWT then?
    XO
    WWW

  14. I’ve always thought Hell was just a name, turns out it’s actually a peninsula! Simpson’s reference there, couldn’t resist it I’m afraid.

    You’ve lead an interesting life, Paul! The most interesting thing to happen to me was… well, meeting Keith Chegwin.

    • blackwatertown

      It wasn’t during his public nakedness phase, was it?
      I mean, were you… Was he…
      Ah – don’t answer that.

  15. Great story. I didn’t really believe in Hel before but I do now. Good job you left before the paraffin in a glass took hold.

  16. Great story. I never really beieved in Hel before. Glad that you left before the colourless liquid took hold.

  17. Chatterjee

    Salutations from over the ocean. Interesting post. I shall return for more.

  18. 29

    There is an L of a difference between the two places that you mention. How’s that for a puerile comment!
    Congrats on your escape to the train, I cannot possibly match that but a la my father, down in the ‘small boys’ section I once managed to walk along the tracks and then over the fence at a BR mainline station.

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