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.
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.
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.