Traveling for 38 Hours
It is 5:40 in the morning here in Krakow Poland. I’m done sleeping for the day. I woke up an hour ago and took a shower. I’m still a bit jet-lagged but considering that I’m a full ten hours off of my Alaskan time zone I’m not too far off the mark.
But I am reminded how modern traveling is both completely disorienting and increasingly this strange ordeal of cramped conditions as we are all sardine crammed into massive metal cans hurtling through the -55 degrees air.
The pleasant part of the trip was treating myself to a cabin on the Alaskan Marine Highway ferry. They let me on an hour and a half early and I got a very restful five hours of sleep plus the usual hour trying to get to sleep as activity and strange conditions play their games. I arrived in Juneau around 4:15AM and found someone on the ferry to give me a ride to the airport. Also at the airport I saw summer workers like Ry-no and Nelbert sitting on the floor trying to get out of Dodge and had a good talk with Erika M. from Haines as we waited for the Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle. I also had good fellowship with a couple from Juneau who were going to visit friends in Los Angeles, buy a car and drive back up the Alaska highway. Except for a five hour connection delay at SEA-TAC all the other stops were simply negotiating one place to the next. And the five hours in Seattle were the usual boredom only contemporary travel can provide.
Then came the mega-crate that at least 450 of us travelers were squeezed into by British Airways (see photo). This had to be the most interminably boring stretch of air packing I have ever endured. It was not helped in the least by my two row mates who spoke not a word for 6,000 miles; two women – one who was as quiet as a tomb and the other who was wrapped up like shrouded furniture, face covered, in a straight jacket. British Airways makes you fasten the seatbelt around your blanket so that they truly know you are buckled up. Also a word about Brit understatement: the desk manager (I don’t know her actual title) kept repeating that we were a couple of minutes late as nearly 40 minutes of agonizing delays took place before we were allowed the privilege of being strapped in. All of which is to say I got a chance to actually get up twice to relieve myself during the whole 8 and a half hour flight. The words ‘Batann death march’ kept coming to my mind over and over during much of this entire 38 hour slog.
We circled around London for over an hour waiting to get clearance to land in what over the years has consistently been my least favorite airport. Getting reacquainted with Heathrow is like visiting the airport equivalent of a Rube Goldberg (or should I say Heath Robinson?) machine designed to completely discombobulate the confused passenger with indecipherable arcana and shards of angsty ennui. First down here. Over there? A helpful informational person. Then a bus ride from here to breakfast. Another unexpected airport security check. I thought I was just changing planes? Boots and belts off please. More x-ray scanning. Hands up!
Then you enter the European traveller terminal, which is packed with more lost bewildered souls than you can number with the calculator on your iPad. And it looks like we’ve all been jammed into a shopping mall. And who on earth buys the ‘duty free’ crap? But then you look for your gate number. And it isn’t there. It turns out that the air traffic controllers call the shots and Heathrow is so busy that no one can give you even the mildest hint of which direction to go until it’s time to board. And that creates an exodus of Poles all stampeding towards gate 24, a ten minute hike through the terminal. But as I wait for the gate to come up, my body, having been seated for eight and a half hours like a kipper snack, demands release. And they are going to announce the stampede direction soon. Relief is found. But the body is not really at home yet. My mind is in Europe. My colons are back in Alaska.
Finally you get through the gate and you wait. Now you are already in Poland. Lots of guys dressed in black jackets, short crew cuts, dark impenetrable countenances. Women who all look like they have fascinating stories to tell. Not many glib smiles here. I get to talking with an English guy who works for Proctor and Gamble in Warsaw. After we discuss Poland for twenty minutes it suddenly dawns on him, “You’re from Alaska?” Turns out I’m an exotic specimen over here. Nice!
Finally we are given a bus ride over to another BA plane, where all first-class-will-now-be-seated ceremony is dropped and we shuffle aboard as a hoard up the outer ramp into the anchovy tin headed for Warsaw. But the conversation makes up for the indignities. I’m seated next to what appears to be a very curious older Jewish couple from Boston and near a concert violinist named Tasmin Little who is on her way to play a Brahms violin concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic.
Warsaw. Polish customs was a breeze. But the airport baggage check for connecting flights was excruciating. They seemed kind of bored. So the military looking men spent extra time looking into my bag. No x-ray scan though. I then cashed a few dollars into zloties, bought some seriously odd green tea in bottle and engaged in an interesting chat with a Southern Baptist missionary to Ukraine who was going to Krakow to get the Ukraine embassy to give him a visa, which he couldn’t get in Kiev.
At last the smaller prop job takes off for Krakow. I actually have a bit a room to sit this time. But landing in the town of Balice creates new questions. I am suddenly thrust into the reality glitch which has been coming my way for over 30 hours. Yesterday morning I was in Alaska. Today I’m in Poland. Now speak! Where is the bus to the train? Never found it. Scores of venal taxis swarm the entrance. A Japanese girl much more lost than I agreed to share a taxi since we were basically going to the same place. The first taxi we got in was about to milk us dry. I got him to drop us at the nearest train station. He was miffed. He dropped us at a dark unlit train stop. We’d have to wait for an hour. Then we decided to find a taxi. We flagged a guy down. He charged us 35 zloties compared to 89 the other guy wanted. 35 was closer to 17 dollars. And this guy was cool. He gave us a flashlight to look at our street address. And he had a sense of humor. Eventually we drove through streets I recognized. And finally I came to the Station Aparthotel, which is right next to the train station in the heart of old Krakow. I hear the electronic bells of the trains even now.
The girl at the front desk was a wonderful tonic to all of the bizaries of travel. She laughed sweetly with a welcoming sense of humor. Finally I trudged up endless stairs through the old building to my room as those Euro light bulbs turned themselves on for me in a sort of greeting. I struggled with the lock, which began remind me of an epic five hour battle with a lock last time I was in Poland, and then dealing with the cheapest of all rooms and fixtures (ah Polska) found myself asleep for a full five more hours.
The light of morning has come and what am I doing typing at this machine? Turn it off.
4 October 2012