Travel

An Introvert’s Lonely Planet

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” – Oscar Wilde

Scene:

On train. Berlin to Warsaw. Six strangers, three on each side facing each other. Three Polish, two German and me.

We cross over the border – beyond the Iron Curtain (21 years later) – and the landscape immediately changes. Farming tools rust; streets have chips in the pavement. I once saw a black and white film of the play Woyzeck – the sky looks like the rail yards, a soot-smear.

So far our tickets have been checked twice. The third time the lady ticket inspector comes to our compartment, I wait to see if a third check is absolutely necessary. It is, so I rifle through my bag, trying to find the piece of paper I’d discarded, having thought it had been handled enough.

Comedy:

I make the sound, “ha-huh!” and hold the ticket towards the inspector, who is just closing the compartment door. My train buddies laugh openly at the timing. I roll my eyes and laugh, too. One man wants to say something, but realises I wouldn’t understand, so just beams, then turns his attention back to the landscape flicking past the window.

*

Scene:

Warsaw, or Warszawa as it’s known by locals. I’m out by myself for an excursion to the Poster Museum in Wilanów. I crumple my way through fallen yellow Autumn leaves to the building. Lucky I checked online its location beforehand (two buses for an hour); lucky I saw its opening hours and days (11-4, Tues – Sat); unlucky that this particular day (Tuesday at two) they are closed to install a new exhibition. So I wander around, looking at the palace, noting its history (older than my remaining grandparent), noting its irrelevance (to the poster museum and me), and then I’m stopped by a Spanish couple to take their photo. He speaks to me in English, which he’s proud to show off to her, and I reply in English, too shy/lazy to be all “pero sí, yo tambien hablo español” on their arses. I go to take their photo, but they’ve they left the auto-timer on, so I roll my eyes and laugh as I stand there waiting for the camera to count down from ten.

I then try to make believe the time is not wasted, and start taking photos – contrived artistic shots, except for the one of the little boy playing in the leaves. At least he was enjoying himself.

*

Scene:

The Warsaw Opera House to see Elektra, with my friend’s friend, Tomek, who I’m staying with. The singing is in German, with subtitles in Polish. (Polish, would you like to buy a vowel?) I watch the guy playing the triangle lift his left arm in expectation, and then the right to play a single ‘ding’. He gets a better tune out of it than I ever could.

Later we go to a couple of bars where Tuesday is karaoke night. Polish twenty-somethings belt out late eighties’ hits like The Greatest Love of All in superb English. One guy, one of Tomek’s friends, brings the mood down and croons covers of Radiohead and Massive Attack. He lowers his eyes – he doesn’t need the teleprompter – and sings from some lonely corner inside.

*

Scene:

Overnight bus, Warsaw to Vilnius. For the first half of the trip I am lucky to get two seats to myself, so position myself foetal, and drift in and out of sleep. Then, on some desolate stretch near the border of Lithuania, a babushka-cast of an old woman plops herself next to me. She hasn’t paid the driver enough, and the passengers, under a fog of sleeplessness, wait for her to argue the case, and eventually pay. The driver curtly gives her some change with a grimace of half-hearted respect for the elderly, and we’re away again. She has positioned a broom between us.

I alight from the bus in Vilnius at seven o’clock in the morning. It’s still pitch black, but people are on their way to work; and on my walk to the hostel, it snows on me, but I’m too tired to recognise its slow and meandering descent onto the hood of my coat and my eyelashes.

*

Scene:

Walking around Vilnius, map in hand. I have a list of “things to see”, but my overall mood is apathetic. I don’t want to be here, though it’s beautiful and the supermarkets are better than those in Copenhagen or Warsaw: an unexpected bonus. I have been directed to a bus stop and a bus to catch. It takes me to another stop, where I am supposed to wait for another minibus to take me to Europos Parkas – an outdoor museum of soviet-era infrastructure. Apparently this minibus is on a loop, so there are no specified times for pick-up. I wait 30 minutes, my hands plunged deep inside my coat pockets, the cold cutting to the bone. I decide to walk back the way I came on the bus – which is not as far as the first bus ride seemed – and take photos of street art, whilst listening to music on my iPod. I am detached. I daydream about a beach in Mexico somewhere.

I return to my hostel where the Canadian guy who runs the place talks about rifles and plays seek-and-destroy computer games. Lucky he marked an area on my map where I could hire a prostitute. Perfect.

*

Looking at a map, planning this trip, I wanted to see Copenhagen and Berlin whilst in Europe, but had to get back to Helsinki to catch the next onward flight to North America. My friend, Phiona, pointed out that if I went through Scandinavia, I would end up bankrupted, so – exciting as it was at the time – we drew a line through Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn – Poland and the Baltics. New and cheaper! It also meant I could ‘tick off’ more countries, but now that I’m actually doing it, I feel as hollow as that sounds: Oh? The Russians killed a whole heap of you? Hmm. Check. This used to be a soviet-bunker? Interesting… Hmmm, I like what you’ve done with your gargoyles.

I’ve experienced some instances of loneliness in the last couple of weeks, but I’ve not felt alone, or sad, or depressed. Just tired. Tired of moving, tired of making a decision of what to do each day (this can boil down to finding a bigger supermarket, or finding a Laundromat), and tired of not having my own space. And amongst the beauty of colourful gingerbread landscapes, and a bitter European Autumn, my mind settles on two things: One; that I don’t really care. And two; I want to be in North America. I want to be in countries where I speak the languages, and in places that don’t rest on the laurels of a handsome “old town”.

It’s a petty complaint, but I get really tired of people asking what I’ve seen or what I’m going to see in the day. The experiences you get travelling are unexpected, and the more you force them, more often than not, you’ll be disappointed – like New Year’s Eve, for example. And like life when you’re at home, you will probably have more interactions with the world if you leave your house, but still, there are many days that mould into one long experience of just existing and surviving. I need a stay-at-home day.

*

Scene:

The streets of Vilnius. The day after. I went out drinking to force something to happen – some interaction worth the journey. I gingerly step past exiting church-goers, wondering if the vodka will re-emerge. Instead, I find an empty car park surrounded by dilapidated apartments and have a cry. I’m too dehydrated for tears, but the sobbing alleviates my churning stomach.

*

I’m too optimistic to say that this part of the journey was a mistake. But I’m cynical enough to get myself out of it as quickly as possible.

NB: I am enjoying my time as much as possible, and liked meeting new friends in Poland. I think I just needed to get this sort of blog/feeling off my chest.

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6 thoughts on “An Introvert’s Lonely Planet

  1. I agree with Steph; this is a lovely post, Sam, and interesting for me ‘cuz I had similar feelings when in Berlin last year en-route to Mexico. We’re so lucky to have the chance to do trips like this as young people and I think it’s natural to get carried away at the planning stage, trying to make the most of it (i.e. must see as many countries as I can!!). But sometimes, much as you want to live in the moment, if you KNOW it’s just a stop on the way to the place you’re really excited about, then that’s what it will feel like, and no amount of museums and will change that.

    This will cheer you up: http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/s/Irreplaceable+Irreemplazable+Nortena+Remix+/RCik

    Onwards and upwards! x

  2. Hola Sam!
    Me gusta mucho tu blog, pero esta historia en particular.
    Gracias por escribir tus experiencias de viaje y compartirlas tan abiertamente con nosotros. 🙂
    Continua tu viaje con la misma sabiduria de siempre.
    Mexico te espera, asi que animos!

    Besos,
    Sandra

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