They Say it’s the Journey, Not the Destination
After flights from Calgary to Amsterdam then Warsaw, I briefly overnighted in Poland’s capital, up at 4 am to catch my 6.5 hr train ride to Przemyśl. The flights were uneventful, though the conversation with Lanny McDonald in the security line up at Schiphol was fun. We commiserated over the Flames loss, him calling it “brutal”. He was off to the IIHF World Championship. I got an attaboy from him when he heard where I was off to.
The train ride this morning was longish, but pleasant. My 1st class seat was in a 6 seat compartment, empty save me for most of the trip. Good value at ~$20. We traveled through rich, green (and yellow) agricultural land and many small towns and a couple of cities. Most of the fields had grain/cereal crops and canola, with a few broad leaf vegetables (soy beans?) and potato mounds. Also, there were quite a few orchards along the way. Their season obviously starts earlier than ours as the canola was fully flowered and the grain fields 12 – 18″ high.
The biggest surprise for me was the obvious wealth of the Polish people today. Having driven through the Interior of BC a week ago, Donna and I were struck by the diversity of homes – from outrageous glass castles to tin shacks. But going through southern Poland, it looked as if everyone is well off. Sure, there were a few older, smaller homes, but they invariably were pin neat with beautiful gardens. And the many, many newer homes had solar panels, new SUVs in the driveway, and impeccable landscaping. And remember, I was only seeing the homes along the train tracks – not always the best home sites.
I arrived in Przemyśl midday. Knowing that the station where I disembarked is the number one stop for refugees fleeing by train from Ukraine, I expected to face the crisis head on. The main floor of the station has been transformed into a staging area for all new arrivals. They are immediately greeted with offers for hot food, sim cards for their phones and help with accommodations and/or transportation. The number of people arriving while I was there was small and it appeared that the many NGOs that are set up, have the process well in hand. Whether the influx of refugees has slowed, or I happened to have arrived during a lull – I’ll know better in the coming days.
I spent the balance of the afternoon wandering the Stare Miasto “old town” of Przemyśl. Its 1000+ years of history are proudly on display, and I managed to visit more churches than I have been to in the last decade. I saw the crypts, bones and vestments of celebrated religious leaders, watched locals parade around in turn-of-the-century costumes, and took in a celebration of food and music for Ukraine in the central market. What struck me most in spending my afternoon (and only free time, I expect) walking the streets of Przemyśl was how “normal” everything seems to be here. 15 km from the border of a country under siege.