Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gnomes, Gnomes Everywhere

Day 224
When I woke up I could see that the crazy lady had returned. Oddly she didn’t seem to have her bag with her. I made a quick decision, instead of going to the salt mines I would just go straight to Wroclaw, pronounced Frot-Suave. This, of course, had nothing to do with the thought of running into crazy lady again.

The train ride took forever. There was an old man in my compartment that just couldn’t sit still, he was drinking too, at 8am! He was sitting near the window and I was near the door. Any time a stop was near he would open the window, hang way out and then leave the compartment bumping into me to check the window just outside of the compartment. The crazy thing was that he was going to Wroclaw as well and it was the last stop. There was no missing it. All he really succeeded in was preventing me from taking a nap. I about cheered when I walked into the station.

My hostel was easy to find and I soon was checked in. The girls at the front desk set me up with a cup of tea and several maps of the city. They were really friendly.

I went through the maps and figured out a game plan. It was a bit late in the day at this point so I figured that I should get some lunch and then just explore a bit on foot. Krakow has been calling itself the new Prague and Wroclaw is calling itself the new Krakow. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

It was quite beautiful. I was wandering through the main square when I saw a group of girls bending over something and laughing. That’s when I remembered something that I had read in one of the maps. Wroclaw is home to a population of ancient gnomes. Apparently some of them are so well hidden that even locals don’t know exactly how many there are. Besides just being cute they are also symbolic. In the 1980s a group of performance artists called the Orange Alternative staged an anti-communist protest dressed as gnomes. Some say that it was these gnomes that brought down communism.

Suddenly my afternoon had a purpose, to eat and to find gnomes! The first one I found was fixing a wall, the second was reading and the third eating a perogie.

I was hungry and popped into the local milk bar. The line was thick with students from the nearby university. Nothing was in English so I ordered a main meal from one of the three pictures available and asked the girl in line behind me if she could tell me what the desserts were. Her English wasn’t that great, but she told me which one everyone seems to order the most. My entrée was some sort of yummy potato thing but my dessert looked like and had the consistency of pink snot. I chatted over lunch with my near friend. She told me that there were about 20 gnomes and that new ones were periodically added. After lunch she headed off to class and I went off gnoming.

Almost immediately I found one that was in jail. I then found an interesting bear fountain. A couple of minutes later I found a gnome holding something, maybe money. It took me another 20 minutes to find one that was sitting outside of the entrance to the secret gnome underground. I then found some barnyard animals who had all just gone to the bathroom. Further down the road was another gnome entering a different secret door. When some locals saw me taking a picture of a gnome that was traveling they directed me up the street to a sleeping gnome. I hope that I didn’t disturb him.

I went back to the hostel at this point. It had been some time since I had found a gnome and I was growing bored. Back at the hostel I decided to see a movie. On the way I found a gnome with walking sticks and another riding a bike. The later was in the middle of an intersection and I almost got myself run over getting the picture. I also found statues of people walking into the sidewalk, it was weird.

After the movie I wanted to do a bit more wandering and ended up with a cup of tea and doing some writing. On my way there I found a pair of gnomes play a game and two more trying to push a marble ball two different directions. The last find of the day was a gnome playing the guitar while another watched on. That makes 14 gnomes for the day.

At about 11pm I decided that it was time for bed. I was in a room full of boys, most of them one group of Polish guys. Usually when one person in the rooms wants to go to sleep everyone clears out and goes to the common room. That is why there is a common room after all. These guys wouldn’t leave. I asked nicely and they basically said too bad. I then went to complain and the guy at the hostel talked to them and told me that they were leaving. I tried to sleep. They were just going for a smoke and in just a minute they were back in the room talking. I asked them several more times nicely and then not so nicely to leave. They started to call me names and got louder on purpose.

I complained again. The guy at the hostel told me that he couldn’t ask them to leave the room and that it was my own fault for booking a dorm room. However, I could pay about 4 times more for my own room if I would like. I told him that wasn’t and option and tried to explain to him how hostels work and that I have been traveling for over seven months and no one had behaved this badly, including him. Then a creepy older man offered to let me share a double room with him if I paid half the price, I said no.

At this point it was about midnight and I told him that I wanted my money back. He said are you sure you want to go out there now, you will never find another place. I replied that it was a week night, that there were several other hostels in town and that I would get a better nights sleep if I ended up on a park bench for free than if I paid to have a group of Polish men talk all night an call me dirty words.

I got my money back and packed quickly to a hail of insults. I walked about five minutes down the street to the next hostel. There I got a bed in a small all girls dorm for almost half the cost. Even though I was definitely in a better place I was livid and it took me some time to calm down and cool down before I was able to fall asleep.

So, if you are going to Wroclaw do not book the hostel called Babel, formerly Stranger, instead book the much better Avant-garde hostel.

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