Welcome back! In this installation of Krakow diaries we will answer some burning questions, such as: Why am I buying things for children? Are Tinder boys good for anything? How’s that degree going? and How much chocolate is really too much chocolate?
This is a series in which I chat about my life abroad as a Finnish expat and talk about the cultural differences I encounter, difficulties of moving out of my home country and anything else that goes with being a stranger in a strange land. You can read the first part here and the second part here.
April 2. Monday, Lviv. Escaping Ukraine
Stale minestrone in a plastic bag in hand, I’m silently screaming at an Ukranian ATM at 6.40 a.m. while a taxi driver looks on.
Record scratch. Freeze frame. So, you’re probably wondering how I ended up here.
My romantic nature has once again put my rational brain on chokehold, and while I’ve been talking nice to a boy on the phone, I’ve accidentally made myself twenty minutes too late. Twenty precious, crucial minutes that I needed to check out, grab breakfast and find an Uber to take me to the bus station while My Heart Will Go on dramatically played in my head.
But now I’m running late, and the reception is vacant. I leave behind my key and hope the hostel enjoys the 2 euro deposit that I will now never get back.
The only restaurant in town open for 24 hours doesn’t serve breakfast until seven, so in panic I opt for a minestrone, forgetting that a) I hate soup and b) I’m taking soup on a bus.
Well, hoping to at least, since Taxify is not working and Uber is making me confirm my non-robotness RIGHT NOW. After fifteen progressively more desperate minutes, I haul my non-robot ass to a street corner two blocks away because apparently the Uber is unable to pick me up from Where the Wifi Shines. And uh oh, he’s late. I try calling him once, twice, three times, and I’m getting hung up on. My bus leaves in ten minutes.
I hail a cab. I think the poor driver has a mini heart attack as I tumble in like a human-baggage hybrid avalanche and tell him to step on it. Maybe the bus leaves late, I hope, as the driver Tokyo Drifts through the city. It left Krakow one hour late.
Oh, one more little thing – I have zero cash.
The first ATM we pull up to isn’t working, so we speed up to another one. This one only knows Ukrainian and it declines my credit card. I am mentally screaming at the machine (and for a moment wishing I was, indeed, a robot, for effective communication) as I put in my debit card, guess at where everything should be, and still mentally screaming, manage to withdraw 200 hryvnas.
We pull up to the station right as the lion-adorned bus is coming through the gate and by some strange kindness, the driver stops and lets me on after I jump out of the taxi wildly flailing about.
Sleep deprived, sweaty and embarrassed, I sit down to enjoy an episode of Gilmore Girls and the worst cup of watery minestrone I’ve ever had.
Travel hack: get a clock. And a brain.
Read more: Is Ukraine Safe to Visit?
April 9. Monday, Krakow. Name’s Hearts – Queen of Hearts.
I’ve been to this party tonight, a really cool one, actually, where they give you half a card at the door and you’re supposed to find the other half in the crowd. If you do, you get a free shot. Now, I can’t stomach shots (unless it’s tequila – go figure) so that aspect of the treasure hunt didn’t excite me nearly as much as this excuse to talk to every person in the club.
Besides, I got lucky to get a cool card: half of Queen of Hearts.
The club was packed; if I didn’t know any better, I’d thought the dance floor was the literal surface of the Sun, that’s how hot it was there. We danced to some songs and drank a little beer. Every once in a while, I made my rounds, either with a co-worker or the Ukranian girl whose name I couldn’t pronounce right or alone. And I managed to bring together at least two pairs by pointing them out to each other. But the other half of the queen of hearts stayed in hiding all night.
I mean, I’m not a grand romantic. Even when I showed my friends my card and told them that whoever the other one was, ‘it was meant to be’, I didn’t mean it seriously. I can’t really afford romance: I have the Balkan mountains calling me. I haven’t got the slightest idea where I will be four months from now. How could I make any promises to someone?
But at times this travelling lifestyle sucks. There are only so many eligible bachelors out there, willing to habitually relocate their entire lives after you to some new country every few months. Tinder is nice for meeting people and all, but there are only so many conversations you can have based on a height and a star sign. I have pretty much given up the idea of seeing anyone seriously until I am ready to settle, and oh fuck, who knows if that’s ever going to happen?
Strong independent woman and all that yadda yadda. I know.
Sometimes you just get kind of silly and imagine what it would be like if someone else picked the Netflix movies for a change because it’s just so hard and I kind of want to watch Sleepless in Seattle and The Shining at the same time and I need a strong burly superman to pick my movies for me. (Only if we share the same taste. If you’re not willing to sit through Sharknado with me, then do you even deserve me?)
So, the Queen of Hearts goes home alone. How ironic.
April 19. Saturday, Krakow. What is this, a sleeping bag for ants?
I’m lagging behind. I’ve got translation work on the back burner, my thesis is still sitting pretty (pretty ugly that is), and I feel bad for this blog. I haven’t read a book in months. Well, a proper book – I’m currently going through a series I loved as a pre-teen, but I’m not sure YA sci-fi translated into Spanish qualifies as high culture.
One thing I did get done was going to a shopping outlet yesterday. Just getting there was an adventure and a half. Two bus rides, getting lost on the countryside and an Uber later I finally arrived (don’t try this at home, kids). And I bought the first of my camping gear!! Ever since I stumbled upon information about Via Dinarica last year, I’ve wanted to hike it, and since I had a summer off for travelling I decided hey, why not walk from Slovenia to Macedonia. Because that’s totally a thing people do.
I’m scared and excited and scared and excited. I don’t know my exact route yet, but I know it will be a challenge. I will be hiking solo for the first time; doing a long-haul hike for the first time; and going to Eastern Europe for the first time.
Pray for me!!!
I’ve started out well by buying the first of my gear: a travel towel, a sleeping mat, a backpack rain cover and a sleeping bag. The last two ones I need to return, though. They’re both too small.
I mean, the cover thing is just work of absent-mindedness, but how the hell did I think I would fit into a kid sized sleeping bag??
April 22. Sunday, Krakow. Sundaye, Matey
If you don’t think pretending to be imprisoned on a pirate ship sounds like a blast, then that’s fine, but you’re lame.
My first ever travel friend, Julia, is visiting me for a short weekend. I met her on my first day in Australia in 2012, and somehow we’ve stayed in touch through all these years. Currently we are on our mission to eat everything imaginable in Krakow. The bad thing about living in one place for a longer time is that you get very well familiarised with every food joint in town. So if your frend ever goes, ‘I feel like a pizza’, or ‘Man, I could really use an ice cream’, or – in Julia’s case – ‘I LOVE potatoes’, you can always respond with: ‘I know the perfect place!’
(For reference, the best potatoes in Krakow are in a street food stall called Pan Kumpir, and they’re huge.)
The waistband of my jeans is getting very cozy, and I haven’t even touched those four bars of Milka that Julia’s brought me.
Today we’ve chucked food aside for an hour to try an escape room game. It’s my first and her third. We were supposed to do one with the Wavel dragon but due to a mess-up in the booking system, we end up in the pirate room. And guys, it’s SO MUCH FUN. Even though you end up feeling like an idiot when you have to ask for the simplest clues. But I definitely recommend doing an escape room if you’re in Krakow; they’re pretty cheap, and there are plenty of English speaking ones around.
This one is definitely a lot more comfortable than the haunted house we went to yesterday. I quickly came to a conclusion that in a real horror movie, I would die instantly for being the biggest fucking coward ever.
Read more: The 5 stages of travel friendships
April 28. Saturday, Krakow. The Mothership Has Landed
When my mum last went to Poland, she swore she hated the country. So naturally I had to move to Krakow so she would have to visit me and change her mind.
The thing is, last time she went to Warsaw. For four days. At Easter. Warsaw sucks. There is barely enough to see for one day. And Poland is a Catholic country – guess what, everything closes for religious holidays.
Krakow, the party centre of Poland, at 27 degrees plus though? A whole different story.
The first thing my parents do when they get to my apartment is unload what must be half of a small grocery store into my hands. I have never owned this much chocolate at once in my entire life. I have no self-discipline. They have given me a dangerous weapon.
It’s nice that they’re here, though, and not only because they’re taking me out to eat and paying for all my food. Ever since I moved out after high school, I only get to see my family every few months. I’d consider it a lucky year when I had time to visit them more than four times. Back when I was living in Finland, all of my free days were spent scrubbing toilets in the tallest hotel in Tampere, and my holidays taken up by travelling to see my at-the-time boyfriend. Now that I live abroad, it’s all kinds of more complicated.
I’m also happy that they’ve offered to take my suitcase back with them. In February, I arrived in the city with a backpack and a suitcase, but now that I’m going hiking straight from here, it doesn’t make sense to drag around that much luggage. (Just the thought of that is making me, a habitual hand-luggage only aficionado, a little weak at the knees.)
You know how much stuff they took out? 17 kilos. Seventeen. And that’s without the sheets, towels and the books that I brought with me. Apparently it is still possible to live out of a suitcase and go, ‘where the hell is all this stuff coming from??’
And still there is so much stuff that I am very much convinced is not going to fit into my tiny little 40-litre. And I’m not quite sure I still have enough stuff.
May 1. Wednesday. Bratislava Sucks, I Kinda Don’t
So, it takes:
4,90 e for the most dissappointingly small cup of yoghurt and fruit I have ever seen.
30 minutes and one (1) frantic, answered-but-not-resolved e-mail to my thesis instructor to find out what I’m supposed to name the file.
20 minutes to download Adobe trial to make sure I will not ruin the file while converting it from .doc to PDF.
10 minutes of near tears trying to save the document on PDF.
And 1 message from my friend suggesting that I can just use Word to convert the document. (I’ve been bombarding my uni group chat all morning with a growing degree of desperation and they’ve all been very supportive. They are amazing friends. We call ourselves zumba ewoks. We were probably drunk when we came up with that.)
I check the spelling of my own name for the fifth time as well as the meaning of the word ‘title’ just to make sure it doesn’t have any ambiguous meanings that might mean I’m sending my thesis off to the Dark Lord of the Seventh Dimension. When there isn’t anything left to check, I press send.
My Master’s thesis is done! I’m going to graduate!
People always talk about this weight off their chest after they’ve done something important; maybe I’ve seen too many horror movies, but I feel like what the possessed must feel like after the demon leaves their body. I’m not going to lie – I have hated every moment of writing my thesis. Even now that I’ve written it and sent it off, I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment – I know it’s not a good thesis, but it’s passable, and that is really all I was aiming for. I’m just relieved it’s over, because a month ago I was still sure I would not graduate.
When I started the thesis process – or, more accurately, the Path of Pain & Darkness – last September, I contacted a company by a teacher’s reommendation to write my thesis based on their data. It excited me to work with a company; I felt like my thesis would be unique and actually useful to the field. But countless emails, several cases of MIA and a change of contact person later it became clear that they had no idea what they were doing, and they didn’t have any of the data I was expecting to base my thesis on.
On average, people in my faculty finish their thesis in a year. I emailed my thesis instructor around Christmas tiem, saying that I needed to change topics and basically start from scratch. On the 1st of February, I was set out to move to Poland for my internship.
Suffices to say that one month was not nearly enough time, especially when it was my last month in Finland which meant I was travelling around for half the month, trying to catch friends here and there. When I arrived in Krakow, I suddenly found myself busy with not only my new work, but also with dinner invitations, parties and hang-outs. Most nights I was making a choice between staying in and staring at the empty screen in hopes that the thesis might write itself, or going out to try and get to know my new friends and feeling guilty about not being at home staring at an empty screen. Making friends in a new country is hard enough even without all the stress of all these extra activities.
It seemed so unfair. Well, unfair might be the wrong choice of words since all of this was up to me, but I had already worked so hard. In Finland, it’s supposed to take five years and 300 study credits to graduate with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. If I got my thesis done, that would mean I’d be graduating on time but with one year of extra credits (367 credits in total, to be exact) with an exchange semester and an internship included. I had done all of this while working 2-5 shifts a week at a hotel just to save money for travelling and graduate without any debt.
I’m not saying any of this to brag. I’m just saying I was tired. So, so tired.
I had already worked so hard for my degree, and I couldn’t believe this stupid single assignment would stand in the way of getting it. Writing the thesis gave me anxiety, and not writing it did the same. I even banned my parents from even mentioning it. As I was getting used to the idea that I might not actually graduate, the thought of my parents’ dissappoinment made me despair. They kept encouraging me, telling me they believed in me, that I could do it. And I just kept thinking: what if I can’t?
With two weeks to spare, I sat down and hammered it out. It helped that the analysis part was mostly done – I’d worked on it in that late bus to Lviv – and the theory was all lined out in copy pasted quotes.
Somehow I got it done, and now it’s over.
I close my computer and gather my stuff. So far Bratislava has not been kind to me, but I guess it’s worth seeing what it has to offer now that I can.
Read more: The curse of being good
May 4. Friday, Krakow. May the Sweets Be with You.
My best friend and favourite human in the world is here!
Ever since we connected in high school over zombie movies and the fact that we both knew Fireflies by Owl City, Katri has been one of the most important people in my life. We rarely see nowadays because I am habitually AWOL and her leisure time is always on the negative, so our communication mostly consists of memes and 15-minute life-crisis voice messages. It’s good to see her again after a few months. Plus, she’s letting me take her to the mountains which I’m just super stoked about.
And guess what she’s brought me? Candy. Another kilo of sweets and chocolate.
(At this point I have 1,5 kg of chocolate and 1,2 kg of sweets in my cupboard. I counted.)
We get to talking about my upcoming hiking trip and she tells me about these great instant food packages that she usually takes with her when she goes hiking. They’re Finnish.
‘Should’ve brought those over instead of all the candy’, she sighs.
Yeah, no shit.
Anyway, someone looking to ruin their teeth for good? Finnish sweets are dope and I need friends.
That’s it for this time! As I’m typing this up, my three-weeks mark has passed, and I’m preparing for my last two and half weeks in Krakow. Next time in How to Abroad for Dummies: Will all of my stuff fit in my backpack? Will I ever get rid of all this chocolate? Am I going to bawl like a baby when I have to go?
What have you been up to, anyway?