I stood a few feet away from the closed door and held a handle on the wall to steady myself. The train raced top speed down the tracks.
Two stops. That’s all. A 12 minute ride.
I wasn’t anxious to get off the train at the right stop, I worried that the door wouldn’t open when it was time to get off.
That happened to me when I arrived at Sopot, the door wouldn’t open and I had to race through the train while a dad from New Jersey begged them to take pity on us since the door wouldn’t work and let us off the train.
It worked. They stopped the train.
I wasn’t in the mood for more door drama.
So I stood close to the door and willed it to open when it was time.
“Open Sesame” I hinted.
Maybe this wasn’t a good door. The handle looked corroded. I opened the sliding doors between the cars and pulled my suitcase through to the next car and stood next to that door.
That handle looked like it would work.
This was an old train and to open the door you had to turn a crank-handle to the right, then push the door open. It was a heavy door.
I talked to the door while the train hurdled me towards my next city. “You will open easily. You will. You will open.”
The train slowed as it approached my station.
I know. I have to get off here. I know.
The train stopped. I turned the crank.
I pushed against the door.
I should have taken a taxi.
I pushed my body against the door.
A man standing outside who may be a weightlifter and waiting to get on this train threw his body against the handle getting the door to budge, then wrestled it open.
So glad he goes to the gym.
I picked up my suitcase and my computer bag and stepped off the train.
I had arrived in Gdansk, a picturesque city in the north of Poland.
I could walk the twenty minutes to my hotel, but it’s hard pulling my suitcase over the bumpy cobblestones.
The driver pulled up on time. I relaxed in the back seat, glad that he had the windows open on this 100 degree day but couldn’t wait to get to my hotel room and blast the air conditioning for a few minutes to cool off.
After a five minute ride, the driver stopped the car and said we were here.
But we weren’t. It’s a ten minute drive to my hotel.
“No. This isn’t it.”
He got out, pulled out my suitcase out of the trunk and placed it on the sidewalk. I reluctantly joined my suitcase. I was in the Old Town, but not close to my hotel.
“This is not my hotel.”
He pointed down the street.
I didn’t thank him for the ride.
It was 100 degrees outside. I put on my hat and punched the address into my phone.
A ten-minute walk. Over cobblestones.
Fine. I can walk there, but I am not giving that driver a tip.
I arrived at the hotel a pile of sweat and smiles.
“The driver left me on the other side of the river.” I said.
The same clerk was here who helped me reserve the room yesterday. “Why he find us not? We have taxis come long day.”
Check in was a breeze. I took the elevator up to my room.
Actually I had to rent an apartment, their rooms were all taken.
That’s fine. What do I expect when I book a weekend in the summer one day before I’m to arrive? I was surprised I could find a place to stay. They say that tourism is down this summer; that is working to my advantage.
The apartment was on the first floor. There was a separate bedroom, a separate living room, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom. The rooms were all small. Cute. There was a table in the kitchen where I could write.
Score. This would work.
I closed the curtains in the bedroom to keep the sun from blaring in and thought I’d take a rest for a few minutes.
Wait, no air conditioning in the bedroom?
I searched the apartment which was on the newer side. Maybe the air conditioning comes out of vents somewhere.
I returned to the desk to find out how to turn it on.
The girl nodded and handed me a small, round, electric fan.
My mouth dropped open. A fan?
“This will help you.”
I stammered. “No air conditioning?”
She shook her head no in the European way where they don’t care about your wants and needs.
I felt like a jerk. Cool air is an American insistence, Europeans accept a 100 degree apartment without question.
I was paying $200 a night for an apartment without air?
“You told me yesterday that the apartments have air.”
She nodded. “They do. But only on the 4th floor.”
I straightened up. “I would like a 4th floor apartment.”
She said that was not possible. Everything was booked.
It was just what I didn’t want. I traveled all the way here yesterday so I wouldn’t have to deal with this today.
I asked her to please refund my money: I needed to find a new place to stay.
She went and got a well-dressed woman from the next room. They stared at the computer screen at the reception desk. The woman coached her in Polish. There. There. Do this. Now click here.
The well-dressed woman returned to her office – that may have been air conditioned – and the young woman handed me a new room key with a new password.
“You have a different apartment for me?”
“And it has air conditioning?”
“And I have it for both nights?”
I thanked her profusely and she said that I was lucky the apartment was available.
No, I didn’t argue that she said there was no availability.
This apartment was larger: a kitchen area. A sofa (!) and a desk (!) in the same room. A decent sized bathroom and a loft with a large bed as well as a skylight on the side of the ceiling where I could see the tower of the same church next door.
The room was cool.
I love a cool room.
After a rest I admired the view of Saint Mary’s church from my kitchen window and thought I would find my way there. It is one of the largest brick churches in the world and can hold 25,000 people inside.
I know. Big.
When considering the history of Poland, there are always markers for time. Before World War II or after the Soviet occupation. In short many valuables and art from the church were hidden away before the occupations, most were stolen.
The church is like a museum with explanations given in Polish and English of their major works of art.
I poked my way around and admired the gold art, the statues, the famous Gdansk astronomical clock that was built in the 1400s and then after a major fire it was reconstructed after 1945.
I found a little door, like a "Hobbit’s" door. The sign said, “NO ENTRY.”
It’s tough to ignore a sign in English. Where does that door go, and why can’t I go there?
I wandered some more and found another hobbit door. This one had a clerk sitting nearby.
She said that for 14 zloty, I could climb the tower.
Really? A tower.
There was no line of people waiting to climb, so I paid my $3.03 and stepped through this second hobbit door.
Narrow, winding stairs. I tried to take a photo, but the area was too narrow.
There were no railings. Occasional windows carved into the old, brick walls let in a bit of light.
It was musty in there.
I kept climbing. At first I thought I was alone and my mind started concocting a horror movie where the bad guys waited years for a woman to climb the many stairs up the tower. Someone who didn’t know what was up there….
After a while I could hear a man coaching a woman in another language to get her to climb the stairs faster. They were way behind me, but I was glad for the company.
Someone painted numbers on the steps so you could figure out how many steps you had climbed. 50. 100. 150.
I must be close to the top.
Narrow stairs. Climbing. Climbing.
Getting dizzy. This isn’t the kind of place where you can stop and take a rest and get your bearings. There is no place to rest.
I climbed on. 250. 300.
Narrow stairs. Can only see the spiral of stairs in front of me. I looked up and could see the bottom side of the spiral stairs; there were more stairs. Many more stairs.
I had a sudden interest in knowing more about this church. Like: how many steps to the top of the tower?
Is this like the Statue of Liberty where they strongly suggest that people with mental disorders like claustrophobia do not climb.
My mother is claustrophobic. This would be a rotten time to figure out that I was too.
No. The walls weren’t caving in. But I was pretty sure that someone was building more steps just ahead of me.
Are delusions a mental illness or am I suffering from a lack of oxygen?
I climbed on.
Why would I pay to climb up this tower without having more information?
I laughed out loud in celebration when I reached the top.
Only the joke was on me: it wasn’t the top. It was the top of the spiral stairs and the start to the concrete steps that were built along the sides of the church. These steps continued upwards.
I climbed on. Several people passed by me on the way down.
See? They lived.
There. Now. I finally made it to the top. Celebrate now!
Ok. Wait. This wasn’t the top, either. I was up to the innards of the church. There were more stairs, but these were concrete with wire along the sides so you couldn’t jump.
I climbed some more. Slowly. Breathing heavily.
There were two enormous bells hanging in the center space that the stairs were built around.
Let’s not stand here when the bells ring, okay?
I climbed some more. A man and a woman passed by on their way down the stairs. The woman was very pregnant, like maybe she would deliver right there on the steps.
I moaned and rubbed my belly and smiled and gave the woman a “Thumbs up” sign.
She didn’t get the message, but the man translated.
How on earth could she do this when she was pregnant?
With enormous effort, I finally made it to the very top. It really was the top this time.
More than 400 stairs. (According to the mathematician who wrote out the numbers.)
There was a small observation deck that looked out across the city in every direction. Ten people gaped at the view. Five of the people were young children.
What a relief I didn’t have to carry a child up those steps.
The people on top took photographs of the area and selfies with each other.
I was covered in sweat and trying to normalize my breathing. No selfie for me, but I did snap a few photos.
Okay. This was worth the climb. What a beautiful view.
The breeze cooled me.
I took my time walking down.
Slowly. Carefully. Focused.
Down some more.
Down. Down. Down.
After a turn, I was back in the church, but in a different area then where I started.
That’s disorienting. A different place? There must be two different spiral staircases.
That’s why nobody was climbing down the spirals when I was climbing up.
I stood at that first hobbit door I had peered in to with the sign about not entering.
Now I knew what was up there.
I sat on a bench and stared at the gold art at the front of the church. No, I didn’t want to steal the art, I was mesmerized by the color.
Maybe I was suffering from a lack of oxygen.
Thanks for reading.
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