36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 327: Arrival in Poland—what a day


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 327 — Arrival in Poland—what a day
24-Jun-1972 (Sat.)


Sunset in Malomice


Big, long, and confusing day. I am writing near the end of it. Chronologically.

A little afraid before going. First time behind the Iron Curtain.

Never have a couchette on a trip into an “iron curtain” country because with all the red tape, you barely get a chance to use it. They stuck in on thick.

First, interrupted at the Austrian border for their check. Then, three or four times at the entrance of Czechoslovakia, and the same for Poland. It’s a pain, but if everything is in order, there is no problem. They are even basically friendly.

After a long and delayed ride, arrived in Katowice.

First impression of Poland (Katowice)

Industrial town. Just about the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. Dull, cold, dirty, and gray. First thing is that they don’t have the facilities we are used to. Hardly any restaurants, stores, etc.

But the people are friendly. And even though there is quite a language problem for me (it’s not tourist country), things go all right, if sometimes, somewhat aggravating. One lady was going to give me money for a strassebahn.

Caught the train (an hour late) to Wroclaw. Only standing room, and really packed. Perfect for a headache and upset stomach. Only good thing was that there were some good looking Polish girls next to me.


A much different city. More pleasant, wide, and new. A lot of young people. Busy. I had a little trouble finding out how to get to Malomice. Got to the train station.

Some interesting observations:

(1) Long lines are the way of life. Aggravating for someone used to service.

(2) So far, the girls I’ve seen have been really good looking. Quite a bit of them. Wish I knew more Polish.

(3) Short hair is more common than long. But a fair number of students seem to have pretty good growths.

(4) They use mostly old “steam locomotives.” In fact, the trains—not international—are not as nice or comfortable as the western European countries. Train to Malomice shook quite a bit.

(5) Scarry. At railroad stations, there are usually guards with sub-machine guns strapped to their backs. I sort of got the feeling that it would be very simple for someone to be arrested. Rights. At least I know that back home I can open my big mouth when I want to.

(6) Another phenomenon: The drunks. I have seen quite a few around. Not just drunk, but over-drunk in the same manner that my father acted. In fact, a lot of them could have been doubles—cannot walk right, etc. I have only seen this here, mostly. Maybe it’s because of the society.

Arrived in Wroclaw. Went to other train station.

Train to Malomice. Idea of people and country. Most people are basically friendly. Especially the lady who sold me train tickets, and the one who gave me the kielbasy.

Standing on the train, met two soldiers. Friendly, but a very short conversation. I didn’t feel like I was an antagonist. But impression I got was that they were playing it up, and had more status here.

Stop at Lygnice. Nice square. Headache went away. Nicest town so far.

On the train, teenagers giving candy to a little baby. Funny—whole train was laughing.


After a long ride through beautiful country—mostly farms—I finally arrive at Malomice and find out it is the WRONG TOWN. The town I wanted to go to was NOT on the map.

Backtracked to Lygnice. About to leave for Lubin. It is 1:00 A.M.


Real-life, real-world. What a day this appears to have been. I’m traveling from free western Europe to communist Czechoslovakia and Poland. Papers have to be checked. I am naïve and have no idea was is coming down the road. All I know is “I am going to Poland.” (How hard can that be?)

Remember that I am a “book-schooled” kid and now I am heading into the real world, behind the Iron Curtain, into a communist controlled society. Talk about waking up to the fact that the world is not all storybook fairytales. In the U.S., in 1970, you never saw soldiers in uniform, let alone with machine guns, and here it is, in Poland, the railroad stations and borders have armed soldiers policing with machine guns. That was an eye-opener.

Old and new. I was surprised at the differences in the cities that I went through. The industrialized city appeared to be terrible, while some of the more modern cities were fine. I would guess that the industrialization was similar to what the U.S. had gone through earlier in its history. It takes a while for people to fight for a better quality-of-life and living conditions, which does not always happen at the onset of industrialization. That there were nice towns and lots of farms was a positive. Would Poland be different today, over 36 years later? Cleaner? Better quality of life? Certainly, yes.

People are people. Thank goodness that I learn that people everywhere are basically good people. Friendly and helpful people. I believe that this is the “good” that is in most of us, in most of human nature. Imagine that one woman was ready to help me by buying me a streetcar ticket. Amazing. Everyone was willing to help an obvious foreigner who didn’t speak much Polish. Seeing lots of people on the bus, trains, and in towns was interesting. I remember the mix of young people, soldiers, and just regular people. Good looking Polish girls seemed to catch my attention. Language was the issue. Also, people are people—not communists. They are dealt a hand and live their lives, going to work, school, having friends and raising families. And then there are the drunks. If you have no hope or purpose, I suppose it’s easy to go down that path. My father was an alcoholic.

Language. I knew a few phrases and words in Ukrainian. My mother was born in Poland close to Ukraine. When I was young, we would go to “Lemko” festivals—and so I suspect that was the region of my mother’s birthplace. Most Polish and Ukrainians can understand each other, but I was using very basic Lemko phrases. When I wanted to get a train ticket to Malomice, I might say “Dobre dehn. Yak she mash. Ya hochu, kopuyou yeden ‘billet.’ Ya hochu idu do Malomice.”

Steam locomotives and Malomice. When I wanted to go to Malomice, to meet my relatives, I went to the ticket office and spoke the above phrase and showed the woman my invitation letter with the Malomice address. She gave me the ticket. I got on this “truly rickety” old wooden train with an honest-to-goodness steam engine locomotive (see picture) and headed to Malomice. I remember this day and journey. It was cold and some windows were open on the train—like out of an old movie. What happened? Wrong Malomice. I went to a city called Malomice but my relatives were in a village called Malomice, which was not on any map. I was in the wrong part of the country. At any rate, in the early evening, we figure it out and I wait for a train at 1:00 A.M. to head back towards the bigger city of Lubin, closer to the place I wanted to go to.

The opening photo is of sunset at the train station in the
wrong Malomice. The photo below shows the train that I just got off of.

Steam locomotive leaving Malomice, Poland
Steam locomotive leaving Malomice

City names. I know that some of the city’s names are spelled wrong. I’ve been checking with Google Maps and in many cases, I have the spelling correct. However, in other cases Google doesn’t recognize my spelling and when I select an alternative, it is likely the wrong town. The towns I am spelling correct are: Krakow, Warszawa (Warsaw), Lubin, Tylawa, Malomice, and Katowice. The towns I can’t find are: Lygnice, Loczno, and Olystyn. Remember also that I went to the city of Malomice but ended up in the village of Malomice. I still can’t find the village, today. In addition to Lubin, there is a Lublin. It is confusing. I may have to call my relatives.


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