“Do you know what is typical Polish morning?” a half-crazed Polish 20-something said as he accosted my friend and me on the sidewalk near Krakow’s Old Town, his bloodshot eyes inches away as he teetered back and forth. It was 9 a.m. on Saturday, but for this guy, Friday night was still going strong.
“Nope,” I said, wiping spittle off my cheek.
“THIS IS TYPICAL POLISH MORNING!” he screamed and ran across the street, beckoning us to meet his friends clustered outside a club in the grey morning light. “On typical Polish morning,” he whispered, eyes opening wider, “We do not drink coffee; we drink vodka.” And he’s off, rambling in a mix of Polish and English as we watched, unable to get a word in edgewise. We had been in Krakow for a grand total of two hours, and it was already weird and over-stimulating.
But that’s what we expected going into this weekend. We only had 39 hours in Krakow, arriving at 7 a.m. Saturday on a cheap overnight bus and leaving 10 p.m. Sunday on another cheap overnight bus. In that time, we packed in as much as possible – walking tours, open air markets, museums, people-watching, pub crawls, party hostels, pierogi, jazz clubs, old churches, and Auschwitz – in a way that left no time for normalcy. It was guaranteed to be over-stimulating. And yet, the intensity was worth it, because the alternative was not going at all.
My friend and I are American English teachers in Prague, and we teach lessons from early Monday morning through Friday evening. This makes weekend travel considerably more difficult for expats like us than it is for those who only work four-day schedules, or students who face few (if any) consequences for skipping a day of class. When I travel, there is no flexibility in my travel dates, so every website that says “book flights in the middle of the week for lower prices” is not helpful. I live on a teacher’s salary, so I can’t afford much comfort or convenience in my travel plans. I have a busy and demanding work schedule, so by the end of the day on Friday, I just want a glass of wine and eight hours of sleep.
Usually, though, as I settle in for that glass of wine and eight hours of sleep, I think, “Why did I move to Prague if I’m going to have the same routine I could have had in Houston, Texas?” I left behind everyone I love in order to live and work abroad, telling them that this opportunity made sense for my career in education, for my desire to understand more of the international community, and for my own personal growth. “I’ll be able to travel all the time,” I said again and again. “Prague is so centrally located; I can go anywhere.” As it turns out, the trick is actually doing it.
Weekend travel as a full-time worker is difficult but not impossible – Europe is, after all, home to an amazing transportation system and relatively easy border crossings. We booked cheap tickets on Tuesday, hopped on a bus on Friday, and woke up with the Polish sunrise on Saturday. Our time in Krakow was compressed, certainly, but 39 hours is enough time to absorb a decent amount of the culture and flavor of a place if you plan well and keep drinking strong coffee. To be sure, after arriving in Prague at 5:30 a.m. Monday, my lessons that morning were a challenge. But am I willing to trade a few hours of sleep for a memorable weekend in a new, vibrant, thought-provoking city? Absolutely. That’s why I moved to Prague.
It’s easy enough to list all the reasons not to travel on the weekends when you’re working full time. But what about all the reasons to do it anyway? Think of what you’ll see. Think of what you’ll learn. Think of how you’ll grow. All you have to do is stop just saying you want to travel on weekends, and actually book your tickets.
So am I an expert on Krakow now? No, of course not. But I got a taste of the city, and that’s more than I had before. Krakow was strange, Krakow was beautiful, and Krakow was decidedly over-stimulating – but hey, maybe that’s a typical Polish experience.
Melanie Zook is a native Texan teaching English around the world. She is a featured contributor for UnearthAway. Learn more here.
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