Within the first 24 minutes of arriving to Jurgow, I found myself hanging upside down in the attic of the village fire station. Within the first 24 hours, I was bathing in thermal waters at the foothills of the Tatras, watching the sunset-induced light show change the mountains from a luminescent green to a golden purple, to a pinkish orange, to a pallett of shades resembling a blue period Picasso. As I watched, a jetstream of bubbles massaged my back and cool raindrops jumped into the pool of hot water. At the risk of sounding cliche, I will complete the scene— as it was completed for me— by telling you that a rainbow streaked the sky in a perfect horseshoe, growing progressively more pronounced, linking the green hills to my left and the craggy mountains farther in the distance to my right. Until all faded into the blackness of the sky.
I arrived to Jurgow the night before last. A little village on near the border of Poland and Slovakia just a half hour outside of Zakopane, which is itself a bit over two hours outside of Krakow. Jurgow is the kind of place you go to teach yourself to play an instrument or write a book or read the books waiting on your lengthy “to read” lists. It is a place to learn an ancient language no longer spoken, a place to forget the rest of the world exists, to forget that some people run from here to there and use watches and catch trains and wait for traffic lights to tell them when to stop and when to go.
As often happens during travels, I am indulging in the generosity of strangers. My brother’s friend’s father’s cousin invited me to stay in his guesthouse in this little alpine village. I arrived to an outpouring of what I interpereted to be welcoming Polish words. “English: Nietz” is the only part I can honestly say I understood. And yet we spoke to one another as if we both knew what the other was saying. I tried to keep it simple. I did a lot of thumbs ups— which I hope is a universal sign of approval—, some exaggerated smiles and head nodding. Some slow-spoken words of approval in English and a smattering of dziekuje bardzos (thank you very much), tak, tak (yes, yes), and dobre, dobre (good, good). Jozek on the other hand, spoke to me as if I were a native speaker. I had made a point of learning how to say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” on the 12 hour train ride to Krakow from Berlin, but I couldn’t remember it for the life of me. After a couple of minutes, it seemed I had exhausted all of my pertinent Polish skills. When there was a pause in the ‘conversation’ I thought about asking where the bathroom was just to avert an uncomfortable silence, but i decided that would probably only increase the impending awkwardness seeing as he had just shown me it. All I had remaining in my mental storage from the “one minute polish lessons with Anya” podcast I listened to on the bus ride over was good night and good bye— neither of which seemed appropriate responses to Jozek’s enthusiastic welcome.
Just my luck that the only other guest staying in the log cabin guest house was an English teacher visiting Jurgow for a yoga retreat. I was saved from the great confusion that was sure to arise and my hiking trip to the mountains turned into a meditative stretching excursion. More to come.