21:00. Train station waiting room.
After Auschwitz, I picked up my rucksack from my host’s house and I made my way back to the centre. I went to a restaurant I’d been to yesterday because I knew they did fantastic soup and free wifi. The restaurant is called Chaczapuri by the way. It’s on Floriańska Street, it has very pretty waitresses who sometimes actually smile and it plays one CD, by The Lost Fingers, on a loop. ‘People always ask for it,’ the prettiest waitress told me. ‘But it must drive you crazy,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘You are right.’
I checked my bank balance to see if I could afford more than just one soup and one beer. I blanched. I sent a message to the people at Nationwide asking them if they might stop charging me quite so much interest all of a sudden. I guess it’s because I’m using cash machines in other countries. Administration charges. It’s very annoying. It meant the difference between a bowl of soup and a bowl of soup and SOME MEAT, which I really fancied. Ah well. That’ll teach me not be a very poorly organised idiot. (It really won’t.)
22:30. Night train to Vienna.
Back at the train station, with an hour to wait, I smoked a cigarette outside and was approached by a man who was, at a guess, in his 60s. He said something to me in Polish. I said, ‘English. Sorry.’ He said, ‘Ah. Weh weh weh.’ Then he thought for a moment and very very slowly he said, ‘May I have a cigarette?’ I showed him that I only had tobacco, established that that was acceptable to him and that he couldn’t roll his own, so I set about making him one.
He had short white hair, a thick white moustache and glasses. He looked quite respectable. The only thing that made me sure he was homeless was the bag he carried in his left hand. It was the usual laundry-type bag filled with what looked like sheets of cardboard from broken boxes.
When I handed him the cigarette I’d made, he took it without a word and lit it with his own lighter. Then he walked off a short way, stopped and turned and said, ‘Goodbye’. Then he continued on his way. ‘Goodbye,’ I said. ‘Good luck,’ I shouted after him. He kept walking. I watched him, relighting my own cigarette, and suddenly, in something of a flash of insight, it hit me.
‘That’s me,’ I thought. ‘That’s me in 20 years’ time.’
I finished my cigarette, looking around the giant square in front of Krakow Główny, breathing in the cold.
It was nothing like the Auschwitz blubbering – thank God – but in a moment of self-pity, my eyes moistened. This is how it starts, I thought. Maybe. It could be. It’s as good a starting point as any.
In the station waiting room, a couple of young homeless guys – probably half my age – were moved on by station security guards. They complained as they left and were back inside two minutes later.
I had two zlotys left in my pocket, giving me a choice: a bottle of water for the train, or a spare pen. The pen I had was fine but it would be dreadful to run out and have nothing to write with. Plus there is something rather romantic in choosing the pen over water. So I did. I bought a spare pen, wrote for 20 minutes and headed out to the platform.
Monday 28th February. 06:40.
My spare pen didn’t make it through the night. It fell down the side of my bed before I went to sleep. The guy below was sleeping so I couldn’t ask him for it. In the morning I forgot. Ah well.
I’m currently sitting on the 06:29 from Vienna to Villach, where I will disembark and take a bus to Venice. This is the first train I’ve been on with a working electricity point, so I’m actually able to use my laptop in motion for the first time on this trip. No wireless though. Probably just as well.
Leaving the centre of Vienna just now, just after 6.30, I saw a long line of three lanes of commuting cars at a standstill at some traffic lights. I have to admit, it gave me a brief moment of pleasure that I wasn’t in one of them, on my way to work. I’m not saying I’d rather be that old homeless guy wandering the streets of Krakow in sub-zero temperatures asking tourists for cigarettes, than some Viennese commuter up and out but 6.30 of a Monday morning, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t. I really don’t know. The jury’s out. I’m not sure which of them has more freedom, more choices. I guess it depends on the individual.
A couple of times recently – including last night – I’ve woken up with very sharp pains in my chest. That’s nothing to worry about, is it?
I’m glad I got the train out of Austria in the daytime this time because Austria is absolutely breathtaking and a strange thing happened as I was travelling through the Alps, which I’m glad I was awake to see. After four days of constant snow and ice, the bus I was on disappeared into a mountain tunnel and when it came out the other side, everything was green. There was still snow on the peaks of the mountains but the ground was without a trace of snow. It felt like a good sign. It felt like I was moving forward. I’d be in Venice by lunchtime.