When I visited Krakow for the first time, I got excited to see a Starbucks in the mall. I immediately pulled out my wallet from my purse and got ready to order my Vanilla Chai Latte and was debating whether or not to get a grande or venti. I never order the largest size back at home but I had gone months without a Vanilla Chai Latte and I wanted to make the most of the rare opportunity. When the time came for me to order, I remembered that the person manning the cash register speaks English as a second language. I had to slowly repeat my order and thankfully she understood.
Then she asked for my name to write on the cup and I told her, “Laurel.” I know it is not an easy name, especially with that second “L” sound. Back home, it is common for native English speakers to write “Laura” or “Lauren.” What I did not expect was this:
When they finished the drink, I had no idea that it was mine because 1) it’s not my name. No one has ever misspelled with with an “N” at the beginning and 2) the person calling out the drinks gave the Polish name for my drink. When I grabbed my drink, I laughed at the mistake, took a picture, and went on my way.
Unfortunately most of my experiences have not been as easy to laugh off. Most of the time I felt frustrated. I would try to be patient, keep my cool, and move on.
“I’m trying to find the bus stop!” – Zakopone, Poland
During my four day weekend this November, I decided to visit Krakow and Zakopone. I wanted a full day in the city and then a day in the mountains to balance out my vacation time. I was told that the mountains in Zakopone were beautiful and that I had to see them. I took a bus early in the morning so that I can make it to the mountain lift, hike and enjoy the view before the sunsets at 4:30.
Taking a bus from Krakow to Zakopone was the easy part. The problem was once I got there. I was nowhere near the mountain lift or the main city. It turned out that there were several trails and mountains to hike, but only one mountain lift. I asked the locals running the shops how to get to the lift. Most gave me that blank look that immediately told me that they didn’t speak English. Those who could speak some English told me one word, “bus.” I had to take another bus.
Now I understand that I am visiting Zakopone during the off season. It’s past summer hiking and it is too early for downhill skiing. Still, I had hoped that a tourist city like Zakopone would have more people people who could speak multiple languages. Did the locals even speak German or Czech?
So I took the bus. I tried to ask the driver about the lift, but he just gave me a blank look. I sat on the bus until everyone was told to get out at the city center. I figured that in the center, where most of the restaurants and shops were located, there would be someone – anyone – who could speak English and help me. I probably entered five or six shops until I reached a shop that sold hiking gear. The man in the store wrote down directions and apologized for “not knowing much English.” I told him it was just fine.
His directions somewhat helped. Unfortunately I had already burned an hour or more of daylight. I walked quickly to find this bus stop. Now the man’s direction told me to go straight and take a right. He said that I couldn’t miss this bus stop. Well, somehow I missed it. I wandered around for several minutes and I approached other shops asking for the bus stop. This time, I just stuck to those two words. The locals were happy to give me Polish directions. I tried to use my hands to gesture right, left, or straight, just to make sure I understood correctly. The woman working at a gift shop gave me a straight arm, spoke Polish and then gestured with her hands towards the left. So I had to go straight for who knows how long and then go to the left. I decided to just go straight. I asked about five other locals using the same methods until I finally found the right stop. I used the directions that the man selling hiking gear gave me to show the bus driver. He recognized the name of the mountain and smiled, trying to assure me that this was the right bus.
Finally I made it to the mountain, but unfortunately it was already 2:30 and there was a long line for the lift. I ended up standing in line for over an hour. When I was not far from the ticket booth, one of the workers made an announcement. A couple who stood in line with me, and thankfully spoke English, told me that the lift was closing. Many people were upset, but it turned out that 16 more people could take the lift before it closes. Praise God I was among the 16!!!
Initially I wanted to take a lift up the mountain and hike down, but with less than an hour of daylight, it was not a possibility so I had to spend extra money on a round trip ticket. That was the condition for the final 16 customers. At this point, I did not care. I did not want to go through hours of frustration for nothing.
It was worth it.
The twilight view of the mountain top was beautiful. There were clouds blocking some of the view, but I did not care. I made it to the top. I might not have done any hiking, but after all that I had gone through to reach the top of the mountain with the language barrier, I might as well have hiked two mountains.
I remained at the top for final hour of daylight, taking pictures and enjoying the view before I finally made my descent. It was fully dark by the time I reached the bottom. Although I wished I had gone hiking, I’m glad that I at least reached the top. Someday I’ll go back now that I know where to go and what to do. In the meantime, I can the enjoy the pictures I took and all the effort I put into capturing the moment.