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Day Seven – Niechorze to Zielona Gora

The Mini Disaster!!!!

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Before I start today, I want to thank all the readers of my blog. I’m grateful for you as friends, family, and people I’ve never met. I have appreciated your feedback on social media and am happy I have been able to share my journey with you all.

Day Seven - Leaving Niechorze.

I planned to get on the road by 10 am, Today will be a big day. My head and heart are full of last night’s festival, catching up with Alexei and what the astrologist explained from Urszula’s chart. I am driving to where she lives, aware she isn’t there to meet me. She and her daughter care for some pets in a nearby city two hours away. It’s the closest we have been physically in 23 years.

I’ve made it to Szczecin, and whilst I’m tempted to go through a fast-food drive-through, it’s not something I relish. I navigate to DINO (a supermarket chain in Poland). My solo parent’s red shopping basket is filled with bread, pickles, bier sticks, ham, salami, cheeses, and salad (yes, kids, it has cabbage). I return to the Bunnings-sized carpark to set up my breakfast in the KIA’s boot, sharing it with a few German wasps. I slap at them and hop around as they hover over my foot-long ham, pickle, and cheese roll. I must appear hilarious from afar but know that the Polish crowd would be stiff to get a smile from suck slapstick. Sure enough, a mature woman drives slowly past with her window down and flashes me a Polish scowl. I want to grimace back in exchange for cultural sensitivity, but my inner child wants to play, so I direct her past me using the said roll as traffic control, grinning maniacally. Maybe she will call the manager?

I pack up the Kia rental car and head to the highway on the narrow roads. Music is at volume as I depart the quaint streets of Szczecin and am about to return to lightspeed on the Polish speedway. Spotify has it bang on today, and each song it plays randomly gets heart-added to my liked list. I’m not listening to Bruce Mclean, but this is the day the music died. I can hear the road noise in the wheel arches of my SUV doing 130kph. I tap the screen console to find where on Earth Donna Summer went. Lost internet connection. I drive in silence (I swore a few times, so not really) for another 20-30 km wondering when the FATHER XMAS is the worldwide-web internet thingy will be connected again. I notice the navigation system (via Google) has stopped. What is going on?

I test a phone call from the SUV console, and it fails. The voice engineer in me is pretty sure that the Aussie Telstra SIM in my phone has died. In 2000 this was no big deal. In 2023 when you are halfway between destinations, in a foreign country, with no map, road signs that don’t list where you want to go, and unable to search for any information or make a phone call, the gravity of the situation increases. How is it, in 1975, without this technology, we rarely felt lost and helpless like this? I am starting to swear and get bothered by my situation and the SIM crash. I haven’t written down the hotel address I’m staying at, so where in the helicopter am I driving to?

Fortunately, The next road sign displays my destination's name, Zielona Gora. In my spare time, I have studied the city's layout in detail and know that my Hotel is down the street from where Urszula resides, by design. I have Ruben Hotel and Ptasia (a suburb name), and that’s it. I follow a few cars, believing they know the way, down dead-end streets and alleyways. I travel across town, the sun and shadows as my compass. I feel like I have been here in a dream. A road is familiar, and then I see the name "Ptasia" and the apartment blocks nestled in the green woodlands. Urszula has sent me photos and videos from this location, so it’s deja vu in my mind. My hotel is near, but I will do the Kiwi thing and stop and ask for directions.

It's hilarious. No one I talk to speaks English. They are trying to be helpful. An elderly man I asked moments earlier has had a brain fart, and he’s animated about getting my attention and pointing to a shop, insistent I go in there. It’s a good idea to get out of the 28-degree day and into the Zabac (brand name) shop, think a small dairy or Seven-Eleven, which is air-conditioned. The young woman behind the counter is beautiful and smiling. “Do you speak English?” I say to her. Her smile grows more prominent. “Yes, I do.” I have been sent an angel to help me on my way! She organises me a new ORANGE SIM card for 30GB data and costs 5 zloty (about $2). She removed her name badge, ‘KATARYN’, so I could use the safety pin in the back to pop out the tiny phone SIM. My phone is working again! The world returns to my screen, and with it the location of my hotel, less than 1km away. I am impressed that I managed to navigate close to my destination without technology.

I checked into the hotel, and they allocated me to room 324. This is a good number for me as its sum = 9 (3+2+4), the number that signifies change. I put my suitcase in that gap they reserved next to the wardrobe and collapsed on the queen-sized bed. I gawp at the ceiling and the gravity and location of where I am losing control and feeling overwhelmed. With my hands, I notice something strange. Why do all the beds I have slept in only have a bottom fitted sheet? It must save an awful lot on washing. I laugh to break the tension. The moment will get too serious if I don’t move. I can’t be this close to Urszula’s backyard to not go for a walk around it without her.

I change and stroll back to the shop I bought the SIM from and thank the young brunette attendant again for her help. I searched the large numbers on the apartment blocks to find where Urszula has lived for all these years and talked to me from the other side of the world. It’s emotional for me to be here without seeing her, but the purpose of booking this place and coming to Poland was to say goodbye to her ghost of 23 years. I will background this story as I know some of you reading this are in the dark. Trust me, it's the short version.

In 2000 I was working in Europe and had to fly to Poznan, Poland, from where I was based in Edinburgh, Scotland. The global company I was employed by had a European marketing office that was supposed to be focused on attracting more Eastern European customers to sign up for (what was then) revolutionary wireless technology. (Broadband MMDS using micro-pop technology with satellite base stations.) The director of our Polish operation, Michael Caine’s doppelgänger, wasn’t who he said he was and had misrepresented himself to the board of directors. I was tasked with furbishing a set of accounts to Chiene & Tait (Scotland Accountancy firm) from Poland, and this is when his ruse started falling apart. After many requests, he provided a handwritten set of accounts that he faxed (think of the quality) in five different currencies. The red flags went up. He had been provided more than USD 650,000 for the Polish operation, so it became evident that he had spent the money on something else. Tensions and conversations became heated between the Polish Director and the board of directors. They reached the boiling point where he issued them all death threats, including myself, and hacked a highly encrypted website we operated out of Miami and Costa Rica. Our technical director said it would be too dangerous to go, and based on this web hack and his threats, we should just cut our losses. I had invested time, money and a lot of energy to be a part of this global company and to have one person screw the whole company. Not on my watch. This act of embezzlement was going to shut down the whole shooting box. I needed to know where our money went, and someone had to fly to Poznan and shut down their office. I decided I’d go and knew I’d have to be clever about it. In my last conversation with the director, he said, “You’re f**king with the big boys now, Andy. I will arrange for someone to meet you at the airport.”

This isn’t the whole story that belongs in a book, but merely the backdrop for how I met Urszula. It felt like real spy stuff. It turned out Interpol wanted him in thirty-five countries. I flew to Poznan and couldn’t help but feel some James Bond, even if I was only 004/2 (double O four and a half.) I didn’t technically have the 00 (licence to kill) either, but I felt shaken and not stirred.

After a convoluted flight path and several date changes to avoid being met by Michael Caine’s Russian henchmen, I flew from Edinburgh (via Warsaw) to Poznan to be met by two of the women from the Polish office. Urszula and Asia. I had no idea how life-changing this single moment would be. I didn’t believe in the concept of love at first sight. I’d laugh at people who talked about it, advising them it was easy to find another person attractive, but love took time. I guess I’d overlooked the part where we all had a relationship over the phone leading up to this moment, but it was the first time I’d laid eyes on Urszula.

There’s a line from a BB. King's song I love, and it goes, “If the arrows from Cupid's bow had passed through her body, she would have looked like a bullfighter.” Roll camera, vignette edges (think Vaseline around the lens edges) and slow motion. Cue soft romantic music. Close-up change POV. Pull back, full shot, running towards each other with our arms open. Airport with no one else but Urszula and I in it. Add people back to the shot. Crescendo. Yes, I know, it's all the corny clichés from movies all at once, yet there it was. Love at first sight. The Polish airline had lost my luggage, but I was so loved up that I didn’t care if I ever saw my clothes again.

As I said, this travel blog isn’t THAT story, but now for those who wanted to be filled in, this event happened 23 years ago. The reason and catalyst for this trip started from THAT moment. I’m trying not to end it with the next one, but one must be limited to one’s fantasies and dreams. The reality was calling. End of dream sequence.

Meanwhile, back in Zielona Gora, 2023, there are kids laughing in a playground I have seen in Urszula's many shared photos. The surrounding green and forest (Zielona Gora mean green mountain) have a cooling and calming effect. I am feeling peaceful and grounded. I say goodbye by leaving a small tribute of my soul, next to a large rubbish bin. I must let everything about Urszula go in this moment.

I don’t remember walking back to the hotel. I Google restaurants nearby, and a clump of them cluster on the map. This will be the town centre, that most European cities have. I’m close, and it’s downhill. I roll of into the township where I am drawn into playing tourist for a good hour in the fading light and growing shadows. The smell of wood-fired pizza and people sitting in recliners drinking Zubrowka Vodka with apple juice lures me to my destination for dinner that has a 4+ rating. Restaurant guides like this are invaluable as dining in a foreign country can be a bit of a lottery. I decide I need a bourbon old fashioned, so listen for the music I can hear playing and follow it. It’s a Led Zeppelin track I’m familiar with. “Whole Lotta Love.”

I raise the tumbler and amber liquid to the clear night sky and say out loud the term of endearment we have shared for a quarter of a century. And no, I’m not sharing what this is…

End of Day Seven.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 06:52 Archived in Poland

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