National Geographic : 1939 Jun
PEDALING THROUGH POLAND An American Girl Free-wheels Alone from Krakow, and Its Medieval Byways, Toward Ukraine's Restive Borderland BY DOROTHY HOSMER IT IS three years now since I bade fare well to New York from the bow of the President Roosevelt and turned my eyes across the Atlantic. At last I was actu ally off to see the world! The only indica tion of the future was a passport bristling with visas for lands from France to Japan. My anticipation was high, but it held no real inkling of the experiences awaiting a lone girl roaming strange lands. My route had been mapped out methodi cally: three months in Europe, then on to India and the Orient. But other things were in store for me. Eight days of the lazy life on board ship did more than put an ocean between the boat and New York. It instilled in me the conviction that traveling was something you had to take as it came along if you wanted to get anything out of it. Hence on the evening before landing I threw my itinerary to the winds and decided to cycle from Geneva to Trieste. That spur-of-the-moment decision led me from one adventure to another in my zig zag route across the face of Europe. For tunately it was a process of gradual educa tion, so that by the time I reached the Bal kans and understood the attitude toward girls without chaperones, I had become bet ter able to cope with the inevitable mis understandings. OCTOPUS, FRIED IN DEEP FAT In these three years I have acquired smat terings of half a dozen languages, and have learned to eat anything set before me, even to baby octopus fried in deep fat. There have been nights with and with out sleep, on beds of straw or plain un yielding boards, in huts and castles, in student homes and hostels. I have pushed a loaded cycle in a driving rain up to the snow-patched summit of the Simplon Pass, where in a tiny inn enormous green wine bottles filled with hot water coaxed the warmth back into me. At times I have temporarily abandoned my bicycle to reach places a cycle could not go. In Vienna I received a letter from an author friend. Several days in Krak6w had convinced him he had made a find; the place fairly cried out for my camera; on what train would I arrive? Why not? I would cycle through Po land! Ten hours later I alighted from the express at the Krakow station (maps, pages 743-4).* I felt as if I had stepped into another world. Everything seemed unreal, from the soldiers whose caps were squared on the top like mortarboards to the long-bearded Jews who slipped about silently. The feeling that it was all a part of an operetta persisted when Jack handed me into a shiny black droshky, one so lightly balanced on springs that it appeared to float along, swaying from side to side. The horses' hoofs echoed against the cobbles. "FIDDLING" THEIR WAY THROUGH COLLEGE On many corners violinists who were ob viously more than mere beggars drew a few coins with their melodies. I learned later that most of them were university students. We turned past the Rynek, the large cob bled square in the center of the town (pages 741, 747), and down a quiet street to a tall house at the end. Jack explained that it was the Dom Akademicki, the girls' dor mitory where I was to stay. For weeks I shared a room (one zloty, or nineteen cents, a day) with a girl who spoke German. It was a disappointment that only a small number of the students knew a foreign tongue. Postwar Poland realizes that a single language is a powerful factor in forging its people into national unity. Most of Krak6w's students are very poor and where possible they earn a pittance at odd jobs, the favorite being that of * See "Poland, Land of the White Eagle," by Melville Bell Grosvenor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1932.