International Writers Magazine: European Travel - From Our Archives
I had no place to
be in Hel, nor a place to stay and, feeling that I had been transported
there, I wished to remain in control of my destiny and destination.
Trip to Hel
I can honestly
and truly say that I have been to Hel, and back. I went by train;
an old black steam train to be precise. As you can imagine, it was
a pretty surreal experience, but despite its reputation, Hel wasnt
such a bad place at all. I couldnt stay long because the train
service there was very limited and, unless I wanted to stay at least
one night, I had to catch the same train back to real life.
Hel was hot; that much I can confirm. I travelled through fog, sunshine
and lumpy clouds to get there and it was an arduous journey. I was alone
for most of the journey and had time to wonder at the isolation I was
travelling through and to. I wrote notes about the journey because it
was so affective. I remember the strange shifts between colour, the yellow
fields, and the blindness created by the fog that surrounded the train
at times, giving the impression that I was drifting in clouds.
I said that the journey was arduous and that was because there was no
comfort offered along the way, despite travelling 1st class. It was a
trip lasting many hours, but there was no buffet, let alone restaurant
car and 1st class was more like 3rd class in a restored railway carriage
on a preserved line in England. Additionally, despite the romance of steam
trains, they are definitely less comfortable than modern trains on modern
seamless tracks. Theres the jerky take-off from the station and
of course the smutty flecks such as the one which encountered Celia Johnsons
eye at a station somewhere-in-England and started a whole illicit love
Anyway, back to Hel (and back). Once arrived, the sun was shining brilliantly,
and it was this that made the place extremely hot, not the biblical flames
as we are read to believe. In fact they even sold ice cream, which was
a most welcome surprise. I cant remember the name now, but Im
sure I would have remembered if it had been "Lucifers Maid"
or "Mr Beelzebub".
The return trip was less memorable. Perhaps I fell asleep after my little
adventure. Perhaps it was just the way that return journeys always seem
to be quicker than the outward part. Perhaps it was because I knew where
I was going and returning to "real life" did not hold the same
intense excitement as a trip into the unknown.
if the question of Heaven and Hel concern you, I would recommend
a trip to this little seaside resort on a promontory in Poland.
Of course, I can never return, because my fantasy would be shattered.
Perhaps it isnt so little now. In those days there was no
real commercialism there; it was the dark, grim days of Communism
in 1988. Perhaps now, a smooth modern train runs there, or even
no train at all. So send me a postcard from Hel and tell me all
about it. Just dont write "Wish you were here".
© Anita Sheard December 18th 2007
*For those who want to spend next summer in Hel, book early it is a favoured
resort for artists, writers and all Poles who love a good beach.
Explore more about Hel here
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