Given that I find taxi interesting, I will attempt to to give you my observations about taxi in the various countries I have travelled to, where I have both taken and avoided taxis; for instance, not liking the looks of those ruffian cabbies waiting in front of the Vilnius train station. Wow, what an ominous looking crew.
But before proceeding with that somewhat unscientific analysis, I would first like to introduce everyone to this amazing part of the world we share that I literally stumbled upon, that being the southeastern corner of Poland better known as the region of Bieszczady which is, in turn, the Polish province of Podkarpackie. I feel lucky to have found myself here accidentally nestled in the Polish Carpathian Mountains foothills.The surrounding green hills are lovely to behold.
Where I am, and will remain for another five days, is the Hotel Jagiellonski in Sanok, a city of about 40,000 residents located on the River San. My corner room on the second floor allows me to do what I have been needing to do for months if not years: have a sustained rest and collect my often weary thoughts.
It has been a month now since my departure, and still, thirty days later, the ill effects of too much taxi remain.While slowly regaining my departed strength, I remain alarmed at how much damage has occurred. As I have always said, taxi is a perpetually fatigued industry, and folks, I can say definitely that I quality as exhibit A to that notion. But if soup qualifies as medicine, I will soon be healed due to my nightly supping upon the delicious soups served in the hotel restaurant as part of their daily special, 17 zl, translating into about $4.00.
Sanok itself is a historical place, having been here for centuries, now posing as a mild tourist attraction, at least during the prime summer months of July and August. The center, or "centrum," is located upon a hill overlooking the rest of the city. Today, for the second time since my arrival, I walked up and up the sidewalks in the wonderful city park to what appears to be the highest point, a lookout allowing you an expansive view of the city and the River San valley and the surrounding forested foothills. I know I am sounding like a travel pamphlet but Sanok is truly a pretty place.
A couple blocks adjacent to the park is the town square, and also near by, is the city museum located in what they call "the castle." Anyone visiting Sanok, and especially those interested in religious art, should immediately enter those doors and allow themselves to be embraced by the most astounding collection of 15th to 19th Century Polish Christian artifacts and paintings. Anyone halfway familiar with the subject will be simultaneously astonished and pleased. A museum guard told me that it is the finest collection in all of Poland, and I have no reason to doubt him, the large case of Crucifixion figures more than enough to convince me. Another reason to to go is that a large portion of the museum is dedicated to local artist Sanok, Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005), whose mature work is both surreal and symbolic. A statue of Beksinski can be found in the square just outside the Tourist Info Office door.
Everywhere you will find, especially if one is paying attention, reminders of Sanok's both distant and recent past. On the walls of the hall, Dom Sokola, built in 1889, is a pictorial history of the events that have taken place over a hundred-year period inside that venerable hall, including, from 1943, a photograph of an auditorium and stage filled with Nazis and local Nazi sympathizers. In the church located on the square, I found a painting of an obvious Auschwitz inmate standing in front of the barbed wire fences. I was told the man portrayed is considered a local saint, having given up his life to save another.
And just outside the square, is a memorial with the following inscription written in Polish and Hebrew and English:
Opposite To This Place Stood A Synagogue
Desecrated And Burned
By The German Occupiers
In Memory Of Over 10,00 Jews
From Sanok And The Vicinity
Murdered During The World War II
By The German Genociders
Perhaps not the best translation but, the message sent is clear, so very clear.
NE Europe Taxi
In this description I include Poland which is more central than the Baltic regions but close enough for taxi government work, and besides, this is intended, as implied, to be anecdotal and not to be regarded as thoroughly comprehensive. Part of what I know has already been noted in recent postings, especially my first taxi ride in Saint Petersburg.
At least in the three Baltic capitals of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, but also in the Polish city of Krakow, the taxi industry appear to only be partially regulated, resulting in all four cities having an "anything goes" meter or rate system. My taxi fare from the Tallinn airport was just 13 euros, but later in the week, to my shock, a very short ride I took to get from the 'train public market" to the other side of "Old Town" cost me 10 euros. I did mention it to the driver but what he told me was accurate, the cabs have different rates. I still think he overcharged me, the asshole. I did file a complaint with Tallinn's taxi commission, and getting quickly back to me, explained to me, the best they could, with how the situation stood. And making it worse, the driver tried to take me to the National Library, not the Tallinn City Library. I HAD to show him where it was. Ridiculous! How many days did I stay in Tallinn? Eight!
In Riga, having learned my lesson, I had the Tourist office located at the bus station call me a cab. A green-colored "Baltic Cab" pulled up about 10 minutes later and took me to a genuine "Latvian" sauna. The driver, having once lived in London, spoke some English, telling me that in three weeks he was joining his brother in Norway to work on a construction site. After three years driving Riga cab, he wasn't making enough money to justify his 24 hour shift on, with two days off. The best he could expect to make was about 100-110 euros for 24 hours. I can see why he was looking forward to Norway. When he gets back he plans on buying a house on a small plot outside of Riga. He appeared motivated. He was a good driver, skilled at maneuvering in heavy traffic.
In Vilnius, the thugs waiting outside the train station alarmed me. I know what waiting too long does to the taxi mind. I quickly learned how the bus system worked and went everywhere I needed to go, thankfully avoiding what looked like a very surly taxi crowd. As much as I defend my fellow cabbies, I am realistic, understanding better than they do what desperation does to the malcontent taxi driver.
In Helsinki, passing through like I did to and back from Saint Petersburg, I could tell, just like the city and Finns in general, the taxis were organized, their lineup outside of the extremely busy central train terminal making sense, as opposed to Seattle's "King Street Station" which is both stupid and chaotic. I doubt if the Finns would allow the rates not to be standardized. It only makes sense, ultimately serving both the drivers and the passenger public. Waiting at a Krakow, Poland tram stop, I was able to read the various taxi rates while cabs waited at the light. The variation in rates made little sense. It became clear which cabs to take, and not. And besides, this kind of system usually results in unhappy drivers and unsafe cabs. I saw that in Seattle when the City allowed this kind of system. It just doesn't ultimately function, resulting in poor service.
A ride I haven't mentioned yet was the taxi I took from my Saint Petersburg hotel to the ferry terminal. I had the hotel call, and within five minutes the cab was there. It was clear the driver was uncertain about the address and soon, after we got under way, I understood why. The cabbie, a truly nice guy, was a genuine part-timer, his primary gig instead driving cement trucks. His English wasn't great, and my Russian non-existent but still we had a good time, telling me we were driving by his home as we took a direct route back to the ferry. He showed me both his taxi and truck driving licenses. I gave him a very big tip. I enjoyed his forthrightness, making both of my Russian cab experiences terrific rides, one by a complete professional; the other by this gentleman, the congenial amateur.
Seattle Taxi Forever On My Mind
I am going to make this short and expand further in a future posting. What I will leave you with is that the Seattle City Council, in its confused wisdom, is now joining "liberal" forces with Teamsters 117 to forge ahead with an effort to allow collective bargaining for those thieves (having stole from the taxi industry for over 3 years) known as the anointed flat-rate for hire drivers and Uber (TNC) drivers. It appears that the council, after unknowingly (and unwittingly, it appears) essentially de-regulated the local transportation industry, is now attempting to mend its evil ways by recognizing that the Uber drivers are little better than indentured servants. And need I remind anyone that Seattle's resident Socialist voted for their servitude? Comical yes but serious they are, serious of course for a bureaucratic circus. But of course, being good progressives, they have banned the tigers and elephants but oddly, have left the baboons. How could that be?
More later from Sanok.