Archive for ‘Poland’  

Poland : 2 days in Warsaw

Monday, 19th May 2008

According to our train schedule book, we were supposed to catch the 16:12 train from Krakow to Warsaw, but at the station we were told that we could take the 15:55 fast train instead with only our train passes. When we got on the train, we soon realised that everyone had seat reservations accept us.. We chose 2 seats in a 6-seater compartment with 2 other people, but soon after that 2 others came in and chased us off their reserved places. Luckily we 2 seats we ended up with were free for the rest of the way. It was a very fast train indeed and we arrived in Warsaw within 3 hours instead of 5.

In Warsaw we went straight to Nathan’s Villa Hostel that was recommended to us by the hostel in Krakow. It is only 10 minutes walk from the station and in a great location. But all the cheaper rooms were already full by the time we arrived, so we had to stay in a more expensive room for the first night.

The next morning, after seeing what the hostel breakfast had to offer we went on a coffee shop mission and found a very nice one 10 minutes away – Green Coffee. We ordered their lunch special and had 2 delicious ciabattas and huge lattes. It was so nice to just sit in a coffee shop again and have a decent breakfast (even though it was off the lunch menu) for a change. Feeling satisfied we went into the town and saw the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier. After this we walked the Royal Way (a 4km walking route) through the Old Town and visited the Royal Castle (free on Sundays). Warsaw’s Old Town is really nice, especially the main square – full of cafes, restaurants and horse carriadges and surrounded by colourful buildings. We found a cozy cafe on the square and had a local Polish beer while watching the people go by. Our last stop was at the Church of Crosses where Chopin’s heart is preserved in one of the pillars in the church, after being shipped over from Paris.

On the way back to the hostel we had enormous icecreams (about 10cm high!!) – it must be a Polish thing, because everybody walks around with them. We decided to treat ourselves with a nice dinner, instead of cooking pasta again in the hostel kitchen.

The second night we moved to our cheaper 12-bedded room at the hostel – BIG mistake! One guy snored so loudly that everyone in the room was kept awake for hours. It was seriously the most insane snore-case we have ever encountered! Up until last night, we didn’t think such noises could be produced by the human body.. At about 3am we just couldn’t take it anymore and asked to be moved to a different room. Suprisingly they agreed straight away and gave us 2 beds in a smaller, much quieter room at no extra cost. The joys of hostel life..

About 1 week ago we were told about the concept of “couchsurfing” for the first time. It is a global network of people that offer their homes to travellers at no cost and in return they can do the same when travelling (ww.couchsurfing.com). We checked it out and after last night’s experience decided to register immediately :)

We managed to secure accommodation in our next 3 destinations already! We are going to give it a try and see how it goes, but have very good expectations about the whole scheme.

The weather is terrible at the moment, so we’ll just chill until we leave Warsaw this evening. We have to take the bus to Vilnius (Lithuania) as the train no longer runs this route. It is an overnight bus, leaving at 23:00 and arriving in Vilnius at 09:00.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Poland : Cracking Krakow

Saturday, 17th May 2008

Photos of Krakow here.

The hostel was fully booked last night, so there was no chance of sleeping in peace this morning.. We made sure we got to the bathrooms early but unfortunately hit the breakfast rush.

We stored our bags at the hostel and have just gone for another walk through the Old Town and Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter). Krakow is a very interesting city with a great buzz to it. It has the biggest Main Square in Europe (200m x 200m) and is full of little cafes, street performers and souvenir stalls. Large parts are semi-pedestrianised which makes for a really nice walk through town.

Just as we got to the center of Wawel Castle a military parade came past and gave us a few good photo opportunities. A bit later, walking through the Jewish Quarter, we stumbled upon a Polish market fair with traditional folk dancers, costume performers and real Polish food stalls. We had a very nice Kielbasa (Polish sausage) with a huge gherkin and bread roll for lunch.

We are back at the hostel now to pick up our bags and will be leaving for the station soon to catch the 16:12 Warsaw train.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Poland : Auschwitz

Friday, 16th May 2008

Auschwitz photos here.

It was a surreal experience being in the concentration camp where so much suffering occurred.

Auschwitz is a 90 minute train ride from Krakow and as we got close it was easy to imagine what it must’ve felt arriving by rail as a prisoner. The camp is a short walk from Oswiecim train station and the sign “Arbeit macht frei” can be seen from a distance.

As we arrived we went straight in to the theatre to watch a short documentary on the liberation of the camp by the Soviet Army. It was very interesting but cannot quite prepare you for what is waiting.. No matter how much you’ve heard about what happened there, it is not until you actually walk through the rooms and corridors and see the countless photos on the walls that you start to appreciate the magnitude.

It is possible to take an English guided tour through both Auschwitz and Berkenau (Auschwitz II) camps, but we decided to just buy the guide book and concentrate on Auschwitz I only. Each block is an exhibit of a different part of life in the camp – sleeping barracks, washrooms, prison cells, working conditions, etc. The last building on the route was the grim gas chambers and crematorium – it is difficult to explain the feeling standing there and the impact of the whole experience.

This was one eye-opening daytrip and a must-see if you are in the area.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Poland, Slovakia : Popping into Poland

Thursday, 15th May 2008

We had to bus our way back to Poprad again to catch the train to Krakow (Poland). We had originally planned a route from Poprad to the Polish border but the lady at the train station suggested an alternative route with a fast train and 1 change. When we got to Kysak to change trains, the lady at the ticket office there told us that they are working on the tracks and no trains run to Krakow from there. She didn’t speak any English, so with pieces of paper and hand gestures she managed to get the message across.

The next moment a train arrived at the station and from the Slovak announcement we made out something that sounded like Krakow, so we ran and jumped on the train. Another very friendly local helped us and double checked with the ticket inspector to confirm our destination. The journey was almost 6 hours and we arrived in Krakow at 17:45. It might sound weird, but at this stage 5 to 6 hours on a train with a few changes feels like a breeze. We have deffinately mastered the art of relaxing and letting the time fly by.

At Krakow we headed straight for the Old Town and found a very nice place to stay, Hocus Pocus Hostel, right in the middle of all the action. They offer free laundry (our 2nd load is already spinning), free internet (as you can see), free breakfast and great, clean dorm rooms.

We already had a half hour stroll through the Old Town and are about to go and sample some of the local cuisine.