Arrival Day

19 Aug

The train compartment was similar to the one in Italy, except four seats faced each other. Fortunately there were only five of us, so I had some leg room. Had a mixed four hours of sleep, with me waking up and paranoidally checked my watch every now and then. If I didn’t change trains I’d end up in Krakow! But it all turned out OK and the swap went fine – again, the trains in Poland are spot on. Although I did get the jew-waiting-for-a-train vibe…

Didn’t sleep for the last 90 minute leg of the trip. Filling in on all the Polish countryside I could get. Warsaw looked exactly as I’d left it, right down to the part where shops don’t open til 10am. I bummed around, finding a cheap coffee shop and noticing for the first time a walkway of cinema stars, with Warsaw paying tribute to such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe and Kirk Douglas (?). After my breakfast bacon roll, two jam donuts and a bus ticket, I had exactly 4zl and 3 cents to my name. At the airport I decided on my souvenir (well, the price did moreso) of a Polski bottle opener. Down to 28 cents. I had my bag deftly rummaged through at security and I repacked it with a nasty glare on my face. Spruced up on Calvin Klein and back on the plane to Eindhoven, where I conked out for most of the journey.

So I’d ‘done’ Poland! It’s the first time I’ve confidentally felt no interest/desire/need to revisit. I’d done everything it has to offer, and I’d probably seen more than the average tourist or backpacker. Going with friends and partying would be different, I guess, but only in Krakow. Would I recommend it? Auschwitz is a must. Warsaw and Krakow are nice enough, as is the smaller towns. But as for the world famous landmark destinations, Poland is lacking. So there is my advice. I’d done Poland by spending all of 350 euro, with about 75 euros on clothes and headphones. I’d lost a towel, ripped a pair of shorts. Had 50 euro stolen, later recovered. I’d worn 3 sets of underwear, 3 t-shirts, 2 shorts, 1 pants, 3 pairs of socks. I’d bought 1 t-shirt, 1 shirt, 1 shorts, 1 jacket, 1 diary, 1 headphones and picked up a hand towel. In exchange for Deja Dead I’ve picked up Suttree, the Reader, Wuthering Heights. A half dozen beer coasters, a bottle opener and a small flask of ‘Absolwent’ vodka. All this, and now in the Netherlands I’ve already spent near a days budget on transport! 3 euros on a bus, 15 on a train. Converting back is going to be painful.

Back in Holland and I’m writing in a small station unworthy of a name (Njimen-Lent). This is because I’d been in a rush and gotten off at the wrong godamn station. It looks similar to Arnhem Zuid and the interior signs said Arnhem Zuid (turns out that means its the final destination). Half hour wait!

Polish Haircut

18 Aug

A few planned things to do today – sightseeing not being one of them. Train ticket, haircut, jacket, shorts and wallet. I think the nice hostel owner screwed up my bill and only charged me for one night instead of two, or else it’s hell cheap at 30zl for two nights (3.5 euro per night!). I’m not a nice person and didn’t say anything, instead I went over and got a cup of coffee and a bowl of chocolate cereal.

An unreserved train ticket that is essential for me to get to my flight had me more than a little stressed out. But I’d been right and the info chick wrong – there was a 2323 train, you just had to change lines at 0440. It’s scheduled to arrive in Warsaw at 0630, which I chose over the one that arrives in Warsaw at 0440. The online train schedule is second to none, as is their whole train system. I booked my ticket (58zl) then asked at the tourist desk for the nearest mall. His directions led to me a tram and from there to a fairly posh, upper class mall. However I am pretty much a king over here, so everything is affordable, especially relative to Australian prices. Browsed through every shop and found some cool buys (Bear and pull) but I had an eye on my wallet. I had a limited amount of zloty left and had to factor in some planned expenses. Didn’t want to get caught short and have to change for more. And didn’t want to get stuck with wads of Polish cash either (or coins for that matter – people will whinge when you attempt to pay for something with 50zl, even if the purchase is 25! So you need to have plenty of small notes which hence get broken into coins, as a 10 is the lowest.).

Had lunch at my vege place again – yes I know, but it was either that or other food court eateries. I walked to another mall down the road and popped my head into a hairdresser to gauge the prices. Nobody spoke English til a client piped up – she was living in England and was lovely and helpful – and I ended up getting whisked into a seat. So ensued the most agonising 45 minutes. I’m not good at describing how I want my hair cut at the best of times, and this was painful. My interpreter did her best – you want some left over the ears? – and I desperately threw in a ‘no clippers’ call, due to the perplexing male fashion of short stubbled mohawks. My hairdresser herself had half her head closely cropped. She washed my head – nice – then cut away with me ending up very Beatles-esque. Hopefully just cause it’s wet! I gratingly smiled and paid – 40zl – and left.

Had a good session at C&A, purchased my jacket and a new pair of shorts to compensate for my ripped ones. Then I went outside and read for a few hours to kill time. Back in old town a slight, irritating rain had picked up and my bag was feeling heavy. Plus I couldn’t find anywhere decent (ie cheap) to eat. Ended up conceding to a ‘Specjal’ beer and fatefully caught the last two plays of a volleyball game on TV – between Poland and Brazil, televised live in Sopot! No wonder they’d been so damn tall. Poland ended up winning in a close match. Lucky, because the crowd was 100% red and white. Somehow the time slipped by and I bought a kebab for dinner. Took a free piss (by some bushes) then waited for my train. Good bye Gdansk!

A Polish seaside resort city!

17 Aug

What a bad day for the beach. I almost turned back to the hostel twice – first for my thermal, then almost again for my jacket. This was after my filling breakfast of chocolate cereal, jam on bread and cheese and tomato and egg on bread. And two cups of coffee (which I’d literally pay for later!).

I’m in no rush today, exemplified by my hourly search for a decent kantor. They were all the same unfortunately, with the Euro buying 3,89zl, far from the hey day of 3,96! Euro must be on the slide – hopefully the Aus dollar is strengthening. I then inquired about my train to Warsaw, apparently the one I wanted doesn’t exist! Not good. What I really wanted to know was the details about the sleeper trains. I wasn’t sure if the ticket automatically paid for one or not (the website says a hazy yes) and the info chick didn’t help much. Fuck it, whatever happens I’ll just add it to my long list of experiences with sleeper trains. I didn’t book and fingers and toes are crossed that it doesn’t sell out (the lady said it’d be right).

All this talk of trains and I got on one, a frequent one that goes to Sopot. Gdansk is a tri-city with Sopot and Gydnia, and Sopot is the seaside resort one. There was definitely a ‘paradise’ atmosphere among the bars, restaurants and hotels but this was no Durras North. Workers were shovelling piles of gunky seaweed into a truck and only a handful of people were braving the water. The sand was white, however. You had to pay an entrance fee to walk along a really long pier (500m?) which wasn’t terribly fascinating. Saw some speedboats with four 350 horsepower motors attached. Whiplash much? There must’ve been some competitive yachting going on (or basketball) because tall men in either Polish or Brazilian tracksuits were hanging around some yachts. Nothing happened though. I walked up the beach, found a free toilet, yay. Walked down the beach. Went and had lunch at Captain Olsens – a Danish fish and chip fast food place. Good stuff at a cheap price. Bought a shirt on sale at Reserved for 30zl – 8 euro! Just about saw every damn thing in Sopot! Caught the train home and hunted around for a pizzeria. Noticed a sideshow alley, one stall was a giant paddle pool with huge balloons that kids could enter and roll around in. I wanted to, but didn’t. Bought 2 beers and came home. No idea what I’m going to do to fill in tomorrow! Probably have another ‘Rome’ day…

Gdansk and yet another old town

16 Aug

I was the first up in the dorm, which only had 3 other people. In no rush because the train doesn’t leave til 10:40 and I’d already seen everything Torun has to offer. I thought ahead and went to a supermarket and bought bananas, yoghurt, chocolate and water, then went to a bakery and got some pastries.

Arrived in Gdansk after 2 and was a bit confused by the station here. Hostelworld had told me there weren’t many budget hostels in the centre and my best bet was to catch a bus to the suburbs. Got to the advised stop and was clueless as to which way the hostel was because there were zero signs! Had to ask a street vendour, who was unsure but his directions led to Lucky Hostel (luckily – ha). It felt like I was being welcomed into someone’s home, with the reception being part of the living room. I landed myself a dorm completely to myself. It also comes with free internet, breakfast and I’m going to nab a book later (The Reader).

Back into town and I strutted around. Getting lost wasn’t easy, as the old town tourist bit had market stalls along every street and they all followed a well structured route. Every few stalls the products would repeat themselves – pirate souvenirs, amber jewellery (Gdansk is famous for it), Chinese toys. All the churches and statues had well and truly blended in by now and I finished my tour of Gdansk fairly early. I found the vegetarian place from Warsaw (turns out it’s a franchise) and went and had enchiladas there. Another good, solid meal. I did another lap of the old town. Because it’s on the coast there’s a few canals through the town and there’s a couple of pirate ships and floating restaurants (hence the pirate souvenirs). Also a giant old crane on the bank, with the original foundations dating back to the 1300s. A sign proudly stated it’s Europe’s largest and oldest maritime reconstruction. Really kind of clutching at straws with tourist attractions there I reckon. I managed to truly bum around til 10, when I got the bus home. I think the tourist attractions in Poland are growing lean with me.

Sunday in Europe

16 Aug

Left the pleasantness of Wroclaw for a two hour trip to Poznan, a panicky change there, and then another two hours to Torun. Even though I arrived at 2 and would be continuing to Gdansk at 11 the next morning, I thought it best to break up the gruelling 8 hour trip. And I’m glad I have. This station turned out to be the most confusing and disorienting yet, boosted by the fact its bloody Sunday and everything is shut! Oh, but wait, the tourist information is open…until 2! Absolutely zero information and I haven’t booked in anywhere, but it’s early and my bag is light. I get lucky on my gamble and cross a bridge to old town (every damn city has its old towns). Nice view of the old buildings against the water. I moseyed about for a while, grabbed a zappiekanka because I was starved. No sign of help for a hostel…until yay I found a place giving out maps and the guy is able to show me a way! Much happiness, and the Orange Hostel is a good place. 30zl and a book swap (I picked up ‘Suttree’ by Cormac McCarthy and Wuthering Heights in exchange for Deja Dead – ha!). The girls from Wroclaw had said it would take 20 minutes to walk about and see everything, but I managed to slow things down. The summer settings were packed, seemed to be the only shops open! There was some military display going on with lots of soldiers and old school tanks and uniforms around the castles and walls. Saw the first animated male Pole yet – dressed up as a doctor recruiting young (kids) soldiers. A family friendly day. I got myself a choc-vanilla cone and later a jam donut. What? I’ve been doing enough walking! Had a quiet beer in the centre and watched the pigeons fly about. A nice town on the whole, reminds me of a far south coast sort of pace. Oh, and I found my C&A shop, so will be first in line tomorrow morning to buy my jacket before I run to the train.

Had Chinese for dinner, served by the most unenthusiastic waitress ever. I guess I was the sole person in the restaurant, and it was Sunday. Outside the sky had turned an angry black, which gave me a good excuse to retire to my hostel, can of ‘masters’ piwo (beer) in hand. Made me smile overhearing the receptionist post-answering the phone when she ranted about what the customer had asked – reminded me very much of Durras!

Charmed by Wroclaw

14 Aug

What a beautiful morning – to get up at my own pace and to shake the proper slumber I’d had last night! In fact I was so overslept I need a cappacino and conceded one from Macca’s. Not the greatest but it was my first caffeine hit in a while. I then buzzed to the north of Old Town where Wroclaw has these interesting islands. Yes, islands. There are various bridges connecting them to the, uh, mainland and although it didn’t quite pull off Venice it did have a certain charm. Many old churches grew from these islands and I had a peaceful couple of hours walking about, listening to the Kooks. One church must’ve been John Paul II’s original place of worship because they had a lot of crap dedicated to him around (he was Polish). I hit up one of the malls (there’s really not that much to do here) and to my horror the shop selling my jacket didn’t stock it! Now I’m panicking and hoping that there’s a shop in Gdansk or Torun that has it. I wandered about this mall and 2 others, just windowshopping and taking in the cool climate and free toilets. One big shop I found was like a factory outlet, but as usual the sizes were triple XL or just damn ugly. I worked out how to eat lunch in one of the mall food courts – a sign said 2.40zl for 100g, and basically you stack your plate and weigh it. Good to know how much you’re eating! I got half a kilo’s worth. Also good to try a variety of things. Bought a t-shirt for 20zl – 5 euro. So cheap! Going to miss this.

Went back to the hostel and napped – yes, that’s right, you have no idea how much I love this hotel. Met 2 of the room mates – Polish girls from Torun, and they gave me the pro’s and con’s of Torun vs Poznan. Torun won out! I told them about life in Australia, and the usual cycle of a backpacker – Bondi beach and working behind a bar. For dinner I went and ate a dijon chicken wrap and fries for 13.50zl. Real good change from kebabs. I grabbed a can of beer – lots of ‘z’s and ‘w’s in the name – and went back to the hotel round midnight. The girls hadn’t been too impressed with Wroclaw, they’d been expecting more culture and excitement. But for me it turned out to be my favourite city so far. I think its because the tourist circle is there but much smaller, and you can quickly get away from it all. Feels more real, I think.

Australia, Italy and Poland Unite!

13 Aug

Good riddance to that hostel! Not necessarily the hostels fault, but the people are wankers. And I’m minus a towel. I had to rush to get to my train – I’d slightly overslept. But all turned out well and I even managed to pick up some donut shaped buns. They tasted terrible! One was very salty. It was a five hour trip from Krakow to Wroclaw. Slow trains in Poland!

I got off with no hostel reservation, having banked on getting tourist information help at the train station. There were heaps in Krakow – obviously this means there are none in Wroclaw. I set off in one direction and with no fuss at all I see a big ad for rooms for 29zl. Inside looks more like hotel lobby than a shit hostel, so I am hesitant. But the 29zl was true, and for a six bed dorm with nobody else inside it was fantastic! No free breakfast though. I had a big wash (they even provided free towels!) and then set off for the city. Armed with not much of a map I walked down one long street. Picked up 2 peaches – gigantic and beautiful. Had a zapiekanka, man they’re good. I found the old town square, which is like Krakow’s square except on a smaller scale and with a slower pulse. I liked it much more. A tourist trap that worked on me is the gnomes (gremlins) statues around the city. They’ve become part of the landscape and were funny too – three outside a pokies casino were playing cards and having a slap. It was getting dark – but not cause the sun was going down, but because hectic black clouds were forming. I protected myself with a Warka beer in a pub (facing a church, so still cultural). It pissed down, and my hostel is far away from the city centre. Crazily it cleared and the sun came back out. I moseyed about, checked the internet and sorted out my remaining train time table, hostel accommodation and plane tickets. Went into a downstairs pizza parlour and got the Polish menu. Flipped through and saw a picture of a kangaroo! Thought, are they selling roo meat here? Got an English menu and discovered Dreamtime pictures and Aboriginal stories of kangaroos and emu’s and dingoes and the sun. I looked around. Abo artwork was on the walls, the roof painted an Ayers rock red. I’d accidentally walked into an Australian pizza parlour in Poland! Talk about mixing cultures. Apart from the decor there was nothing Aussie about the food, except for some Australian wines. Pizza and beer for 22zl. I was in a happy mood that reached new heights when I got back to the hostel – I was still the sole person in the dorm! Was relinguishing in this until 20 minutes later a couple barged in, although they were quiet and kept the lights off. They left for dinner and then 2 girls entered – they did turn the lights on. Still, it was all over shortly and I wasn’t complaining – much better sleep than the previous nights!

All day at Auschwitz

12 Aug

Another shit nights sleep. Two newcomers, girls, had hung out with the French tonight and got back at 4. The Frenchmen were up all night, came in about sixish. And I woke up at a quarter to seven. This time I wasn’t going to miss the bus. I got to the terminal, found the bus, bought my ticket – no seats. It was more a minivan than a bus, and I had to squeeze up on the floor next to the driver. I’d mistakenly thought they’d let me on as an exception – no. The van continued making stops along the 90 minute ride to Oscwiem. I was jammed in tightly, among many sweating bodies. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, but it felt like days, weeks, years since I’d had a proper meal. My joints cramped, my head ached. I didn’t know what would happen when I got off. Such is the road to Auschwitz!

I was a bit frantic to get inside the museum before a tour guide became compulsory. It turned out to be too easy – just walk right in past the turnstiles. I didn’t find any audioguides or info to take around with me, which was a shame, but everything turned out to be well signposted. Went in under the infamous ‘work is freedom’ sign and I was inside. The environment is actually pleasantly green, with lots of grass and trees brightening up the otherwise stark long, red brick buildings. The reality of the situation didn’t hit until you read the signs – here is where an escapees family would be made to wait; here is where people hung from trees. The first bunker I walked into held 3 seperate rooms, very dank and bleak, with one holding chimneys and an incinerator. Along the ceilings were holes, not unlike sunlights. It was only when I found the sign after and read that this was the first improvised gas chamber that my stomach tightened. The sunlights were for throwing in the cyanide pellets.

The tour groups started pumping through after 10, enveloping everyone and everything. Made the exhibits terrible to view appropriately as they all had headphones connected to the guide, and in a group were maybe 30-40 people. Very tight in the slim corridors of the camps. Frustrated with them I found some barracks the tours deemed unworthy, or unneccesary. I, however, went into everywhere to give it all my time. And I’m glad I did. These buildings were each given to a nation to use as a memorial. There was Dutch, Belgian, French, Polish. An Austrian one held a notice at the front stating how it was decided they had to change the tone of their memorial and information. Apparently it had been too far towards saying that Austria had been the first ‘victim’ of the Nazis rather than an accomplice. I’ve always wondered how the Germans go explaining such atrocities in school and on memorial days. The Italian monument was shit, just a long tapestry. I’m always unsure whose side they were on anyway. But the rest were fascinating, mainly focused on the biographies of victims which was overwhelmingly sad. For me the worst, or greatest, or even the one that held the most impact, was the gypsy memorial. It explained how they were persecuted for being a minority, and how the scientists went about researching the specifications of being a subhuman. The victims images were blown up along with final statements found in cards. Massively depressing. The print used to collect every victims name was so miniscule, yet the writing stretched on for many walls.

As I squeezed past the hordes in the main buildings I saw the life cycle of a jew in Auschwitz. One building had ‘evidence of Holocaust’ on it – inside was rooms of discarded glasses, pots, artificial limbs – and two tonnes of hair. After shaving the females their hair was collected and sold as a resource – jew hair mats were on display. Horrific. Two tonnes is a lot and seeing it was unbelievable. The barracks where they slept was like a barn stable, with pallets like bunkbeds and hay as comforters. You couldn’t image how many people slept in there There were doctor rooms where illegal and unethical experiments were carried out. People used like mice. Down every corridor were the shaven heads of Jews staring at you from frames – all puzzled and scared, a difficult look to replicate. The organisation of the Nazis was amazing – every victim was recorded and compiled. Except when they lost the war, destroying everything was a high priority. In one basement were the torture devices – a portable ‘hanging’, a rack in which your arms are tied behind your back, a ‘standing space’ where four or so prisoners are packed into a brick cube with barely any standing room. Simply to look down at your feet and imagine these people standing here – impossible. There was an execution wall where a firing squad took aim at, a row of nooses. Disturbingly there was a water reservoir at the rear that was outfitted as a pool, with ladders and a diving board. No way could anyone frolic in this proximity to death.

It was around 2 when I finished up. Right next to the entrance was a milk bar that was reasonably priced considering the number of tourists that pass through. I had pork with potatoes and red cabbage salad, mushroom soup and a red fruit tea. As I stepped outside the free shuttle bus to Auschwitz 2 was leaving and I jumped aboard. Maybe five minutes later and we were at the real camp with the gas chambers. It was a massive property split down the middle by a railway line – the line where the trains pulled up and some 75% were immediately taken to be gassed. This place was much, much bigger. Except the prisoners’ barracks were originally made with wood, so all that is left is brick chimneys. Barbed wire fences and watch towers surround the place. At the back is the jew administration building, where they’d come, strip down, have their hair cut, get deloused, showered and put on their striped pyjamas. Strikingly stark conditions. There was an international monument to recognise the victims – an odd, jigsaw-like artwork. All the gas chambers had been dynamited by the fleeing Nazis, all that was left was the rubble. One sign said that some of the prisoners were responsible for destroying one chamber, which was good to see some sort of fighting back by the jews. Some of the barracks had been recreated, and one contained the latrines, just two rows of holes. I walked the entire grounds and saw it all from the tower at the entrance. You definitely had to visit both sites to get the whole picture.

Back in Krakow (I was lucky enough to get a seat on the way back – liberation, maybe?) and I bought my train ticket to Wroclaw. The kind man I bought it off couldn’t understand my Polish (Wroclaw is pronounced Va-cla) so I had to write it down for him. Then into Krakowska Galleria (mall) and into Carrefour, a large French supermarket. Huge! I went in only wanting toothpaste but came came out with other stuff – a Mars Bar is only 1zl! Back to the hostel and my bed had been cleaned and my towel gone. Bugger. I hadn’t paid for another night and was half thining of getting away with it – they’d never know, right? Unfortunately I had a deposit on my key and the other beds filled up, so I had to go ensure I had a place to stay tonight. They gave me a replacement towel – more like a tea towel. Tonights movie was the Virgin Suicides, very disappointing. Although watching films may seem a bit of a joke when you’re in another country, it was moreso to prolong the time before my room mates went out. It finished up around midnight and I got to bed at 1. Another bad nights sleep.

Dumb Thief

11 Aug

As expected, my drunk room mates entered at about 4. Loud whispering, back slaps and yahooing – the usual shit. There were 2 groups, one French and one English, who it seemed had been drinking together. My other sober room mate was a girl. The shit lasted for about half an hour. I woke up early – 6:45 – with plans to visit Auschwitz. If you get there before 10am it’s free entry (ie you don’t need a tour guide to get in) and the bus leaves at 7:50.

HOWEVER: I noticed my shorts were in a different position to where I’d left them last night – closer to my neighbours bunk. I grabbed them and checked my wallet and camera. Camera was there, but my wallet was missing 50 euro. I waited a minute then went apeshit. OK, so leaving my wallet in my shorts was lax of me, but it was right next to me on top of a cupboard. I shook the guy on the middle bunk awake. They were English. I tell him I’m missing 50 euro. Back and forth a few standoffish comments (fuck you where the fuck is my fucking money). He showed me his wallet, and it didn’t have much in there. By then most people are awake but I had the upper hand – no hang over. I asked the guy on the bottom bunk (fuck you where the fucking is my fucking money). He was a lot quieter, but again, no money in his wallet. By now I’m realising there will be no end to this – how do I identify 50 euro as mine? The guy on the top bunk starts mumbling ‘where’s my wallet?’. I stood up on the ladder and told him to look under his pillow (fuck you, look under your fucking pillow like all your fucking dipshit friends did). He pulls out a camera case but no wallet. Fuck. I return fire with the middle bunk man, who insists they aren’t thieving tossers. Top bunk guy pulls out a $20 note from his camera bag. A $20 AUSTRALIAN note! “You fucking…” I grab the bag off him and find my 50 euro, along with some coins and a locker key. I gave him the once over, gave his mate in the middle a once over, packed my stuff and went to the bathroom. Now that I’d recovered I still needed to make it to Auschwitz. After my quick shower – heart still beating a 100 times an hour – the thief is waiting in the lobby. I’m glad that I’m taller than him. He says he’s sorry, but he can’t find his wallet or his locker key, he thinks his key was in his camera bag. After much unhelpful comments from me (fuck you I took your key – you’re the fucking thief!). I let him look at my wallet where the dumbarse thought I had his key. Of course, it was in my pocket. I left smiling that he was going to lose his 20zl deposit.

But my smile was shortlived as I didn’t make it to the bus in time and my plans for today were thwarted. OK, so I hadn’t really looked in to it, just knew a bus left at 7:50 and I had to get there before 10. I couldn’t even find the bus terminal! But I did get myself sorted. The bus takes an hour and 20 minutes and costs 8zl. My plan had been to do Auschwitz, come back for the night, then head to Wroclaw tomorrow. Obviously that’s screwed up now. New plan: see Auschwitz tomorrow, and depeding on what time I get back to Krakow either train to Wroclaw or (more probably) spend another night in Krakow.

Back to the hostel for breakfast of cereal, coffee and jam sandwiches. Thankfully I didn’t run into my British friends. My head was pounding – two nights of shit sleep – but the coffee helped. More than anything, I didn’t know what to do today. I stumbled upon a traditional market. Was great, with many elderly Poles in it. Stalls sold clothes, fruit, baked goods, lollies. Tempted to fork out 8zl for a kilo of strawberries but thought I’d make myself sick. So I went with an eclair instead. Then off to some retail therapy. I went to the Galleria, a mall next to the train station, and roamed there. It was air conditioned and affordable, two good things! I figured buying clothes here is cheaper than the Netherlands and I’ve staked out a jumper. Big gamble, though, is that I’ll buy everything in Warsaw before I leave. Cheap salmon sandwich for lunch, and free use of the toilets! I went to town! Clothes are cheap here, but sometimes the quality is debatable – like Supre maybe. I came back to the hostel. On the way I passed by a fountain that had kids, stripped down to their underwear playing in it. I remembered last night, when the water had been lit up green and red and blue, and it pulsed to the rhythm of Chopin. Very cool.

I read and napped a little. Should have for longer. Outside I dawdled around aimlessly. I found an internet cafe and worked out my options for travelling. The buskers were out in full force – an Edward Scissorhands impersonater, mimes, puppeteers, break dancers, bubble blowers, statues… Didn’t pay once unsurprisingly. Sank two Tyskie beers and wrote my diary underneath a sky that looked painted. The stage from yesterday was packed up, moved 50m down and was now host to a new theatre show. I didn’t hang for that one, instead going to see Trainspotting in a packed cinema. Was great seeing it on the big screen with a lively audience. Had another zapiekanka for dinner – really good. As I approached my hostel near midnight I could see a light on and a party in action…my room. Thankfully the Brits had moved on, and the party left shortly.

Feeling the culture in Krakow

10 Aug

Farewelled my hostel and went to the train station. Bought some pastries for the 3 hour train trip, but the jam filled donuts and scroll didn’t last 15 minutes! Had a heart attack moment when I boarded the wrong train – same destination, similar times, but triple the price! Only became aware when a daggier train turned up on the platform. Still a good ride, you’d be mad to pay for a first class trip.

Arrived in Krakow with a headache. Hadn’t slept well last night and wasn’t in the best of moods. Found my hostel with no dramas, even though the reviews had been ‘hard to locate’. It was in a courtyard and up a floor, so I could see why. Krakow is a much more tourist oriented city, in part because it didn’t get any of the bombing that Warsaw did. A map of the city showed it was kind of like Lucca in that the main part is an oval with many lanes within. I went for a stroll to get my bearings. I hate being unorientated! Found Wawel Castle in the south and took a quick walk through. Old buildings and statues, my impression was that they were more Englandy than Eastern Europe, and that threw me off somewhat. Didn’t bother paying admission to any churches, seen it all before. I had lunch in another milk bar, again it wasn’t set up for English speakers. Had the same meal but without the beetroot soup and with a fruit tea. Not as good as Warsaw. I kept wandering to the Jewish part of town (well, formerly) but didn’t see anything particularly Jewish. Despite this it was still good to get away from the main tourist trap and see the bakeries and clothes shops. Heading in the right direction back, but not particularly sure, I found a large hut with queues of people at some windows. It was in a large square that holds markets, and they were in the midst of packing up. I circled a few times before standing in one of the shorter lines to get a zapiekanka, which is half a footlong loaf topped with flavours. Fortunately there was an English translation and I got mountain cheese, sausage and pickles with Mexican sauce (salsa). Everyone was either ordering or eating them. And it was really good too! Spying on other people, there seemed to be a big range of toppings. Happily, I went back to the main city and had a beer in the centre square. Huge square complete with large church, buskers and horse drawn carts. Krakow is vying for something of a cultural center image and therefore it has plenty of arts around the place. The summer setting I was in faced an alternative band playing on a big stage, kinda sounded like Modest Mouse. Alternative Polish music! Huge crowd gathered too, but I had a perfect view from my seat. Enjoyed my Tyskie beer. Funny thing with Polish women is that they keep up with the men with the big half litre beers – but by using a straw! Also, standard uniform for labourers in Poland seems to be blue or green overalls. The first time I noticed I thought that a guy was dressed up as Luigi, with his matching green overalls and hat! The next guy had a blue t-shirt under his matching red overalls and hat – AND had a fat moustache! I wanted a photo but he looked like a particularly nasty strangler.

It was ninish and I went back to the hostel for a leak and dropped off my valuables bag in the locker. My bed is a good 3m off the ground, highest triple bunk ever! Back out into the streets for another wander. Came across a cinema (OK so I knew it was there) and fortunately a 10:10 screening of Inception was on! In English with Polish subtitles! For only 12zl! 3 euros! Cosy little cinema too. Photos on the wall showed Morgan Freeman had once visited. Mainly show indie films too. Massive headtrip of a movie. I got back to the hostel around 1am, pleased that I wouldn’t be home early. Or so I thought. My room of 9 had only 1 person asleep! I closed my eyes, expecting to be woken up at any time…