Poland – I was there, but should I have gone?

The title of this post is a play on words from the intro line to one of my favourite travel shows (Travel Man by Richard Ayoade). But the answer in two words is HELL YES! Poland is awesome. I really didn’t have high expectations of the place to start with. I’d wanted to visit Auschwitz so planned some time in Poland to achieve that goal and as planning progressed slowly started to realise that there is actually an amazing mount of things to see and do. Krakow alone has three world heritage sites within 60km of the city centre (the old town centre itself is listed, and I can see why). Bike tours, food & drink tours, museums, national parks, salt mines, and architecture galore.

Incidentally Poland has recently passed a law that it’s a criminal offence to refer to Auschwitz as a “Polish Death Camp”, they want to ensure the world knows they had nothing to do with it. Given Poland was a very welcoming place for Jewish people before 1939 and they lost something like 20% of their population during the war so they are understandably touchy about it. The fact they lie between Germany and Russia does weigh heavily on their national psyche.

Most things are well signed in English and you can usually find someone who speaks English to help you. Quite often announcements are both in Polish and English. The Krakow Bus terminal seems to be a exception there but I was there before 6am. My tip, screw the bus and take an Uber, I’ve always hated busses anyway.

One other thing, don’t refer to Poland as being in “Eastern Europe” they are mildly offended by that. They are in “Central Europe”.

I kind of initially thought Poland might be some sort of post communist rust belt industrial wasteland but it’s definitely not. It super clean, has very modern infrastructure (at least in the large cities), motorways, high speed trains, shopping malls etc etc. High speed trains is something we haven’t managed to do at home.  Lots of towns around Krakow are dotted with some beautiful looking houses, as nice as anything I’ve seen in the little towns in Italy and France. Krakow has quite a large IT focus, with highly educated labor that is cheaper than Western Europe and much closer than India. In my mind 1990 was still only 5 years ago, but it close to 30 so a full generation of development has occurred and Poland is keen to catch up to Western Europe. The EU is spending a fortune on Infrastructure there.

It’s also amazing value. Most dinners cost me less than $15 including alcohol. Accomodation in a modern renovated apartment (all mod cons) in a traditional building right in the old town, seconds from all the action was $A35 a night. Uber we all over town for about $5-6 a ride

Had to kick myself once or twice looking around at restaurants for food, got used to paying 20 zloty for a main meal and would see some places for 45 and think wow that’s a bit expensive then remember that 45zloty is about $A16.50 which is still a bargin for food compared to Sydney. And this is in the main tourist hotspot. I’m sure a few streets away from the main square it will be even cheaper

You can live like kings on Australian wages here. Poland is off the beaten track a little for Australians. Not quite the pull of Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands although I did bump into a few of us. On my last day the couple sitting next to me were from Melbourne and coming back from dinner the couple in the apartment below me were from Brisbane. Although most of the Aussies I spoke to had some sort of ancestral link to Poland, not many of us were just there just because they could be.

There is a stack of things I just didn’t get the time to do, I was there for 4 full days, I think you would need closer to a full 7 or even two weeks to fully appreciate it. I think Poland is punching well below its weight in the tourist scene. It’s amazing but is overshadowed by the known big hitters. Krakow is apparently compared to Prague all the time, I’ll have to wait and see until I hit Prague in a few weeks time.

It’s easy to get to, only a 2hr flight from London and well served by trains from Berlin and Prague. I’m already thinking about returning in 2019….

I should also add of course that I met some fantastic people and made some new friends. I’ll forever treasure the experience of talking to a Polish Nanna with Google Translate on the train ride from Warsaw to Krakow and the stories of her family, cooking and mushroom picking she shared with me.

Visit it before too many of us discover it and the prices find equilibrium with Western Europe. Excluding the airfares, In Poland you can have a European Holiday for the price of Asia

A few reminders of the beauty in Krakow.

Keep calm and go to London

It was time to bid farewell to Krakow and head west to London. At the same time Sharon and Emma were on their way to London via Hong Kong as well.

I Got up early, did a final pack and was out by 5.10am. I had a 5:56 train and didn’t want to take and risks in missing it. Found train platform easily and discovered it was already here, but not letting people on it yet. Everything with this train is well marked no issue finding carriage or seat number. Quite a few people already waiting for the train, this one heads across the country and its final destination is Gdańsk.

Train left spot on time. Of course the day I leave the sun is out and it looks like it will be a glorious weekend. Conductor Checks ticket and name on ticket matches passport. Even in second class on this train they give you a tea or instant coffee. Any caffeine at this time is welcome but some sugar was added to make it digestible.  Once at the Warsaw central station, quickly found the metro ticket office, bought a 75 minus ticket (the transfer takes just over 20 minutes, so the “cheaper” ticket won’t cut it). Got the S3 fast train to the airport.

I managed to spend my last 30 zlotys getting breakfast at the airport which was a coffee and an apple muffin. Not sure what it is with Airports but they food is almost exactly the same in everyone. This was pretty tasteless.

My flight was delayed out of Warsaw and delayed in Heathrow so I only really had time to check into the apartment here then head back out to Paddington station for Sharon and Emma to arrive. Arrive they did and we went out for some Pizza in the Leadenhall Market

British Airways were not having a good day. Delays at both airports and they ran out of for mid Service. Everyone says London has horrible weather. When we go there we get heatwaves !

Hello London !img_2784

We are not in Krakow anymore Toto. Back to Western European prices for thee. This would have fed me for 2-3 days in Krakow.

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Schindler’s Factory

I can’t believe I forgot to write about this, however after the Salt Mine tour on Wednesday, the tour company took us over to the Oscar Schindler Factory museum. Its very good and doesn’t just concentrate on the Oscar Schindler, it goes into detail on the whole Polish experience in WW2 and life for Jewish people in the ghetto. It is one of the top rated attractions in Krakow.

Hint : Take a close look at the floor tiles.

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Krakow Country Bike Tour

It’s been such a wet and horrible day here in Krakow that I came very close to cancelling this bike tour. I remembered though that the primary reason I was here in Europe was to do some bike tours since I love them so much and it wasn’t cold (20c) so getting a little wet was not going to faze me. After 3 days and 20,000km I wasn’t chucking it in that easily.

Very glad I didn’t. Even though I got completely soaked to the bone, it didn’t rain the entire ride and we dried out a bit from time to time. We were rewarded with the most serene and dreamy forest ride beyond my wildest dreams it was just beautiful. If it had been dry it wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as amazing.

We stopped at a monastery at the half way point where we had coffee. I had two, a standard machine made coffee (average) plus a fantastic french press coffee, the beans taken from an Ethiopian monastery run plantation. Way way better than I was expecting.

Thanks Mike, this was a great tour ! – You can book this same tour here at Cruising Krakow

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If you have time, watch the video :-

Final Dinner in Krakow

Tonight I went to Fabryka Pizzy for some Italian. I had the most spectacular Beetroot & Salami risotto. It would have to be up there with the best risotto I’ve ever tasted. Washed down with a glass of house red and a bottle of sparking mineral water for the unbelievable price of AUD13

After that, went for a final wander around the streets to soak up the atmosphere, grabbed a gelato and walked back to the apartment. The chocolate was a chocolate plumb flavour. Lovely

Climbing Mound Kosciuszko 

Today I climbed Mound Kosciuszko. Note, this is not a spelling mistake, and I’m not in the Australian Snowfields. I shit you not peeps, there is a big pile of dirt here in Krakow called “Kosciuszko Mound”. The Poles constructed it in 1823 to honour Tadeusz Kościuszko. Its got a fort around it, a path all the way to the “summit” and a great view from the top (on a nice day at least). Considering its just a big dirt mound, its pretty cool. The Poles are very proud of their mound of dirt and its looked after very well.

When Strzelecki “discoverd” Mt. Kosciusko, (well, we all know it wasn’t actually lost, just never climbed by a European before the Strez did it). he thought it looked like the mound in Poland, and named it thus. I think really it was a subtle way of just taking the piss out of our “mountain”, as in European terms its not much more than a hill. Mt. Blanc in France is twice the height. I have new respect for Strzelecki !

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kościuszko_Mound

Another interesting fact, it was later discovered there was a Mountain slight higher than Mount Kos in Australia (Mount Townsend). In a total “can’t be arsed” move, rather than update all the documentation that stated Mt Kos was the second highest mountain, and have a boring as batshit named mountain as our highest peak, the government just swapped the mountain names around.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Townsend

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I had actually planned and booked a mountain bike ride up in the Ojcow National Park however that was cancelled by the tour company last week. In hindsight this was a blessing in disguise as the weather here today is terrible.

I got an Uber from the central of Krakow to here, cost a grand total of $4. On the way I noticed we drove past the Krakow Branch of the Polish National Museum. They had ain interesting looking display of “Polish Design since 1989”. So once I’d finished at the mound I took another Uber back to the museum. Entry was $6.

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Some of the items on display. Its pretty obvious why the safety scissors will never catch on… A lot of stuff here was hands on. Great way to spend an hour or so on a horrible wet day. They even had a coffee pot !

After the visit here it was a short 15 minute walk back to the main square of Krakow.

 

Bunkier Cafe Coffee Report

I avoided my usual “out the door” at 7 this morning and hung back till after 9 so I could check out this cafe that opens later. It’s actually right next door to the one I’ve been at for the last few mornings.

It’s quite wet and yuck here so I was in no hurry to go out earlier. It’s basically a mild wet Sydney’s winter day with lots more light.

The quickest way to the cafe was through the square but I’ve done this every morning so since it’s my last full day here I decided to go around in the Planty Park. Very tranquil this time of morning

This is the best rated cafe in the old town if you google around, and it’s pretty good. Coffee is good, although maybe not as good as the one I had in the afternoon on the bike tour over the other side of the river

Here is the inside of the cafe

And the coffee

And the breakfast. I did state calories don’t count on holidays right ? At least then yoghurt is natural and unsweetened !!

I actually had two coffees here and ordered a still water. Here is the bottle. I’d just assumed it was plastic (it has a bluer tinge that the photo doesn’t really show).

I got a shock when I picked it up. It’s glass! The top gives it away but I never noticed that

Did I mention how cheap Krakow is ? All this top quality food, A$13