Warsaw and Krakow two cities that delight

After an initial stressed and grumpy start (see previous post) to our Poland trip I am happy tor report it was a really enjoyable. Lisa and I knew that we had about 8 days and the original idea was to stay 2 nights in Warsaw and then move on somewhere else and eventually end up in Krakow and maybe near the Tatra mountains in Zakopane.

Polski BusWe wanted to keep it as cheap as possible so only stayed in hostels and used the Polski Bus instead of train or plane to get from Warsaw to Krakow. I have to say the bus was great and very comfy.

Couchsurfing was a total let down. We quickly gave up. Not because for lack of trying but because if you can’t plan ahead and need people to put you up on short notice and during summer holidays then it’s not really the right tool. So instead of wasting all day to find people who may put us up, we stuck to hostels and enjoyed the town.

To be honest Poland is very cheap and that helped a lot.

In the end we liked Warsaw so much that we decided to extend our stay and skip anything in between. We made it to Krakow but sadly I couldn’t come to Zakopane with my friend. We didn’t make any plans and for me it was a matter of getting home. My choice at the time was finding a reasonable priced flight or spending 28hrs on a bus or car back to London (my friend used bla bla car to get back to Germany). Frankly, a 28hrs journey wasn’t appealing to me at the time. I had been to Zakopane a couple of years ago so my friend went alone whilst I spent 14 hrs getting home. Yes irony struck. Besides everything going swimmingly during our trip getting home was a bit of a night mare. I swear airport administrations in Warsaw suck!

Morskie Oko lake  in PolandAnyhow, I you have time and like hiking then make time for a visit in Zakopane. I am from Germany and it reminded me of the time my parents took us kids to Austria for a hiking on school holidays. Here is a picture of the Morskie Oko lake (8km hike) I saw a few years back.

Warsaw

Marie Skłodowska Curie
Marie Skłodowska Curie

I was a little apprehensive about visiting Warsaw at first. To my shame I had this really outdated image in my head that it would look like East Berlin after the wall came down. Grey and run down and that people would be weird. I don’t know old cliches die hard I suppose. I was so so wrong. It’s a modern city with a rich cultural heritage and rightly proud of it. It’s a city attracting tourists from Poland and the world alike. A city that loves music from classic to folk to street or some sort of fusion of traditional chines and electric rock – there is always music in the air. Even the little pop up bar behind our hostel sprouted a spontaneous band rehearsal for traditional Irish instrumental music with fiddle, violin, guitar and flute.

Don’t get mo wrong. I am not romanticising the place. Money clearly was invested into the infrastructure and architecture. Parks feature cultural events and concerts and the pubs and bars a filled with tourists like in any other major European city. Prices are cheap, especially if you from places like London or Paris, but I have to say I have seen a lot of homeless people. Again, I am living in London and it’s a sad sight I should be familiar with but the extend to what I have seen in Poland is heart breaking (Krakow was similar). If you mange to cross the river to Praga and move away to the older parts, the less tourist oriented bits of town then you can see people are still not doing that great (much closer to the image I had in mind before the trip). There are always 2 sides to a coin. I don’t say don’t enjoy your time away but I think if visiting a place don’t be afraid to acknowledge the less glorious sides too.

 

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Warsaw by night

 

By the way if you have a sweet tooth check out the Pirate Candy Shop in Warsaw

 

Krakow

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No swimming above boats??

This was my second visit to Krakow. It’s more touristy overall but compared to Warsaw feels more relaxed. You can walk pretty much anywhere and as the core is literally encircled by a park, it’s very hard to get lost. What is also nice that you can walk along the river. Whilst in Warsaw, you’ll be disappointed to see that any type of walk along the river is beside a major road and there is no greenery just pavements. In Krakow you can stroll or cycle along the river for ages and locals meet for picnics.

Krakow is also a good hub for day trips such as Zakopane or Auschwitz. Lisa and I are both German and felt a visit to is Auschwitz is absolutely mandatory if anything then out of respect. I visited a few years back and Lisa went this time around. I wouldn’t post or take pictures. To me it feels invasive but that’s it’s for everyone themselves to decided.

Overall, visiting Krakow’s hit home the dark history of our country. Lisa and I both loved visiting Kazimierz the old Jewish quarter of town. Today it’s full of little shops and cafes. During the war the main Ghetto was just across the river in Podgorze and that’s where you can still visit Schindler’s fabric. In contrast to what it must have been like during the war it’s mind twisting. Little golf carts repurposed for city tours pass by you and your hear many different pre-recorded languages with information about the area, including German. But there are still people living here who remember and some when they overhear you speak German have almost instinctive reactions to you. It’s fleeting looks and body language encompassing everything form curiosity to fear and pure anger. It’s made both Lisa and I very self-concious for a while. I think it’s just something to be mindful when visiting as I felt history was living and breathing in the area alongside the present. I recommend when in the area take a trip to the Galicia Jewish Museum (maybe on a rainy day).

 

Check out the rest of the sights below. Let me know if you have any other ideas for future trips in the comments below. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. For more videos subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Many thanks Isibue

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Camino sign

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Cloth Hall
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Church of Saint Bernardino
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Wawel castle by night

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Wawel Royal castle
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Wawel Royal castle

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Wawel cathedral
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Otto Nikodym and Stefan Banach Memorial Bench

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Obwarzanek Krakowski – Polish bretzel
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Town Hall Tower

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Netherlands explored!

So the story begins

Not that I need an excuse to travel but I wanted to catch up with my friend Chia-Hua who I met the previous year walking the Camino (Way of Saint James) to Santiago de Compostela. She and her husband Ab kindly let me crash at their house for 8 days and they were gracious, generous hosts.Chia-Hua and Ab

Their place is a 30 mins bus ride from Amsterdam and I was able to got a little taste of what is is like living in the Netherlands compared to the cliché Amsterdam city break with its dodgy coffeeshops and the red light district – Done that! Been there! – Instead I stayed in a real home, including crazy neighbours who like a chat (or beer) over the garden fence, rode a bike for the first time in two years, joint my friend at her yoga class (entirely in Dutch which was hilarious and painful) and walked the country side.

Getting there and and back – why I ditched the plane

Yamasaki RestaurantI had read an article in the Independent about the closure of the Hoek van Holland train station which was first opened in 1893. The station catered for those arriving by ferry to the Netherlands and connecting them to the major cities. Reading the article, it felt like the end of a era and I wanted to see the station before it entirely disappeared.

Stena Line check-in signpostAnd indeed it was a said sight. The old station platform is still there but the rest is heavily under construction. You can see traces of the old tracks leading away from the station. For the entire summer this little harbour has no train connection what so ever. The new Rotterdam metro link is scheduled to open at some point in September.

Abandone cafe table setI walked on the empty platform and an eerie feeling creeped up my spine. Looking at the abandoned Japanese restaurant that must have catered to many commuters over time, somehow it felt like people just decided one day never to return and the got up and left everting as it where. The menu reads the specials of the day and clearly it wasn’t worth the effort to clear the last coffee cup from the table outside the restaurant. You wonder where everyone’s gone.

Statue at Hock van HollandI decided to stay one night in this place. To be honest after getting up ridiculously early to travel from London to Harwich in order to catch the Stena Line ferry for the 9am departure, it is now past 5pm and I am tired. The thought of another 2/12 hrs on bus and train to get to Amsterdam and another 30 min to Purmerend wasn’t very appealing.

Honestly, as cheap as the travel by ferry is, it’s taken me all day. If you don’t want to to take the plane for financial or environmental reasons, you’d better have enough time to waste.

By the way the same counts for the return journey.  ‘Wenn schon, denn schon’ as we say in Germany  – let’s go the whole hog and take the coach back to London. Another jolly 8hrs on the bus but for £35 I won’t complain. I decided on Flexibus after reading the review ‘Rotterdam to London by ‘The Hostel Girl‘ and I can pretty much confirm her account.

My personal tip, be prepared with food and drink as there are no stops that would allow a quick pitstop. And maybe don’t sit too close to the loos. Not so much because of smells but surly every 5 minutes someone will uses it. It can get a bit annoying after some time; pretty much like it would on a plane. CONFINED SPACES PEOPLE.  But it was my first time driving through the Eurotunnel. One more item ticked off the list. YAY. Back to the story…

I used the saved money from the ferry trip and stayed in a local B&B. To my delight both B&B and Hoek van Holland were actually nice places.

I have to admit I became mesmerised watching the big ferries and container ships driving in and out the canal.

A day at the beach

In and around Amsterdam

Amsterdam bus station

I spent the rest of my trip exploring Amsterdam and its surroundings. I got myself a 3 day Amsterdam+Regional travel card for €33.50. It included pretty much any form of public transport in Amsterdam and the regions including some intercity trains as long as they cover the region. A map with info is provided with the card. Check out the I Amsterdam website for more details. There are various combi ticket options available if you are interested.

Fare warning, the Netherlands are not cheap. Unlike London, museums are not free. The tourist information centre will charge you for a simple map which isn’t all that great. I saw many tourist struggle with it.

Nemo science Museum Amsterdam
Nemo Science Musum

However, if you browse a little there are leaflets for free which will have simple maps of the boroughs including the tram/bus lines.  And there is always GPS on the phone (the gift of no more roaming charges).

 

 

I decided not to buy a map. Instead I steered straight for the canals to explore the backwaters. Every time I hit the main canal I took a turn to see what’s in the “back streets”.  Half the time I had no idea where exactly I was. There are signpost to important tourist sites everywhere but I only used those for rough orientation. Still by following the canals I pretty much walked past the major tourist sites anyhow.  It was nice just letting go of the map. Thanks to the travel pass I knew if all fails I could get a tram back to the main train station. I am proud to say I found my own way. Going forward I applied the same principle everywhere I went (with exception of the 34km cycling trip I used a map for that).

What I saw in pictures

(prints available for some images)

Bicycles

Vintage cars

Shops and other stuff

Statues

Architecture

 

Monnickerdam

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