50 Shades of Grey…
No, not the ludicrously popular piece of chick-porn-lit by E.L. James. This is in fact the answer to the question: What colour is Poland?… From our very brief time there, I would guess that Poland must certainly be in the top 10 greyest countries in the world (of course there is such a list) along with England, Scotland, and I’m not sure where else yet. It’s a list in progress.
We arrived in Krakow from Budapest via the misleadingly named “overnight sleeper train”. Yes, it traveled overnight, and I concede it was, unmistakably a train. However, there was very little in the way of sleep, sleepers, sleeping, or any other variation on the word. The cabins are all potentially six-berth, but some rooms only have 2 or 4 beds pulled down, it just depends how much you want to pay. Even if you have an Inter-rail pass, you must pay a surcharge on sleeper trains. We paid about £10 each to go in a 4 berth cabin. The “beds” are of the same consistency of any normal train or bus-seat – i.e. wooden, with a couple of millimeters of foam and cloth on top. Writing this now, since we’ve had more experience of sleeper trains, we have realized the experience isn’t really that bad, and can be very pleasant, it just takes some getting used to. The main problem with our first sleeper train experience was that it seemed to spend over 60% of the journey stationary, and was constantly stopping and starting. The chugging repetition of the train as it trundles along is what sends you to sleep, so the stopping and stationary periods are really disturbing. The whole journey took around 12 hours – but I reckon it was probably only about a 5 mile/10 minute journey, and we were just stopped for the majority of it. We probably should of just walked. I’ll have to check it out on a map. (Note – I checked a map – we couldn’t have walked – but you get the picture).
Arriving in Krakow at 6.45am, after only a couple of hours of sleep, we were glad that our hostel was just opposite the train station. Typically for us, it still took about 45 minutes of trudging around with all our gear to find it (we located it just in time, as Amy was seconds away from hurling herself herself in front of a tram). It wasn’t that it the location was misleading, we walked past it about 3 times, it was just that the only indication it was there was a small weathered A4 piece of paper above some apartment doorbells.
This minor hiccup can’t detract from the fact the our hostel, Greg and Tom’s, was overall the best hostel we’d stayed in up till now. It worked out about £22 a night (between us) for a private room, shared bathroom, and access to a fully equipped kitchen/dining area. Upstairs there was a 24 hour reception with amazingly friendly and helpful staff. Also, included in the price were 2 meals a day (morning and evening) served buffet style, all you can eat, along with snacks like fruit and popcorn throughout the day if you wanted them. So, we had a nice place to stay, with a good atmosphere, free wifi and computer use, and 2 meals a day, for £11 per person. Not bad.
Despite the general Polish propensity for monochrome, Krakow in fact has a broad pallet of fetching pastel colours to accompany its greys. Krakow is Poland’s ancient Royal capital, and although much smaller, in parts it’s as elegant as Prague or Vienna – although it does win the award for most externally ugly castle of the trip so far so far. The old town is charming in appearance, but was surprisingly (to us at least) one of the most touristy city centres we have seen it terms of the amount of street leafleters and guides in little buggies selling tours. Thankfully , this touristyness is concentrated to the very centre (Market Square) and the odd street connecting to it, so it was very easy to escape and feel like you were in a real town again. The edges of the old town, Kazimierz the Jewish district (Krakows hipster hub) and the area between that and the centre were particularly interesting to walk around.
For our lunchtime meals we ate at local Mleck (Milk) bars which are simple self service cafes where locals, workers, and students eat. They serve traditional Polish fare which tastes a lot better than it looks, the vast majority of stuff being anemic, squidgy, and slimy looking. A favourite combination of many seemed to be a red or white borch to start, and a plate of pirogi It’s really satisfying after a freezing cold trek around town, but I would imagine stodgy things like pirogi getting quickly wearisome if eaten regularly. (White borch with sausage and spuds in was my favourite, and I’m hoping to learn a recipe for making this).
As we only had 2 nights in Krakow (we wanted 3 but had to spend one in Warsaw in order to get our train to Moscow) there is a lot we didn’t see and it would be great to come back here with more time. We lost a bit of time because of having to catch up on our sleep after the “sleeper” train too.
On the last day we went for a long walk through town and along the river (Vistula) and came across Schindlers enamel factory, of Schindlers list fame. It’s now a tourist attraction you can walk round, and although it wasn’t particularly expensive (about £4 each) we didn’t bother going round as we’ve both seen the film, so we get the gist. (We thought the exhibitions just covered the events of the film – there were stills from the film hanging on the wall all over reception). At the time I thought it was bizarre as you got the impression it wouldn’t be a tourist attraction if it wasn’t for the film. We’ve since found that its supposed to be a great exhibition about the general history of the city under Nazi occupation, and it is just housed in Schindler’s enamel factory for context, so we regret not going in now. On the plus side, there was a free toilet. At first I was worried that having a dump in Schindler’s enamel factory might be a bit disrespectful, but when you’ve gotta go you’ve gotta go… (Those that know Amy will know this especially well, as she regresses to 5 years old when nature calls… “Why didn’t you go before?” – “Cos I didn’t need one then” – “well, hold it in” – “No I can’t” – “Sigh…”) <<< Potential script from movie offshoot, Schindler’s Piss?
Other things we learned about Krakow:
All hail his excellency. Pope John Paul II in a big deal here. There’s an entire street dedicated to him. There also seems to be more Nuns and Priests per square mile than anywhere else we’ve been. Seemed to be one on every street.
Bakers Dozen. Well, dozens of bakers in fact. Ranging from people with carrier bags in the park, to people with tiny little stalls on street corners, to big market stalls. There seemed to be a person selling unknown bread type things every few steps – its a saturated market.
Krakow, Poland 11/03/13 – 13/03/12