A Travellerspoint blog

Riga

all seasons in one day 17 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

Riga was a city I was incredibly eager to come see. It has the largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in the world and I couldn't wait to see it but first after our exhausting night getting to Riga, Ruby and I checked into our hostel and then went to sleep.
We had planned to do the free walking tour of Riga but we didn't wake up in time so instead when we finally woke up we set out in search of food and the most logical stop was not the macca's on the ground floor of the building but the amazing central markets just a few minutes away. The markets are housed in German Zeppelin hangars that they relocated after the war (as they were too poor to build new buildings) and they have an amazing array of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, fis, baked and dairy goods and then flowers and souviners. We bought a great lunch of plov and goulash for about $3 from a stall inside the markets. We also stocked up on some fresh vegetables to make a salad which I ate for the next 3 nights for about $3 for the 2 of us. Fantastic!
After our lunch we ventured into the old town to have a look at the shop and to find a coffee. I finally succumbed and had a coffee as I felt so tired I could barely concentrate on walking. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around looking at shops in the old town and the central area and also stopping again at some cafes for drinks.
That night after our amazingly fresh salad we had drinks with some Scots, some Germans and a kiwi staying in the hostel and then headed out into the town. Latvians traditionally go home for the weekend to spend it in the country side with family and friends. The country has one of the highest percentage of green space to urban so no wonder they spend it outside. It was the last weekend of summer and so lots of people had left for the weekend so the nightlife was semi-empty but we had a fun night out anyway (and the drinks are pretty cheap too!)

Once again we woke up really late and subsequently missed the walking tour again. So once again we went on our own explore heading through the park that surrounds the old town towards the 'Quiet District' where there is a lot of beautiful art nouveau architecture. We wandered around in the cold fairly un-impressed. We just weren't feeling it. There was only one street that was the centrepiece of art nouveau that was really cool. We didn't really know what else to do so after lunch at a cool little restaurant in the area and we had gotten ourselves warm again we went wandering around the streets just because. Riga was a strange place, we found a couple of cool looking shops and lots of run down wooden buildings (which are traditional of the area) but otherwise we just wandered aimlessly for a few hours until we ended back up at the hostel. Although there was a lot of attempts at convincing us to go out, Ruby and I just wanted to stay in and hang out with people but then go to bed!!!!

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and as Ruby was leaving for Tallinn I decided to go on a day trip to a cute town, Sigulda about an hour away. I had no clue really about what there was there but it sounded pretty in Lonely Planet. There was a huge cycling race happening and there were people and bikes everywhere!!! I was definetely glad to be walking around instead of on the bike. The small town is spread out and is surrounded by forest so first I went to a small castle ruins which were pretty unimpressive and then I caught a cable car across the river and forest valley below to the other side (and on this cable car you can go bungee jumping, in which I was seriously tempted). Here I went walking through the forest past more castle ruins and then down into the valley along a little lake and some caves which were heavily carved with people names and past all the cyclist. I grabbed a take away cup of tea from a small little rotunda in the valley and then proceeded on my walk. I was going through the forest now along a dirt path and the ridiculouslness that I was doing this with a cup of tea didn't escape me. Eventually (after realising how horribly unfit I am becoming) I made it to the top and went to a large open air museum which had a scultpure park, a historical village and most importantly a medieval brick castle. Woohoo another castle. (I am seriously over castles and even more over churches!) It was quaint enough and the view from the top of the tower looking out over the forest was gorgeous. I made it back to Riga 2 hours later and was quite happy to have a very quiet sunday night in watching movies and getting some sleep.

My 4th day in Riga started with pouring rain, but I was determined to do the walking tour so after commandering an umbrella from the hostel I went out and did the walking tour. It was very fascinating as it doesn't focus on the traditional old town but instead we walked around the Moskovitz area, filled with communist style buildings and where the main street traditionally pointed towards Moscow, hence the name. Here there was some monuments to the victims of the war and also strangely a black market, where people were selling any sort of brick-a-brac. Old cameras, kitchen sinks, fan belts, old (and proberly stollen) bikes and the list goes on. We then headed into the central area and looked at many art nouveau buildings which was much more fascinating now I had back-stories and context. I find I always enjoy a city more after doing one of these walking tours and Riga was no exception.
2.5hrs later we finished and I caught the train to an area called Jurmala which is famous for its beaches and spas. The town itself with its main street was very boring and I could no way at all afford the spa treatments they were offering but I did go for a walk along the very long beach and put my feet in the cold baltic sea. I reality of how far I've travelled really hit me doing this felt as a month ago I was swimming in the meditterrean. The beach itself had soft white sand and is covered in outdoor bars set up for the summer. After spending a couple of hours in Jurmala I headed back to Riga.
When I got back there it was someones birthday in the hostel and the staff had baked a cake so I had cake before heading out for dinner. For dinner, as I hadn't eaten out yet, I went out to a local latvian pub/restaurant in the old town with Zoom, a Texan who refuses to go by his real name and who I refused to called Zoom. We had an amazing feast of Latvian anti-pasto with fried bread, bacon, cheese, gherkins, carrots, champigons and radishes and then I had a delicious pork cutlet with potatos and mushrooms for main. The beers in Latvia are really nice too! We headed back to the hostel where we sat heavily on the couch for a good hours before heading out again with a huge bunch of people from the hostel, there were germans, swiss, americans, canadians, chileans, english, french and me, the necessary australian. It is always such a strange thing going out with travellers, you spend half your night finding out what peoples travel plans are and then the rest of the night mixing them all up and forgetting them. I had a good time but headed home relatively early as I knew I had to pack in the morning.

After breakfast and packing I headed to the Riga Art Nouveau Architecture museum. I have no idea why Ruby and I didn't visit this the other day. It was a very small musuem inside an art nouveau building where they had renovated one apartment back to original condition and displayed furniture, objects and clothing from the time. I found the base rooms, their floors, their windows, their ceilings and the art work painted onto them much more fascinating than the objects in the rooms but it was a interesting little place. The centrepiece of the museum was the stairwell for the building which was an ornately decorated spherical stair that wound its way up to the top. After buying some fragile souviners (seriously my bag is becoming a fragile nightmare!) I headed back to the hostel where I picked up my bags and headed to the bus station for my bus to Tallinn.

So happy with our food. At the Riga Central Markets

So happy with our food. At the Riga Central Markets

Art nouveau architecture Riga

Art nouveau architecture Riga

View over Sigulda from the castle tower

View over Sigulda from the castle tower

Riga central markets

Riga central markets

Riga traditional wooden architecture and Stalinist architecture

Riga traditional wooden architecture and Stalinist architecture

Jurmala beach

Jurmala beach

Art Nouveau staircase

Art Nouveau staircase

Posted by awowchuk 21:57 Archived in Latvia Tagged riga Comments (0)

The Curionian Spit

Ah-choo Lithuania

sunny 20 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

Ruby and I caught a 4.5 hour bus through landscape that reminded me of the drive between Canberra and Sydney, except flatter, and greener and totally different trees, but well all the same it reminded me of it. The bus brought us to the Lithuanian coastal town of Klaipeda, here as we were getting our bearings at the bus station to walk to the ferry terminal an American guy, Steve, who is a proffessor at the Klaipeda university asked if we needed help and then proceeded to walk with us towards the ferry, giving us a 15 minute walking tour of the little town of Klaipeda. After this random fun little jaunt around the old town we got the 10 minute ferry across the straight to the Curionian Spit. A stunning island, half Lithuanian, half Russian filled with huge sand dunes, beautiful forest, wildlife and gorgeously quaint little towns, with the Curionian lagoon on one side and the Baltic Sea on the other. We were staying at a town just across from the russian border called Nida. To get there we caught an hour bus through the forest from the ferry, both getting very excited about the prospect of going bike-riding and getting some exercise and seeing this stunningly gorgeous place. I was so glad to have company to do this with.
At Nida we found our hostel, temporarily being run by a nomadic middle aged New Zealander, Malcolm who could speak a russian, malay and japanese, had done a ridculous amount of random things in his life, and liked to enter into huge discusions about the sorry state of the world and how life as we know it is going to end. We didn't arrive at our hostel till close to 7 so we spent the night in discussion and drinking home made mulled wine with Malcolm, 2 other kiwi girls and a dutch guy. (who happened to be an urban planner!)
We forced ourselves up early the next day as we had a huge amount of bike riding to do. There is a bike path 60km in length along the whole of the Lithuanian part of the island (and thhen continues along a network of bike paths on the Lithuanian coast) through the forest and along the baltic sea and we wanted to see as much of it as we could. Even though neither had ridden a bike in quite a long time, we got ourselves looking the part and then headed off on our bikes which we rented from the hostel. It started out fantastically, we were having a great time riding quite fast along the path through the gorgeous forest. I was trying to take as many on the move photos as I could. We finally stopped properly 1.5hr later to sit on top of the sand dunes looking out over the Baltic Sea. We planned to continue on to Juodrankte, a town half way along to get some lunch but my sure belief that the path would go through the middle of the town led us astray and we continued desperately, with increasing number of complaints about how hungry and how sore our arse's were getting for another 1.5-2hrs right to the end of the island where we finally got stop and get some much needed food. We sat down and ate some fried bread and soup in a bit of a daze and never did properly recover for the rest of the day. We had started out at 9:45, we arrived at Smiltyne by 1:45 and then didn't leave until closer to 3. Here with good stubborn prideful intentions I attempted to convince Ruby we could ride all the way back but as soon as we sat on our bikes we knew that would just be ridiculous. There is good exercise pain and then there is actual pain. We were in actual pain and so we cheated and caught the bus back to the half way town. We believed that in this town was stuff to see in this place but it was just another cute town and we deeply regretted not getting the bus the whole way back. So after a ice-cream that was more of a hesistation than an actual desired thing we started off in wincing pain. We went along the road for ages and came to this massive hill where my bike chain fell off and we thoroughly didn't know how we would back the 30km. Agony. But after repairing the bike and walking it up the hill, and putting our jumpers on the seat to be padding we then rode down the hill and joined up with the bike path. We continued on, with each bump being pain in the arse and swearing to write letters of complaint about the worst bike seats in the world while also still trying to enjoy the scenery around us. Our mind and bodies were put through quite a test on this ride and eventually by 6:50 we made it back to our hostel, utterly and incomprensibly exhausted and in so much pain.
We got dinner from the supermarket but we were so buggered it was pre-made salad and tuna and then lots of tea. Even sitting down on the kitchen benches was painful, I managed to get a shower before the hot water ran out although ruby didn't and then we called it a night before 10pm.
The next day after 10 hours sleep we woke up still in some much pain. My muscles felt fine but my bum and then wrists and knees were so stiff and in a lot of pain. We chilled out in the hostel knowing our bus would be at 12 so we had plenty of time to re-pack, have breakkie etc.
At 12 we got the hour bus to the ferry and then got the short ferry ride and then a bus back to the bus-station. Here all our plans fell apart, there were no seats left on the 2:30 bus and it was the last bus of the day. There was no more buses until 3:40am. double mega shit! We sat back down and started to work out what the hell we were going to do. 1. wait for the bus, 2. see if there were other bus connections we could do to get there 3. hire a car 4. hitch hike. We already had accommodation booked in Riga and we didn't want to lose the 12 euro for that night so we looked into other bus connections. There was none that would get us to Riga that night. Why the hell the last bus to a major city so early in the day? We then thought about hitching but decided to really look into hiring a car. We put our bags into left luggage and headed to the car rental place. We got quite excited by the prospect, it was a whole new adventure but sadly it turned out to be ridiculously unaffordable. Being poor is not fun. So instead we drowned our sorrows with beer and fried bread and contemplated what the hell to do. I really wasn't down with hitching even though it is meant to be safe in the baltics. But by now it was after 4 and I really didn't want to be stuck on the side of a freeway in the dark in Latvia. So that left one option - waiting for the 3:40 am bus. We wandered aimlessly and depressingly around Klaipeda for a little bit and then after getting our bus tickets we went and sat in a cafe for almost 2 hours drinking tea. We grabbed our bags, bought a ridiculous amount of food supplies and settled into some very uncomfortable cold metal seats outside the bus station. Neither of us slept through the wait, instead we sat there in many layers of clothes, with beanies and gloves and a sleeping bag covering us and watched 2.5 different movies. It was absolutley exhausting. At one point I was running up and down the station and doing jumping jacks to keep warm and at other times early in the morning we were harrassed by a drunk lithuanian who just didn't seem to get the obvious point that we didn't want to talk to him.
We sprang up when our little mini-bus finally arrived. Ah-choo, ah-choo, ah-choo which is thank you thank you thank you in lithuanian (it has been really funny and strange to sneeze to say thank you) Such joy to finally see our ride out of here! The ride started ok, with both of having a double seat but 20 minutes in the 3 drunk smelly guys behind me at the back had caused so much disruption that the bus driver pulled over, and after some heated arguing through the bus, called the police and the 3 were then arrested. Ruby and I didn't really know what the deal was but we were glad they were off the bus. Half an hour later, 3 people less, we were on our way. It was an incredibly noisy bus, but I was able to sleep intermintetely through it all the to riga 4.5 hours later. Finally we made it to Riga
Overlooking the curionian lagoon at Nida

Overlooking the curionian lagoon at Nida

Curionian lagoon

Curionian lagoon

the moonrise over the spit

the moonrise over the spit

Cycling the spit

Cycling the spit

The Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea

Cycling through the forest

Cycling through the forest

the forest

the forest

Ruby and I still happy to be riding

Ruby and I still happy to be riding

the forest

the forest

the forest

the forest

Posted by awowchuk 11:27 Archived in Lithuania Tagged the spit Comments (0)

Vilnius

why not... lets eat it!

all seasons in one day 20 °C

My bus to Vilnius was very uninteresting and I tried to sleep for as much of it as I could in whatever uncomfortable position I could arrange myself into, although this generally had to change every few hours as parts of my body fell asleep and got pins and needles.
I arrived in Vilnius before 6am and made my way to my hostel in the old town. Thankfully they had a bed for me to go get a few more hours sleep in.
I re-awoke and got myself ready for a day to see Vilnius. It was a sunday and thus not everything is open but I spent a few hours wandering around the old town, past many churches and down the main tourist streets to the town hall where I joined a free walking tour. We had a pretty good guide and she took us all around the old town, past a few things I probably wouldn't have found by myself, and many churches (there are 35 in the old town) and also to an area known as the Republic of Uzupiz. An independant state with it's own president, constitution, anthem, national day (1st April) and a state that supports happiness, creativity and individuality. It is feels just like a very run down area but there are signs of it's quirkiness such as tables and chairs mounted on rooves and a drinking fountain that on the 1st of april pours beer instead of water and many other cute things.
The constitution of this area is:
Everyone has the right to live by the River VilnelÄ—, while the River VilnelÄ— has the right to flow by everyone.
Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
Everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty.
Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
Everyone has the right to individuality.
Everyone has the right to love.
Everyone has the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.
Everyone has the right not to be distinguished and famous.
Everyone has the right to be idle.
Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
Everyone has the right to look after a dog till one or the other dies.
A dog has the right to be a dog.
A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times.
Everyone has the right to sometimes be unaware of his duties.
Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not a duty.
Everyone has the right to be happy.
Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
Everyone has the right to be silent.
Everyone has the right to have faith.
No one has the right to violence.
Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.
Everyone has the right to encroach upon eternity.
Everyone has the right to understand.
Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
Everyone has the right to be of various nationalities.
Everyone has the right to celebrate or not to celebrate his birthday.
Everyone shall remember his name.
Everyone may share what he possesses.
No-one can share what he does not possess.
Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
Everyone is capable of independence.
Everyone is responsible for his freedom.
Everyone has the right to cry.
Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
No-one has the right to make another person guilty.
Everyone has the right to be personal.
Everyone has the right to have no rights.
Everyone has the right to not be afraid.
Do not defeat.
Do not fight back.
Do not surrender.

Pretty cute eh!
So after walking through here and past some art and crumbling buildings, then we continued on up a hill to see a panoramic over Vilnius and here the rain came. This place is legendary for rain, in fact the name Lithuania is supposedly comes from the words land of rain. But who knows if that is just legend or not, but is does rain here. For the rest of the afternoon it continued to spit and then properly rain. Something I haven't seen since being in England.
When the tour was over 2.5hrs later, I was starving and so was one of the aussie girls on the tour, Ruby, a melbourne student, so we decided to head to a traditional lithuanian restaurant for a late lunch. We found this one and kind of went crazy. First we had the very traditional food of fried bread covered in a gooey cheese sauce. Artery cloggingly delicious. This was followed by herring with stewed onion and mushrooms which I liked but Ruby couldn't handle the herring and then the famous traditional dish of Zeppelins. A large dumpling of potato, mashed potato and grated potato are combined and then boiled again and then stuffed with meat. It is super gelatinious and then on top is bacon and fats and lots of sour cream. It was so weird and you can get all sorts of different flavours inside them. If you think about it too much the texture starts to gross you out. Then we had a chicken wing potato pie, it was litteraly chicken wings inside a pie of potato. Oh so many carbs and fats!!!! But it was lots of fun tasting all of this stuff!
Afterwards as the rain was coming down pretty heavy now, we each made our way back our hostels were we chilled and relaxed and planned where to next!
Later Ruby and I headed out to a bar for a drink and to see the nightlife but it was sunday night and kind of quiet and raining but that was quite nice.
Traikai is a small town on a penisula into a lake with a castle on an island, and this was the seen of my day-trip the next day. Ruby and I headed on a bus in the morning and went the 40 minutes to this small town that was ridiculously picturesque. The weather wasn't brilliant, being quiet cool and overcast and threatening rain but it didn't ruin how pretty the lake and castle were. We walked around the small town, and then the castle complex. The castle, which has been heavily re-constructed was very strange at first, with exhibitions on porcelain, drawings of baltic cities, furniture, taxiderimed animals, pipes, and things made out of ivory. But the second half of the complex was like a proper little castle with some interesting exhibitions about lithuania and this tiny little town and the people who have been here throughout history. We also got to shoot cross-bows and cool bow and arrows inside the castle complex. It was so much fun and cheap and we both had really bad aim but it was fun to try!
Afterwards we had lunch of the local dish which is basically a pasty. We had a range of them made of pork, vegetables and also chicken. Not the most amazing food ever but good comfort food.
After splurging on the most ridiculous hat EVER - a woollen sauna hat - we slowly made our way back to the bus and then to Vilnius.
The thing I have noticed when you start spending more time with people is you start to spend a lot more money. When you are by yourself your logic and rational of why you don't buy thing - no money, don't really need it, can't afford to carry it etc seems to go out the window as you egg each other on to buy things. Ruby and I were no exception and we spent the afternoon shopping. I ended up with amazing woollen socks and mittens and she with a deer beanie! Then in heading towards more shops we stopped at a ridiculously cute cafe filled with all types of these pasties - kibinai and so we had cottage cheese and pear pasties with tea and then continued on our shopping adventure buying ridiculously cheap ridiculous things! It was fun though!
We turned around and started heading back through the old town towards our hostels in search of the supermarket as we really wanted to eat some salad and be healthy finally! On our way we got totally distracted by these amazing clothes shops and were so tempted to buy some ridiculously expensive pretty clothes and then buy some amazing vintage dresses and bags and jewellery! The grimeyness and ugliness of backpacking really becomes strong when you go into these gorgeous shops.
We then headed towards the supermarket to get our salads but got distracted by a place selling all types of sweet and savory pancakes and our mutual love of maple syrup dragged us in there. So after some pancakes, bacon and maple syrup we finally headed to get salad!!!!
Second dinner felt quiet healthy and then I spent the rest of the night relaxing and writing and packing all my funny purcheses into my bag so tomorrow morning we can head off to the coast!

Vilnius in the grey

Vilnius in the grey

the republic of uzupis

the republic of uzupis

A zeppellin

A zeppellin

Ruby and I at Trakai castle

Ruby and I at Trakai castle

Crossbows at Trakai castle

Crossbows at Trakai castle

Bow and arrow at Trakai castle

Bow and arrow at Trakai castle

Trakai castle

Trakai castle

At Trakai

At Trakai

The streets of Vilnius

The streets of Vilnius

Sauna hat!

Sauna hat!

Posted by awowchuk 10:02 Archived in Lithuania Tagged vilnius Comments (0)

Warsaw

A rush around Warsaw

sunny 23 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

I got a very crowded train to Warsaw. It was a fairly uneventful 3 hr train ride, the only interesting thing being the cat in my carriage.
At Warsaw I made a mega mistake of getting of one train station too late, at the main one instead of the one next to the bus stop 15 minutes out of the city, and then found out from tourist information that I would have to back-track via public bus to the bus station. ergh. There I found out my bus time, and the fact that I only had to buy tickets on the bus, so kind of a wasted trip to the bus station, so after leaving my back-pack at left luggage, I then back-tracked back into the city centre to walk around the touristy are for a few hours.
Warsaw was 90% demolished during the war but they have re-built it from the rubble and now the old town (stare miesto) is unesco heritage listed. The old town is focused along a boulevard a few kilometres long with churches, cafes and restaurants, shops and university buildings along it. It is quite beautiful, but has a strange Disneyland Main St feel about it if you know that it has been re-built to look old. At the end is the royal castle and a major square and then a collection of cute cobblestone streets, squares, churches, musuem's etc. I felt so rushed but I was glad I had time to walk around and see it. There is a huge number of churches in the area and it felt like every single one had a wedding going on in it, with lots of well dressed guests and wedding couples out and about. There is also a huge number of ice-cream shops, just as there seems to be all over europe and here I finally decided to have the craze of chocolate and vanilla giant softserve. It was very strange!
I had a rushed early dinner of some pretty crappy pierogi's looking out over the royal castle and square and then rushed back on foot and then on the bus to the bus station where I only waited 15 minutes before getting on my bus to Vilnius. Phew.

Streets of Warsaw

Streets of Warsaw

Stare Miesto square

Stare Miesto square

ridiculous ice-cream in warsaw

ridiculous ice-cream in warsaw

Posted by awowchuk 09:55 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Krakow

sunny 23 °C
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My train to Krakow was a super long train that was going to break up and I had to walk the entire length of the train to find my carriage. I got into my cabin, another 3 bed stack which I had to myself and proceeded to try to make my bed. The cabin attendant, a lovely older Polish man thought I was hilarious as I couldn't work it out except for the pillow case and he proceeded to make my bed for me while laughing at me in Polish. I was buggered and about half an hour into the journey, around 9pm, I feel asleep. I didn't have the smoothest night sleep, waking up a few times but at least I got lots of hours.
I was woken up at quarter to 7 as we had arrived back at Lviv (going to Kiev was a massive backtrack but I was glad I did) and I had a swiss/german backpacking couple get on. Then it was back to sleep as we slowly made our way towards the Ukrainian border. An hour or so later I was woken up as soon we would pass passport control and start the slow process again.
The Ukranians came in and took everyone's passports again, and we got them back maybe half an hour/ hour later. They were efficient this time it seems. We then proceeded on towards the Polish border town of Przemysl. This time the Polish took ages. The train stopped around 10am to let on Polish immigration and then moved down the track slowly as the immigration took ages to go through and scan everyones passport. The guard asked if my mother or father were polish because of my name. By now the train is 9 carriages long so I'm not sure what they were doing. Once that was done we proceeded further to Przymysl to let off heaps of people, including the swiss/german couple and for drug dogs to come in and sniff the train. Then after sitting around for ages, in which the cabin attendant handed out croissants and tea we finally moved again around 11am to go get the train's wheels changed. We made our way into the yard surrounded by the lifting machine and slowly the Polish men went to work seperating the carriages and lifting the train. I was hanging out of the windows taking lots of photos and then went to the door to try and get some better ones. There, one of workers invited me down so I could see it. It's very surreal to see it lifted up, but seconds later another was getting angry as I wasn't supposed to come off the train, but he got overruled and I quickly looked around and then with their encouragement had a photo with one of them. He shortly after came on and found me in the train to give me his email so I could send him the photo!! I kept watching the whole process, watching them push all the wheels out and then push all the new ones in and then the lowering of the carriages back down. So ridiculous! These guys have to do this twice a day. Once we were back down and started moving all around the train yard two of the guys came on and for 20 minutes or so we proceeded to have a strange conversation in which tak (yes) nie (no) dobry (good) and ne rozumiem (I don't understand) got said a lot. We established where I was from (kangaroos), where I was going, how many times they lifted the train and that I thought it was crazy they had to do change the wheels, and that they really can't speak english but are learning german and that I really really can't speak Polish. It was the strangest and thus a hilarious conversation. I really need to learn some languages properly. By 1 oclock the train was back and moving again on it's way to krakow. We continued on for a few more hours as as we approached the departure time I started to get ready, determined to be organised. But that time came and went and we kept going and I realised that poland is one hour behind the Ukraine and my train journey was actually for 21 hours.
In Krakow I headed went to my hostel just a few minutes down the road. I had booked to stay at a place called Greg and Tom's party hostel after recommendations from some aussie's in Kiev. I got there and was given a shot of vodka straight away. oh god.
Krakow is an absolutely gorgeous little town, an old town filled with a huge mix of well preserved (or renovated) colourful buildings focused around the largest town square in central europe. The town square was filled with people (tourists) at cafes and stalls and walking around. Even though my hostel would provide dinner, I was starving so sat down and had some meat pierogi (exactly the same as vareniky but the polish name) from a stall in the middle of the town square. They were giant and slightly fried and thus delicious.
I headed back to the hostel for a pretty crap dinner and to get ready for the night's festivies. The hostel every night puts on events for people to get involved in. Tonight Uwas the vodka festival. Tasting different vodka shots and then heading out to someclubs. Krakow old town has over 200 pubs and clubs! Pretty fun event, even if a few of us got lost in the streets of the old town for a little while.
The next morning I headed to Auschwitz-Birkinau concentration camp with 3 others from the hostel, Crystal (another aussie) and Michael and Emma from Newcastle England. It was part of an organised trip through the hostel, and first it took over an hour on a bus to get there, then at Auschwitz we joined a larger group and had an english speaking tour guide to take us around both camps for a few hours.
The whole place is horrific, horrific that these acts happened and horrific that people planned and organised to do this to others. I got an overwhelming sense of anger that this atrocity happened at all. Auschwitz was an extermination camp but was mainly a labour force camp, made up of rows of brick buildings that the prisoners were kept in. I was not expecting these solid brick buildings, but the we found out the prisoners had to build these themselves. Inside these buildings were exhibits about the people and what they had suffered there. There was a display that was mounds of human hair, for the length of the entire room, that had been cut off the prisoners when they had arrived. There was also piles and piles and piles of spectacles, shoes, brushes etc that just kept increasing the scale of the genocide. It was one of the most horrifying and sad things to see. After walking around with our guide, through some of the prison cells and shooting yards and the gas chambers we then were bused 3km over to the ginormous camp of Birkinau. This camp was made up of massive gas chambers that the Nazi's demolished towards the end of the war in an attempt to hide their crimes and then hectares of camp where people were kept in attrociously primitve and overcrowded and harsh conditions. Not all the buildings stand any more but you really do get a sense of how large the place was.
I am really glad I came to see this site, the only negative though about visiting Auschwitz-Birkinau was the shear number of tourists. I know I am part of these numbers but it really does detract from the experience, when you are following a large line of people past exhibits.
Back in Krakow, after a little nap, 6 of from the hostel headed out to get some food from the Jewish quarter and then go to the Schindler's facotry museum. The Jewish quarter feels much less frozen than the old town, with buildings that we more raw and grimy but with streets filled with bars and shops and restaurants and life. I like this side quite a lot. We went over to the main square that is famous for selling a unique food from Krakow called Zapikanki. It is baguette sliced in half, then on one side only, mushrooms, cheese and sauce and then any toppings you could want really. I got sausage and garlic sauce on mine and it was massive and delicious but once again kind of felt like eating it would cause a heart attack. We walked around the jewish quarter eating this and then only 3 of us decided to head to the museum. The museum is about Krakow during Nazi occupation with only a very small bit being about Oscar Schindler and what he did, but it is housed in the actual factory. It was a really well presented exhibition. Very modern, filled with multi-media and huge super graphics and full room displays and an overwhelming amount of information through the period of german occupation. over 3 hours later, Naomi, Michael and I walked out mentally exhausted from the amount of information we had seen today.
After yet another fairly useless dinner at the hostel we headed out on a pub crawl through Krakow old town, organised by the hostel again. It was a lot of fun. Most of the places are down in the basements (which in some cases used to be ground level) and so you go down these crazy stair cases and through many rooms to reach the bars. We had lots of fun going to a range of different places and dancing.
My third day in Krakow and I had to check out. For the first time though I was still not really sure where I would be sleeping that night. On a train? to where? in a hostel? where? but I just went with it and figured I'd work it out later. My plan is to try and get up to Vilnius in Lithuania fairly quickly.
With Emma and Michael, I did a free 2.5 hour walking tour of Krakow old town. Our guide Maciek was incredibly enthusastic and told us about the history of Krakow from when Poland was established all the way through to today. This city has had a really incredible past. The amount of different cities it has belonged to is crazy. We walked around the town square, the streets, past churches, through the university and ended up at the Wawel castle. A strange complex much like Prague castle of random buildings all together rather than a palace.
After the tour Michael and Emma left and grabbing a quick lunch, I decided to stay on for the next tour of Wawel Cathedral. I actually had a private tour of the cathedral with Maciek as I was the only one that turned up! It was fascinating and incredibly complicated learning about the Polish history and all its different kings and their stories. The cathedral is very strange. It has been built 3 times and then on the third one lots of bishops and kings have kept adding small chapels in a range of architectural styles to the building (generally as a monument to themselves). He showed me the main church area, telling lots of stories about different kings, then up a narrow and potientally head hitting staircase to the bell tower with a look out over the old town and then down into the crypts where there are the coffins of lots of past kings and their families and other notable people such as Kosciouzko and the late president who was killed in the plane crash 2 years ago.
Two hours later we finished and I still had no idea where I would be sleeping that night nor did I have a train ticket out of there. I also had an overwhelming sense that I really needed to spend a bit longer in this town. I wasn't quite ready to leave it. Maciek and I decided to get a beer after the tour and in the walk to the jewish quarter decided that I would sleep on his couch as he is a couch surfer and hosts people all the time! So that was that. I was going to stay with Maciek, a long haired, pierced, enthusiastic tour guide who spent 3 months busking around New Zealand as a Lord of the Rings goblin and has a liking for bad 80's pop music.
Maciek took me to a bar in the jewish quarter that has over 150 different beers on tap where we stayed for a while drinking and talking before headed back to my hostel to pick up my bags and then back to the jewish quarter to get some food- another Zapikanki, this time with smoked sausage and then to another pub where we hung out in the beer garden. Here my stomach started doing some serious backflips and I felt quite guility but I had to leave or risk passing out from pain. So we got a cab to his apartment, a small studio in a communist built block out past the Jewish quarter and I proceeded to fall asleep.
The next morning, I felt so much better for having a long sleep. Maciek then made me homemade breakfast of stewed cabbage, kind of like sauerkraut with sausage and onion and all sorts that we ate on bread. Definitely not my normal breakfast food but it was delicious and interesting.
Soon I was back on my way, as I had looked up train times and so made my way slowly on foot past a few churches and streets I hadn't seen towards the station where I got my train to Warsaw to hopefully then get an overnight bus to Vilnius.

the train carriage lifted up off the wheels

the train carriage lifted up off the wheels

With the train changer

With the train changer

the train changers in my cabin

the train changers in my cabin

the train lifted up without any wheels

the train lifted up without any wheels

pierogi's in krakow

pierogi's in krakow

shoes at auschwitz

shoes at auschwitz

Birkinau

Birkinau

Zapikanki

Zapikanki

Castle walls in Krakow

Castle walls in Krakow

In Wawel castle, Krakow

In Wawel castle, Krakow

view over Krakow from the cathedral bell tower

view over Krakow from the cathedral bell tower

Posted by awowchuk 09:54 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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