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Poland

Gdansk, Poland

Some much needed Rest & Relaxation

sunny 22 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

We knew that 10 hours on a train was not going to be the most exciting way to spend a day, but it was that or another overnight train (NO!!), so we settled into our compartment and tried to keep ourselves entertained. Luckily after the first 4 hours it emptied out and we had it to ourselves meaning we could stretch our legs. By the time we arrived it was almost 19.00, but our hostel was fairly easy to find and seemed to be centrally located. Stay Inn was part hotel, part hostel and had only been open for 3 months when we checked in http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/poland/gdansk/96321/. We were shown around and were amazed and how swanky it was! For our first night we had opted for a private double as we knew we were likely to crash and burn after our epic train journey and after a quick wander and a couple of pizzas at a nice restaurant, that is exactly what we did!

St Marys Gdansk

St Marys Gdansk

Next morning feeling rested, we were up devouring free breakfast and checking out to check back into our 8 bed dorm, which was huge but slightly noisy as it looked out onto the main street (Piwo Street or Beer Street in English - you can imagine!). As usual we had discovered a free walking tour; The Alternative Gdansk Tour promised a mixture of the tourist sights and some more off the beaten track things you would never come across unless you knew they were there like some amazing graffiti wall art, and the only 3 original houses left standing in the city. Gdansk was actually the starting place of WWII where Germany invaded Poland meaning it was completely destroyed during the war. Everything that you see in the city today is actually a reconstruction built in 1953 of how it would have looked - very impressive when you think Poland was under the Communist regime where everything was matching concrete tower blocks.

Gdansk main Street

Gdansk main Street

Water Mill Gdansk

Water Mill Gdansk

Copernicus astrologer

Copernicus astrologer

Small island Gdansk

Small island Gdansk

The tour lasted about 3 hours and ended in Solidarity Square near the former shipyard where a series of increasingly violent demonstrations, fighting the forces of Soviet Communism took place. What began as protests over the price of meat, became a 10 million member Solidarity Trade Union and would eventually help see the end of Soviet Communist rule. After the tour, our guide asked if anyone would be interested in visiting the Solidarity Museum (as we could get in cheaper in a large group!). He showed us around the museum which explained life in Gdansk during Communism where you would be forced to queue for hours at a time for minute amounts of food, often with no guarantee of actually getting any, The exhibits also explained the rise of the Solidarity movement and how it helped to end Soviet rule. After that, we explored more of the town before settling down for the rest of the evening in a bar to do some much needed research and booking of hostels.

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Next morning and in glorious sunshine, we decided to take the 15 minute train ride to Sopot and spend some time on the beach. Some time turned out to be the next two days where we relaxed in the sunshine, ate at a nice restaurant (well within budget!) and caught up on some much needed rest after a hectic few weeks. Nick was even brave enough to go for a swim in the Baltic, commenting they call it the Baltic for a reason as it was bloody freezing! At first we felt a little guilty for spending so much time doing nothing as you always feel you should be out seeing and doing things every day on a trip like this, but that is why we were starting to feel tired as we were not allowing ourselves enough time to actually stop and enjoy it!

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Nick (James Bond Style) on Sopot beach

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So on our final night we went out for a couple of drinks in a local bar, then for a Zapiakana which was 52cm long (Nick was very excited by this having fallen in love with them in Krakow!), before heading to bed for a relatively early night as we had to be up at 05:00 the next morning to catch our train to Berlin to meet my parents.

52cm of Zapiekanka

52cm of Zapiekanka

The second 52cm of Zapiekanka

The second 52cm of Zapiekanka

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Comments (1)

Kraków, Poland

Beautiful city, fascinating history and plenty of quirky bars

semi-overcast 23 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

After a two hour journey we arrived in Krakow bus station which was also a train station and a massive shopping mall. Once we had navigated ourselves out of the shopping mall we soon discovered our hostel. Mosquito turned out to be on the second floor of an old apartment block and was a small hostel with only 5 rooms, good sized kitchen and common room and plenty of free tea and coffee (always a bonus) http://www.mosquitohostel.com. The staff were fantastic and were very knowledgable and friendly getting you involved in the hostel activities only when you wanted to.

We had arrived just in time to make the free walking tour of the city, so walked the 5 mins through the last remaining city wall gate to the centre of town. We joined a group of other english speaking tourists and our guide Alijca for a brilliant 3 hour tour of the old town to learn about it's long history and tales (some more myth than fact) http://freewalkingtour.com/krakow,city,1.html. The town dates back to 600 AD and was once the capital of Poland so has some beautiful buildings ranging over the centuries. The town square was based on the rules of a medieval square with a slight modification to allow for an older church to remain in the centre. In recent years they were renovating the town square and discovered the remains of the city before the medieval rebuild and you can now go under the the main square and visit the excavations, (unfortunately they only let small numbers of people down and you need to book in advance, so we didn't get chance to see them).

Krakow main square

Krakow main square

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Krakow also has an old medieval castle, upon the top of Wawel (Vavel) hill. Part of the castle is also renaissance due a fire caused by a king and his alchemy tests a few centuries ago. This same castle was also home to the German governor general, Hans Frank during WW2 and the German occupation. But the most interesting tale is that of the dragon which used to live in a cave at the foot of the castle, eating all the virgins of the town. This caused the king to be very angry and he tasked anyone to kill the dragon getting his beautiful daughters hand in marriage in return. Eventually a humble cobbler came to try and made a sulphur bomb to look like a sheep, which the dragon thinking it was real ate in one swallow setting himself on fire, killing him. The humble cobbler got to marry the daughter and later became king. So now if you go to visit Kraków and wonder why there are an abundance of dragon related souvenirs you know.

Rebuild of Wawel Castle

Rebuild of Wawel Castle


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Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle

The Dragon

The Dragon

Originally there were two towns which now form Krakow, the other is Kazimierz and is today the Jewish quarter, we had been told that this area was a little run down but had some great bars, so that evening we headed out to explore. We eventually came across a bar called Singer which was an old Singer sewing machine factory before the war, the new occupiers have used the old Singer sewing machines as tables and converted it into a lovely pub where apparently you are encouraged to dance on the large tables inside. After a few beers we headed back to the hostel ready to do some exploring the next morning before taking part in a Jewish tour and Schindler's Factory.

Old Singer Sewing Factory

Old Singer Sewing Factory

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The next morning after a good free breakfast at the hostel we mooched around the town taking in the sights and searching for a souvenir pencil. Due to the prices of everything being far more affordable for our budget we also stopped at a cupcake coffee shop and tried a few of their cakes. It was then time to join our tour of the Jewish Quarter- Kazimierz and the former ghetto. This tour was a little more sobering. We had a small insight in to the lives of people living there but it was largely about the persecutions of the Jewish community and how they were moved into the ghetto across the river and later to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. We ended the tour at Schindler's Factory which is now a museum on the lives of the Jewish people before and during the Nazi occupation. From letters and pictures of families to propaganda posters and flyers it was both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. You could spend hours in this museum lost in letters alone. It's well worth a visit and doesn't really have anything to do with Oskar Schindler http://www.oskarschindlersfactory.com apart from a reconstruction of his office. The next day was also to be a sobering day as we had decided to join a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

CAKE!

CAKE!

Jewish shop

Jewish shop

Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery

Early the next day we were on a bus to Oswiecim the town the concentration and death camp Auschwitz and Birkenau are in. We were unsure about visiting another concentration camp after Dachau as this was quiet upsetting and hard to deal with people doing this to someone. However we felt you should see all the history good and bad. The journey started with a video from the Russian liberators of the camps in 1945 and showed some horrific scenes of emaciated men, women and children, doctors autopsies on small babies and the general condition people were forced to live in. By the time we arrived at Auschwitz the mood was already somber and the group silently went around the museum with our guide. Auschwitz was a place where, men, women and children lived and worked, it comprises of mostly brick houses which looks like a small housing estate, only the houses were crowded and there was a whole building just for torture and murder. This place is very busy though with lots of tour groups, which does slightly take away from the horror of it, however it is worth a visit if you have never been to a former camp before. After Auschwitz the group headed to Birkenau which was designed solely as a extermination camp with 6 gas chambers with a scary, machine like efficiency to kill people in a clean, practical way. People were told they would be going for a shower and to label their belongings as they would be getting them back later, all adding to the physiological torture they had already received. The Nazi's recycled all they could from their prisoners and murder victims. Glasses and prosthetic limbs were giving to soldiers, gold and silver sold and human hair used to make fabric and fill bedding. This was by far the worst place I have ever seen, I can't get over to you the size of it, nor can the pictures do it justice. Standing in the centre of the camp, you could not see the boundary fences, it is that large! It was row upon row of small houses which would hold hundreds of people. At one time there were 90,000 people held in the camp, it's just so hard to get your head around. After the tour a quiet bus drove back to Krakow. We decided we needed a little walk before we headed back for free dinner at the hostel.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

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Birkenau

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Once showered and feeling less somber we headed to the small kitchen where that nights dinner was Zapiekanka (now Nick's favourite hangover food) this is basically a french stick cut in half then covered in mushrooms and cheese and placed the oven till the cheese is melted. You can of course add other items which the hostel did and the food was soon snatched up. Whilst eating dinner the whole common area started to chat and get to know each other and it wasn't long till we were playing beer-pong (or a version of) which I was rubbish at but Nick seemed to master. After a few games Nick and I decided we would head out for a stroll and a drink before heading to bed ready to be up early for our 10 hour train journey to Gdansk.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Tagged auschwitz birkenau mosquito_hostel kazimierz schindler's_factory Comments (0)

Zakopane, Poland

Fresh mountain air!

sunny 20 °C
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To make our way to Poland involved a 4 hour train ride to Poprad, then a bus for 2 hours to Zakopane, which we had no idea where to get it from or where to buy tickets so once we arrived we had a frantic 10 minutes figuring it out just in time for the coach to depart. However the fun really started when we arrived in Zakopane, with only a few pictures of bus timetables from our hostel but no real instructions we had to figure it out for oursleves. We had established we needed a mini-bus from and that it was across the road from the bus station, however there were no signs on the minibuses or any obvious system (even the locals seemed unsure of which mini-bus they needed!). Eventually after showing the name of the bus stop to several drivers we managed to find the right bus...

...however had no idea how to pay for a ticket, how the journey would be and when we needed to get off! By this point is was virtually dark (not a good time to be on a bus headed for god knows where). After a tense 10 mins, we asked a fellow passenger who luckily spoke perfect English and fought his way to the front of the bus to ask the driver to shout and wait for us when we reached our stop. (If you head to Zakopane you pay for buses or mini-buses when you get off) From there it was seconds to our hostel; MTB Hostel [link] a wooden house at the foot of the wooden mountains and only a 100 yards from the road. At first Nick seemed a little disappointed, he said he had been expecting something much more remote from the description (this soon changed though).

Again we had arrived late so we made good old pasta and pesto then Skype’d our friends Dave and Amy to catch up. It was only 21:30 and our whole room (6 other people) were already in bed which is very unusual for a hostel - very early the next morning we realised why as everyone was up between 05:00 and 06:00 to go hiking.

We decided to have a “lay-in” getting up at 08:30 by which time the hostel was deserted. We had already decided not to go hiking that day but to instead explore the town of Zakopane. Our host Michal and his lovely wife recommended walking into to town via the trail along the edge of the forest. An hour later after a gentle walk we emerged next to the Ski Jump which even in Summer was a hive of active with food stalls, fair rides and even competing ski jumpers on the dry slope.

From there we walked the short distance to the main street in the centre of town which was packed due to it being a national holiday and festival weekend. By this time our stomachs were rumbling so we went in search for food (as usual it took us a while to choose a place) we settled for a traditional looking Polish restaurant, where I had a pork steak in a mushroom sauce with potato pancakes (amazing btw) and Nick had the Polish version of Chicken Kiev.

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Once our bellies were satisfied we decided to take the funicular railway to [Name] which gave spectacular views of the Tatra Mountains. At the top there were lots of market stalls with the usual souvenir tat (randomly lots of Russian dolls and a disturbing amount of fur) so we soon decided to stop for a drink (beer of course!) to take in the views.

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Whilst in town we purchase a hiking map and that night we planned a route for the next day, to our surprise all routes took a minimum of 4 hours to complete so it looked like the we would have to be up early to do a good days hiking. Now the early nights of our roommates made sense.

06:00 the next day we were up ready for breakfast and a day of hiking approx. 9hrs and by 07:00 we were on the trail to the Ridge. The trail started going up hill from the very start and after 2 hours we had climbed our way out of the woods and into the rocky mountains. Still climbing we had to navigate our way up gigantic rocks which was actually really good fun. We even came to a section which had metal chains attached and had to pull ourselves up. Unfortunately this was a hike with several false peaks, so when we came to a section which looked like the top I was not happy to see there was still 40 minutes of steep up-hill hiking to do. By this point I was very hot, hungry and snappy so was not a good hiking partner. The last bit was too much for me and I felt like it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Nick on the other hand wasn’t out of breath and was making it look easy, hence unfortunately he ended up with having to deal with a few tears and my wrath when I started having a go at him about how unfair it was! Ever the dutiful husband he calmed me down and kept encouraging me all the way to the top. (However he still won’t stop telling everyone about it)

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The view from the top was stunning with perfect blue skies making it well worth all of the pain I had put myself through to get there. We took our time eating our lunch soaking up the scenery before realsiing that we had stumbled into the middle of a Mountain Marathon which was taking place that day. Unbelievably people where running along the trails I had just been struggling up! Our route followed their route for a short time and we kept having to jump out of their way before we diverted off. The next bit of the route was a tricky steep climb down, filled with large rocks the size of my legs, so therefore took nearly the same time to descend. We finally made it back to our hostel about 15.30 after nearly 9 hours of hiking, for a much needed shower and relaxation in the evening sunshine.

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The next day we decided to go for a smaller (although just as tough) hike in the foothills of the mountains through the forest. I ended up having a further strop at Nick who was already not enjoying the walk anyway as he thought the walk was boring and did not offer any views (See Lesson Number 10). After about 3 hours of walking we reached a point where our host Michal had told us you could hire bikes for the final part, so 20PLN we were riding bikes down hill weaving our way in and out of hikers and stopping for the occasional photo. We had not realised that once we handed back the bikes we still had an hours walk back to the hostel which felt even harder than the actual hike itself!

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That evening we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in Zakopane town so after a quick shower we dolled ourselves up and caught another random min-bus into town. We finally found a really nice looking restaurant and tucked into so well earned steaks followed by warm chocolate cake with cream for Nick and an enormous “Eton Mess” style dessert for me, which Nick had to finish (after already polishing off his cake!). Including beers and coffee the whole thing came to a grand total of £36!! An absolute bargain! By night time the buses hadn’t gotten any easier, we stood on the side of the road along with lots of locals who were equally confused jumping on any mini-bus type vehicle that pulled up asking if it was going to our town. Finally an hour later one was going in the correct direction and even surprised ourselves by finding our stop in the dark without having to ask anyone for help!

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Our final morning we had to be up early to catch our coach to Krakow. On our way out of the hostel we stopped to chat and say goodbye to Michal’s wife who said how nice it had been to meet us and gave us loads of tips on where to go and what to do in Krawkow even hugging us before letting us leave. Another crazy bus ride later and we were boarding our coach bound for Krakow - although this one had no personal tv set or free tea and coffee! Doh!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

LESSON NUMBER 10

Don't wash before a walk

sunny 26 °C

On the morning of our shorter hike I washed my hair as usual with a cheap fruity shampoo purchased in Cyprus and didn't think anything of it, however...

After walking in the woods with sun beaming down and going up hill for nearly an hour I obviously started to sweat a fair bit. Apparently the sweat and the smell of the fruit shampoo attracts LOTS of flies who swarmed around me buzzing near my ears and trying to land on my face. After a long time of wafting them away, I ended up having to walk with a t-shirt wrapped around my head and a trail of flies behind me I was not a happy bunny.

So do not wash your hair with fruit smelling shampoo moments before going for a hike in damp woods.

Lesson Learnt.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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