Tag Archives: Poland

After Auschwitz

Friday, 19 August 2011

On my last day in Krakow, my overnight train to Dresden didn’t leave until 11 PM or so. So I had some time to wander around a bit, and have a last look around the main square set to music, thanks to my earbuds. And accompanied by a waffle with chocolate sauce. But I’d need more substantial fare for dinner, so I went to a nearby Polish restaurant and ordered a pork flambé (traditional Cracovian fare, I was assured by the menu) and a vodka sampler.


Pork flambé + vodka

Normally my alcohol tolerance is low, and I didn’t plan on finishing all those vodkas – drunkenly staggering to my train that evening with my 500-pound suitcase just didn’t seem like a very good idea. But by the end of the evening all the vodka was gone, and while I was pleasantly buzzed, I could walk in a straight line and seemed in control of all my faculties. Which was a good thing, because I had a 500-pound suitcase to carry to the train, and I didn’t want to be late for my very important date.

Nevertheless I almost was. I staggered aboard the train in a very un-drunk-like way, bathed in sweat, relieved that I was able to find it in time – all thanks to the help of a very kind late-night constable who may have surmised the content of my speech by the manic panic with which I uttered it. I should say that my difficulty in finding the train had nothing to do with the liquor inside me; it had everything to do with the foolishness and stupidity with which Polish train stations are constructed. The tracks are not directly connected with the main building, and the main building houses the display board which tells you which track your train is at. So if you’re on a train, and you need to connect to another train, you may have to walk several hundred meters (I’m quite serious) to learn that the track you sought was right next to you. What do you do then? You walk back again. This caused me a great deal of frustration in my clear-headed state.

“Methinks he doth protest too much,” you might say. But you’d be wrong.

The train was an over-nighter and, as always, I set my alarm some time ahead of our expected arrival so that I could make sure I got off at the right station. I had to make a connection in Wroclaw and I was at least a little disappointed that I couldn’t spend more time there. I first heard about the city when I was four or five, and I’d lay awake at night, transfixed and mesmerized by the dream of one day seeing all the curbs, electric metering trucks, and hot water heaters there. One day, I thought. One day.

But when I pulled into the station – at around 5:40 in the morning (right on time, I thought with some satisfaction) – I couldn’t read the sign saying what station we were at. This had nothing to do with my vivid lucidity and clear-headedness (“Methinks he doth protest too much”) or the glasses I was squinting through; the angle was simply awful. I was in the last car, and it was a long train – you try reading a sign from an 8-degree angle. But I didn’t have time to dither; the whistle sounded (little more than a minute after the train arrived) and the train started to move. I had my 600-pound bag in one hand and I was in harness with my backpack, standing on the bottom step, inches above the platform that slid by with increasing speed. I was ready to get off, but I wanted to wait to see if, as I got closer to the sign and a proper 90-degree viewing angle, I’d be able to read it. But the train reached an unsafe speed long before I could. I had to make a decision, and I stepped off.

Naturally, dragging my suitcase by both its tusks, I made my way over to the station sign. “Brzeg,” it said.



I said some impolite and impolitic things. The sign was phlegmatically unmoved.

Fortunately, there was another train, which arrived at 6:30 am, which could take me the rest of the way to Wroclaw. The scheduled travel time was 40 minutes, and my connecting train left Wroclaw at 7:30 am, so I’d be in good shape if it arrived on time. It didn’t. It ran late, just like my original train. It ran 20 minutes late precisely, in fact. As it pulled into the Wroclaw station I tensed my body like a panther, ready to lunge when the doors were opened. They did and I lunged and, storming past an elderly woman close enough to send her spectacles and cane clattering to the sidewalk, I looked with fantastic panic for the departures sign, which would have the track information I needed for the other train. It wasn’t there, nor anywhere. By the time I cornered a station conductor, about two minutes later, to pantingly ask, “Dresden?” the response I received is, “Dresden is…go.”


You try understanding this.

This necessitated a trip to the main station building, and, head bowed under the 700-pound weight of my suitcase, I carried it there like its proper slave. The international departures line was long, and the attendant spoke no English (only Polish, German, and a host of other languages of no use to me), but I was able to secure a spot on the next train – which left at 1:30 PM, or about 5 hours. So I had five hours to kill – five whole hours with which to explore the curbs, electric metering trucks, and water heaters I had dreamed of in my youth.

But I couldn’t do so while I served as my own luggage slave. Fortunately there were lockers, and while these weren’t free – they cost the equivalent of about $3 in Polish zlotys – I had barely enough Polish currency left. One of the ticket lines extended flush against the face of the lockers, so I waited in line until I could approach one without eliciting any angry Polish elbows. I read what instructions there were thoroughly, but while I learned that there were no refunds – this seemed to be an important point – I could not find where the key was. Apparently, it emerged from a little hole in the bottom, so I put in my money and received no key.

Sighing, I left the line to withdraw some more money from the ATM, and then convert some of this into coins with the purchase of a doughnut. These coins I then inserted into another locker, after spending the requisite time waiting in line, and no key emerged.

“Something’s wrong with these lockers,” I thought. So I stepped back to apply some lucid, clear-headed thought to the problem (“He doth protest too much”). I put the money in, and no key emerged. Both lockers must be broken, I decided. As I thought about the problem, I continued to advance in line, until I realized, with a start, that the lockers right next to the ticket window had keys protruding. “Ahhh,” I thought, marveling at my own insight. These were the lockers I had to use.

Since I’d used up all my coins, I made another trip for another doughnut, returned, stood in line, advanced, and placed my luggage in the locker. Money went in, the key came out, and all was as it should be.

Wroclaw was a mess of sleeting rain, which dribbled down my face and beneath my clothes. I had no umbrella – it was in my luggage in the locker – but I had a long sleeve shirt which served the important purpose of capturing the rain and holding it close against my skin. I found it difficult to see; I wiped my glasses against my wet shirt, smearing the moisture around, but this did little to improve my vision. Eventually I despaired; a hot water heater could be right in front of me and I’d be unable to see it. My childhood dream was in ruins.



Eventually, I took shelter from the rain in a Polish mall – yes, the Poles have sprawly malls too – where I sat down with my computer to surf the web and marinate in my mustiness. And reflect on what kind of ad might most effectively sell electronic cigarettes. It should have an apple, I decided, to imply health. And a topless lady, I added quickly. Because electronic cigarettes and topless ladies have so much in common.


The best ad for electronic cigarettes

The train to Dresden was German, spotless, and a model of efficiency. In fact throughout my time in Germany I was amazed by how reliably the trains ran on time. Before arriving in Germany I wouldn’t have expected that. But more about German trains in a bit.

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Friday, 22 July 2011

A few shots from the train between Vienna and Krakow.


A better way to drive


A better way to drive

This is while we were in station in Vienna. Drivers were loading automobiles into the train “next door” and it was so fun to watch. Top layer or bottom – they’d drive them all the way up towards the front, one by one! These weren’t vehicles for sale, by the way – looked like personal vehicles to me.

On the train, an overnighter, I met a fellow Aussie traveler and had a great (but brief) chat with him before we went to bed in our cabin of six. We talked about Aussie politics and travel, mostly. He had glowing things to say about the rural Croatian and Italian coast. A few shots from the windows, looking out at the early-morning Polish countryside:


A lovely view


A lovely view

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Friday, 22 July 2011

This is where I stayed in Krakow:


The hostel

A brief but typical travel story attends.

I had originally booked with Greg & Toms Hostel – the primary reason being that it was a mere 200 meters from the train station, and given the happy blue luggage tank that I have to lug around with me, that was a persuasive criterion. I booked with their website and thought that was the end of it, although I never received an email back, which was weird. Turns out that I did, but with its weird Polish subject heading, I discarded it along with all the other spam I get. They had no room, they were booked. Not knowing this, I showed up anyway, but they very kindly directed me to this hostel down the road – after making sure they had space, of course. THIS is the place I did a load of laundry for five zloty. Try to beat that!

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Friday, 22 July 2011



Wondering what this is? It’s a barbican, of course. This is what wikipedia has to say:

Based on Arabic rather than European defensive architecture, this masterpiece of medieval military engineering, with its circular fortress, was added to the city’s fortifications along the coronation route in the late 15th century.

The Gothic-style barbican, built around 1498, is one of only three such fortified outposts still surviving in Europe, and the best preserved. It is a moated cylindrical brick structure with an inner courtyard 24.4 meters in diameter, and seven turrets. Its 3-meter-thick walls hold 130 embrasures. The barbican was originally linked to the city walls by a covered passageway that led through St. Florian’s Gate and served as a checkpoint for all who entered the city.

It was about a block from my hostel, along with the remaining section of the old city’s defensive walls. Most of the walls were torn down, and the old city of Krakow is now entirely surrounded by a beautiful park in their place. This barbican was built when the city was in danger from incursion by the Ottoman Turks. Here’s a shot of the defensive walls:



And if you look closely, what do you see within? A McDonald’s. Micky Dees has penetrated where the Ottoman Empire never could.

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Friday, 22 July 2011

What did I find wandering around Krakow, aside from a vast plethora of slightly-overpriced and way-overpriced restaurants selling Polish cuisine? A few, more remote Polish lunch kitchens (one of which I ate at – polish kielbasa and fries, with beer – while I sheltered from a ferocious downpour); lots of combo doner kebab/pizza slice places (frequented by locals and tourists alike); a fair number of gourmet pizza places (get a whole pizza for $6) mostly for tourists; and these french bread pizza places that were always surrounded by crowds of locals, and locals only. And bars, of course, as well as expensive foreign restaurants that catered to foreign tastes. You know, french cuisine, italian, georgian. Wait – Georgian cuisine? From that fractious republic on the Black Sea? Yes! You can guess where I ate that night:


Georgian cuisine

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Friday, 22 July 2011

Ads in foreign countries – in some foreign countries – really warm my heart. They hearken back to a bygone era in American advertising, a simpler era in which less flash and a lot less manipulation was necessary in order to get people to pat with their money. That era still exists, just not in America.


A bygone era.


A bygone era.

Why should I do…whatever it is this ad wants me to do? Because, look, there’s Antonio Banderas! Celebrity advertising is still done in America, of course, and these particular ads may not differ THAT much from those in America. But the ads I saw in India were just brilliant. Want to sell a watch? Just have a big photo of John Travolta wearing one, and the name of the watch (Breitling) and you’re set. You need nothing else. Or, hell, if it’s a big name cricket player, you might as well just have a constellation of items in the ad, because that much power of persuasion is wasted on only one.

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Friday, 22 July 2011

If you’re missing an American coffee experience during your time in Krakow, you needn’t. You can start with paying just as much as you would in America, and then, if you’re lucky, the rest of the experience will follow.


Why not take my whole wallet, while you’re at it?

13 zloty for a large mocha! I mean, seriously. Are we in Tribeca?

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Friday, 22 July 2011

The downtown of Krakow was virtually swarming with police while I was there. Eventually I had an uncomfortable realization: they were there because of me. But not to protect anyone FROM me; they were there to protect ME (and the other visiting tourists). Something about that just feels weird.



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Scenes from Krakow

Friday, 22 July 2011

An American play in Poland. Recognize this?


A play.

I took this photo in a particularly artsy section of the Jewish quarter, where there were lots of shops selling paintings and crafts.


A car

And who could resist visiting this club? I could, but I did snap a photo. If I ever own a club, I hope I can find a name as fun as this one.


A club with sheep without legs.

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Friday, 22 July 2011


Money never helps children. Never.

In Krakow, advising you not to give to begging children. Not that I saw any.

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