Poland: Warsaw (Nov. 8-10)

Stare Miasto in Warsaw. Photo credit: Bitcoin Examiner

Stare Miasto in Warsaw. Photo credit: Bitcoin Examiner

We arrived in Warsaw late at night and basically made our way to the boondocks for this hostel in the middle of nowhere called Hostel Krokodyl. We had made our reservations at the last minute and were unable to get any of the better-located hostels. After dropping off our stuff at the hostel, we went to the hostel we would be staying in the following night, Hostel Oki Doki, where we thought we might run into some friends from our hostel in Krakow. We didn’t, but after a beer each, Josh and I headed to another Pijalnia Wódki (the shot bar we went to in Krakow) for a couple of drinks before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning, we moved our stuff over to Oki Doki and went for lunch at a really nice restaurant called Aioli. Poland is pretty cheap, and even though it was a pretty hip place, I was able to get a shrimp salad, a soda, a mojito and dessert for about $18.

Inside Aioli. Photo credit: Taste Affair

Inside Aioli. Photo credit: Taste Affair

Josh and I explored Old Town and New Town for a bit, stopping to grab a waffle and meeting a middle-aged American couple who were living in Italy. I was a little embarrassed because they started talking to us after eavesdropping on my criticism of the GOP, and I think they were quite moderate voters… Probably should just shut my mouth after that but midterm results were fresh on my mind.

Josh was feeling sick, so after a short while walking around, we went back to the hostel to relax for a bit.

When I had first gotten into Warsaw, my Facebook reminded me that a friend I had met in Marseille lived in Warsaw, so I sent him a message and arranged for him to meet up with me and Josh for dinner. Karol knew a lot about Polish history and the city and gave us some insight into the political climate of the country.

After dinner, Josh and I went to the hostel for an early night, although I was kept up for hours by a couple of loud snorers in the room. I would periodically cough really loud to get them to stop momentarily, but it was never enough. Snoring dormmates are one of the major backpacker struggles.

Josh left early the next morning to head back to London, saying goodbye after 20 days meeting up in five countries throughout the summer. I slept in a little bit and grabbed the cheapest breakfast at Aioli – $3 for a fancy salmon on brioche with rocket, yogurt and a cappuccino (gotta love Polish prices).

Inside the Uprising Museum. Photo credit: In Your Pocket

Inside the Uprising Museum. Photo credit: In Your Pocket

I decided to spend the hours before my evening flight at the Uprising Museum, which ended up being a huge mistake. The museum itself is really nice, and in the time I had there had some interesting stuff, but I waited two hours in line to get in and an additional hour for a six-minute movie I had paid for. I don’t know if it was because Polish Independence Day was the next day or if its always so busy, but I only had about 30 minutes to peruse the museum and most of that time was spent being frustrated at how long I had to wait to see any of it. I left and ran back to my hostel to get my things before I would catch a bus to the airport, which was 45 minutes away and not the main Warsaw airport (because Ryan Air is the worst).

Except when I had asked about the bus the day before, the hostel staff just told me where to catch it and didn’t tell me that I had to book online before. Upon hearing this news, I tried to get a spot but it was all sold out, forcing me to spend $45 on a taxi to the airport. I was obviously pretty frustrated with the hostel for leaving out such an important detail, but I had to make it to the airport and had no other choice.

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Poland: Krakow (Nov. 5-8)

Entrance to Auschwitz, translated as "Work makes you free"

Entrance to Auschwitz, translated as “Work makes you free”

Josh and I took an eight-hour Deutsche Bahn bus from Berlin to Krakow, which was probably the nicest bus I had been on with far-reclining seats and great wifi. Arriving at Let’s Rock Hostel, we put down our things and went to a fantastic burger restaurant called Moaburger (although we did spend about 30 minutes trying to find another would-be-favorite called Koko, which serves Polish food for cheap). I got a bacon avocado burger, which was probably the first burger I’d eaten in months. We sat in the lobby of our hostel for a bit afterwards, me drinking ONE beer, until two drunk girls kept accusing me of being drunk and stroking my leg. If there’s one thing I cannot handle it’s a girl flirting with me. That was my cue to go to bed – we would be getting up at 6:45 the next day anyway.

Victim Monument at Auschwitz

Victim Monument at Auschwitz

Somehow actually getting out of bed on time, Josh and I woke up Thursday morning and caught an 8am bus to the biggest Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Auschwitz and Aushwitz-Berkinou. The five-hour tour was pretty tough to get through, seeing rooms full of human hair or suitcases or other things that didn’t even come close to representing the number of those killed there. I think it’s important to remind oneself of man’s capacity for evil and hate – and that in some ways we are still far from past the kind of brutal violence of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz took a heavy toll out on the two of us, and the early morning didn’t help much with that, so Josh and I went back to the hostel for some R&R. I caught the previous night’s episode of “American Horror Story,” which had some disturbing enough scenes for my dormmates to ask me if there was something wrong as they listened to my squealing and gasping. Josh and I left to eat at Koko, which we successfully found and serves soup and a hearty meal for about €4. I got cauliflower soup and a fried pork chop and tried pierogies for the first time – cheese and onion – which were pretty delicious. We then headed back to the hostel to watch more TV, myself finishing the last episode of “Mad Men” and all of the sudden not knowing what to do with myself after watching maybe 72 episodes during my travels.

Prisoner bunks

Prisoner bunks

We slept in the next day (sometimes you really have to even if you only have a limited time in each city – traveling was my life for four months after all) and ate lunch at Moaburger again. This time I tried a fried goat cheese burger that was also pretty amazing. I’d also recommend their fries (they have about a half-dozen homemade sauces, my favorite being their sweet chili) and milkshakes. Ironically I had dreamt of going back to America for a milkshake on my way to Poland and found an abundance there.

After lunch, we left for a late tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the oldest salt mines in operation until it closed in 2007 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mines are massive, and I think you only see like 1% of them on the tour. Most of the rooms we explored were filled with salt carvings and statues, and there’s even a big cathedral inside. After the tour, we went on an optional free tour through the mine’s museum and ended up having our guide all to ourselves for a private tour.

Josh and me at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Josh and me at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

We decided to eat at Koko again since it had such a wide-ranging menu and it was so cheap, this time bringing a Swiss girl whose friends had left early that morning. I had a presumably more traditional duck with berry sauce alongside a tasty broccoli soup.

We left for the hostel after dinner, picking up some cheap drinks along the way. We had heard great things about Krakow’s nightlife and planned on experiencing it firsthand that night. After drinking with some new friends in the hostel, we went to a communist-era-themed shot bar called Pijalnia Wódki, which is actually a chain found in Krakow and Warsaw. The place was very charming, the bartender’s uniforms looking straight out of the 50s and newspapers lining the wall. The shots were €1, and they had a particularly good one called a Monte with milk and hazelnut vodka. Eventually, some drunk man decided he wanted to try to get in a fight with our friend, so we left to find another bar nearby.

The other bar had similar prices and shots but none of the atmosphere, so we ended up spending most of our time chatting outside. I made a new Polish friend who took me to see Krakow’s castle while I thought everyone was going home. It ended up that they too made some Polish friends and ended up going to an actual club, but I didn’t regret leaving – I was tired anyway.

Salt sculpture in Wieliczka

Salt sculpture in Wieliczka

On our final day in Krakow, we went in search of a pierogi restaurant recommended by our hostel. Similarly to Koko, the hostel staff’s directions were not correct and we spent about 45 minutes wandering aimlessly trying to find it. We ended up eating at another one that was still pretty amazing – I tried a salmon filled pierogies and realized the necessity of the soy-like sauce that comes on the side and Josh accidentally ordered dessert pierogies (it was sweet cheese flavored).

Josh and I had both wanted to see Interstellar and decided that we had seen most of the city (although we never made it on a city tour – the mines and Auschwitz I think were enough). We found a movie theater that played it with Polish subtitles and I was mildly underwhelmed by the movie as a Christopher Nolan fan. It wasn’t terrible, but I thought it was a little cheesy and somewhat unexciting.

Before catching our train to Warsaw, we ate at (surprise) Moaburger one last time. I attempted to order their vegetarian fava bean burger, which was sold out, and ended up with a chicken avocado burger that was as tasty and reliable as all our meals had been. Running low on time, we rushed to the train station and boarded with only a few minutes to spare. We would be in Warsaw in just a couple of hours.