Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 11-13, 2012 - Olsztyn

We took the train from Krakow to Olsztyn, an 8-hour train ride.  The PKP Trains, while they seem to be reliable and on time, they are an aged fleet.  Not to complain, because America absolutely sucks when it comes to trains.  My gripe is with congress, not with Amtrak.

We walked from the Olsztyn Zach station to the Pod Zakiem B&B where we would spend the next two nights.  Olsztyn is a charming city, very green with parks and hills.  There was a music festival going on.  Strachy na Lachy was performing in an outdoor amphitheare very near our B&B.  It was sold out, bur we were able to hear the band and capture a few photos and videos.

After the Strachy na Lachy show there was recorded music and dancing going on all night.  Literally.  All. Night.  The music didn't not stop until 6AM, making it hard to sleep.  The interesting thing was that this was all taking place on week-nights.  It makes me wonder what these people do to make a living, when they aren't interrupting our sleep.

We rented a car on July 12.  Our destinations were Lukta and the Wolf's Lair.  Kay 2's Grandfather was born in Lukta and his family attended the church there.  It was important for Kay 2 to walk around Lukta where her Grandfather was from and few up before immigrating to the United States.

After leaving Lukta we drove to the Wolf's Lair.  This is where Hitler had set up a command center in Word War 2.  There were about 2,500 people who worked out the the Lair, and Hitler spent over 800 days there.  We took a brief, self-guided tour.  The rain shortened our stay there a bit.  We did get to bunker 3, where Claus von Stauffenberg made an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life.  We also got to bunker 13, which was Hitler's own bunker.  We have visited two very important sites where World War II is concerned.

During the drive we saw per 50 Polish Storks.  They are an interesting looking bird, fun to see.  They have nests that are low enough to get a good view of what they are doing, even while driving.

On the 13th we go our separate ways.  Kay 2 heads to Warsaw, flies to Paris and then home.  Kay 1 and I are off to Poznan, Lodz and Warsaw before our flight home.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

July 6-11, 2012 in Krakow, Poland

We took the train down from Warsaw to Krakow.  The PKP Trains are not air conditioned, at least not the one that we were on.  It was a 3 hour ride, and it was a crowded train on this Friday afternoon.  I got advice before the trip to book First class tickets so we would be assured of getting an assigned seat. That turned out to be great advice because we had seats.  Some were seated in hallways, standing and one person was removed from our cabin because another person had purchased that seat prior.

We were picked up by Zibby and driven to our apartment near Krakow Glowny, specifically it is very near the Hotel Chopin.  It is two Tram stops to the Stare Miasto and located where there are plenty of bicycling trails and roads that are suitable for cycling.  Pawo made sure that we had everything we needed, and provided advice.  We stopped by The Wine Garage and, after looking at the menu, decided that we would go to The Metropolitan Restaurant instead.  We all had a great meal and sampled Polish Vodka after.  We had a beer on the Stare Miasto and then came home for the evening.

Saturday - We had breakfast at a bakery near Topolowa and Rackwicka.  The woman working there spoke no English, and my 7 weeks of Community Education Polish paid off.  This was a bakery, so it was really a quick snack.  It was appropriate to have Drugie śniadanie (2nd Breakfast) when the nearby Anc Ho opened at 11:00.  Great meal, we promised to return.  We spent the day cycling saw Schindler's Factory, the Mound to the south of Krakow, the new bike/ped Piłsudski Bridge, the Vistula River and the sobering monument called the Plac Bohaterow Getta.  Dinner was in the Kazimierz at Stajnia, where the food was good but the service was very slow.  We finished the night at Omertà Bar, a place that Kay 2 was aware of from a previous trip.  Omertà features a large number of local craft beers.

Sunday - Breakfast was at Karma, a place that I had learned about reading the Krakow Post web site.  The Post claims that this was where the best coffee in Krakow was to be found, and they were right.  The food, which is 100% vegetarian, was outstanding.  We will return, tomorrow.  We spent the day walking the city and had lunch at Roti Roti, an Indian restaurant for a wrap.  Roti Roti was another Krakow Post recommendation.  Dinner was back at Aco Ho.

Monday - we went cycling and shopping.  We headed along the Vistula River and nearly got to the Tyniec Abbey that is at the end of the trail.  We headed back to the Stare Miasto in time to hear the Trumpet player at noon.   We spent the afternoon shopping, and had dinner at Miyako Sushi at the Galleria.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, after the bike ride and before dinner, we were a bit lost and wandering back to the apartment.  We were looking for a toilet, and striking out.  We found a large, communist-era grocery store and the check-out clerk directed us to the back of the building.  The toilets were locked, so we went to the bar next door.  The bar patrons were all local; we were the only English speaking people in the place.  A gentleman named Francis walked up and shook hands with all ~10 people in the place.  He ordered a beer and asked if he could sit with us.  He knew very little English, and we had a conversation.  It was great.  He knew someone, the son of a friend, who lived in New York… Manhattan.  I introduced him to Kay Squared, and my Polish language skills were tested to their fullest.  The bar keep was a wonderful woman.  We ordered three Żubrówka vodkas, and she suggested some apple juice with that.  We agreed to that.  We had a great chat with Francis, bought him a beer (5PLN = $1.70 USD) and hit the road, happy for the experience.  This all happened  at Ul. Daszynskiego 9 in Kraków.  This is immediately behind the Hala Targowa flea market.

Tuesday - we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau today.  Zibi from Zibi's Taxi drove us and arranged for tickets.  The tour is led by an guide and our group of about 30 people wear wireless headsets to hear the guide walk us through.  The gas chambers and crematoriums were destroyed by the Nazis, except for one.  The tour actually lead us through the gas chamber, including the location where the pellets were dropped.  In the crematorium immediately next door, there was an Auschwitz survivor present with a group of people on a tour.  It was a woman who had to be over 80 years old.  It was an amazing site to see her at that location.  It was also very rare to see a survivor visiting the site.  Zibi indicated that he had only heard of that on 5 or 6 other occasions in the 8 years that he has been driving people to Auschwitz.

Zibby does a great job with his ground transport business.  He has a van that is large enough for a number of people or gear.  He sent someone ahead of us to buy our tickets in advance, so we didn;t wait at all.

We decided on a proper Polish, and early, dinner tonight. The Pod Baranem was our choice and we were all delighted.

Wednesday we are out of here and headed to Olsztyn.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Warsaw Poland - July 5, 2012

We arrived in Warsaw and met our friend Kay at Warsaw Srodmiescie station.   The Kay Squared tour begins. 

Dinner was at Radio Café, just around the corner from the Marriott that we are staying at for the night.  With tip we spent 160 PLN, about $55 UUSD for our meal and a beer each.

After dinner we walked down Aleje Jerozolimski to the Palm Tree and headed north on Nowy Swiat to the Old Town, the Nowy Swiat and back.  We came across an alley, the first alley north of Aleje Jerozolimski, called Smolna with a number of small bars  with outdoor seating.  We landed at one at the very end and had a beer (Brackie) and a shot of Zubrowka, which was very nice.   The beers were 8PLN, about $2.50 USD. 

We walked back to the hotel, and grabbed a bread topped with cheese, mushrooms, and a red and white sauce.  Tomorrow we tour a couple of monuments and then head to Krakow via the train.  


We are on Holiday, our trip to Poland via Helsinki, Finland.  When we booked this trip several months ago it was cost advantageous to book Finnair through Helsinki and spend 3 days there, so that is what we did.  Our flight was Minneapolis - Chicago and Chicago - Helsinki, both Code-share on American.  I am writing this at the Helsinki airport, after our stay in Helsinki, waiting to board our Finnair flight to Warsaw.

Our accommodations were at the Glo Art Hotel, and we both enjoyed it.  Our room was clean and efficient and large by European standards.  The place was about 6 blocks from the Central Train Station.

We brought our Brompton Bikes and really enjoyed pedaling around Helsinki.  We were surprised by the number of people here who wear helmets while riding.  Our guess is ~70% of riders were helmets, much different than when we visited Amsterdam a few years ago.  The cycling infrastructure is well above average, and there are paths that parallel the main roads.  Its easy to get anywhere on a bike in Helsinki.  We did our own ride on July 3rd, the day that we arrived.  On July 4th we did a Ride with Serge Delrue of Helsinki City Ride.  On the 5th we also did a spin around town on our own.

The sun came up at 4AM and didn't set until 11PM.

Other highlights of Helsinki included a flea market, the Harbor Square (Kauppatori) where we had a nice fish lunch and the Esplanadi park square.  We had a great lunch at Fafa's follows up by a beer at The Black Door Public House across the street.  We had great Indian food at Pikku Nepal, near our hotel.

All the photos from Helsinki are here