Tagged Poland

Three cities in a week

After an amazing time in Warsaw, I continued my trip to Poznań. Since I had such a good experience with BlaBlaCar, I used it again to get from Warsaw to Poznań. The trip cost me 25 złoty.

Poznań is a big student city and I actually couchsurfed in a student dormitory! My host didn’t have too many classes so we had a chance to spend some time together.

Colourful merchants' houses and the Ratusz (Town Hall) are some of the main sights on the Old Market Square.
Colourful merchants’ houses and the Ratusz (Town Hall) are some of the main sights in the Old Market Square.
The Town Hall is even more beautiful at night.
The Town Hall is even more beautiful at night.
Lunch at Bioway - definitely the best food I ate in Poland! Bioway is a buffet style restaurant inside a shopping centre built in an old brewery. All food is vegetarian and paid for by weight (3,29 złoty / 100 grams).
Lunch at Bioway – definitely the best food I ate in Poland! Bioway is a buffet style restaurant inside Stary Browar, a shopping centre built in an old brewery. All food is vegetarian and paid for by weight (3,29 złoty / 100 grams).
The oldest cathedral in Poland sits on an island in the Warta river.
The oldest cathedral in Poland sits on an island in the Warta river.
Rowers going up and down Lake Malta, just east of the Old Town. The calm surroundings of this artificial lake are the top spot to wind down after a day in the city.
Rowers going up and down Lake Malta, just east of the Old Town. The calm surroundings of this artificial lake are the top spot to wind down after a day in the city.

From Poznań I took the train to Wrocław (33,90 złoty). In Wrocław I couchsurfed with a fun couple and their beautiful husky. As I was in Wrocław during the weekend, I could spend a lot of time with my hosts.

Couldn't have asked for a better room mate!
I couldn’t have asked for a better room mate!
There are more than 300 of these small dwarfs around the city. You can spot a dwarf with a map outside the tourist information or a dwarf with pills outside the pharmacy. Here's a dwarf withdrawing money!
There are more than 300 of these small gnomes around the city. You can spot a gnome carrying a map outside the tourist information or a gnome taking pills outside the pharmacy. Here’s a gnome withdrawing money!
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is the oldest part of the city.
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is the oldest part of the city.
The Japanese Garden (Ogród Japonski) is situated in Park Szczytnicki, just east of the Old Town. Entry to the Japanese Garden costs 4 złoty.
The peaceful Japanese Garden (Ogród Japonski) is situated in Szczytnicki Park, just east of the Old Town. Entry to the Japanese Garden costs 4 złoty.

After nearly two weeks in Poland, it was time to move on to Czech Republic. Even though Wrocław is located close to Czech border, I found out that it’s not easy to find a good connection to Czech Republic from Wrocław – unless you want to go to Prague. If you want to visit another city first, the best bet would be to go by car. I couldn’t find a suitable ride so here’s what I did:

Step 1: Take the tram from couchsurfing hosts to Wrocław bus station.

Step 2: Take a bus from Wrocław to Katowice. I used Polskibus, who only sell tickets through their website. The trip from Wrocław to Katowice cost 25 złoty.

Step 3: Take the train from Katowice to Ostrava in Czech Republic . Since it’s an international train, the price is much higher than regular trains (70 złoty).

Step 4: Take a trolley bus from Ostrava train station to a pre-arranged meeting point.

Step 5: Carpool through BlaBlaCar from Ostrava to Brno (12 złoty).

Step 6: Get dropped off at IKEA, take bus to city centre of Brno.

After I got to the city centre I walked into Hostel Eleven and luckily they had some space. A bed in a four bed dorm cost 390 Kč (approximately 15 €). Hostel Eleven is a clean and modern hostel right in the city centre. When I checked in, the receptionist gave me some ear plugs as a welcoming gift. Unfortunately I needed them. As the hostel is so centrally located, there is a lot of noise from traffic, people and construction sites just outside your window. The loudest noise though, was a snoring room mate… On my second night I had the entire dorm to myself, which felt like such incredible luxury.

I was only in Brno for one full day. It was quite a cold and rainy day so I mostly spent time inside, sitting in cafés and visiting churches. I was in Brno on a Monday so unfortunately all the museums and art galleries were closed.

Brno is the second largest city in Czech Republic.
Brno is the second largest city in Czech Republic.
I ate lunch at the macrobiotic restaurant Zdravý Život. The food was quite bland but the atmosphere was pretty neat.
I ate lunch at the macrobiotic restaurant Zdravý Život. The food was quite bland but the interior was pretty neat.
I continued to Kiwi Raw Food for dessert. This is the first raw food restaurant in Czech Republic.
I continued to Kiwi Raw Food for dessert. This is the first raw food restaurant in Czech Republic.
From Špilberk Park you have good views of Brno. The 17 hectare park is the most significant park in Brno, with the massive Špilberk Castle located in the middle of the park.
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on Petrov Hill rings its bells everyday at 11 am to commemorate Brno's success in being the only city to repel the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War.
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on Petrov Hill rings its bells everyday at 11 am to commemorate Brno’s success in being the only city to repel the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War.

I found a small yoga studio, Yoga Lokah, close to my hostel. I had attended a few yoga classes in Poland, but they were all in Polish. Nada, who is the owner of Yoga Lokah, runs weekly yoga classes is English for medical and veterinary students. She was kind enough to let me participate in the class.

A 60 minute class at Yoga Lokah cost 100 Kč.
A 60 minute class at Yoga Lokah costs 100 Kč.
At the yoga studio, Nada also sells this delicious chocolate, handmade in Brno.
At the yoga studio, Nada also sells this delicious chocolate, handmade in Brno.
The organic restaurant chain Rebio has four locations around Brno. I ate in two of them. The food is quite basic but you can pick and choose from the buffet and then pay by weight. I recommend going here at lunch time, when the food is still warm and fresh.
The organic restaurant chain Rebio has four locations around Brno. I ate in two of them. The food is quite basic but you can pick and choose from the vegetarian buffet and then pay by weight. I recommend going here at lunch time, when the food is still warm and fresh.
My last stop in Brno was the Capuchin Crypt (entry 60 Kč). All the bodies here have been naturally mummified. This place is creepy, yet interesting.
My last stop in Brno was the Capuchin Crypt (entry 60 Kč). All the bodies here have been naturally mummified. This place is creepy, yet interesting.

Making friends in Warsaw

While travelling, your eyes are opened afresh every single day. One important thing I’ve learnt while travelling is: people are freaking amazing. They will help you in any way they can, if you just let them. Our society often pushes us to make it on our own, and asking for help might seem like a sign of weakness. But for me, it’s a sign of strength. Of showing you are brave, brave enough to say: Hey, in the end we’re all in this together and today I can’t do it on my own. Shirley MacLaine has been quoted to say: “The more I travelled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends”. She gets it down to a T.

I was originally going to stay in Kraków for one week, but my second Couchsurfing host cancelled my stay. I asked my first host if I can stay for an extra night and he gladly let me. But I needed to figure out where to go after that. I felt like I had already seen Kraków in the four days there, so I wanted to move on.

In my hostel in Zakopane I had met Tomasz, who lives in Warsaw. He had been praising the city so I decided to go there. And how did I find a place to stay on such short notice? I asked for help. Tomasz contacted his friend Rafał, who let me stay in his apartment for three nights. I feel extremely lucky to have met both Tomasz and Rafał who are probably the most fun Polish people you could ever come across! Tomasz also had days off while I was in Warsaw so I had great company every single day and someone to show me around the city!

The Palace of Culture and Science is the highest building in Poland and an important landmark in Warsaw. It was a gift from the Soviet nation and many people still oppose the building as it reminds them of communism.
The Palace of Culture and Science is the highest building in Poland and an important landmark in Warsaw. It was a gift from the Soviet nation and many people still oppose the building as it reminds them of communism.
A line on the ground shows where the wall separating the Jewish ghetto used to stand.
A line on the ground shows where the wall separating the Jewish ghetto used to stand.
Guard change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Guard change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
There are many big parks in Warsaw that bring calmness into the capital.
There are many big parks in Warsaw that bring calmness into the capital.
The interior of St. Anne's Church, often also called the Student Church.
The interior of St. Anne’s Church, often also called the Student Church.
The Old Town, which is actually not that old. The entire area was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt after the war. So all the buildings are less than 70 years old!
The Old Town, which is actually not that old. The entire area was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt after the war. So all the buildings are less than 70 years old!
The big rainbow made out of artificial flowers was erected as a symbol of love, peace and hope. As the rainbow can also be associated with homosexuality, it has been burnt down several times by right-wing activists.
The big rainbow made out of artificial flowers was erected as a symbol of love, peace and hope. As the rainbow can also be associated with homosexuality, it has been burnt down several times by right-wing activists.
Rafał took us to Beirut Hummus Bar, which was such a cool place! Great atmosphere and delicious hummus.
Rafał took us to Beirut Hummus Bar, which was such a cool place! Great atmosphere and delicious hummus.
Besides Beirut Hummus Bar, I visited several vegetarian restaurants in Warsaw. The only one worth mentioning though, is Vega. I really recommend going there if you are ever in Warsaw. The food is amazing and very varied. This meal of salads, groats, sauces and kofta cost 14,50 złoty.
Besides Beirut Hummus Bar, I visited several vegetarian restaurants in Warsaw. The only one worth mentioning though, is Vega. I really recommend going there if you are ever in Warsaw. The food is amazing and very varied. This meal of salads, groats, sauces and kofta cost 14,50 złoty.

Another place really worth visiting is the Invisible Exhibition. The exhibition gives a very good insight into everyday lives of blind people. After a short introduction into things like braille, visitors are taken into the exhibition. All the guides are blind, and for an hour, so are you. The exhibition consists of different rooms, such as a home, a park, the store, the street. It is pitch black inside so you can only use your other senses. The exhibition is – pardon the pun – extremely eye-opening.

Entry to the Invisible Exhibition is 24 złoty.
Entry to the Invisible Exhibition is 24 złoty.

I think things happen for a reason. If my Couchsurfing host in Kraków hadn’t cancelled, I probably wouldn’t have visited Warsaw at all. I had a really amazing time in Warsaw and I’m grateful for everything Tomas and Rafał did for me. And all because I had the courage to ask.

Getting into a stranger’s car

Everyone has probably been told as a kid not to get into a stranger’s car. I admit that I’ve only hitchhiked twice before, and it was just for short distances. I don’t think that getting into a stranger’s car is the biggest problem with hitchhiking, but time. It can take an entire day to travel a few hundred kilometers. But what if there was a way to find out about your driver in advance, and know the exact time when your ride is leaving? There is – I’ve just tried BlaBlaCar for the first time.

I was originally going to stay in Kraków for a week but my plans changed and I headed to Warsaw on Sunday. Trains cost more than 100 złoty so I opted for BlaBlaCar.

BlaBlaCar currently operates in 10 countries. Through their website you can search for any route and see what time a driver is leaving and how much the price will be. Similar to Couchsurfing, people have profiles with references, which adds to the security of the website.

I sent a couple of enquiries but many cars were already full. Finally I found a ride that left Kraków in the afternoon. Pick-up was organized close to my host’s apartment too!

In addition to the driver, there were two other passengers in the car besides me. Everyone else was Polish so the ride was pretty quiet due to the language barrier. The four hour ride from Kraków to Warsaw cost me 35 zloty.

Best part was, another passenger took the tram with me from where the driver dropped us off. He rode the tram all the way to the city centre with me and directed me to the right bus stop. He even carried my backpack! Even though acts of kindness happen on a daily basis while on the road, I’m still always amazed how generous and helpful people are to travelers.

BlaBlaCar is such an innovative concept! So many cars travel between cities with several empty seats inside. BlaBlaCar is great for both the passenger and the driver: the passenger gets a cheap ride to another city and the driver makes some extra cash. But most of all, BlaBlaCar reduces pollution, when there are four people in a car instead of one! My first experience with carpooling through BlaBlaCar was very positive and I will definitely be using the service again in the future.

Made it to Warsaw!
Made it to Warsaw!

Buckwheat and pierogis

I have to say, Kraków is the last place you should visit if you want to lose weight! In a country where meat and wheat is the general way to go, you can still find several amazing vegetarian restaurants in Kraków that will help to fill your belly!

At Wielopole 3, you can enjoy the daily lunch, consisting of a soup and main course, for 12,50 złoty. But my favorite part of the meal was the refreshing spinach-apple-barley smoothie! Especially after eating un-nutritious hostel breakfasts for nearly a week...
At Wielopole 3, you can enjoy the daily lunch, consisting of a soup and main course, for 12,50 złoty. But my favorite part of the meal was the refreshing spinach-apple-barley smoothie! Especially after eating un-nutritious hostel breakfasts for nearly a week…
At Glonojad there's a huge variety of vegetarian dishes. I tried the vegan version of the Polish pierogi. The meal consists of pierogis filled with lentils and onions plus two salads of your choice.
At Glonojad there’s a huge variety of vegetarian dishes. I tried the vegan version of the Polish pierogi. The meal consists of pierogis filled with lentils and onions plus two salads of your choice.
I ate at Glonojad a second time, trying the vegetable patties with buckwheat. Glonojad has tasty food and a nice atmosphere. Every item on the menu is less than 20 zloty.
I ate at Glonojad a second time, trying the vegetable cakes with buckwheat. Glonojad has tasty food and a nice atmosphere. Every item on the menu is less than 20 złoty.
Pod Norenami is a Asian fusion restaurant
Pod Norenami is an Asian fusion restaurant with a long list of exclusively vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Nova Krova is a 100 % vegan restaurant on Plac Wolnica in Kazimierz. Every Sunday they host a vegan all-you-can-eat buffet. This place is pretty dangerous: the food is so delicious, I can guarantee you'll be overeating here. And the whole shebang costs only 15 złoty!
Nova Krova is a 100 % vegan restaurant on Plac Wolnica in Kazimierz. Every Sunday they host a vegan all-you-can-eat buffet. This place is pretty dangerous: the food is so delicious, I can guarantee you’ll be overeating here. And the whole shebang costs only 15 złoty!

I’m. So. Full.

Quick stop in Kraków

Kraków, one of Poland’s oldest cities, is situated in Southern Poland, approximately 2 ½ hours from the Slovakian border. I spent four nights couchsurfing in Kraków.

There are several free walking tours around Krakow. I participated in the Old Town Tour organized by freewalkingtour.com. The tour starts daily at 10 am in front of St. Elizabeth's Cathedral.
There are several free walking tours around Krakow. I participated in the Old Town Tour organized by freewalkingtour.com. The tour starts daily at 10 am in front of St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral.
Once a major centre for international trade, the Cloth Hall on Kraków's main square now houses stalls that sell souvenirs.
Once a major centre for international trade, the Cloth Hall on Kraków’s main square now houses stalls that sell souvenirs.
Musicians under St. Florian's Gate, one of the few 14th century towers remaining in Kraków.
Musicians under St. Florian’s Gate, one of the few 14th century towers remaining in Kraków.
Inner courtyard of Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world. Notable alumni include Copernicus!
Inner courtyard of Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world. Notable alumni include Copernicus!
I bought fresh fruit and vegetables daily from the Rynek Kleparski market. Great atmosphere, good produce and low prices!
I bought fresh fruit and vegetables daily from the Rynek Kleparski market. Great atmosphere, good produce and low prices!
In Kazimierz, just south of the Old Town, there is a Jewish district with several Jewish restaurants and synagogues.
In Kazimierz, just south of the Old Town, there is a Jewish district with several Jewish restaurants and synagogues.

Krakow is quite a small city, so a few days is enough to see everything in the Old Town and Kazimierz. Best part: you can easily do it all by foot! But if you don’t want to, there are several buses and trams with good connections to almost anywhere in the city. Ticket prices start at 2,80 zloty for a single 20-minute ride.

All around the Tatras

The Tatras are a mountain range situated right on the border of Slovakia and Poland. My first stop in the Tatras was Ždiar, a small village in northern Slovakia. Ždiar is quite isolated and it took me several hours to get there from Košice. To get to Ždiar, you need to take a train from Košice to Poprad and then a bus from Poprad to Ždiar.

Views from the Ginger Monkey Hostel veranda in Ždiar. A night in a dorm costs 13 € and includes breakfast.
About an hour's drive from Ždiar, you can find Spiš Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Emil, who was staying at the same hostel, offered to drive a group of us to take a look at the ruins of the castle built in the 12th century.
About an hour’s drive from Ždiar, you can find Spiš Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Emil, who was staying at the same hostel, offered to drive a group of us to take a look at the ruins of the castle built in the 12th century.
Entry to the massive castle grounds is usually 5 €, but the first Sunday of each month is free!
Entry to the massive castle grounds is usually 5 €, but the first Sunday of each month is free!
The castle kitchen rules in short: Avoid arguing or whispering. Always keep a tablecloth clean. Don't wipe your nose into it and never spit. Take a pinch of salt with a knife only and never sleep. Sing little or avoid doing it. Be careful and don't ever have a greasy knife licked. Don't scratch your body too much and don't pick your teeth. And if you still eat something you better not drink.
The castle kitchen rules: “Avoid arguing or whispering. Always keep a tablecloth clean. Don’t wipe your nose into it and never spit. Take a pinch of salt with a knife only and never sleep. Sing little or avoid doing it. Be careful and don’t ever have a greasy knife licked. Don’t scratch your body too much and don’t pick your teeth. And if you still eat something you better not drink.”

There are many hikes starting from Ždiar. One of the most popular ones is the hike to Široké sedlo, 1825,5 metres above sea level.

The vegetation at the bottom of the mountains is very green.
The vegetation at the bottom of the mountains is very green.
The entire hike is approximately 16 km long.
The entire hike is approximately 16 km long.
September is a great month to visit the Tatras, since the colours are just starting to change from green to red.
September is a great month to visit the Tatras, since the colours are just starting to change from green to red.
Views from Široké sedlo, 1825,5 metres above sea level.
Views from Široké sedlo, 1825,5 metres above sea level.
The hike to the top is steep and exhausting at times. But with a view like this, it's definitely worth it in the end.
The hike to the top is steep and exhausting at times. But with a view like this, it’s definitely worth it in the end.
Gorgeous views of the mountains before it started puoring down rain and hail...
Gorgeous views of the mountains before it started pouring down rain and hail…
A beautiful lake with some of the clearest water I've seen.
A beautiful lake with some of the clearest water I’ve seen.
At 1550 metres, there is a cosy restaurant, with views onto this lake. A nice broccoli soup will set you back 3 €.
At 1550 metres, there is a cosy restaurant, with views onto this lake. A warming broccoli soup will set you back 3 €.

After a couple of days in Ždiar, I crossed the border to Poland. My first stop was Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.

I stayed in Hostel Stara Polana. Not only is the hostel building extremely cute, but the staff wash your clothes for free! One night in an eight bed dorm costs 32,80 zloty (approximately 8 €).
I stayed in Hostel Stara Polana. Not only is the hostel building extremely cute, but the staff wash your clothes for free! One night in an eight bed dorm costs 32,80 złoty (approximately 8 €).
I ate a delicious dinner at Dobra Kasza Nasza on the main street, Krupówki. This restaurant is probably the best (or only) choice for vegetarians.
I ate a delicious dinner at Dobra Kasza Nasza on the main street, Krupówki. This restaurant is probably the best (or only) choice for vegetarians.
Zakopane is a highly touristy city, but it's a good starting point for exploring the Tatras.
Zakopane is a highly touristy city, but it’s a good starting point for exploring the Tatras.

One of the most popular day trips from Zakopane, is to visit Morskie Oko, a huge lake in the Tatra mountains. I went to Morskie Oko with three other people from my hostel. To get to Morskie Oko, you need to catch a bus (10 złoty) from Zakopane to the national park where the lake is located. Regular entry to the national park is 5 złoty and reduced entry 2,50 złoty.

The views on the way to the lake are nice, but the path is a boring concrete road.
The views on the way to the lake are nice, but the path is a boring concrete road.
After a couple hours of walking, the track goes into the forest.
After a couple hours of walking, the track goes into the forest.
The air is fresh here and the path is more interesting after walking on concrete for such a long time.
The air is fresh here and the path is more interesting after walking on concrete for such a long time.
Unfortunately it was extremely foggy, so we missed out on what is called the most beautiful lake in Europe.
Unfortunately it was extremely foggy, so we missed out on what has been called one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.
At least this couple got some magical wedding photos.
At least this couple got some magical wedding photos.
From Morskie Oko, you can hike even higher to another, smaller lake, Czarny Staw pod Rysami. We took the steep hike to see more fog...
From Morskie Oko, you can hike even higher to another, smaller lake, Czarny Staw pod Rysami. We took the steep hike to see more fog…
Back at Morskie Oko, the fog had cleared a bit and we got to witness the lake's deep turquoise colour.
Back at Morskie Oko, the fog had cleared a bit and we got to witness the lake’s deep turquoise colour.
Not only did Hostel Stara Polana have an amazing atmosphere, I also met some really fun people there!
Not only did Hostel Stara Polana have an amazing atmosphere, I also met some really fun people there!