Back to Warsaw – The final day of our Baltic trip

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The ten hour bus night ride from Vilnius was a cozy ride, yet we arrived in Warsaw rather tired as we had been sleepless during most of the trip. Once in Warsaw, we grabbed an early cup of coffee and visited the bathroom at the bus station, where we discovered a conveniently located storage area to leave our baggage (heavy with souvenirs, as our hearts were loaded with experiences and images).

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As our flight was scheduled to leave early in the evening, we decided to spent most of our time near the old town center, thus we took the familiar route to the castle. That enabled us to enjoy the place to ourselves as it was almost deserted that early in the morning and we managed to get some clear shots of the buildings that ornament the place. As the streets were empty, we even got a chance to notice some buildings that escaped our attention as the noisy crowd distracted us during our last visit.

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This house played an important part during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, at least that is what I could figure out with my limited knowledge of Polish

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We also desired to have some breakfast, but it was too early and most shops were closed. I wanted to visit the nearby milk bar, but Catherine wanted to have a healthier option, so we opted to consent to both our wishes. Catherine, amazed as I pigged out, ordering a been soup, cutlet with mashed potatoes and nalesniki and became dissatisfied when the lady that worked at the milk bar, asked her to put off her cigarette, although we were sited alone, outside the place. Her disappointment quickly and reasonably turned to anger as she show the same lady smoking inside the kitchen.

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What!? It’s just a three course meal, at 9.00… Hasn’t anyone heard of the food pyramid?

Her frustration was appeased quickly though, as we rushed to the nearby To lubie cafe, where she finally had the chance to enjoy her tasty breakfast. It was probably a healthier and better choice than the one I made, but we were both satisfied with what we had tasted.

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I admit it, that was a healthier choice

After we had both finished breakfast, we visited the castle, where an exhibition about the common struggle of Poles and Hungarians was held and we were extremely moved by the solidarity that was expressed between these nations. Leaving the castle, we walked the short route back to the main square, where we felt we were in need for some more coffee. We ordered our favorite coffee and we shared a laugh along with the waiter when we were served, as the coffee before us differed greatly from the one we had in mind.

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We continued wandering around the old town, taking photos and visiting souvenir shops, until we decided to return to the main bus station and spend some time there before catching a mini bus to Modlin airport. We wandered around aimlessly for quite a while, sad that our trip was coming to an end and feeling very tired. Our boredom was broken by someone who claimed he was some sort of guru, that had traveled to India and that tried to sell me a book he wrote, as I was waiting for Catherine. It was fun at first, talking to the guy and claiming I had no need of his book, because I had already acquired inner peace and stuff, but the guy became a bit pushy, so, sadly, I had to get rid of him. After a while, we took our bus to the airport and spend some time there as well. We couldn’t really enjoy anything over the last hours as we knew we were leaving and that put off our travel mood. Yet, It was such a fun trip and we were already anxiously waiting for the next one.

 

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Those two angels, just sitting, seemingly aimlessly as we did, appeared as if they came out of a scene from Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin

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A really long day… (second part of our epic journey to East Baltic)

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Although we were prepared that reaching the heart of Finnish lakeland  from Warsaw on a budget would be a tiresome endeavor, we were not truly able to face what finally happened on our effort to get there. Our original plans were to take a bus from Warsaw to Gdansk, where we would spend the night, fly to Turku and then take a bus to Helsinki and finally another bus to Heinola.

Check out the first days of our trip here

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So, we got a cheap (thank you Polski bus) four hour ride to Gdansk, which was tiresome, but as we arrived in the afternoon enabled us to experience a small taste of this delightful city, although our intentions were being shadowed by the cloud-filled grey sky, which seemed as if threatening us that as we were heading northwards, the bright summer days of the South would soon become a fading memory.

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After exiting the bus station, we faced a monument depicting five children of different ages standing on a platform, waiting for the train to leave. We instantly thought it was about the hardships inflicted on children during the ww2 era and it turned out we were spot on. It is about the effort to save Jewish children from the Nazis taken by the UK and there is a similar monument in London, commemorating the arrival of these Kids on the run to Britain.

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We saw some children from Syria holding their toys just like this statue did. They are never responsible for the conflicts caused but they are always the main victims. Their most treasured item can be a simple rugged doll and they hold on to it as if their whole world depends on it.

We walked towards the town center, where we found an open air market, part of some festivities taking place at the time and we enjoyed a relaxed stroll around benches loaded with various goods. We saw most of the city’s landmarks in a great haste as the sky was getting more threatening and we were carrying our luggage since we deemed it a big fuss to reach our hostel, situated next to the airport, half an hour away from the city and then return back to Gdansk. Hence, we got very few pics and if I thought I was on the run during my solo visit to Wroclaw, this time we really were making a run in a desperate attempt to capture some of the place’s beauty.

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The old arsenal was a great site, and the Green and golden gates were also beautiful. The city itself is pretty and the cloudy weather didn’t threaten Gdansk’s beauty, rather it revealed it under a different perspective. Still, the sky’s threats were not empty and raindrops began to warn us that we had better take cover if we didn’t wish our baggage to get wet. Consequently, we wisely decided to reach our hostel near the airport and we were lucky to reach the bus stop on time. The sky burst open and I am sure that if anyone was paying attention would hear the Meows and Woofs of cats and dogs falling from it. So, we settled in our hostel, thankfully dry enough and although the rain stopped, we decided to sleep, since our flight was scheduled to leave at 6.00 (or so we thought).

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In the morning we woke up and walked the conveniently short 200 meter long route from our hostel to Gdansk airport. We wandered around for a while and we checked in anxiously awaiting for our flight as we were eager to view a new place and Finland was a country we had very high hopes of. Suddenly, as we were impatiently checking the time, a soft voice announced: “Flight numbersomething to Turku will be delayed for an hour due to a minor technical problem”. Well, that was a major problem, since our plan to reach our destination included some pre-booked buses and they were a bargain compared to the prices offered by other companies in Finland.

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A delay meant that following up our schedule would be a perilous affair but after a while the same soft voice firmly announced that we would delay for another hour and our arrangements were blown away. At least the consequent third hour delay wasn’t affecting us anymore. We watched as technicians were checking an engine and the air company distributed some snacks, which would probably never be our first choice, even if we found ourselves on a shipwreck (I guess one could call this day a wreck though).

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Finally, our plane took off and we found ourselves in the company of a nice Finnish guy, who seemed as if recovering from a hungover. So, he ordered a beer to prevent that. I had heard that many Finnish folks leave the country for a brief visit to Estonia to enjoy alcohol, which is sold cheaper than Finland, but I wasn’t expecting that someone would fly to Poland from the same reason. Still, that guy proved a great company and even provided some info on Finland, which he described as a rather expensive land of unheard beauty. Luckily, we mostly witnessed the second aspect.

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Finally, we arrived at Turku and at the airport we were greeted by one of Catherine’s childhood fellows. A mumin. These are a children targeted show and series of books that Catherine enjoyed and that was probably the best experience she had all day so far. There was no time to waste on childish memories and fun though and we got on a bus to reach the local bus station and try to figure a way to reach Heinola.

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We were kind of hoping that we might be able to present our tickets, explain the situation and get on the next buses, provided seats were available. Our hopes were instantly disappeared though as a bus driver informed us that this was impossible and pointed us to the ticket office, which sadly wasn’t dealing with the budget company we had booked tickets. Stuck to our plans, we inquired the price of a ticket to Heinola through Helsinki, thinking that we might find accommodation at the Finish capital, in a worst case scenario. We were informed that these tickets would cost us a little over 100 euros though and that would be a big blow in our budget…

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…and then it hit me! Why on earth should we go to Helsinki in the first place? The only reason we picked this route was that the company we had booked our tickets with offered this as the shortest way to reach our destination due to their scheduled routes and timetables. I remembered that during our research the maps we saw mentioned Lahti as the city closest to Heinola. I asked the lady behind the counter and she confirmed that this was the best option at a cost of nearly 50 euros, half the price that is and a faster way to get there. The bus would leave in an hour and we would have to take another bus at Lahti to reach Heinola.

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Eager to get back on the road but relaxed as we had figured our way out of Turku we thought about having something to eat and we spotted a place where they would serve burgers, a Hesburger (a name which sounds a bit funny in Greek and doesn’t really makes you wanna eat) and before we knew it we were on a bus enjoying the Finish countryside. Finally, we reached Lahti and we tried to figure our way out of there while Catherine began to get a bit anxious.

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There are times when people simply exhibit how magnificent they are and that was the case at Lahti bus station on that day. Two girls appeared out of nowhere and noticed that Catherine was getting a bit worry, so as they were waiting for a bus on their own, they started talking to us, reassuring us that the bus would certainly come and they even kept our minds busy so as not to worry about anything. It seemed strange to them that we would visit Heinola. They were both working in a field dealing with taking care of people’s problems and quickly I realized they were actually exercising their craft to our benefit. One of them even went away for a while to free a trapped bird! Their kindness left us in awe and we only wish we could thank them enough for what they did. But that was not the only time people showed us their good side on that day.

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Finally we arrived at Heinola just before it got dark and we made a quick stop for a beer and a pizza. The city didn’t seem like much, but we had no intention of staying in it, since we were trying to get a small taste of a Finnish lake. So, after resting we walked to our destination, a camping site situated in a peninsula outside the city. We arrived when it got dark and thankfully the good people running the place were waiting for us, even though we hadn’t informed them of our mishaps. Furthermore, an Austrian family offered to show us to our cabin and around the place. During these long days we had failed to do any serious sightseeing and we lost lots and lots of precious traveling time, but we had earned the most valuable thing one can find on a journey, meeting great people. They are all around us and they are the world’s best attraction. We would gladly consider the trip to Finland successful taking into account the help offered by all these people even if we wouldn’t get to see anything else during this journey. But Finland was not gonna leave us like that. She had lots more to offer and a look out of our window in the morning offered us a small taste. 367.JPG

 

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Our epic journey to East Baltic – Part 1 Warsaw

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While planning our trip to central Europe, the idea for a trip to the Baltics came up, but it was instantly abandoned as we decided that the distances were too long and exhausting. Next year we thought of traveling to Ireland and also catch a flight to Iceland but the cost exceeded our budget and we would have to abandon all ambition of visiting some of the sites on that trip’s bucketlist and also cut down the days of travel.

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So, we got back to last year’s abandoned travel plans in a final attempt to unfold them into a feasible project. It was decided that we would travel to Poland, catch a flight to Finland and then start a journey back to Warsaw through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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Our journey began in my beloved Poland and Warsaw was our first stop, as there are many low cost flights from Greece to Poland and I was extremely glad I would visit this great country and its people once more and I would have the chance to present Catherine a view of what I liked most about it. We arrived on Warsaw in the evening and boarded on a minibus from Modlin airport to  Warsaw’s Palace of culture and science square (a mini bus parking mostly). This building stands as a reminder of the country’s turbulent past under the previous regime’s Soviet affiliations.It reminded me of buildings seen in comic books though and  I almost felt as if Superman or Spiderman would be seen flying around it.

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Then we had a first taste of the metro, which was great (I really loved the kind of futuristic voice that informed us “Nastepna stazia, Ratusz Arsenal”) until we reached our much esteemed Ibis hotel, where we would spend the night. After settling in, we immediately hit the road to explore Warsaw’s nightly delights and have a snack. We marched towards the old town and passed outside Krasiński palace on our way, where we had  a chance to see some colorful metallic statues of Pegasi, before finally ending our short tour inside a traditional restaurant, where we enjoyed a small taste of Poland.

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In the morning, we enjoyed our breakfast and visited Lazienki park, after we enjoyed some refreshments at a cafe near FC Legia’s football ground. There are so many monuments to be found inside this huge park, but we believe that the palace in the isle exceeds them all in beauty. It’s a 17th century baroque building that seems to be in the middle of the park’s lake and it offered us the chance for some great photos. Apart from that building, we also saw some ducks and even some huge catfishes enjoying the waters.

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It was a marvelous and relaxed place that offered us a sense of countryside even if we were in the middle of the Polish capital. Eventually, we left the park and returned to the old town center to have a look of it under daylight. Outside the walls, we found a milk bar and although I was reluctant for us to enter we couldn’t spot any other milk bar around, so inside we went. I was shy on entering because it was too close to the center and I figured it would be some sort of tourist orientated establishment and I was right up to that point. The prices were pretty low though and the food wasn’t bad, but it was miles away from the one served by the milk bar I visited in Krakow last May.

After finishing our lunch we walked past the walls to the old town square, which reminded me a bit of Poznan, except it wasn’t so colorful, but still it was a lively fun place. Lots of cafes and restaurants and gift shops and a nice, pretty place all around. We continued our walk, reaching the Palace garden, where we sat on a bench, taking a short break while admiring the view of the Wisla and the opposite shore.

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Seems that this guy is making a break for it…

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Later, we returned to the outer part of the city walls, where we took a place on a small but awesome cafe, which turned out to be a hit, called To lubie (Polish for I like it and we did like it (=to wy lubimy)). We enjoyed a yummy piece of sernik (polish cheesecake) and returned back to the inner city to try and find a bar called Podwalle bar and books. Although it was right in front of us we failed to notice and spent some time walking around Sigismund’s column until we finally found the place and sat for a drink. It was too early though and the place was empty, but we did enjoy the elegant atmosphere and the fact that as the bar was situated a bit behind the square’s main scene it was quiet.

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While wandering around the Warsaw’s old town, we spotted this bas-relief in a church’s door and we were impressed with the tiny face emerging from the larger image’s chest.

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After enjoying our drinks and a snack in the nearby plaza, we went for another small gift hunting and found another pub situated on the old town square, where we tasted some beer before eventually calling it a night, since tomorrow would be an extremely demanding day, as we would had to ride a bus all the way to Gdansk, in order to catch a flight early in the next morning to Finland. By that time, we were having fun, although we only knew that things would simply involve fatigue, but we were not aware that they would get very complicated…

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This was the first of many amber shops we would encounter on this voyage.

 

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A monument to those perished in the East

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My solo trip to Poland part 3/2 Krakow

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…following a rather large lunch, I left the great milk bar at Kazimierz to return to the old town of Krakow, after a short stop in Planty park. This park stands at the site where the old city walls used to stand and besieges the old town district with beauty. It is a series of gardens, surrounding the heart of Krakow and you can always find the time for a short break to catch a breath while watching people enjoying the place. Lots of trees, some areas with bright colored flowers, benches, couples relishing a walk, children playing, old people hanging around, these are some of the ingredients of a successful park and Planty had it all.

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Back in the old town, I returned to the main plaza, to visit St Mary’s church once more, since I only enjoyed outside views during my first visit, since a service was held and I had to be on time for my meal at the milk bar. Every hour a trumpet sounds from the temple’s taller tower to commemorate the trumpeter who died while alarming the city before the Mongols attempted invasion. Inside the basilica you can admire the wood carved altarpiece, a great artifact made in the 15th century.

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Next, I headed to the edge of the old town, near the barbican, where I took a closer look at St. Florian’s gate, which was the main gateway to the city and it was connected to the barbican by a bridge that surpassed the moat that used to be where a part of Planty park now stands. A bas-relief of St Florian decorates the tower’s inner side and the place around the tower seemed very lively. It is a merchand street and I easily spotted a statue of Hermes near Czartoryski museum, which I could not visit, since the building was under renovation at the time.

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After this visit, I sat on a bench at Planty park near the Barbican, I must say this part of the park is the most beautiful although it’s also the most crowded, but for good reason. After enjoying a refreshment and catching a breath, I thought that I should walk back to my hostel and rest for a while, so I walked back to my room and stayed there for a while, but I was too anxious to hit the streets once more. Still, that break was truly a necessity and renewed my stamina, so after half an hour I found myself back on the streets.

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I returned to my fellow main square, where I took some more shots of the cloth hall before venturing back to Kazimierz, the old Jewish district. On my way there, I encountered a tiny square, adorned with a huge cross, a memorialto the Katyn forest massacre, a Soviet war crime at the dawn of WW2. Poland suffered a heavy and dreadful fate over the course of history and memories of it’s turbulent past linger on. The nearby concentration camps of Auschwitz- Birkenau and Płaszów are only a few of the reminders of the horrors inflicted upon human beings. The country was torn between the Nazis and the Soviets, but, after this trip,  I firmly believe in the strength within the Polish people hearts to re-establish their charming country.

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With these thoughts, I continued my walk reaching another one of Planty park’s gardens and I noticed an artistic exhibit of the late Pope Jean – Paul’s photo portraits. I lingered around the part for a while, but although it was Easter Sunday back home, I figured I had enough of my share of religious images for the day and I continued onward to a pub I planned to visit in Kazimierz.

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I had no difficulty in spotting the place, there were many other bars and pubs near it, but Alchemia stood out among them. It was a vibrant place, lots of young people and great beer. The place was candlelit and thus a bit dark, while the decoration was amazing, making the place seem like an alchemists lab with all the wooden tables and magic atmosphere. A fabulous place all around. I had a couple of beers and I would gladly stay for more, but I really wished to see more of Krakow, without adding another hangover to my list, so, I returned to the main square, after another walk at Planty park and a few shots of Wawel castle.

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I also encountered a street performance of some opera arias, outside Saints Peter and Paul church and I stayed there for a while to enjoy the show. I even encountered a live music restaurant that seemed to me like a Polish version of Greek bouzoukia nightclubs, of which I am not a fan, and I viewed the spectacle for a while, before taking a seat at a cafe opposite the cloth hall, to enjoy some more beer. The place was also a record shop and I had a small chat with a helpful guy as I was trying to find a record my brother asked me to try and find, but the shop was not specializing in Polish 80’s post punk records.

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After finishing my beers I thought it was a good time to call it a night. I felt a bit hungry on my way though and as I found a kiosk outside the old town, I gave it a try. The place was rather crowded for a food kiosk and for the time I visited, while it seemed as a part of the same chain of kiosks I had bought last night’s kebab. Again, I asked for a zapiekanka and again I was told they were out. So, once more I settled for a kebab and caught a taxi to my hostel, since I felt exhausted.

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In the morning, I picked my stuff and headed towards the Barbican for some people free photos. The park was almost empty and I felt a bit of bliss tickling my heart. Heaven must be like that part of Planty park with its statues, attended gardens with beautiful flowers and tall trees, hiding views of elegant buildings. I enjoyed a refreshment on a bench there, but as time was slipping away, I had to leave and reach the train station. There, my mood was shadowed though, as I came face to face with policemen blocking passage, as they were examining a body. That poor person must have been homeless or an addict and I had to find another passage to the bus station. I warned other travelers against going that route on my way back and after a while, I was on a mini bus to Katowice airport. While there, I had a chance to finally taste a zapiekanka and I grabbed it firmly.

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I left Poland, but I ceded a piece of my heart to the lovely country. I was not so sad to leave the place though, since our plan for that year’s trip would include Poland and I was bound to return there with Catherine, as our epic voyage to five countries was only three months away…

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My solo trip to Poland part 3/1 Krakow

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If you happened to see someone (a tall handsome person, wearing long black hair and beard) pointing at ducks on the Wisla river shouting “Tamta kaczka pie piwo” (That duck drinks beer), that was me. But how did I end up sober, on a fine Sunday morning, describing the drinking habits of Krakowian ducks? Allow me to explain…

The ride to Krakow was not as easy as the one I enjoyed on my way to Wroclaw, but I didn’t mind. I got a little bored after a while and I was anxious to reach my destination. As I arrived, I tried to do some exploration and I immediately came face to face with the Barbican, the fortified gateway of Medieval Krakow and I took some pictures, while exploring the area near the site and a few steps out of the old city. I was excited by the buildings and time slipped away, before deciding that it was time for a break, that is checking in my hostel, so as to leave my baggage there.

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That proved a rather difficult task though. Since I opted to have a solo experience of traveling on this one, I was packing only an old cell phone (which I was using mostly as an alarm clock and whose battery was already on the low side) and some printed maps. That means no internet connection and only asking people for directions, while trying to find the way to my hostel. Well, that’s really a big deal for Mr Disorientation, aka myself. I didn’t mind though since I held on to another great opportunity to test my skills in Polish (They need some pretty heavy exercise by the way).

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After wandering around outside the old town for a while, I thought that enough is enough and I found a cab. I found myself in my destination in less than five minutes and I settled in. It was already getting late, but I thought that it would be great to walk around for a while and so I did, mostly concerned with trying to find something to eat. The streets outside the old town were empty but the lighting was good and as I approached the barbican, I spotted some people returning home from their night out. There were some more people inside the old town, but nothing much.

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As I was getting tired, I chose to return to my residence and try some of the street food on a kiosk I spotted on my way.I was a bit worried that it might close, but eventually, I got there on time. I tried to order zapiekanka but they informed me that they were out of it. Zapiekanka, is half a baguette with melted cheese and ketchup on top and looking at the other options available, I chose to eat a pita kebab, which is never my first choice outside Greece, since I eat that all the time at home and I wish to try different tastes away from it. Well, it surprisingly turned to be different. It was very spicy, which I liked, but it was too salty and as someone who enjoys the company of the sea gods every summer, I have had too much salt over my life to appreciate its presence in my food. Still, I ate my kebab and went to sleep, to view more of the city tomorrow.

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Early in the morning, I got up and walked all the way to Krakow castle. It was about a 3 km walk, passing through a park and a football ground on my way there. So, after a while I shouted that duck drinks beer.  That was something I decided to do, as I was checking my skills in Polish in Duolingo, since I noticed that too many exercises were about ducks, beer and kanapki (sandwiches). I thought it funny that I should shout that phrase somewhere in Poland and I did (luckily, there were not so many people at that spot at the time I did so).

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The Wawel castle as it is called, was built in the 14th century and it was the residence of the Polish kings. You can find lots of museums and artifacts inside, I wanted to visit the cathedral, but, as it was Sunday morning, a mass was held and only Catholics were allowed to enter before 12.00, so I limited myself to outside views and headed towards my main interest, the Lady with an ermine, the famous painting of DaVinci, portraying Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of the Duke of Milan. The artist painted only four portraits of women throughout his career and I was laying my eyes on one of them. The painting is held in a room on its own and that gives it a rather sad aspect on my point of view. Although its a masterpiece I would like it to be in the company of some other paintings, but still, it’s a must visit when visiting the castle.

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After a while, I walked downhill and strolled around the castle’s feet for a while, visiting Saints Peter and Paul church and eventually I got to the old town square, where a series of sites can be found. I got inside the cloth hall, which houses lots and lots of souvenir shops, taking some time to do some shopping, before walking out of that beautiful but very crowded place to have a look at St Adalbert’s church and the nearby monument to Adam Mickiewicz. Before entering the cloth hall, I noticed some Korean group dressed in traditional costumes playing music with some drums and I enjoyed the show for a while. Upon exiting the place, the Koreans were gone and a Polish polka band had taken their place. I joined the crowd once more and I even called Catherine to offer her a taste of Krakow.

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As I started getting tired of walking, I made a quick break for a coffee in one of the cafes near the central square. I asked for my usual cold cappuccino and they served me a delicious Polish version of my coffee (but then again, everything in Poland is smaczny (tasty)), which I enjoyed, facing the old town hall tower and St. Mary’s basilica. The coffee made me a little hungry, but I had decided where to eat weeks before starting my trip and it was time for me to be on my way, if I wished to get there before closing time.

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I made a few stops on my way, as I was encountering various sights, among them a head which turned out to be a major hit with children, getting inside it to have a photo taken as they posed through the statue’s eyes. My destination was to be found in Kazimiez, the old Jewish district and I had better take care, not to waste time before getting there, though.

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I crossed a part of Planty park, promising myself to visit later and made a brief stop on the St. Francis of Assisi, to view the replica of the shroud of Turin and one more stop at Corpus Cristi basilica. Well, I had visited too many churches, but it was Easter Sunday back home.

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Finally, I got to my destination just before closing time. A milk bar in Kazimierz and a great chance to taste some Polish delicacies. Milk bars can be found easily around Poland and they are an extremely cheap and tasty way to eat. I’ve read that a businessman established the first one in Warsaw at the end of 19th century, but I’ve also read that the communist party promoted them in order to encourage the consumption of dairy products and fight the use of alcohol at the same time (fight the use of alcohol in Poland? Were they mad?). Eventually, these shops turned into small restaurants and they offer great menus at great prices. My choice of lunch, was a cutlet with mashed potatoes, beetroot soup, the essential pierogi and a bottle of water. Cost, almost 6 euro. I was very glad to make it on time for that delicious lunch and my only regret was not being hungrier in order to try some more Polish delicacies. Having taken care of my appetite and my nutritional needs and wishes, I was once more ready to roam the picturesque streets of stunning Krakow…

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My solo trip to Poland part 2 – A quick tour of enchanting Wrocław

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I enjoyed a comfortable ride to Wroclaw and opted to spend about three hours in the city before getting on a bus to Krakow, where I would stay for the weekend. Carrying baggage was no big deal since I was packing extremely light and I begun wandering around the city with a plan to accomplish three goals.

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The first goal of my short stop at Wroclaw was a visit to the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice, but as I got there I realized that I would have to wait for half an hour before getting in, since I was next in line after some quite populous groups of other travelers. I hastily decided not to waste time waiting and left the place to have a better view of the city and its people. The panorama is a large 19th century painting (15×114 m) depicts a battle between the Polish and the Russians and was originally exhibited in Lwów, until the Soviets occupied the city, when it was moved to Wroclaw.

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So I reached the shores of the Odra and I walked along the river heading for the market square, taking some shots of the opposite shore and enjoying my stroll under the bright Polish skies. I reached the Hala Targowa on my way to the center and entered this market hall for a quick look. It is a beautiful building and it seemed to me as some sort of miniature of Budapest’s great market hall.

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A View of the Cathedral from the opposite shore

Then I walked right into the city’s University, where I saw the most beautiful door ever and spent some time taking pictures there, before continuing my walk to the city center. I hadn’t succeeded in my first goal, but I didn’t mind much, yet my main interest in the city laid on the Gnomes and I hadn’t caught sight of any of them yet.

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It is said that this guy was a rather lousy gambler, who lost everything but his sword (I would add dignity to his loses, if he didn’t pose so proudly)

The gnomes are all around the city and I was sure to meet some of them eventually. They appeared as graffiti in the 80’s, the inspired product of the anti-government group, Orange Alternative, which fought the regime by making use of silliness. At first they painted their gnomes over layers of paint that covered anti-government slogans, but later they organized various happenings, such as distribution of toilet paper. These people were truly heroic as they fought an authoritarian regime with goofiness, thus exposing the regime’s absurdity and demonstrating that the people have the power to change their lives if they decide to stand up to tyrants.

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After reaching the main square, I spotted my first gnome and more were to follow, as there are more than 350 all around the city. The old town square was full of people, as a jazz festival was taking place in the evening and a parade was held with saints go marching in and stuff all around the old town. I enjoyed the show for a while, as I stood outside the beautiful old Gothic town hall admiring the sight, the music and the cheerful crowd. Sadly, I could not spent more time there, if I wished to see some more of the city and catch my bus on time.

 

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Building of the Raclawicka panorama

So, I wandered around the neighboring streets for a while, Gnome-hunting and I even bought some presents. I even found a bookstore, where I bought a copy of Pan Tadeusz, an epic work of Polish literature and I even practiced my rather weak skills in Polish language. I must have had a good accent, because everyone seemed quite puzzled when I was forced by my limited skills to switch back to English after a few sentences. I like this language and if I ever find the time to do so, I will definitely make a better effort to learn it.

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After continuing my walk, I came face to face with a group of statues, which I immediately thought that should be some sort of monument to the sufferings of Polish people over the 20th century. At the time I figured that it might be a monument to the hardships of the Jewish people during WW2, but upon my return back home I found out that it is a monument that represents the people that vanished under the authoritarian regime that ruled the country till 1990.

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These people that walked on the ground, would disappear underground and nothing would ever be heard of them, if the authorities wished. It was a sight that made the silly gnomes that resisted the country’s communist regime stand taller than they looked, as I considered the fate awaiting the people opposed to the government. Those tiny dwarfs were after all truly giants of freedom.

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As the time I had at my disposal seemed to be diminishing rather rapidly, I thought it was best for me to head to the bus station. A Hare Krishna cult girl approached me on my way there and urged me to spend some of my time to listen to their teachings or something, but I had no time for that. I don’t like cults anyway. So, I reached the bus station having about half an hour to wait for the second leg of my trip to begin (I guess I had time for that brief introduction to the cult’s teachings after all). I also needed some coffee and I felt enticed to have a drink in one of the beer pubs I met on my quick tour of the city, but any such thoughts would have to wait till I reached Krakow…

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Kocham Polska! My solo trip to Poland – part 1, Poznań

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“I really shouldn’t. I have a flight to catch”.

“Oh, fine! Ok Spyros! What happened to you? If you’ve become such a party pooper, I’ll take us to a place that serves both coffee and beverages. Do as you feel like doing…”

That was the beginning of my solo trip to Poland. But how did I end up flying to Poland without Catherine by my side? Well, allow me to take you back to when it all started, that is just a few weeks before finding myself semi-drunk, moments before this journey…

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I was checking out various potential stops on our Summer journey’s itinerary and we were trying to estimate the amount of time and money the transports between these sites would require. We were in the ever displeasing position of crossing out some places on our list as unreachable, since getting there would require much more of our time. While searching for flights to Poland, I noticed a really cheap one:

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Getting from Corfu to Poznań with a mere ten euro fare and returning to Corfu from Katowice by paying a thirty euro flight ticket. The only thing about it was that this three day trip would fall right on the Greek Easter weekend, but that didn’t mind me much. However, we both wanted to visit Catherine’s family for the forthcoming holiday, so that would mean that this travel opportunity, would go to the waste basket.

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Yet, Catherine urged me not to miss that chance and it didn’t take long before I was booking tickets and searching for accommodation, while planning my solo mini trip in Poland. So, I decided to meet some friends in Corfu and fly to Poznan, where I would spend the night, before heading to Kraków with  a small stop in Wrocław on the way. Meanwhile, I tried to learn some Polish since I like foreign languages, so I tested my skills for about a month on PoznanDuolingo.

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Corfu is a great place to visit by the way

So, come Easter Friday I drove opposite Corfu island, where I left the car and crossed the Ionian sea under a heavy sky to Corfu. I was excited to begin my solo trip and my excitement grew stronger when I met my friends and their cute daughter, who were expecting me. I hadn’t prepared myself for their sinister plan though. Which was to enjoy a drink with them and although I urged my friend to have coffee instead, she strongly insisted on us having some drinks. Finally, she settled for an establishment where I could have some coffee, while they could have a drink and the same time she reminded me:

“You are an adult. You can have coffee or ouzo. It’s strictly your choice”

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Well I had ouzo, a drink I rarely drink nowadays, one I enjoyed often as a student. Funny thing about that drink. You feel great for a long time and suddenly Kabooom! It can strike unexpectedly like a cobra. So, Everything was fine for a long time, the guys even gave me a lift to the airport and they hanged around to keep me company till the plane took off.

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I also bought this guy’s masterpiece the following day…

Aboard the plane I spotted only four more passengers and subsequently the flight gave a scent as if some tycoon was flying in his private jet. The drinking hadn’t got to me yet although I was beginning to feel a bit tipsy but I behaved like a proper gentleman all the way to Poland. I even gave a mini lecture on the differences between various traditional Greek beverages as we chatted with the crew and I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the way.

As I arrived in Poznań, I caught a bus to the city, after exchanging some Zlotys and since I hadn’t packed much stuff, I decided to walk around town for a while, before heading to my hostel for a brief brake.

Since the hostel was in close proximity to the main square, I opted for a small stroll that would start away from it before eventually closing in on the plaza.

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My first stop was at the Imperial castle, the last imperial residence built in Europe by Wilhelm II, the last German Kaiser and I also visited Adam Mickiewicz square (I ‘ll explain more about him on the next post), where you can see a monument to the June of ’56 uprising that was brutally repressed by the regime with Soviet aid and cost the lives of dozens. The Hungarian people declared their support towards the Poles’ cause and they revolted themselves, sadly facing the same if not worst fate. I had no idea about this act of solidarity and I was very touched a few months later, when I saw an exhibition inside Warsaw castle, commemorating the strong bond between these two nations.

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What I really wanted to see though, was Stary Marych (Old Marych). That is a statue featuring a typical old Poznań resident, holding his bicycle and walking. I had to see it since it remind me of many old people back home. “What on earth man? Why did you have to go all the way to Poland to view a statue of someone you get to see live every day, over most of your life?”, someone might ask. Well, I guess I liked the fact that an average person was chosen by the people of the city to feature on an artwork.

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After wandering around for a while, I checked in on my hostel and tried to rest for an hour, before going out for a drink. I woke up several hours later joined by a mild hangover. The drinks I had in Corfu, finally caught up with me hundreds of miles away from the place I consumed them. I felt angry at myself. I had only a few days to spent in Poland and I wasted an entire evening sleeping, because I couldn’t restrain myself back home. Still, I had fun with my friends and I woke up extremely early, having three hours to catch a train to  Wrocław, thus having the advantage to take some photos of the city without crowds of people blocking my shots. Normally, Catherine handles most of the photo work during our trips, but I was on my own on this one. So, I checked out, got my baggage and hit the streets.

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My first impression of my morning walk in Poznań was the amazing view of the Stary Rynek (the old town square), of which I had seen some great photos, but being face to face with those bright colorful p;ace could not be captured by any photo or words. I walked around this wonderful place admiring the Town hall and the various statues like the Pranger of Poznań, and Neptune, but I mostly liked the Proserpina Fountain (Fontana Prozerpiny).

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After walking around the almost empty square, I walked to Ostrow Tumski, simply to cross the Varta river and view the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. I had a nice walk till I reached that spot, but after completing this quest, I was feeling that I was running out of time.

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So, after a couple of hours of wandering around the city, I considered that I’d better walk towards the train station in order to spend some more of my time in Wrocław, before continuing my journey to Kraków. I was in no need of a rest (last night’s sleep had taken good care of that) and I was about to do some Gnome hunting in Wrocław…

Continued here

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Trying to pull yourself up from last night’s hangover, you raise your eyes to the sky and face an executioner, looming over your head, that should make you come to your senses…