Essentially travel between Krakow and Warsaw is limited to a domestic flight that costs a fortune on a dodgy airline, a bus that takes a day, or a train that takes about five and a half hours. Supposedly it is a premier route and as such the trains are top notch ICE ninja fast, über modern feats of engineering. Now I’m no train spotter, but I’ve caught a lot of trains all over the world. From a ridiculously over engineered bullet train complete with flat screen TVs in each booth connecting Beijing with Shanghai, to trains a mile long trundling through the plains of India. It doesn’t make me an expert, I don’t wear a mac and hang out at kids parks looking shifty, and I’m not a flasher. But I know the difference between a top notch, premier train and one that looks like it used to shift the communist government around. This is no joke, the Krakow – Warsaw journey was spent in a rust bucket, on a train that wasn’t just the oldest ever invented, it was the prototype. In short the journey seemed to take an eternity and no amount of cheap, overpriced, ‘turd in a cup with water added and passed off as coffee’ helped.
Poland confirmed itself as probably the grimmest country in existence as out of the window we watched damp, brown forest after forest slowly trudge past. Occasionally a tiny Ruszsian-Esque wooden village would flick by, a sure fire front runner for most underinvested place on earth 2012.
Jack was awesome, he just chilled out and watched his Playbook, occasionally looking up to smile. But if truth be known, Warsaw couldn’t come soon enough.
After a while the grimness turned into Eastern Bloc, and at 10.24 am we were booted off the train at Warsaw Central (Warszawa Centralna) which in terms of being central is pretty much right on the money. The station is massive and so when we finally found our way out, we climbed the stairs and suddenly, right in front of us was a large, no huge, building. The smell of Stalin was in the air and it turns out I was right, Josef Stalin decided he would give Warsaw a gift, so he built them a massive building. It’s the one in the photo above – slightly New York style, totally babushka style.
The funny thing is, right across the road is a few sky scrapers all surrounding a Hard Rock cafe that wouldn’t have looked more out of place a century ago.
Within minutes we were lost. But when we finally got found we hopped on a tram and a few minutes later got lost again. The thing is everything is in Polska, fair enough, we were in Poland. But eventually after being lost for an hour or so we ended up at our hotel – one of the best in the city. It was around 12.30 and by now Jack and I had around an hour left to live if we didn’t get some food. The hotel blew me out and wouldn’t let me check in, which actually pissed me off. I’ve stayed at places all over the globe and checked in at 5am or early (which to be fair was a bit of a piss take (see Manali blog entry)) but they let me stash our case whilst we went exploring.
I tried and failed to hire a push bike and it wasn’t long before we were lost again, the thing is the map I was given of Warsaw had the tram stops on, but not the stop names. Orange had capped my 3G since they have decided to outsource their call centres to the Phillipines, and the dick I spoke to on the phone who was supposed to uncap my data plan, had capped it. Obvious language barrier problem, but then Orange cum EE must clearly value cost cutting before customer service.
I digress, so I couldn’t pull up maps on my phone, which given I’ve got an iPhone was probably a good thing, Apple Maps would have no doubt shown me in Hungary or something.
Anyway, we were trying to get the the UNESCO and supposedly world famous Stare Miasto (old town) Despite the fact it was all but flattened during WWII it still claims to be a few hundred years old. And everyone in Poland froths at the mouth and shoots off to the toilet when you mention the Royal Castle, probably the most popular screen saver in the country, it is perhaps the single most important building in Poland. Which just happens to be in one of the worlds most chinned cities, don’t for a second think Warsaw spent the last few centuries reading playboy on a lounger before 85% of the buildings were obliterated during the war. Au contraire, Warsaw has been taking licks since before time began.
Eventually we found a road which was to take us to the Royal castle, lined with museums and churches it was like beautifully going back in time. Sadly, or not, I missed much of it. On the tram Jack was sat down next to and opposite two old ladies. Both were in full conversation in Polish with him, trying to zip his coat up, sort his jumper out, giving him pure, hardcore grandma treatment. He was just sat silent, not knowing what to say. After about 5 minutes we got off the bus and I was still chuckling “dad, what was them old ladies on about” they hadn’t realised he wasn’t Polish, he had a blagged head.
As tends to be the case these days, in large cities there are demonstrations, and Warsaw was no different. There was a march on to ‘keep fascism out of football’ and so we people watched for a while before heading into the castle which really is just a building that looks nothing like a castle.
Admission to all national museums is free in Poland during November and so after someone insisted we ditch our coats and bag we climbed the billion or so steps to the floor where all the rooms are. Now, I am trying to be careful not to offend millions of Polish, and I fully appreciate the significance of the remodelled, revamped Royal Castle, but seriously. What a load of garbage. 30 odd rooms painted in gold and all ‘reconstructed’ to look like they might have a few centuries ago. It was a bit of a scam to be honest and even though it had cost nothing to get in I felt a bit ripped off.
Jack loved it, and was trying to achieve a personal best of touching as many things as he knew he wasn’t allowed to. I actually wondered if those telling him not touch we’re speaking the words “don’t touch this kid, its fake” in their heads. In any case the women loved him, the guys were suspicious of him and I have told him, he looks shifty. Genuinely. Jack has the look of shiftiness perfected, he could arouse suspicion in an empty room.
A but miffed with the Royal castle, we found Warsaws most authentic Indian, complete with Polish chefs who wouldn’t know the difference between tikka and a taco. Oddly it was opposite a Thai Restaurant called ‘Maharaja’ – go figure.
But really, Stare Miasto was a nice to be in. Cobbled streets, the odd fountain, it looked like a Bulgarian scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a bit old type toy shop. But as Jack tried a t.shirt on with the NYC motif “I love Polish girls” I was subconsciously nodding in agreement. It didn’t fit, and Jack decided to take it out on a few pigeons.
Warsaw is a lot different to Krakow, but then demographically it is too. We are now in central Poland and whereas Krakow was the sort of place you walk hand in hand with a loved one, Warsaw is where you’d go get smashed with the boys. To be fair it is the countries capital city and home to some 2.5 million people, prices are higher, but then so are living standards.
It has an excellent infrastructure and I now have the hang of the transport system and so the cities is ours to have fun in.
And, after a 42cm pizza and a few Tyskies we did have fun, well – as much as we could.
Which really i guess, brings me onto the wrapping this up. But what amazes me is how people underestimate kids, as per the norm we patronise them and really it’s only when in certain circumstances that we notice the level of maturity and comprehension of our kids. For instance, what seems to amaze people, and the first thing I’m usually asked when people find out how much I’ve travelled with my kids is “how do they cope” there is this common misconception that travel with young ones is a mission and that kids can’t cope. We should give them credit, kids are more adaptable than at any other time in their life. They have no biased, pre formed views on people or circumstance and so are open to accept and keen to learn. There have been times when travelling that I have been exhausted, absolutely on my knees and still the kids go on, smiling. And I wondered if it was because for Charlie and Abi they had become so accustomed to travel. But then I look at Jack, and how he has been. Each day we have been up around 4/5 am and to bed at 8/9 pm, my Endomondo app tells me that in the previous two days we have walked almost 20 miles. If we think for a moment that that average adult takes 2 steps per 1 metre, so It would be fair to say Jacks mini legs take at least 4. Considering there are about 32,000 metres in 20 miles, Jack has taken somewhere in the region of around 128,000 steps in those two days in Krakow. He didn’t moan once about his legs.
The point I’m trying to make is that kids just get on with it, they accept most situations and with a bit of effort we get to see our mini hero’s love life through their enjoyment.
This pretty much wraps up Poland, and my first ever ‘short trip’ addition to the blog. But this leads on to bigger things for Jack, in summer 2013 he will be joining us wherever we end up, whatever we end up doing.
But that’s next summer, in the meantime we look forward to our next trip, the next chapter in our travels – South America in February.
Until then x