My first destination was Warsaw. I took a ‘Simple Express’ service bus from Berlin to Warsaw. Don’t go by the name. It’s not at all simple. The bus had a Wifi connection, a toilet on board, a magazine and a personal entertainment system that played amazing music, movies, documentaries, sitcoms as good as international flights. I reached Warsaw at 11:00 PM. There was a Scotland – Poland football match on that same night. So, the streets were full of Polish and Scottish supporters wearing Kilt and feather caps. I did not had local currency and since it was late night so I just went to one of the shops which accepted Euros and bought some chocolate to get local currency Zloty.
Walked around a kilometre, went to couple of wrong lanes just to find Hoza hostel which was on 4th floor in a building that would have been around 150 year old. I had booked the hostel just a night before. Hostel was located in a business district walkable from the old town and major tourist attractions. In the hostel, I had some good conversations with an American traveller, an Indian guy who was studying in Warsaw and a Sri Lankan guy who was studying in Warsaw.
I stayed in Warsaw for 3 nights and I just saw the old town and the football stadium. Old town was so picturesque that I just did not feel like going anywhere else. So, I visited old town every single day. Old town was destroyed in one of the uprising and the town we see now is replica of the original old town. I wonder how beautiful original town would have looked like. Old town is characterised by cobbled streets with colourful buildings everywhere having artistically and elegant designed restaurants and cafes serving amazing variety of beer, coffee, sushi and local delicacies. Old town aura emanates romance and love everywhere. You will see couples holding hands and kissing, old ladies taking a walk with cute puppies, young mothers taking a walk with their babies, small kids feeding and running around sparrows.
In the evening I was sitting in one of the benches at Old town Market square where I met a Ukrainian guy who was working on some agriculture farm around Warsaw. He was so fascinated about India that he asked me tons of questions on Indian Culture, people, places and gods and we ended up chatting for almost an hour. He had an impression that India has quite a few people who stand on 1 leg and have not eaten any food for years and are still alive. I am yet to meet such an Indian though. Meanwhile, in the background one guy was playing amazing Beethoven and Mozart classic on one of the Music box he held.
The next day evening I met one doctor from Greece at the same place. We had some interesting conversations on European women in general. Later, he concluded that Polish girls are one of the most beautiful girls in Europe.
On my last night in Warsaw, I met one Japanese traveller in the hostel at 11:00 PM. He had been travelling since last 8 months across different continents. He was living his dreams. At 12:00 in the night, we decided to hit a night club named Capitol which is open only on Friday and Saturday nights. I was carrying a map and looked like a lost tourist. One Polish guy approached us to offer help as we looked lost. He worked as a Customs officer and it was Friday night, so he was quite drunk. He even showed us his Id card just to make us believe that he is not a threat to us. We had good fun speaking to this guy. His biggest concern was our safety as we are tourists. Finally we found the place ourselves but he accompanied us till the club. We joined the queue at the entrance and this guy waited till we get inside. We invited him to the club but he thankfully refused saying he needs to sleep. I wondered if drunk people are so kind and helpful imagine how kind normal people would be in this country. Club played amazing music and was fully packed with people. We left the club at 3:30 AM as I had to catch a bus early morning to Krakow.
My next stop in Poland was Krakow which is one of the oldest cities in Poland. I stayed at Hostel Deco here. In the evening I went for a walk to the Old town area. Next day, I rented a bicycle and rode towards the city outskirts for around 10kms. Countryside was extremely beautiful set amidst green lush hills and farms. Countryside looked richer than the town area. In the evening, again visited old town area which was very picturesque. There was a free Mozart harmonica concert in the church at the old town area which I attended. Church was fully packed with locals and tourists. It was awesome as I had never seen Orchestra played by 100-125 people and I love Mozart’s work.
Next day, I visited Auschwitz Concentration camp. It was an hour bus ride from Krakow. Walking around concentration camp will make you feel quite sad. It reminds you of that dark era where innocents were mercilessly killed for some people’s selfish motives. Around 1.1 million prisoners died at the camp. I wonder what was God doing then! I did not get much time to visit Birkanau concentration camp which is close by. I left the place at 5:00 PM and waited for an hour just to get the bus. Meanwhile, I met one funny guy from Algeria who was working in France but was on a vacation in Poland. His French and Algerian mix accent sounded very interesting when we spoke in English. We sat in a bus next to each other. Then he showed me the picture of his girlfriend he made in Poland and shared the tips on how to woo a Polish girl. The people standing behind us had a good laugh and so did I. In the evening, I again went to the picturesque old town area for a walk. There was a live open music performance on the stage at the old town area. I joined the tourists sitting there with a glass of beer to kill the notorious chilly wind effects.
My next stop was Zakopane, a small town located in South of Poland. I took a bus from Krakow to Zakopane. The entire route was scenic. Several times I felt like jumping outside the window just to get some clicks. I was the only traveller in the bus who got down at Zakopane bus stop. Seeing an alien with 2 backpacks, a group of girls sitting nearby started giggling. I smiled back at them and went outside the bus stop, spoke to couple of guys to get the directions to reach the hostel. As expected, no one spoke English. Luckily, I found a bus driver who did not speak slightest English but who knew the place I was supposed to go. He then dropped me at a place nearby hostel Good bye Lenin where I had not booked the bed but somehow had a gut feeling that I will get a bed which turned real later. I had to walk a kilometre with my 14 kg backpacks(yes. that’s too much) to reach the hostel nestled amidst beautiful hills surrounded by smoky trees and the rushing water beneath. It was the most magical place that I visited in Europe. Hostel was a beautiful structure made of wood entirely. We had to wear their bear socks and shoes once inside. Hostel was run by 1 amazing lady who loved mountain hiking.
I spent 3 nights in Zakopane but the weather got so bad that it snowed for 1 day and rained for the other 2 days. In evening I went to 1 grocery store nearby to buy some raw chicken. For some reasons, raw cut pieces of beef, chicken and pork looked same there. Failure on my part to make the owner understand that I want only Chicken and no pork or beef made me buy Pork salami and French fries instead. I did not like the taste of Pork Salami so I left it at the hostel at the end of my stay.
Hostel had 4 volunteers working there on work away assignments. This is something I would love to do in future. There was a guy from Czech, a girl from Australia, a girl from Poland and a girl from Italy and 1 sweet cat. One evening, the Italian girl made some real good Italian pizzas for all of us. It was much better than the one I had later in a restaurant in Italy. As it was off season, so hostel had very few guests. There was a family of 4 from Russia who drove their car from Moscow to St. Petersburg and then to Zakopane via Lithuania. They had 1 small crazy kid who spoke to me in Russian which I did not understand at all. Every time he spoke I just used to tell him ‘da’(means ‘Yes’) and then he used to laugh and play. It was fun playing with him. Then I met a young girl from Netherland who had authored 5 books and was working with an organisation that helps homeless people. There was 1 old guy around 55 staying in the hostel who loved interacting with me in English and Polish. One evening he was drunk and spoke to me for good 15 minutes in Polish but unfortunately I could not understand a word. Finally, he realised I don’t understand Polish and then he let me go. He did speak couple of sentences in English though next morning which I understood.
In the afternoon later I went outside to buy a raincoat, a shoe and socks. It was great fun just to explain shop sellers that I want only Men’s shoe and socks. Once I found men’s shoes it was again a challenge to explain them that I want some cheap ones just for 2-3 days of my stay here. Finally I succeeded in buying a sneaker for 30 zloty(Around 600 INR), a pair of socks and a Poncho to protect from snow and rain.
It was already 1:00 AM and it was snowing and raining alternately. Unaffected by weather and totally ungeared, just like a fool I decided to go on a trail along the High Tatra mountain National park. I am not much into hiking as such. So, I loaded my bag with camera, apples, coke and chips. I walked around 2.5-3 kms just to reach the entrance of the park. Paid an entry fee of 5 zloty(Around 100 Rs.) and just followed the path. As I walked for 30 mins, it started to snow heavily and it had gone dark. This was the first time in my life I had seen a snow fall. There was no one in the park except me. That moment when I was alone and taking pictures in a lush green forest with the water gushing alongside surrounded by Spruce and Pine trees and couple of abandoned huts and the snow hitting my camera made my day. This was one of the best moments I have experienced in my life. As it got dark I decided to return back to the hostel. In the evening, I decided to lay my hands on untuned guitar the hostel had. While trying to tune the guitar, I broke high E string rendering guitar useless. It was nice of them, they did not charge me for the replacement.
Next day, I decide to go on Morsie oko trail which is further up on the smoky mountains. I stood at the bus stop but no bus arrived for good 90 minutes. Losing my patience I just decided to quit this plan and go somewhere else. It was raining lightly and sky was heavily fogged so I just randomly walked around the town clicking pictures.
As the weather was rainy, so I decided to leave the place on 4th day. Completely unplanned with no bus reservation, no train reservation, no hostel reservation I decided to go to Bratislava. The owner at the hostel recommended that I go to Poland-Slovakia border and catch a bus to Poprad and from there to Bratislava. Going by her plan, I took a bus to Morsie oko from Jaszczurowka bus stop. I was supposed to get down at 1 bus stop before Morsie oko. I got down as expected. There was not a single person on the road or even anywhere nearby. Luckily, there was 1 lady and her daughter who got down at the same bus stop I did. Only daughter could speak English. I spoke to them saying I want to cross the Poland border and go to Slovakia to reach Poprad. They were heading to Poprad. So, we walked together for 10 minutes and crossed the border to reach Slovakia at around 11:00 AM. I said good bye to Poland.
Before coming to Poland, I had this notion in my mind that Poland is a poor country. But when I visited Poland, it completely contradicted the assumption I had in my mind.
If you are coming from an Indian subcontinent, you would never feel even 1% poorness even in the remotest part of the country. The country is astonishingly clean and very beautiful.
Surprisingly, there was no one at the border. I was so happy to see such a beautiful border with no people around. We reached a bus stop from where the bus leaves for Poprad. We soon realised that the last bus left just 20 mins back and the next bus was expected to leave at 02:20PM.
It was freaking cold outside so we just went inside a store located close by. I used their washroom and then bought some chips. The lady asked me if we can share and go in a taxi instead of waiting. I said yes, so the shop owner then called one of the taxi driver and arranged a taxi for us to go to Poprad. Poprad is a small city 60 kms away from the border. On the way we stopped at a restaurant in Zdiar village to get a 50 Euro change. Zdiar is one of the most beautiful villages I have seen and I have added it on my ‘xxx places to see before I die’ list. I will definitely go there in future. Lady was so nice that she asked me to pay only 10 Euros of the 35 Euros in total.