After a 10 hour flight to Kiev and another hour+ connecting flight I found myself in a strange new country, Poland. There’s not much about Poland that had really motivated me to travel there in the past (or really anywhere in Europe) but being that my Dad’s side of the family is all Polish I do feel like I have some cultural obligation to see some of the fatherland. Plus I do enjoy pierogies, sausages, and sauerkraut! And Poland does have a interesting (unfortunate) history. And the flight was cheap. So why not?
I landed later on in the evening, got through immigration easily, stopped at the ATM to get some zlotys (but only big bills) and went to McDonalds. I know I know, I’m in a new country with fantastic food and I’m eating a freakin McDonalds! But I needed to break a 100 zloty note ($30 bill) and this was my best option. It was weird, there was nobody at the cashier, but a big group of people waiting for their food. What’s going on at this McDonalds? Turns out they have an electronic kiosk system that most people use instead of ordering from the cashier. They make their order, pay with card, and pick it up, easy! I always like noting things other countries do differently than us, and in this case, better.
After my Big Mac (and they call it a Big Mac, not anything cool/different) I hopped into a bus that goes into the city. Being the stickler I am I absolutely refuse to take a taxi when I have the option of bus/metro for a fraction of the cost, even if I don’t exactly know where I’m going. This has backfired on multiple occasions, but that’s not gonna stop me. I attempted to buy a ticket directly from bus driver, who had some harsh words for me in Polish. Oops. Fortunately some younger Poles directed me to the self pay machine. Easy. Why don’t our buses have these?! In Chicago if you don’t a have Ventra card you have to supply exactly $2 and 25 cents, how dumb and outdated is that? Seriously for all you USA#1’ers out there, you at least have to admit we run on some outdated technology sometimes.
Now, like a total rookie, I completely forgot to download the offline version of Google Maps when I had wifi, so now I couldn’t see where I was in the city. Flying blind! I didn’t know where to get off, so I finally hopped out in what looked like a well lit, central location. I stopped at bar to get some wifi and my bearings on the map, of course the wifi didn’t work, so I finally hopped in cab to get to my hostel. It was located in a large, ugly concrete building with little signage; odd for a hostel with such a high rating I thought. This feels like Eastern Europe! I rang the buzzer to get in. Nothing. I then started reading the piece of paper posted on the side and it says that the reception closes at 10pm, and you absolutely cannot check in after that. It’s 10:45. Uh oh.
What kind of crap is this? The thought of being completely screwed if you get there a little late is preposterous to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a hostel that has that kind of policy. I mean sometimes you might have to pound on the door for a bit, but you always get in! Welcome to Eastern Europe I guess. Always fun to be in a strange new city, stranded in what doesn’t look like the nicest part of town, at night, with no phone, no internet. Even though the streets are dead, I’m not too worried, mostly just annoyed. I am glad I ditched the big backpack for this trip though! I walked around for a while and eventually found another hostel, but they were all booked up except for a weird apartment style lodging down the street that was like $65. Meh. She showed me two hostels on the map not far away, so I tried both of them. One was full, the other also had no night reception.
Wellll…. Options pretty limited now! If this was me backpacking when trying to keep a strict budget I would have been a bit more stressed out, but given the choices of staying in the apartment place or wandering around Warsaw for who knows how long, it was a pretty easy call. The receptionist gave me a few sets of keys, directions on how to find the building down the street and that was that. It was a strange accommodation in a run down building complex with a bunch of individual rooms in a shared apartment style set up. But the bed was comfy and I slept easy, as I should have, being that my internal clock was at 5am or so.
I woke up to view of this lovely courtyard. I’m not gonna lie, Warsaw isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing city you’ll ever see. It’s got lots of modern parts, and a nice old town, but walking around some of the local neighborhoods can be a bit bleak; lots of big ugly concrete housing units with random smatterings of graffiti. That’s more or less what I was expecting though. Plus the weather was kind of chilly and gloomy, which added to the overall mood. I didn’t really do anything much in Warsaw, mostly just randomly meandered around. I spent a few hours in the old town, a few hours at a museum, and a few hours wandering around neighborhoods across the river, and well that was my day! I stopped in a bar every once in a while to try a different Polish beer, grabbed some sausage and sauerkraut in the old town for dinner called it an early one. You know you're getting out of shape when a whole day of walking knocks you out.
A friend recommended that I don’t spend too much time in Warsaw and allocate more time to a city called Wroclaw, which is enroute from Krakow to Prague, so I decided to heed that advice. Plus the weather looked better in Krakow. I booked a train ticket to Krakow online for the following morning.