Published: October 13th 2011October 13th 2011
Well, let's see, I'm fairly certain I meant to actually update this blog last week, and the site seems equally determined to tell me I never got around to that. Well bugger. I'm sure it wasn't going to be anything special, I think the best I could've mustered was the Ulysses of blog posts, but who'd want to read that?
Regardless, I'm back in my little abode in Kleimachnow after a brief vacation to Krakow, Poland. First off, let me say that it was awesome, but I think the best way to do this is to break down the experience into some learning exercises. See, Krakow was something of a dry run for the winter month I've got in front of me, so I'll post these and hope that's enough. Mistakes were made, and some of them were a hell of a lot of fun:
1. Watch Your Back
. This one's pretty straightforward for a solo traveler, but really, no one else is going to do the work for you. That means keeping an eye on your stuff to ensure other hostel goers don't spray a pentagram with your shaving cream (seriously). It also means no one can make
The Cotton Market
A big interior market in the middle of town, worth wandering
you do anything, which can make the experience much better or much worse. Additionally, if you're like me, any copious levels of drinking should be done with newfound friends, who might actually notice if you start speaking in tongues/falling out of your seat.
2. Never Change Money Near A Train Station
. This one's self explanatory, and corresponds to the above rule as well. But just don't do it. Krakow was pretty cheap (it's about 4 Zloty to the Euro), but if your exchange rate is awful (mine was) you might as well have set a portion of your hard earned Euro on fire. Frankly that's easier to explain to the police than punching out a teller.
3. A Hostel is a Resource, Use it
. I think of all the things that surprised me the most it's this one. Three types of people were still traveling to Krakow in October. Friend groups, the sociable types, and the ohgodwhyareyoustaringatmes. The first group was essentially a group of friendly Polish students, nice, but clearly in their own group and not looking to hang out with an unshaven American with crazy eyes. The sociable types in this case mostly meant two groups of Australians,
yes, it actually breathes fire. Yes, it is damn cool.
who I ended up befriending and hanging out with for most of the trip. I also met three Americans from UNH, which just goes to show that a little wandering can really pay off. The last group (known as gah!) are the solo travellers you don't want to be. Like the random Polish girl who was watching me sleep (again, I wish I was kidding). Their stares have been known to rip the very souls from neighboring hostel goers.
The point to this rule is that you're in a melting pot of travelers, locals looking for a good time, and Australians (they're everywhere). Most will be friendly, and some will make your trip a thousand times better if you're a little open and willing to hang out with strangers.
4. Planning is not just something Dad does
. I wish I'd figured this out sooner, but there we are. So for those who didn't know, the main reason I ended up in Krakow was to avoid spending the pricier amount for a ticket to Istanbul. It was a damn shame but I really got on this far too late. I think in the end it will be fine, tickets are
Good god these make me happy.
cheap in January, but the point is do a bit of planning. Figure out how much time you should spend in a city, and how cheaply you can do it, and you'll be a happier hostel goer. This won't change the fact you're sleeping in a room with eleven strangers, but it will ensure if things are crappy you aren't there longer than you need to be. Pick what's fun, what's worth seeing, and then move on.
5. Planning should also account for "Dicking around time"
. That's the scientific term. The rule here is essentially that you should always plan an extra six hours of random time in a city. This is the time I like to get lost with. Note how I said "like"? This isn't like my first night in Krakow, when it was forty degrees and raining lost, this is wandering the city for random stuff lost. It's the best way to find the more interesting things, or at least the bars you want to come back to later. Additionally, if you don't get to see something the first time, no problem, do it in the random few hours you set aside! I ended up seeing
Mad Dog Shots
Happy times, they remind me of home in a tongue burning, eye blurring way.
an armory in Wawel Castle for free this way.
6. If a city's known for something, check it out
. This could also just be called try the local flavor, but that doesn't cover all of it. For instance, Krakow's in the neighborhood from Auschwitz. This was not a fun experience, but it was absolutely worth doing. The bus ride there nearly shook the kidneys out of my body, but again, worth doing. Another part of this was the dragon in Krakow, essentially a legend about a dragon under Wawel Castle in the center of the city. Today it's touristy, but the castle's fascinating, and the dragon is now a statue that actually shoots fire at unsuspecting visitors. Essentially the inner city really felt like it had been time locked in the 15th century, then surrounded by good old fashioned Communist bloc housing.
Krakow's also seemingly known for being invaded, marked hilariously by a trumpeter who blasts an alarm every hour only to cut off halfway through. Evidently the invading horde at the time thought he was off key. Seriously though, the entire city reads like Histeria's "A Brief History of Poland", so many people have ridden this place down,
Do not try to outdrink this man.
This is Saxton Hale, to my addled mind this is also pretty much how I see Alistair, the former navy Australian.
and yet it's endured.
Just so we're clear, this also covers food. Polish food is probably my new favorite thing. Dumplings plus meat and vodka everywhere? Why do I bother leaving? Thanks to the prices being what they were, eating in restaurants was not only possible, but actually quite reasonable. The best meal meant mulled wine, pickled herring, potato cakes, and pierogis. It was simply divine. This also applies to alcohol. Especially when the signature local shot's called a Mad Dog.
7. Never, ever, ever, try to outdrink an Australian
. Especially if they're former navy, and look like Saxton Hale. This one might save your life, but if you do, it makes for a hell of a story.
8. Lastly, try to pick up a few words
. This one's mostly just a challenge for me, and Polish is about as easy to pick up as Japanese, but a few phrases go a long way. If my guide book was anything to go by, that apparently includes the phrase "may I fondle your buttocks" (Pro.Shem. Tch-mogoun. Pog. Wad-itch tvoy Me-yen-key toh-veh cheque? If you're curious.)
That's all for this time, I promise I'll upload photos of this trip at some point, but til then, cheers!