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Published: March 13th 2011
The journey to Poland was fairly uneventful and really quite comfortable. We were in a 6 seater cabin and no one else joined us so we could spread about and use all the available space to keep the boys occupied.
The countryside that flew past wasn't all that interesting, although it did raise a few eyebrows when we started to see snow on the ground and guys fishing through small holes drilled into frozen rivers. We knew that the temperature would drop a little bit more with every city we visited through Europe but seeing all this dashed any hopes we had of a mini heat wave hitting this part of he world while we visited.
Once at the main station in Warsaw we donned backpacks and walked to our 'hostel', a private apartment in one of the city blocks. The block itself was really dreary and depressing and we wondered what the hell we'd managed to book, but once we found the right apartment we breathed a collective sigh of relief as it was really nice. Tastefully decorated in a modern style, with a cool view across the financial district it was a little studio apartment with everything
we'd need and was definitely worth more than the €10 a person, per night we were paying.
Warsaw doesn't really have a lot of major attractions but we spent a really pleasant day strolling around the old town which has been almost completely rebuilt since the second world war and trying out some traditional Polish fare of Pierogi (Polish Ravioli) washed down with a half litre of Polish beer.
After Warsaw we then caught a train 3 hours south to Krakow the main tourist draw in the country and it was easy to see why... It was stunning. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow's old town was left largely intact after the Second World War and boasts a wealth of gothic and renaissance architecture. It was also the royal capital for 500 years so is literally stuffed with history and art. If all that isn't enough to keep you interested it also has a castle.
We set ourselves up for a few days in the city with a hostel right in the centre of the old town and set about exploring straight away and when the cold got too much we stopped at one of the many cafés to enjoy
possibly the best hot chocolate I've ever tasted, or devour one of the multitude of sweet deserts on offer.
One thing that did surprise me was the prices, I had a feeling Poland was going to be cheap (relatively) but not as cheap as it was. Even in Krakow, food and accommodation was incredible value and it's the biggest tourist attraction in Poland. Another surprise was the food, I'm sure Polish doesn't rate in most peoples lists but we've been loving it. Of course, it's all available back home in the UK, we have polish sections in our supermarkets and I use kabanosy
sliced up on pizzas but it never really registered as a cuisine I'd enjoy. It's heavy, meaty and warming when it's cold out, not sure I'd feel the same in summer but for now it's perfect. Thankfully the boys can't get enough of it either, they're starting to recognise when we've got a packet of sausages and start hooting and cheering, they barely touch the sides on the way down, but sadly aren't too great on the way out!
We've eaten well and even drank well. Considering I'm the biggest fan of soft drinks, much
preferring them to alcohol normally, beer is cheaper here. So it's not much of a choice is it? Make mine another...
As for sights, the castle was pretty interesting but nowhere near as atmospheric as just wandering around the old town. So that's what we did most days, we spent our time just ambling around enjoying the city. Every turn is a feast for the eyes, it really is quite beautiful. Although pretty cold there was non- stop sunshine, (apart from a bit of snow one day) and although I curse the boys at 6 in the morning when they force me out of bed, it does mean that by the time we're up and ready, most of the other tourists are still in bed leaving us to enjoy the mornings in relative peace.
For a day we took a trip to Auschwitz, the scene of one of the largest attempts of genocide in human history. It was set up in 1940 by the Germans, and quickly became an extermination centre for European Jews. It's estimated that 1.6 million people were murdered here, including 1.1 million Jews. We were in two minds about visiting the place, mainly because
of the boys, it's hardly the sort of place that would be child friendly and we weren't sure what exhibits would be on display; we certainly didn't want them seeing anything inappropriate. In the end we threw caution to the wind and went anyway. We figured if it didn't feel right we could just leave.
It turned out that under 14's aren't allowed into the museum anyway, so we were restricted to the camp grounds. We really needn't have worried either, our children are far too young to comprehend any of the horror than went on this place and they don't even have a concept of death yet, so were completely unaffected. We on the other hand, can
fully comprehend what this place's purpose was, we really of should have considered more carefully whether we really wanted to visit it. We should have learnt from our visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia that these places leave an overwhelming sense of despair at mankind's destructive nature. I was more grateful than ever to have my kids with me, nothing lifts the spirit faster than the innocent laughter of children.
After Auschwitz we were a little reluctant
to leave Krakow as we were enjoying it too much, so we found a spectacular apartment for a few days that was shockingly low priced as it was low season and spent a couple of extra days just relaxing. That’s one of the joys of travelling with no itinerary, we have to be in Russia between some set dates (visa restrictions) but that’s it, our time is our own…
Sadly though, we had to leave Krakow and head up to the Baltic Countries, first stop Vilnius. This entailed making our way back to Warsaw by train (3.5 hrs) then jumping on an overnight bus (Simple Express
) to Vilnius. This will be our first overnight bus with the boys, so it’ll be interesting to see how they cope.
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