Krakow, the medieval capital

A youth backpacker in Europe
Chapter IV Part I

Krakow, the medieval capital

Still suffering the insane coldness after Warsaw, Jiann Chyuan learnt that Krakow, despite sharing no common features as in Warsaw, has no exception in adding coldness as an ingredient in a winter travel. It was yet another battle between checking out the beauty of the city and the ugliness of the weather.

City: Kraków
Country: Poland
Currency: Polish złoty (1€ = 3.4zł)
Travel dates: 2 Jan 2008 – 4 Jan 2008
Accommodation: Hocus Pocus Hostel
Travel buddies: Egon, Rahma, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Kim

Caption: St. Mary's Basillica with a I-don't-know-who statue in front.

It was only a short journey from Warsaw to Krakow. However, it was the first journey ever in my life which InterRail ticket was put into use. The lesson learnt in Warsaw that transportation in Poland is beyond just affordable didn’t save me from shocking myself after learning about the cheapness of the intercity train. Spending 259€ for the InterRail ticket, the hope to at least getting the money back, if not generating more value out of it surged incredibly.

Tip: InterRail ticket is worthy if you are travelling in countries such as Germany, France and Netherlands, as these countries charge expensively for train service. Although the quality of train service is unbeatable, it is not ideal for budget traveller.

Caption: Old town street where I stayed (left) and gallery selling place at old town.

Krakow, despite the fact that it was the strongest contestant in competing with Warsaw to become the capital of Poland, shares no common features with Warsaw. Warsaw, in my opinion, is definitely chaotically arranged with tonnes of grey and dark images in display. However, it was a challenge to get a taste of this in Krakow.

I was thankful that Warsaw was included in the winter trip since trailing the footprints of war in Krakow is destined to be a failure. However, this doesn’t mean that Krakow is boring. Instead of stuffing itself with cruelty portraits of war, Krakow was surprisingly a calm and quiet medieval city which strives to impress visitors with its richness in culture and extreme aesthetical value of its architecture.

Based on the size of the city, it is not to my surprise that Krakow wasn’t chosen to be the capital of Poland. However, this brings up to the question on whether the expansion of Warsaw was carried out only after its formal election as the country’s capital. Or perhaps during my stay in Krakow, my activity was mainly limited in the old town, the most prominent example of old town in Poland, where I was completely clueless about its boundary.

Caption: All smile in front of St. Mary's Basillica (left) and horse cater in Rynek Glówny.

Although the expectation to experience the disgust of war in greater extend was brought to a disappointment, it was actually a very pleasant stay in Krakow. It was indeed a different flavour, especially when you are seeing horse carters circling Rynek Główny, the largest medieval town square in Europe, the satisfaction of turning time back to the medieval period is almost a guarantee.

Being the largest town square in Europe, there are certainly a few famous structures which enjoy highly celebrated acclaim from their historical appeal in Rynek Główny. For examples, St. Mary’s Basillica Church which stands tall in freezing cold winter, and the Sukiennice which was once the major international trading centre in Poland, but has unfortunately lost its former glory and being transformed to a sheer tourist souvenir hot spot. The Town Hall Tower is located right next, or centre to Sukiennice.

In contrast with the humongous St. Mary’s Basillica, the presence of the itsy-bitsy Church of St. Wojciech, one of the oldest stone churches in Poland, in just less than hundred metres distance clearly outlines the different architecture values from different periods of Polish history.

By looking at the pictures in this entry, it is definitely logical to conclude that the presence of sunlight in winter would enhance the beauty of Krakow greatly. However, despites all the smiles put up in the photos, the temperature was actually unbearably cold. However, it is only fair to say that the sunlight did warm up the soul, if not the body a little.

Tip: Winter trip is only for those who possess high endurance of coldness. Walking in cold numb feet is definitely not the most enjoyable way to torture your own self.

Caption: Sukiennice (left) and souvenir stores inside it.

Talking about the weather, it reminds me of my experience of the night before seeing sunlight in Krakow. It was the first night in Krakow. Again, because of limited travelling time, the exploration of the city continued even when temperature dropped to -15C at night. However, the flesh on my body was disappointingly having extremely low endurance that I ended up buying myself a 7€ musical concert in one of the churches along Grodzka (the castle street) to avoid the coldness.

However, it was pathetic. Sitting on the wooden bench listening to a five people mini orchestra playing Mozart and Chopin was definitely not enjoyable as the building material of the church accentuated the coldness of the night. The concentration paid to the performance was absolutely nil. Fortunately in this unfortunate situation that I had got the opportunity to witness the fine architecture of the interior design of a church, as it was the church I went in Krakow. Perhaps lesson was learnt.

Caption: Inside the church where I was trying to enjoy music performance while suffering coldness.

If focus is to be given to historical monuments in Krakow, it would probably consumes as much energy and time to read as to write. Nevertheless, there are some important destinations which you shouldn’t miss. One instance is the Wawel Castle which served as the royal residence for five centuries just beside the river of Wisla with its absolutely stunning view to the modern part of the Krakow city. Besides, as the nation’s famous recipe, a visit to Kazimierz, the Jewish district is also highly recommended. However, the number of synagogue in the district might bore you after a while.

Caption: Wawel Castle (left) and the view from Wawel to new town of Krakow.

If I have to make a conclusion, or perhaps a general impression about Krakow, I would say it is a blend of modern living with ancient surrounding. The preservation of the every corner of the city, despite the fact that Poland was the most severely attacked country during WWII, surely is a surprise to every visitor. However, expectation to experience something extraordinary in Krakow would undoubtedly turn into sheer disappointment, because Krakow is just another beautiful city with a lot to see.

But, visitors to Krakow surely know what to expect. Join me soon for the second part as it reveals the biggest highlight in the winter trip, Auswitz, the living hell on earth.

Warsaw, there is something cheap

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter III Part II

Warsaw, there is something cheap

Travel to Eastern Europe might require one to restlessly protecting their personal belongings, but the lower standard of living is guiltily enjoyable. Jiann Chyuan shares a refreshing discovery of enjoyment in Warsaw.

City: Warsaw
Country: Poland
Currency: Polish złoty (1€ = 3.4zł)
Travel dates: 30 Dec 2007 – 2 Dec 2007
Accommodation: Nathan’s Villa Hostel
Travel buddies: Egon, Clare, Rahma, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Paulina, Pia, Kim

Caption: First escalator in Warsaw? Hmm...

Last week post was very exciting for me as I think it was the best travel entry so far. Of course, credits should be given to Warsaw itself, as the capital is definitely having an immense story galore awaiting eager exploration.

As mentioned in Part I, security is of priority when traveling within Eastern Europe. The fact that I was no longer belonging to Scandinavia; arguably the safest region in the world really put me into slight despair. Despite the argument that I have had an extremely positive impression towards Warsaw, my sense of security didn’t loosen up. However, there was one thing which had got loosen up; my wallet.

If the retrieval of sense of security has to be compensated, lower living standard in Warsaw had magically done an immaculate job. Inherited the newly formed and enforced policy from Stockholm; one-proper-meal-per-city, I have had enjoyed not one, but three luxurious meals within three days of travel, although it could actually go up to four. The secret: thanks to the cheap prices.

Caption: Buffet in Babalu Restaurant (left) and Paulina at the right.

However, the drastic adjustment of price didn’t strike into the mind instantly. I remember I was still struggling to lower the soaring high expenses in Scandinavia by having a 5zł baguette from an itty-bitty corner food store, in one of the most complex underground city during the first day.

The underground city is another fascination in Warsaw. If travelling above ground where constant battle with wide and busy streets gives you enough headaches, you should really try to navigate the non navigable underground city of Warsaw. I guarantee that this is an ultimate test of patience, especially when you are in a rush.

Perhaps it was constructed during WWII, the underground system is buried entirely under the city centre of Warsaw. It is really challenging to imagine whether the Palace of Culture and Science is just right above you when you are fighting to find an exit in the underground. The underground today has transformed into the busiest trading centre in Warsaw, with literally thousands of stores selling lower quality goods. Price, needless to say, is cheap.

Caption: U Szwejka Restaurant (left) which I will definitely go back and tender pork knuckle.

Deviated from the main topic, let’s back to food. It was very lucky to have travelled together with Paulina, a Polish girl who I met in Trondheim. Although she is not originated from Warsaw, by speaking Polish language, she was certainly a living walking guide for my travel in Warsaw. And thanks to her, cash had been repetitively chunked out from my wallet.

The first night, it was a buffet dinner with chef cooking your choice of food at Babalu, live in front of you. Fancy, isn’t it? The second night, unfortunately, was something I missed, the famous Welder chocolate night, where others had got to drink almost purely melted chocolate drink, at insanely cheap prices. The third day afternoon, lunched at U Szwejka, it was my best meal in the entire winter trip. Let me reinforce the statement by repeating that it was the best meal, in the whole month. The tender pork knuckle which I ordered, heavenly scrumptious! And the third night, it was the dumpling like pierogi at old town.

Caption: Inside pierogi restaurant (left) and pierogis. My modesty restrained me from taking photo of the sexy waitress.

Pierogi might sound a little bizarre to you, but believe me, it is merely a food similar to shui-kao, only with different filling. In fact, the dazzling choice of fillings was so confusing to me, which then I resorted to order four different sweet and another four different savoury fillings to save the trouble.

After tasting it, I must say it was not exactly new to me. However, I found myself enjoyed the anticipation of different taste of the fillings, from prune to pork. Surprisingly, pierogi wasn’t something cheap in Warsaw. Perhaps the price includes the eye washing service offered by the waitress in the shop with her super sexy and sexually seductive uniform. But, just one question: How is it possible to super mini skirt, and boobs exposing blouse in such a cold weather?

The intensity (and insanity) of coldness really doesn’t depend solely on latitude. The fact that it was insanely cold during my stay in Warsaw really made me realised how much I appreciated the ‘warmness’ in Scandinavia. Arming myself with three layers of clothes, with a black warm jacket in addition, two layers of pants, two layers of socks, it was still insufficient for me to withstand the weather and had to stop walking every two hours. This might explain why visit to restaurants was such a popular activity.

Curiously checking the temperature online, I was surprised that it was only -11C, which was normal in Trondheim. But the additional statement saying ‘feels like -19C’ explained everything. Poland, is officially the coldest country I’ve been to. It was also the first country which I screamed out in agreement with others that winter trip wasn’t enjoyable!

Caption: Chinese from different countries (left) and new year celebration at house of Paulina's friend.

However, stubbornness had concurred sanity. The fact that I was only spending three days in Warsaw really pushed me to keep walking, under the severe attack of freezing wind and merciless snow. Indeed, the fact that Polish government is a lot more generous than Scandinavian government in enhancing the attractiveness of cities with enchanting lighting was also a factor. But certainly not because of the bizarre palm tree in the middle of Al. Jerozolimskie (main street in Warsaw).

Checking on my Warsaw pocket guide, it is undeniable that I have missed out a lot, especially when it was so cheap to travel in the city. Not forgetting to mention is also by paying the price of a single bus journey in Trondheim, I had travelled in Warsaw, by all modes of transport within three days.

However, with only three days on hand, the vivid and distinct impression resulted from the visit was really satisfying. Warsaw, a capital which I have to mention once again, is highly recommended. Anticipation was really surging high. I was waiting excitedly for Krákow, the former capital of Poland.

P.S.: If I really have to make a preference, Krákow would be the biggest highlight in the winter trip. So check back!

Warsaw, the post-war capital

A Youth Backpacker in Europe

Chapter III Part I

Poland, the post-war capital

City: Warsaw
Country: Poland
Currency: Polish złoty (1€ = 3.4zł)
Travel dates: 30 Dec 2007 – 2 Dec 2007
Accommodation: Nathan’s Villa Hostel
Travel buddies: Egon, Clare, Rahma, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Paulina, Pia, Kim

Caption: Palace of Culture and Science of Warsaw

I was finally leaving Scandinavia. Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying Scandinavia isn’t a good place to visit. In fact, I think it is a very unique piece of land where you can literally put off even the slightest flame of security. People in this region are annoyingly wealthy that it would be completely intolerable if story about burglary is heard.

By having said that, my sense of security had surged to its highest level when I boarded the airplane bringing me to Warsaw, Poland. It is indeed quite discriminative to have possessed this unfair perception towards polish people. However, the idea of travelling to Eastern Europe was really leaving me with an uneasy feeling, at least initially.

However, judging by my first glimpse to people of Poland during my first casual walk on the street of Warsaw, I was deeply surprised by how well-dressed Polish people were compared to Scandinavians. Let’s first put aside the question whether the street parade of fashion were originated from expensively branded stores, or whether they were exclusively made of greatly elevated quality, the fact that these people were stylishly groomed really put me into embarrassment with my previous seemingly bias label.

However, being extremely cynical, I didn’t loosen my security level and was guarded my personal belongings with the tightest security level possible throughout the entire trip. In fact, my utmost important tip to my fellow travel mates is to assume everyone to be hungry snatchers and that the need to guard your possessions with life is achingly crucial.

Caption: Old Town of Warsaw (left) and high street of Warsaw.

Geographically and “strategically” situated between the German domination and the Russian ascendancy, Poland, and of course its capital Warsaw, was historically under the mastery of these two power blocks during World War II. The city was completely vanished and was deemed to be the most severely damaged city in Europe during the war.

Warsaw today is of course freed from the devastating war. However, the visit to the capital left a very vivid impression in my mind that the scars of the war are still clearly crafted on the face of Warsaw. Despite the clearly distinguishable recent booming construction industry with enormous amount of modern high rise buildings, it is definitely not challenging for one to trail the footprints of war, say for example, by following the absolutely contradictory destroyed monuments scattering around the corners of the city next to some five stars hostels.

If that is insufficient, the more sarcastic scene in Warsaw is the Palace of Culture and Science. It is stunningly attractive especially when it is brightly illuminated with decorative lights all over the four facets of the building at night, and was indeed a landmark impossible to be missed even if one is suffering cataract, since it is located in the heart of Warsaw.

Caption: Contrasts between old and new.

The controversial of the building, which explains the reason why Polish people have never appreciated its aesthetical value, is owed to the fact that the Palace of Culture and Science is a “gift” from the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that it is the tallest building in Poland, the inception of the monument is clearly not welcome by Polish people since its presence is only an obscene reminder of the catastrophic war.

By adopting the simplest grid and somewhat unorganised development plan, the modern town of Warsaw is obviously less attractive compared to Stockholm and Oslo. However, it is exactly this need to develop the capital at the fastest pace possible after World War II that is ironically contributing to the charm of Warsaw. One would still be able to fully immerse himself in the touch of war by walking through the less famous streets in this modern concrete jungle.

However, if the search for ancient flavour is the desire, then a visit to the Old Town would be necessary. Old Town of Warsaw is ideally connected to the New Town with a massively crowded boulevard which pretty much highlights the higher end living in Warsaw. But to be honest, I didn’t find myself to be extremely attracted by the somewhat artificially developed Old Town which is still under reconstruction. However, it is certainly another face of Warsaw no one should miss.

Caption: Inside Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Yes, until this stage, you would have probably realised searching for the taste of war was my main goal in Warsaw. Therefore, I would really like to recommend the Uprising Museum. It is by far in my life, the only museum which I didn’t find it a form of torture. The museum is highly interactive and that it turns back time to World War II. Every little corner in the museum is fully utilised to illustrate the hardship and pain Polish had undergone during the war.

I specifically like the children corner where you will get the first hand experience to the life of small kids during war period. Staring at the mannequin of a small kid of maybe 10-year-old who is holding a machine gun and with soldier helmet on, with a polish song singing by a bunch of polish children lingering in the background, it is definitely the perfect moment to deliver the message to why war should be at all mean be eliminated from the world.

Caption: Inside Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Maybe it is wise for me to stop colouring Warsaw with the greyish colour pencil which I deliberately named it war. Similarly to other capital, Warsaw is not left behind with its effort in nature reserve. Lazenki Park, located not too far from the centre, is a humungous park. It is definitely the perfect picnic area during summer time. But I wouldn’t say my visit during winter was a bad one as the slushy snow had incredibly added a unique loneliness mask to the park.

Warsaw, from being perceptively taken as unsafe to amazingly fascinating, it is definitely a venue which I highly recommend. All the side dishes regarding restaurants, funny stories and special events happened in Warsaw had been intentionally wiped out from the scene. Well, as a genius reader, you definitely know it means it is coming in as part II. Stay tune to find out more.

Caption: Some scenes in the Lazenki Park. It does look cold and lonely during winter time.

P.S.: After a constant search for a few months, I still fail to get the song sung in the video by a bunch of small kids in the Uprising Museum. Anyone up for the favour?

Caption: Some other scenes in the Lazenki Park.

When Sweet Life Stops

Note: I decided to leave my travel column for a week. Proceed if you are interested. However, the further I reached in writing this post, the messier it got. Eventually, most parts got deleted.

Last week, someone exerted me with a massive imposition with a fully loaded shopping bag of chocolate, and saying in a birthday card: Contact me when sweet life stops.

Another one then told me: Dead by chocolate.

The third one, consoling me when I was sad later the week by saying: Have a piece of chocolate and it will be all fine.

Indeed, chocolate and banana form most parts of my character. However, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will chocolate cause intolerance when you are having excessive amount of it, even when there is no such thing called excessive chocolate intake in your dictionary?

Suddenly, I feel like sweet chocolate stops “chocolating” my life. Should I start contacting the first person? What if the message was only meant to be a constant supply of chocolate and not a guarantee of sweet life?

I am confused and start feeling intolerant.