Beautiful Gdańsk

Leaving Warsaw, I took the train to Gdansk, and arrived in the early evening. I contacted my Airbnb host, and was easily guided to my place, which was in a great location near the station. I have accumulated more clothing and hand baggage now, so it was nice to not to have to lug it so far away.

The host greeted me at the door, and he showed me how/where everything was/worked. It had a simple kitchenette, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. It had nice big windows that looked out to the church nearby which was nice, but mosquitos filled the air and I quickly realized I needed to shut it to protect the place.

I looked up a place on tripadvisor for dinner, and headed there for a nice meal next to the harbor.

I ended up having a lobster ravioli and a bruchetta which was great. I enjoyed my meal while listening to a drunken Swedish man behind me along with his wife. She complained about the sauce of his dinner, and explained that people don’t want something so fancy–that a nice bouillabaisse is all that’s necessary with a steak.

I chuckled as I left and headed back home to rest from the travel day.

The next morning, I went on the walking tour at 10:30. Kasia was our tour guide, a native Gdansker, and really sweet. We started our tour after she asked everyone where they were from. It’s always interesting to hear everyone’s places, as it’s so international. We had a Brazilian, Germans, Japanese, Belgians, Canadians, and more. The tour was informative, and great to learn about the city.

I started a conversation with the Japanese girl and surprised her with my speaking. Unfortunately, she had to leave the tour early, and we didn’t ever get to see each other as she was going to the Marbork Castle with other people from her hostel that afternoon. We tried to make a plan for the next day.

At the end of the tour, the Brazilian guy and I started chatting and we ended up going to do some photos of the main crane in the town. We then decided to have lunch together and chatted about what we were both doing. Aylton, Brazilian, had actually been living in Krakow for the last 4 years. His friend invited him years ago, and finally, he quit his job and left to Krakow–apparently to never return!

We decided to head up to Sopot as he wanted to see the beach, and I was completely open. I was happy to have someone to explore with, and especially since I didn’t have a plan, it was good to know someone was wanting to do specific things and I could tag along.

Once at Sopot, we wandered around, and were surprised that no one was in the water. Apparently there was bacteria or just too much vegetation, and they had the red flag out to signal no swimming. There was a huge pier, but to go on the pier, you had to go, buy a ticket, and come back and walk through a turnstyle. Just as with toilets that you have to pay to use, out of principle, we opted not to pay the $.50 or whatever it was to go on this pier.

Instead, we walked down and found a place on the beach to enjoy some partly cloudy skies. We headed into the hotel where hitter stayed which was rumored to have swastickas on the floor, later to be covered by carpet.

While we continued t0 chat, the German couple from our tour walked up unknowingly right beside us. As we all realized, we chatted, and invited them to join us. Now we were four. Annete and Kevin were on a small vacation to Gdansk from Ziegen. We all enjoyed our chat, and decided to have our dinner together in Sopot.

Enter Mr. Texas, from Poland. While we walked searching for a restaurant, we were approached by an opera sounding loud speaking voice of this little man named Patrick Texas. We spoke with him about the restaurant, and ended up deciding to go there–for better or for worse. Patrick took a liking to me, not only when he found out that I was American, but also from Tennessee–home of his favorite singer, Tina Turner. Apparently, he will be going there September 23rd, to Nutbush, TN–which he was amazed I didn’t know after asking me how far it was from the airport, as his eye sight is bad (-6.0) and can’t drive. I’m writing this to remind myself how ridiculously funny it was for his stories of being on XFactor, and the amount of information he kept yelling at us over and over.

We had fun with our crazy dinner, got some dessert and headed back to Gdansk for the evening. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we went out for another drink near the station and enjoyed even more convo. We decided to go to the Castle the next day.

We met up the next morning to head to Malbork Castle, and when we got to the station, up walked another couple from the walking tour–Leticia from Tenerife, and Phil from Ireland. We added them to our group, and despite their taking another train to Malbork, we met up again at the entrance to get our tickets.

While we thought about waiting in line, a big sign says, skip the line–buy online. So I went through and bought our tickets through the webpage. We then went to lunch at a kebap place run by an Algerian–who loved our international group.

After lunch, we hurried back for our 2pm tour. When I pulled up the email for the ticket, it showed the following day–before I about had a fit, we saw the others go in with their online ticket for tomorrow as well, so we said ‘we’re with them’! and we were let in without a hitch. Thankfully, we were all together and in with our tickets that were for tomorrow. What a silly campaign–don’t stand in line, buy online? How about, don’t stand in line the day you want to come, and be sure to buy online more than 24 hours in advance. Guess that didn’t fit on the sign.

We loved the castle. It was really interesting with its history, details, and overall design. As for typical with castles, the moats, and places they could pour hot oil, toilets, bedrooms, heating systems in the floors, all of these technological pieces were fascinating to see.

We weaved in and out of the main parts of the castle learning about the people who used it and lived there. At the end of the tour, we exited and walked past a medieval type fair in the grounds behind the castle. While we were getting our fresh sorbet from frozen fruits, a girl passed by with an owl on her arm that I wanted to hold. After the sorbet, I told everyone, I’m going to go hold that owl! I always think they look like such mysterious creatures, and have always wanted to hold one!

Luckily, no one else was hanging around, so I went up and asked could I hold the owl. Before I knew it, Rila was perched up on my gloved hand and I was learning about how she couldn’t even see me :( I was too close for her far sightedness. She was beautiful, and made me so happy to watch and hold her. Kevin thankfully took tons of photos so I could have some great shots of the experience.

We then went out and took some more pics of the outside of the castle before we decided to catch the train back to Gdansk. That evening, we all had a great dinner together, and we picked up our last member of our group, Henry, a guy from Hong Kong whom we’d seen at the earlier part of the day carrying around a violin, then again at the castle, then again at the train station. He was destined to be part of our group.

We spent the entire evening chatting, eating, and finally playing violin! Henry was 21 and was traveling around Poland to Lithuania and was planning on playing violin as a street performer to fund his travel around. After some peer pressure, he was soon playing some traditional chinese songs on the violin in the restaurant. It turned out that Annette was also a talented violinist, and played some songs as well. Then it came out that I was a wannabe violinist, and got up in front of everyone and played Ode to Joy–one of my beginner songs :) I was proud to have had my first violin performance!

We planned for our next day to go to the Solidarnasc (European Solidarity) Museum to learn about the rise against Communism, and the famous port strike of Gdansk.

This museum was really beautifully designed, and we all learned a lot about the fight about Communism from there. They showed details about the main port strike that sent ripples through the nation for their movement. That evening, we decided to do a boat tour out to Westerplatt, but we didn’t get out of the boat. The tour was nice, despite it only being spoken in Polish and German.

The next day, we went to meet up with Aylton to say goodbye, and had lunch with him. The Germans and I took a boat to Hel, which was 2 hours away. It was a long ride, but we finally made it and rented some bikes to go around the peninsula. We ended up going to the far tip of the peninsula, looked for some amber, then made our way around the forest back to the town. It was kind of a trashy town–a town that had the same fast food type stalls, kids games, like a fair. We had some fish for dinner before we caught the ship home. It was a long day!

The last day, we decided to meet up for the Solidarity Tour–once again with Kasia. This was a great continuation and overview/review of the museum we had just seen. It was a nice tour again, and afterward, we went to a dinner which turned into a disaster. I’d found this Italian place on TripAdvisor that had basically close to perfect on scoring, so I’d recommended it to Kevin and Annette, despite it being a little pricier, I thought it would be a nice dinner for our last evening out.

We got a table out on the patio which was great, as all the other seats were reserved. On my placemat in front of me was a dirty fork. Not the greatest start. Then once the meals were presented, as Kevin started to dig in, there was a huge long hair –so we think/thought–and he pointed it out. I about had a fit because I was the one who suggested this place, and it embarrassed me to no end thinking that I’d brought them to a restaurant that had this type of problem.

When we alerted the server, I pointed out the hair, and he said, oh no, that’s part of the vegetable on your plate. And we said, are you sure? He started to get agitated, contentious and louder, and then tried to guilt us into asking if we really wanted another plate. We sent him off, and I took another look at it, broke it, and it had all the attributes of hair. So this time, I was ready to bring back our original server, and have the food changed out. When he got back, he said he asked the chef, and they said that they couldn’t confirm nor deny that it was a hair, and I pressed him to say, do you believe that is hair or not, and he shrugged it off. So I said, yes, please replace the plate.

So as Annette and I ate our dinner, Kevin patiently waited for them to refire his steak to medium. Once they brought it out, he cut into it and it was quite well done. Yet another strike. As the server apologized and said there was nothing else he could do, I reminded him that he will be able to remove it from the check, and that I would like to see the manager at the end of the meal. I also let him know that it wasn’t his fault as he wasn’t the chef, but also, that we were not happy with the other server trying to tell us it wasn’t a hair gracefully, replacing the plate, and being gruff about it.

Finally, that gruff server revisited our table and he said, I was told you were unhappy with my service and something to the effect of wanting to know why. And I said, do you really want to go through this again? And he got louder, and said yes. So I got loud, and said first, there was not one, but THREE strands of hair in his food, and when we showed you, you tried to convince us that it was part of the vegetables. Then when we questioned it more, you got loud and contentious about that fact.

So he apologized, and went on. It was definitely not the type of dinner I would have enjoyed having for our last night, but nonetheless, it was a dinner that we wouldn’t forget :)

After dinner, we all went aboard the ferris wheel that showed us a great view of Gdańsk from above. That was the great ending to my fantastic week in Gdańsk, Poland!



Poland seems to have a nice rail system complete with high speed trains. Coming to Warsaw was simple from Kraków. Once I arrived, I got on a tram a couple of stops and then walked to the Airbnb. I didn’t even think about using uber uber was silly!

I arrived to the most beautiful Airbnb I’d had ever. It was so great. Beautifully designed, spotless, modern, and exactly the piedetaire that I imagine for myself sometime.

I got settled and had Indian for lunch and then explored the old town a little. Vlad joined this evening and once he arrived, we headed out to find dinner.

We explored the old town a little as well that night, caught up, and then headed home.

We spent the next couple of days exploring Warsaw and going to the Moscow looking building downtown. We got a birds eye view of Warsaw. We then went to the museum of Copernicus, but it was closed so we continued walking around the city.

We went again to the Copernicus museum the next day and the line was much longer than we were willing to wait so we went to the planetarium to check out a movie. We watched a history of flight which was decent.

We checked out an organ performance in the main church in the old town and enjoyed beautiful organ music. The church was beautiful, and the music filled the space with majestic sounds. There’s something relaxing and therapeutic about the harmonies that an organ makes.

The next day Vlad headed back to st. Petersburg and I went to the rising museum to learn about the polish uprising against communism. It was a really well done museum.
After a couple of hours there, I went out and found a trailer in front doing gourmet burgers. Why not? As I finished, I gave my American-approved hamburger nod and started a long walk back to the apartment. My train was in the evening so I planned my walk back to arrive around 4 and get my bags back from security.

I ordered an uber and he was literally in the parking line in front of the apartment, so I got my bags loaded and headed for the station. About 20 minutes later and 10zł later ($2.50), I was at the station.

The train was on time and I found my seat which was in a compartment shared by just one other guy. It was super comfortable and efficient and just a couple hours later I arrived in Gdańsk.

A Day in Auschwitz

Auschwitz. Just the sound of it, sounds like pain. But being this close to the camp, I couldn’t not go. Despite the Pope’s visit to Poland which disrupted a lot of my original plans, I rebooked and rebooked tickets to ensure that I could go see this infamous death camp and learn even more about our recent past.

I got up at 6am to get my car and headed for the journey westward to Oświęcim. Thankful for Google Maps, I turned on navigation and got decent directions out of the city. However, she would be late in telling me to turn, and I missed about 3 of the turns out which elongated my time getting onto the highway. Nonetheless, I got onto the highway and sailed smoothly (and quickly—not much traffic, and high speeds of the interstate + drivers who respect the left lane made for ease of driving), and arrived into the town of Oświęcim (known by the German name Auschwitz.

It was odd to see how residential this area was, with such a horrible past. Signs for the museum of Auschwitz were everywhere, and since I hadn’t had breakfast, I found McD’s amazingly just a few km away from the gate. This is one of those times that McD’s is so convenient—it’s everywhere, and I can get a simple egg sandwich and be completely sustained until the next meal.
I quickly parked the car and brought my egg mcmuffin into the line that already started. I confirmed with others in line that this was where you go without tickets. It had worked! I got there early, in line with about 20-30 others, and felt good about getting tickets. I couldn’t believe it. This was the last day until after I left that Auschwitz would be open, so the fact that the car rental, driving an hour, getting there ahead of all crowds, and getting into the right line went so smoothly, it was great luck.

I met a guy in line who was a Polish tour guide, and we spoke for the whole time until the window opened to sell tickets. He was really nice and interesting, and it made the time go by quickly. I got to the window, and just 3 tickets were left for the English tour at 9:30 (one of the first groups), and I was able to get into that one since the group ahead of me were 4. Score!

Once together in our group, I met a girl who was here for the Catholic programs (World Youth Day) and was coming on the tour to learn how the process worked so she could be a guide to bring others. We buddied up and were able to have small discussions throughout the tour.

Granted I’ve been to Dachau before, and I’ll say it again. The eeriness of walking through the gates of Arbeit Macht Frei is something that is so chilling and surreal, that seeing it here again was just as horrifying. Our tour guide was ok to understand, but spoke really fast. We also were lined up going through the barracks seeing all the artifacts from the thousands of Jews that made their way to this camp only to be exterminated. The sheer numbers of people are unfathomable. Seeing the shoes, the personal affects, luggage, piles of women’s hair that was cut off and even kept braided, and even more chilling, the profile pictures of all souls lost in this camp that lined the halls of the barrack. It’s absolutely incredible to think Hitler was able to render support of this idea, and so many people followed along with it. It is frightening to think what weapons can do.

Barrack after barrack we explored with our guide explaining the harsh and cruel living conditions that they were forced in. Bunks would literally have 15 people per row, and the higher you go up, the less people. The weakest ended up on the floor. The toilets lined up for their twice a day break, where hundreds would be forced to relieve themselves only during these times or risk being shot and punished. The rail platform that is so recognizable where loads of Jews would be carted in and let off, only to be sorted by women and men, and then to life of labor and cruelty, or quick and wretched deceitful death.

After our visit to Auschwitz I, we took a break and then a bus to Auschwitz II, Berkenau. This place was huge, with barrack after barrack. Here we see again horrible conditions, gas chambers, and incinerators. The blown up gas chambers built to exterminate up to 2000 people a day completely blown up and destroyed to hide the traces of this inhumane destruction. The barbed wire fences of the cage these people saw day in and day out. Walking upon the same dirt, passing through halls so many lost their lives, and seeing the torture wall where people were beaten, punished, shot, hanged. It’s all so overwhelmingly disturbing. And to know how so many fled to South America, never to pay the price of murder. It’s absolutely inconceivable. And timely is that I’m seeing this now during our election period, where a man incites such racial and stereotypical hatred towards the unfamiliar, the outside, the ‘unAmerican’. It’s rightfully scary to see what happens to the US come November.

It was a full day that went by fast. By 2:30 I was heading home without having eaten, with a headache, with relief, and with a full mind of what I’d seen, felt, and thought during my visit. It’s definitely one of those things that opens your eyes to how amazingly wonderful and free my life has been, and for that, I am so thankful to have had the incredible luck, to be born where I was—by no will of my own.=

Arrival in Kraków

Arriving to Krakow was quite stressful, as I had to get to the rental car place as well as get checked into my airbnb  at the same time and it was pushing towards midnight. Luckily with my planning, I had the car rental set up next to the station, and the airbnb on the other side of the station. Amazingly, despite my 20 minute tardiness in my flight arriving, I hauled it down to the central station. I made my way to the car rental place, and amazingly the guy was there to meet me. However, it was literally like feeling my way through a maze with no hints. I walked up to the address, found the label to their office, rang the bell, and the door was buzzed opened. I walked into a dark foyer, with no lights or anything. And I fumbled my way around to a stairwell, tried to start going up the stairs yelling hello! Hello!, to no response. Finally someone said hello, and I’m thinking, what in the world did they think I was doing in the pitch black foyer all this time. So I continued going up the stairs with all my baggage with me. Made it to the top, and checked in with the kid who had been sent to give me my car.

After checking out the car, I rushed through everything and pointed out some scratches, but highlighted the fact that it’s dark out, and how can I really give a good review of the car. Luckily, we marked some things off, and I felt like it would be fine. So I got in my little stick shift car, and drove 3 minutes to the other side of the station to where my Airbnb was. Amazingly I found a parking space, parked, and got ready to go in to the apt.

Yet again, amazingly, the people were there waiting for me and buzzed me in. Again, I had to lug all my bags up to the 4th floor (like in Berlin), and I was welcomed by a mother and daughter who showed me around her childhood flat. It was typically polish (soviet like), but about 50x bigger than I thought it was going to be. It was really great. It had huge high ceilings, a huge kitchen, and a big bedroom/living area, plus bathroom. I asked some questions, and then got the keys, and they left me behind to take a shower, get ready for bed, and prepare myself for a tiring day the next day for Auschwitz.

See my Auschwitz Day here.

The next morning, despite my running nose, I went to meet Louise, a fellow globetrotter that I had been put in touch with by someone I’d met in Thailand. We met to go to the underground museum which showed the archeological dig of the market square below the square of today. It was cool to see all the excavation and see literally layers of civilization that you could see from split views of the cobbled roads on top of sediment and cultural layers.

The next day, I did not feel well today, but felt like I needed to get out for a bit. I slept a little better that night, but still felt drained from sinus trouble. I decided to go to Wawel Castle and do a tour. After making my way down to the castle, I waited in line for almost 45 minutes. Finally at the ticket window, you can see how many tickets are still available. For the Palace Apartments, 1 ticket left, and for the state rooms, several hundred. I’d read that these were the two that were suggested, so I was hopeful in snagging that one.

When I asked for the ticket, the old woman in a very thick accent said only polish. And I said, there’s only Polish tours left? And she yelled back saying ONLY POLISH LEFT. I then said, I just waited in line for 45 minutes and there could be someone to tell us that there are no English tours left for the day. I’d like to buy a ticket for tomorrow then. She yelled again at me saying that I couldn’t buy tickets for tomorrow, so I yelled back and said OK THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!! So loudly, that everyone in the room looked and smiled, because everyone was pissed at how the running of these tickets was going. It was terribly disorganized, and every single thing is separate. So you could literally buy 13 tickets to see 13 different things in the castle. It was silly. After I yelled back, she got on the phone, and I was thinking she might be calling security, but she magically got me on the next English tour in just 20 minutes. So it seems it pays for standing up for yourself, and not enduring abuse J

Off I went to the State Room Tour. I wish I had better news about the tour, that it was so worth while, but it was probably the least interesting thing I’ve paid to go see. You went through rooms in this castle that have been redecorated with items from Italy and England during the 16th/17th centuries, that didn’t even exist in the castle because it had burned down. So only some fire places and flooring on the first floor were original—definitely not worth a tour, and found it actually quite boring and not engaging at all. I continued to the Royal Apartments, and it was the same. So after a couple of hours of touring the castle, I left feeling disappointed of what was inside this great castle, to learn that it was simply museum-esque, with things that didn’t even exist in the castle from its original state.

I then went home to rest and take the day to get better.

My last day in Krakow was spent making sure I rested and got better from my sinus trouble. I went into the old city for breakfast and found a milkbar, which is a typical Polish restaurant for apparently all statuses of people (as described by our tour guide earlier in the week). It was a cute little restaurant that had a lot of options for breakfast. I ordered some eggs and then a pancake. While I sat and waited, a couple that sat next to me were talking to the waitress, and I heard the word Texas. Then I looked at the guy’s t shirt, and he had a Mellow Johnnies t shirt on—an Austin original shop from our ‘beloved’ Lance Armstrong.

I asked if they were from Austin, and originally, yes, but now living in Luxembourg. We spoke for a while about their time in Austin, Luxembourg, why they’re in Poland (a wedding, and his girlfriend is Polish), and the upcoming election and views from outside the US on what’s going on.

They left, and I continued eating my breakfast which was very satisfying. However, at the end of the eggs and toast, I wasn’t too interested in starting a pancake, which they apparently saved for after me finishing. It finally got prepared and instead of a pancake, it was a crepe. I had it with strawberry jam, but would have preferred Nutella had I known it wasn’t a true pancake.

I spent the rest of the day just doing some last minute sightseeing in the city, then went to the mall again for any last minute things, then headed back to the apartment to rest. For dinner, I went to a different restaurant instead of my original plan of my pork rib night which had been so amazing, thinking it would be good to change it up. While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t amazing as my first dinner here. Plus, it wasn’t even what I ordered. I ordered a shrimp salad with avocado and greens, and got a shrimp pasta dish with tomato sauce and no vegetables.

I spent the evening packing and cleaning up the apartment to get ready for my trip to Warsaw the next morning.