qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

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2-4-6-8, Time To Transubstantiate

After some debate, we holidayed early this year and spent the last 10 days in Krakow and Wrocław in Poland. For years, air travel seems to have been a nightmare, but this time around, it was all fairly straightforward, if a little time-consuming with a 4-hour wait for the connection in Warsaw on the way back.

It's fairly obvious that Poland has (at least) a two-speed economy, with close to Western European prices for accommodation and major tourist venues, but ticket machines for the trams that won't take anything higher than a 20-zloty note (about £4), or no notes at all in Wrocław. When the trams turned up, they were fine, but the services weren't as frequent as you find in Western Europe, and there were so many alterations to services, it was rather like playing Mornington Crescent. It seemed that the Polish solution to "improving" infrastructure follows the British model, where motoring is encouraged and public transport left to wither.

So, we saw the sights - the Wawel castle complex, the Jewish quarter, galleries, gardens and museums. One of the art collections was housed in the Archdiocesan Museum - we had to make our way through a cloyingly earnest exhibition on John Paul II, which came perilously close to the Toilet Brush of Rassilon in terms of some of the artifacts. kharin was frustrated a few times with churches that were always closed (unless you wanted to attend Mass); it was noticeable that it's the first time I've been somewhere that almost all of the open churches had punters in them as well as tourists. And there were nuns everywhere.

We had consciously decided not to go to Auschwitz. People who have good reason to visit it should, but I'm not convinced it should really be a tourist venue. So instead, we went to the spectacular Wieliczka Salt Mine. We rounded off Krakow on Monday morning, with a laconic tour of the Collegium Maius by a guide who insisted it had all been downhill for Poland since the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, and a visit to the Archaeological Museum.

On Monday afternoon we were scheduled to catch the train to Wrocław; I'm afraid I can't recomment the Odessa-Poznan "express", which was an hour and a half late and had an average speed a shade over 30mph. At one stage, a bird flew parallel with us, keeping up with the train for some time. At least we were in First Class. But the website hadn't offered us a non-smoking seat reservation, so we were stuck with a couple of Poles who were (reasonably enough) chain-smoking their way across the country. When we finally arrived in Wrocław (the train had caught up a little, and was only an hour late by now), the hotel couldn't find our reservation (though they had no trouble in finding a room for us). In Krakow we'd been in a small guest-house, run by a woman who presented a quite spectacular breakfast spread every morning. Unfortunately, what wasn't eaten it seemed would be kept indefinitely and re-presented the following day. By Monday morning (when our hostess had mysteriously regenerated), I noticed one or two spots of mould on the marmalade, and it seems it hadn't been confined to that plate. So let's just say I had a rather unpleasant Monday night.

Wrocław has a more compact centre, but there was a proportionate amount of things to see and do, and we filled out two and a half days there.

Food-wise, I think I had game almost every night: certainly rabbit, duck, boar goose, and venison all featured on menus, interspersed with borscht, bigos, dumplings (including a trip to a Georgian restaurant where I found my Tkemali quite a good match for what was on offer) and cakes, mostly washed down with the local beers. On the soft drinks front, we discovered Kvas and pronounced it quite nice, provided you like a malty flavour. Our arteries may never recover, though we did avoid the lard when it was presented neat (as it was in the equivalent of a plougman's lunch on one occasion).

Uncharacteristically, we surrendered and took a taxi from the hotel to the airport, due to uncertainty about trams, buses, the carriage of luggage and their speed relative to a bydło. I think it was the smoothest of all the trips we made. In its favour, the people were generally friendly and helpful, and we encountered very few Americans, but it was depressingly clear how much further even urban Poland has to travel than, say, the Czech Republic, to catch up with Western Europe.
Tags: exhibitions, food, places, travel
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