This story starts with a train…the train that would not get booked, or at least, not by us.
When we first arrived in Poland at the Wrowclaw station, the first thing we wanted to do was book our train from Krakow to Prague. It was an overnight train, and we wanted a sleeper carriage. First, the station was partially flooded and construction work meant the ticket office was on a completely different street. Then none of the ticketing agents (even at the ‘International’ window spoke a word of English). We got a ticket that looked like more of a receipt. Luckily an American at the hostel kindly overheard and said we needed to reserve seats as well. In the morning, the receptionist at our hostel called the train operator and found out we’d only been sold one ticket! She then wrote a script in Polish for Chris to take down to the station for the 3rd time, and we finally got what we needed. Whew-wee! (Chris is my hero, he never gives up!)
And a few days later when we got on the train we were happy we’d taken the time to ask, then ask again. As many tourists didn’t have beds for the long 10hr+ journey. Our hearts really went out to them. We shared a 6-bed carriage (though we requested a 4-bed carriage) with two Australians. They were on month 3 of 4 of traveling – they both had colds, seemed exhausted and crashed out immediately.
The most entertaining thing on the journey was the group of Japanese tourists in the next couple carriages adjacent to ours. Two pretty young ladies waited patiently for their turn in the WC, with their neat overnight cases…only to take one look inside, come back out pointing, cringling and shaking their heads. In the morning, their male travelling companion was seen running around the corridors trying to plug-in his hair-dryer! I had to laugh…firstly as there was no way he’d even washed his hair to neccessitate using one and second of all…it was obviously not the kind of train to even provide running water, much less electrical access points! Hahaha…I think they must be used to some pretty nice trains back home.
Another weird thing about trains in Poland are that the toilets basically empty onto the tracks! There is literally a hole at the bottom of the bowl and you can see the tracks underneath. Chris asked if it was drafty (haha) and proclaimed that it must be the reason they always say not to use the loos at the staion?§%&*! So yes, bathrooms a bit grim.
Sleeping on a train is not so bad though. The starts and stops make it difficult, but you save on a hotel room and they did provide pillows and blankets with fresh covers. There was also a sort of porter assigned to our wagon so that was nice. Would have preferred he cleaned the bathroom, but hey…
7am we arrived and made our way to the Hostel Tyn, just behind the big famous two-tower Church of Our lady Before Tyn in Prague. It was nice to see the town before most people were awake and walking around, so peaceful and sunny.
Our first impressions of Prague were that it was the equintessential European city that had that old-world charm people always talk abou. It’s beautiful for sure, but not because it’s trying to be grand, but it just happens to be what it is. There are little widning alleyways with hidden cafes and courtyards, and cobbled streets without any cars. It’s a human-sized place, and over time care has been taken to keep the city as it is – with new buildings sharing the style of the old, sometimes with embelishments painted on the exterior instead of sculpted in reality, but you have to look closely to tell the difference.
By noon, the tourists had come out in force and certain streets around the famous astronomical clock were a see of faces. But, everyone seemed in good spirits anyway.
We met up with my work friend Radek at QCafe and had some lunch. Right away we noticed a big difference in price compared to our breakfast meal. In Prague, there is an obvious tourist ring, but outside of that there are mostly locals. It’s quiter too and prices go way down. He kindly recommended some good food joints and we had a nice afternoon talking about how much he loved the city and will never leave it. There’s nothing like meeting someone local to bring a place to life.
We then walked over the famous Charles Bridge, it was aloft with creative street vendors who will draw your portrait, play you a tune or adorn you with handcrafted hair clips or earrings. On a bathroom hunt, we ended up seeing Kampa, south along the river and through Malostranska, a very old part of Prague where all the big embassy buildings are. Chris took my photo next to the statue of Winston Churchill at the British Embassy in honour of my new citizsenship.
BUT I must say, our feel were killing us after days of walking. So we hired pedal boats and gave them a break on the river Vltava. Then we killed 3 hrs writing the Poland blog, finishing around 10.30pm. With reduced dinner options, we ended up at a pub-like place where Chris was served beef with whipped cream! I enjoyed my herb chicken tho.
Back at the hostel, I got a very strange look when I asked if I could use the mop bucket to soak my feet. I scrubbed it out, dumped a handful of salt in, and it really did the trick! My feet were seriously saved from doom. I’m still trying to get Chris to give it a go tho.
Next day, Prague Castle was top of the list. The largest Medieval castle in Europe, Radek said it was really worth it, if just for the gardens and the view. We had found a back entrance to the gardens the day before behind a lovely little tree-covered cafe. We had some lunch there, before making our way up from terraced garden to terraced garden, watching the city fall below us.
By the time we got to the castle, most paid entrances were closing. But you can see the exterior of all the buildings inside the fortress (across a series of 4 courtyards) for free. The cathedral was most impressive, with it’s somewhat gorey gold-encrusted depiction of the final days on earth.
We then wanded down through the rest of the castle district to have a traditional strolli or trdelnik, as we’d seen a woman making them on the spot by hand! They are a kind of rolled donut cooked on open flames. Ours were so fresh they were still warm.
We then made our way across the river an alternative route (we always try to take new roads to see new places), through the Josefov area. Next to Krakow, this was the most important Jewish community in Europe. There are still a handful of synagogues that survived – each with differing styles. On the way to he train station we saw yet another, the Jerusalem Synagogue which was painted with pink, blue and green to stunning effect. But we were in such a rush (once again my fault, not poor Chris’) that we didn’t have time to snap a pic.
With Prague, we felt it was more of a wandering around type of place. Could be we were just bored of maps…but it definitely invites you to discover it for yourself. Only advice: go outside of summer, avoid tourists and big backpack people like us!
Next stop…the old Hapsburg stomping grounds of Vienna…