Poland – Travel Help

I had been just procrastinating on this topic. But today while waiting for a flight for another journey, I thought that I could put the time to good use.

So here are the tips and some links that helped me.

1. The currency is Polish Zloty. You can take it out from the ATM at the airport or exchange at the currency exchange vendors. But be aware the exchange rates at the airport will be not so good. And in my experience, the ATM was even more expensive in that regard. So my tip – Exchange/Withdraw the minimum amount at the airport you might need to reach the city and a little more. Once in the city, you will find better rates.

2. Learning a few Polish phrases would be useful and also nice:


3. Do not make the one rookie kind of mistake I made. Check beforehand what is closed on which day so that you can plan your sightseeing accordingly. For example, on Mondays most museums are closed, on National holidays many places (even shops) are closed and so on. So – look up the details of attractions o whichever city you are visiting and make your sightseeing itinerary for a satisfying and “no disappointments later” kind of trip!


1. Airport train: Very convenient. Ticket can be bought either at the station via the machine (cash/card) or in the train via the conductor (cash only).


2. Public transport


3. If you want to take the tour of Auschwitz, do make the booking beforehand with a tour because it gets sold out. Tripadvisor will give you the details of the tour operators.


1. The airport bus is 210. You should keep some change with you. The machine at the airport may or may not work. It didn’t when I was there. So change the bills for coins at some shop at the airport. The people are really nice there and will help.

For returning from city to the airport, one helpful soul even made a video to help locate the bus stop as it can be confusing sometimes. Here is the link.

Here is the airport guide:


2. You don’t need transport to move within the city for tourist areas as it’s not so big. I found a hotel close to the waterfront and the city center was also in walking distance.

I hope the information is useful for all those of you who wish to travel to Poland. It’s a lovely country with charming people. Do put it on your travel list it if not already been there.

Check out all my posts about my Poland trip here:


And now it is time to go – the flight is boarding :). Until next..


Poland – End of the Journey

At the end of the evening’s tour, I was tired – both physically and mentally, and very cold. It was interesting to have met some new people who had joined the tour – two from South Africa, a few from India are the ones I can recall. There was a girl from Brazil who walked with me towards the tram station. We were going in the same direction. She told me that the next day she was going to take a trip to the concentration camp. I never wanted to go there – having read about it is shocking enough – and because of the emotional toll that the tour had already taken on me, I am quite sure that my decision was right. So I thought that I would probably go to some museums etc. the next day.

But – as fate would have it – on the 1st of November, All Saint’s Day – almost everything in Poland is closed! I didn’t know that, else I would have planned my days differently. The concentration camp was open though – quite strange – isn’t it? Anyway, so my hopes of being able to go to the salt mines were shattered. Then I thought of climbing the Wawel Hill again because I read somewhere that in November, the castle museum is allowing free entrance. Did that and found that it being the All Saint’s Day – the museum was closed.


The day was getting colder and more difficult to pass. Then I looked up at google for some help. And like a good friend, it did. I found that the city zoo was open. Having nothing else to do, I descended the hill and made my way towards the bus that would take me to the zoo. It was a long journey – had to make a change in between – which was like a rural stop with no shelter but just a stone bench on which I sat. There seemed to be nobody around although there were many houses, the breeze was quite cold, the tree branches swayed and swished and except for the occasional cars passing by, it felt like something has happened and I am the only human being left on earth! Thankfully, a couple arrived and then the bus appeared as well. I reached the zoo and it was such a picturesque route through the hilly forests – all colored by the master strokes of the autumnal brush. I am sure if the sun would have been out, this would have been totally magical – justifying the name of the penultimate bus stop – Baba Jaga (the witch from the East European folk tales)! As probably it was a festival day, there were not too many people there. It is a big lovely zoo but that day the animals seemed to be lethargic with the cold weather in the same way that the people did. I was feeling kind of sorry for them to be trapped there. But probably they would have more survival challenges in the wild than in the zoo. Not justifying the captivity but just contemplating.


Anyway, so after spending the zoo and getting chilled to the bone, I decided to head back. The bus was already there and I went back to the city. Found a nice Indian restaurant to have some warm lunch and tea. Then went back to my room to take some rest. At around 6 pm, there was supposed to be a walking tour of the Macabre Krakow.


I had planned to meet a friend D – who lives in Krakow, but I didn’t know what time he would be back to the city as he had gone to spend the All Saints’ Day with his family. So I went to the tour, thinking that if D comes, then I would leave the tour midway. It was quite good for me that D sent a message just as I was listening to the guide and thinking that I don’t want to go on that tour else I would get nightmares later. So D kind of rescued me :-). Then we went to get a drink in the main square while waiting for his girlfriend A, who joined us in some time. I was curious about the tradition of going to the cemeteries on this day and asked if they could take me to one. They very graciously agreed and in the process, poor D had to let go of his plans for a dinner although he was hungry, for A mentioned that the cemeteries might close if we delayed. There were special tram services that day to take people from one cemetery to the other! Shows how important that festival is for the people there. Basically the day is about remembering the saints, martyrs and deceased members of your family. The cemeteries were lit up with thousands of candles and there were people everywhere, unlike my experience during the day while waiting for the bus.


I was given a candle by A to light as well. That was so kind and thoughtful of her! I really appreciate it when people include me in their traditions. Makes me feel welcome and not an aloof outsider! I lit it up on a grave that seemed like the candles there were about to go out.

Then D and A walked me back to my room while D had to satisfy his hunger with a doner on the way. It was late and super cold but the warm gesture of D and A made the day so much better! I had something to eat in my room and went to sleep.

The next day I had my flight back. The morning was a bit hectic as I couldn’t find the key of my suitcase anymore – but that’s another story. I managed to get out in time for my flight and all was fine. I went for my customary Indian food at the restaurant I like very much but it wasn’t up to the expectations that day. Then as the bus I had to take still had time, I went to a nearby mall and then some time later, was on my way home. That was the end of my first trip to Poland. Hope to be there once again, albeit in less cold weather :-).

Poland – Another History

It took long for me to come from the previous post to this one. But let me pick up the thread from where I stopped.

So in the evening, despite the freezing cold, I braced myself and went towards the Old Synagogue. It was getting dark already at 5 PM as it was the end of October. When I reached there, I was not sure if that was the right place as I saw 3 people. Getting closer, I found one of them was the guide and the other two wanted to take the tour just like me. We waited for some more time and more people arrived albeit late. Then the tour started.

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The Old Synagogue

The area – Kazimierz was set up as a separate city by Kassimir in the beginning of the 14th century with its own city gates and walls. The history of Jews in Krakow is quite old. They arrived here and settled between 11th and 13th century as the tolerance for them was higher than in the rest of, especially Western, Europe. Kazimierz became a major Jewish settlement by the end of 14th century. The Jews who arrived here from Prague in 1389, made this first synagogue as a replica of the one in Prague. It had separate parts for women and men, as is the traditional way. This is known as the Old Synagogue now. Part of it was the townhall, part of it was used for trading. Today it is a museum.

Side-note: The rulers of Poland didn’t participate in the crusades for various reasons but the “official” one given to the Pope (Henry II) was that there is no beer in Jerusalem!

The 2nd synagogue was made by another set of Jews who lived near the present University area and were moved here when there was a fire there. They made their own synagogue as they didn’t want to pray with the ones from Prague.

Then there is another one – Remah/Remu Synagogue – Rabbi Moshe Isserles fame. It could have been built by his father Israel ben Josef in honor of his illustrious son or by the Rabbi himself to in memory of his first wife. It is not clearly known.  Our guide told us this little story. In the 16th century, Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote a book which contained code of Jewish law. He sent it to Rabbi Moshe Isserles in Krakow for review – who was also in the process of writing such a book. He got disheartened that someone else had written something before him. But then, he concluded that the book was for Sephardi (settlers in North Africa) Jews and he could add his work to it as the guidelines for the Ashkenazi Jews (settlers along Rhine)!

Another synagogue made in 1620. I don’t know what was the reason for this one.

During the tour, we got to get inside one – the Izaak/Isaac Synagogue – which was made in 1644.  It was made with the donation from banker to the King Wladyslav IV – Isaac Jakubowicz or Isaac the Rich. There is a legend associated with this synagogue. Isaac Jakubowicz (another spelling Ayzik) was a poor pious Jew. One night he dreamt of a big city and a bridge and was instructed to go to Prague and look for treasure under the Charles Bridge. He got this dream several times. So he decided to go. On reaching there, he found the bridge being guarded by a squad of soldiers. He talked to them about his dream asking for permission to dig. They laughed at him and shooed him away. Some time later,  one of the soldiers came to him and told him that he had been dreaming that he would find treasure in the oven at the home of someone named Izaak, the son of Jacob, who lives in Krakow, but he wasn’t stupid to go searching for treasure based on dreams. Izaak immediately returned home and found the treasure in the oven of his own home. In gratitude, he constructed this synagogue. Out of the 7 surviving synagogues in Krakow today, four are still active and this is one of them.

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Inside the Izaak synagogue

We took a small break at a place called Okraglak with a circular  building – a relic of the communist times of Poland – which has kiosks selling Zapiekanki – baguettes with mushrooms, cheese and other toppings. Even today, the prices have been kept very low just like in the communist times.

Fast forward to the 20th century and crossing the river from Kazimierz. One of the darkest periods and a dark place for humanity. It was at Podgorze where the Jewish ghetto was established across the river Vistula. About 20000 people were made to live in a place with a capacity of 3500. The food ration assigned to the victims was 350 calories/day while the perpetrators had 3000 calories/day. We were standing on that cold Halloween night at the Zgody square of the ghetto listening to our guide tell us about the horrific segregating process that began at the end of May 1942. Those considered being able to work were sent to labor camps and the others straightaway to their deaths. Initially the perpetrators pretended that the victims were going to a better place where there would be work and food and the people felt hopeful and fell for that lie – even carrying their suitcases with things they considered important for them! I think that dying itself wouldn’t be as excruciating as the loss of the hope on getting to know what really awaited them at those death camps..We saw an exhibit of 68 chairs in that square as a memorial to the 68000 Jews of Poland who were the victims. Our guide interpreted the empty chairs as the city waiting for those people to come back and take their place. It was quite heart-breaking – a sight that won’t leave the thoughts of the observer who understands the meaning, for a very long time.

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The empty chairs at the Zgody Square

From there we moved towards Schindler’s factory – which we know from the famous movie Schindler’s List. Now Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party and spied for the German army. He was captured in Czech but was released when the Germans occupied Czech. Thereafter, he came to Krakow to make money like many others. The Jewish shops and factories were snatched and given over to the Nazi supporters. That’s how Schindler came into the possession of this factory. The Poles and Jews were hired/forced to work in those occupied businesses. The Jews were not paid. But Schindler made the conditions comparatively much better for the Jews working in his factory. And as we know from the movie, he saved the lives of so many of them. Makes one wonder about the machinations of destiny. The story of how this movie came about is also equally arduous. One of the survivors of the holocaust Poldek Pfefferberg worked with Schindler at his factory. He tried to persuade many writers to write the book about this story and ultimately succeeded in 1980, six years after Schindler had passed away, to make the Australian author Thomas Keneally take the project. Thereafter,  he persevered to persuade Steven Spielberg – for 11 long years after the book was published – to make a movie about the remarkable story. My thought about it is that he must have felt that it is important that the world also gets to know about not only the horrors of that war about which a plenty is written down, but about those who brought hope and saved lives in their own ways.

This is where I would end my post about this part of the Krakowian history. In the next one, I would write about my last day of stay in Krakow which started quite disappointingly but ended much better. Until then..

Polish Dancing – Krakowiak (contd..)

I wrote down a few stories of Krakow in the previous post. It’s a wonderful city and I wanted to see every bit of it despite the painfully cold weather. The Tuesday that was my first day of sightseeing there, was a bit windy and therefore, felt much more colder than it actually was. So, the best thing to do – keep walking and added bonus – learning more stories of the city.


A horse carriage waiting for riders at the market square, Cloth Hall building behind the P sign

Continuing from the last set of stories.

Fifth Story

The main market square – Rynek Glowny has retained its shape since the medieval ages. However, the level has grown by 6 meters! Why? That’s because of – guess what? Garbage disposal. In the houses, what would now be the cellar, would have been the ground floor in the 13th century. In 2005, an excavation led to the discovery of the settlement that must have been destroyed by the Tatars in the 13th century. There is an underground museum today there called the Rynek Underground which was opened in 2010 and has a great multimedia system to explain everything about that settlement. How the people lived in those days, what they wore, their tools, the toys, the clothes – every big and small detail is displayed and explained.

A terrible and yet, fascinating piece of the exhibition is getting to see how suspected vampires were buried in those days! If you are curious, then I must tell you – it was not a comfortable position as can be seen in the open graves displayed there with the bones of the legs and hands arranged at unnatural angles. (Thinking back, I realized that I was there on Halloween day, so I guess it’s not by chance that I was getting the dose of spooky!).

A tip – the museum is open for free entry on Tuesdays!


A man in the multimedia clip telling you to move on and not stare at him (after you watch an argument between him and a woman in the street)

Sixth Story

How can one leave the market square without the story of the Brave Trumpeter of Krakow? So, there I was – listening to the Hejnal (Hymn for Mary) being played on the trumpet by someone from a window at the top of the St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is played every hour in all four directions but it stops abruptly.  Now there was once a trumpeter who played his trumpet for the hejnal as well as important announcements for the city in the 13th century. One day, as he looked out of his window on the top of the cathedral, he saw a big cloud of dust coming closer and closer to the city. And then on looking carefully, he could see the invading Tatars. What could he do to save his city? It would be a waste of the precious time to climb down and alert someone. So he thought may be if he started played the Hejnal over and over, people would surely take notice. And he did that. First nobody understood but slowly it dawned that it was a warning and the people prepared themselves and defended the city. But also, the Hejnal stopped as suddenly as it had started because alas, the Tatars saw the Trumpeter and shot an arrow to his throat! After the battle, one of the friends of the trumpeter went looking for him and found him dead with the throat pierced by the Tatar arrow but still holding his trumpet as if ready to play more!

The story of the brave trumpeter is commemorated till today with the ritual of playing the trumpet and stopping abruptly by the people of Krakow. There are three conditions for becoming the trumpeter of the tower today:

  1. You should be a man (yeah, yeah, I know)
  2. You should be a member of the fire-brigade
  3. Most importantly, you should know how to play a trumpet.
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St. Mary’s Basilica from where the Trumpeter plays the Hejnal (top of the left tower)


See the window that’s opening for the trumpeter?

Side note: The trumpeters have to stay at the top of the tower for a few days at a time. So it has all the facilities that one might need to live like in one’s home. I don’t know about the internet connection though.

Seventh Story

Now since I started writing about the cathedral, it is important to know that the entrance for tourists is different from the entrance of the worshippers – makes sense so as not to disturb the ones who are going to pray for that is the main purpose of a place of worship. One can go inside for free and admire the magnificence. But for going up to the tower and to get close to the most famous piece of work there – the altarpiece by Wit Swotsz (German name – Veit Stoss), there is a small fee.

Now Veit was a renowned sculptor from Nuremberg, Germany. His fame reached Poland and somewhere in the 15th century he was commissioned to make this altarpiece for the cathedral in Krakow. He moved there with his family and worked on this piece for 12 years! After living in Krakow for 20 years, he decided to leave the family business there to his son Andreas who was also quite skilled and returned back to Nuremberg with the rest of his family. Mmay be he was missing the German Bread – which I have seen people from Germany missing when they are abroad for too long or may be Poland was getting too cold (it was definitely super cold when I was there) – who knows why he went back. But it was not as rosy for him when he went back – got arrested twice, getting branded on the cheeks was prohibited from leaving Nuremberg, getting on the wrong side of the city council but being in the good books of the Emperor Maximilian saved his neck. He did carry out some interesting pieces of work despite all the drama for it was probably difficult to stop a good artist of some international acclaim, from making art.

I didn’t get a picture of the altarpiece from too close but you can see it at the back in the picture below.

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Inside the St. Mary’s Basilica

What else did I do? Ah yes, I went to see some more churches from inside to both admire them as well as to get some respite from the cold weather, while waiting to go for the next tour that would start at around 6 PM. Despite the freezing cold, I was quite keen on going for that tour, for one never knows what would “tomorrow” bring.  The stories from that tour – in the next post. Until next..”Do widzenia”.

Polish Dancing – Krakowiak

On the evening of an icy, windy Monday, I boarded the flight from Gdansk to reach the next beautiful city of Poland – Krakow. Upon arriving at the airport, it was easy to follow the signs and find the way to the train that runs between the city center and the airport except at the point where a sign was kept on the floor (like a board) and a girl standing in front of it obliterated the view. So in the confusion, I missed the first train by two minutes. The next one was after half an hour, which I then boarded and reached the city center in about 20 minutes. From there, with the help of google maps, I walked to the room I had booked. I had informed the property and the receptionist was waiting for me till that late even though it was not a 24 hour reception kind of place (it was around 11 PM). She handed me the keys, explained everything and then left. I was too cold and tired to go get anything to eat (although a 24 hour supermarket was just round the corner). So I just snacked on something I had in my bag and went to sleep. Had a restful sleep. In the morning, I searched the net and found a restaurant close by that offered gluten-free options for breakfast. So I got ready and reached that restaurant. It was a very modern themed restaurant. I ordered something but it took too long to come. So I had to gobble it up quickly instead of savoring it, as I was getting late for the walking tour that was about to start.


The Fancy Breakfast

And then I sped towards the Florian’s Gate, where the tour was supposed to start. Thankfully, I reached in time and other people were also just getting in. We had a pleasant guide who started with the first story of Krakow.

First Story

In the 10th century, there was a king with 5 sons. Probably he seemed to consider all of them equally worthy of the kingdom, or he couldn’t decide who would take the kingdom after his death. So the kingdom got divided into 5 parts. Thus began the struggle of 200 years when the kingdom kept getting divided over generations. Then in 1320, Wladislav I “Lokietek” (the Elbow High) from Krakow, reunited all these fragments. For 400 years after that, every king of Poland was crowned in Krakow. The coronation route would start from the St. Florian’s church. The church was renovated several times and the current look is from the 18th century.


Street musicians in traditional attire under Florian’s gate

There were 7 gates to the city but the only way to enter was through the Barbican – which was the defense gate since the 15th century. There used to be a huge moat around that which has now been transformed into a beautiful park – the Planty.

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Autumn in the Planty

Today, there still remains a small part of the city wall with St. Florian’s Gate and the Barbican due to the efforts of a Professor named Feliks Radwanski at the beginning of 19th century when the city officials wanted to demolish the city walls. The reasons given for preserving these ranged from logical to hilarious. I don’t know which one finally convinced the authorities. One of the arguments given was that if the wall was broken, then the Northern winds blowing till the Main Market Square will knock people off their feet, while exposing women and children to influenza, rheumatism, and perhaps even to paralysis. However, the funniest one of all was that the wind would blow up women’s skirts and who would want that inappropriate thing to happen :-).


Tourists in front of Florian’s Gate

Second Story

In the photo of Florian’s Gate, do you see the McDonald’s logo? That’s the first McD that opened in Krakow. The guide told us that when it first opened, it was like the symbol of a huge transformation for the country – from communism to capitalism! The queue was legendary – people waited for hours to get the taste of the big mac. The significance was not because of the taste or quality of McD burgers (a controversial topic), but because of the freedom of choice after living in the communist regime for so long.

Third Story

Going back to 14th century, after king Wladyslaw I, his son Cassimir the Great or as he is called in Polish – Kazimierz, became the king. He was a very strong king but the last one of the Piast dynasty as he didn’t have any sons. A huge contribution from him was the founding of the University of Krakow – which he could establish with the blessing of the pope but only on agreeing that there won’t be a theology department in the university! We don’t know the exact reason for that but one reason could be that the king needed lawyers and accountants instead of theologians. Another reason stated is the pressure from the pope to not have that department. Now, after Cassimir’s demise, the kingdom went to his nephew from Hungary – Louis I. He also didn’t have any sons but had a daughter – Hedwig (Jadwiga) who was then crowned king of Poland (yes, you read it right – King). That happened because of the work (read – giving privileges to noblemen) done by Louis during his lifetime to persuade the noblemen to allow his daughters inheriting the throne. The kings of Poland needed to be “elected” by the noblemen of Poland, unlike in other countries where this was a hereditary practice. The kings therefore, granted a lot of privileges to the noblemen in return for their loyalty.

So, Jadwiga became the king and then as a religious-political move, she married the king of Lithuania Jogaila when he pledged to convert to Roman Catholicism, thus making Lithuania a catholic country. The king was baptized as Wladyslaw Jogiello and he became the co-ruler of Poland with Jadwiga.

Jadwiga had a life full of political turmoil but despite that, she did a lot for the University of Krakow which became the Jagiellonian University. She funded it with her own jewellery. The people of Poland venerated her during her lifetime and even after, and in she was canonized in 1997 by the Pope.

Wawel Cathedral where Jadwiga was coronated and buried

Fourth Story

Now that I mentioned the Wawel Cathedral, let me tell you the most iconic legend of Krakow. There was once, a long time ago, a terrible dragon who lived on the Wawel Hill. He had to be appeased with a regular diet of cattle and once a month treat of a young maiden . Then the day came when there were no more maidens left except the king’s daughter Wanda.  The king in desperation, announced that whoever gets rid of the dragon, would get the princess as his bride. Several people tried and of course failed. Then came forth a shoemaker called Skuba. He stuffed a sheep with sulphur and left it outside the cave of the dragon. The dragon ate it and because of the sulphur, became so thirsty that he started drinking the water from the river Vistula. But the thirst just wouldn’t get quenched. When the dragon had drunk almost half of the waters of the river, he could drink no more and exploded! Thus came the end of the terrible dragon, and of course, the princess married the shoemaker and everyone lived happily ever after!


The Story in the Souvenir

There are two huge bones hanging today at the entrance of the Wawel Cathedral, assumed to be the bones of the dragon; the guide told us that they actually belong to a whale and a mammoth.

With this, I can finally bring this post to an end (has been in draft mode for soooo long) and write the remaining memories of Krakow in the next one.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise (contd..)

A nice sunny morning today with a good coffee, is making me feel hopeful for a good day ahead.

But first I should finish the story of Gdansk although I don’t think I can manage it in one post. Let’s see.

So, the city of Gdansk has been around for a very long time but written records are from about 1000 AD onwards. It is on the Baltic coast. Strategically located for trading by the sea and hence, has had the best economy in the whole of Poland.

We started the walking tour from the Golden Gate. It was a chilly, windy day interspersed with sunshine, drizzle and  sometimes the raindrops turning to ice! Opposite to the gate was an imposing tower which is an Amber Museum today but was a prison tower in the past.

The guide showed us the old city gates which had the coat of arms of Poland, Prussia and the city of Gdansk on it. There was something written in Latin below : “justitia et pietate sunt publica rum omnium fundamental” which translates to “Justice and Piety are the foundations of all states”. Locals have their own interpretation “Rum is the foundation” due to the typo ;). That would make sense considering the city is a harbor city with a lot of sailors coming and going out of there.

We moved along the main street which was used also for royal processions in the past. Every new elected (yes, elected – more later) king of Poland had to have a procession here on this street leading from the Golden Gate to the Long Market at the end where the townhall/clock tower is. The wealthiest merchants lived on this street. The ornamentations on the houses were indicative of the wealth – the ones with the stone ornaments being the most wealthy to be able to afford those! In the previous post, I mentioned that the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam and I was not wrong! The guide informed us that the people of Gdansk were not the experts in travelling by ships. So the city had a lot of foreigners working there – Dutch being the most prominent ones. Especially because the river flooded every year and who are the best to claim land from water? You got it right – the Dutch. So naturally, they brought their architecture with them. And just like in Amsterdam, here also the tax was according to the width occupied on the street by the building, hence the houses would grow vertically and deep inside.

Sometimes during the tour we would dive into the sidelanes when the guide wanted to show us some other interesting things like the armoury or the “pukers” (kind of gorgoyles on the sides of staircases leading up to the houses.

The Church of St. Mary on the Main street is supposed to be the biggest gothic church in the world made of bricks. According to some estimates, it has about 5.5 million bricks! I went later inside the church, after the tour, and was kind of surprised that the imposing structure outside houses a very plain interior. I asked my tour guide in Krakow about this contrast and he explained that the church became Lutheran (Protestant) church in around 16th century and hence all ornamentation was probably removed as is the ideology of the Protestant churches.

St. Mary’s basilica

The next imposing building is the city hall which was already there from about 14th century but expanded later. It has a golden idol of the king Sigismund on the top of it – which moves in the direction of the wind. The most interesting thing for me there was to understand the presence of a sundial despite a huge mechanical clock being there. That was there because pendulum was not known at that time.  The mechanical clock though easier to read, lost time over a period of time. So an expert had to correct the time every few months by reading the correct time from the sundial! Seemingly, this was the case everywhere where the mechanical clocks were installed but the other places got rid of sundials when they replaced the machinery of their clocks with the pendulum mechanics.

Town hall

This is all I can write today. Will come back with some more about Gdansk in the next post. Keep an eye on the blog. The next post will have some humor but also some tragedy – going to be very interesting.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise

After a restful sleep despite the very cold night, I woke up on my own at the usual Monday morning time. Then tried to go back to sleep as I didn’t have to go to work. “To get up or not to get up, that is the question” as a modern day Shakespeare would say. Ultimately I got up at 7 when there was some light outside. And when I looked out of the window, the thought that had been nagging me since yesterday finally cleared up. I realized that the houses reminded me of Amsterdam.

Rows of houses slowly coming to life with the rising sun

Slowly I proceeded to get ready. Realized that the shoulders and neck that have been painful since two months due to an accident, were again aching. Got an idea to apply warm compress to the sore points with the help of the heater. Did that and it helped.

Then I made myself some coffee, had the leftovers from last night’s dinner as breakfast along with an Indian snack mixture (I had a packet with me) and checked out of the hotel. The receptionist stored my luggage safely so that I could go out freely.

I had registered online yesterday for a walking tour that was supposed to start at 10:30 am. I had plenty of time before that to stroll around. So instead of going to the main part of the town, I just took some other turns and came across interesting buildings. I have no idea of their identities though at the moment.

A building with some wooden sculptures

Came across an indoor market which reminded me of Bangalore! The outside is much more beautiful though of this market.

Exterior of the Indoor market

Also came across flower and fresh vegetables market where locals were buying their day’s or week’s supplies.


Then after taking some more pictures and unsuccessfully trying to see the monastery (the door didn’t open), I went towards the meeting point for the walking tour. The story of the walking tour to come in the next post as now I am exhausted after having a majority of my time spent outdoors on a very cold day. 

Until next..dobranoc!

Polish Dancing – Kujawiak

After exploring so many places to go for the extended weekend, somehow I got whimsical and booked Poland. It is super cold, rainy and very windy at the moment but I often have the feeling that one reaches the place one is supposed to be at, when he/she is destined to be. So, let’s see how the next four days would go.

I started this morning from my home quite early because the airport from which I had to take the flight is at a not so well-connected location. So instead of directly going there and sitting there for the whole day, I went to another city from where there are more connections to the airport.

Started there with a coffee and a huge portion of scrambled eggs (not eating meat and being gluten-sensitive is still not easy).

After getting refreshed with the breakfast, I walked a bit in the old town area and remembered the day when I had been there  a few years back in Spring and had spent a full day. This time it was a wet Autumn day with leaves fallen everywhere giving a completely different feel. Memory here.

Then I returned to the main station from where I was supposed to board the airport shuttle. Even this was quite early but I didn’t want to take a chance as this was the first time I was going to this airport and didn’t know what kind of traffic was to be expected. There was actually none! The scenery was beautiful along the way.

Then at the airport, waited while charging the phone which seemed to take forever. Then did the security check and then  waited at the gate. I always forget to keep a book and the magazines sold at Relay are not in a language I can understand yet. So there is no choice but to look around and observe people. May be one day this observation will pay off and I can write a book myself! Until that day, I’ll just keep posting on my blog.

So, after some delay, the flight started and then after some flying, we landed in Gdansk. Now it was only about 6 pm or so but it was freezing cold outside the plane. Everyone hurried up to the terminal to get out of the wind. Upon reaching inside, almost everyone queued up at the currency exchange counter (Kantor) or at one of the two ATMs in sight. I was getting worried that I would miss the bus to the city center as I had read that on Sunday the frequency is less than on week days. Nonetheless, got the local currency (Zloty) and came out of the airport. Found the bus stop, went to wrong bus, then saw the stop for the correct one, had some struggle with the ticket automat (nobody was ready to accept that it didn’t work – so everyone in the queue gave it a try –  with coins, notes, credit cards – but it didn’t work). Then ran back inside to get some change as the ATM had spit out big notes only. The friendly shopkeeper changed it for many of us who struggled. In other places, people just refuse or ask to buy something first. So this gesture of the lady was just the first impresson of the nice disposotion of the Polish people. Then got the bus, reached the city, and then walked to my hotel. It was raining but I managed. However, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering as to why the buildings have no awnings here! So there is just no way to take shelter if it’s raining.Then I checked into my hotel which is very nice, went for some dinner at a friendly place and now going to sleep.

Hooooo Hoooo Halloween


Amsterdam 1

I reached Amsterdam on a wet Saturday morning in June after taking a long journey with a bus. It was an extended weekend, so I had three days at hand. Had been wanting to go there since years but it wasn’t just materializing and then as it happens with most of my trips, I booked it 3 days before the journey.

First briefly about the journey – I have had good experiences with these long distance buses. This one was also fine except for one administrative glitch. This bus company doesn’t have an app and wants people to print out the ticket. I printed it but the setting was to print on both sides of the paper. Now there was a change required at one place in the journey and the issue was that the driver takes that paper from you. So, as you may have guessed it, I didn’t have the paper with me for the second leg of the journey. But seemingly the language of money is understood all over the world. The driver took 5 Euros from me to return that piece of paper to me. I don’t understand it – if he could give it back to me in exchange for money, why did he need to keep that paper in the first place! If I had the ticket printed on separate papers, he wouldn’t have been able to make any money on that. Unsolved Mysteries. Another thing that happened was that when I woke up upon reaching Amsterdam, I found that some liquid had drained out into my bag from somewhere and had moistened the papers inside. I suspected the collapsible water bottle that had in my bag. Immediately took out the important things and put them in a plastic bag. Later I realized that it was not the water bottle but the pack of disinfectant wipes that had gotten pressed and the liquid soaking them spilled out. Since then, I have started carrying them around in a zip-lock bag!

Anyway, so I reached the destination which was a train station somewhere outside of Amsterdam. I tried to figure out the way to go to the city as per the information I had collected from the internet. They have a good public transport network. You just need to locate the right ticket machine (which took me some time). Then a metro train and a bus journey later (meanwhile also meeting a man who appeared stoned, at the bus stop who wanted me to wake him up when the bus arrived..), I reached my hotel. Thankfully, they had the room ready even though I was early. The window overlooked a beautiful marina.


After resting a bit, I started for my exploration of the city. It was cold and rainy, so I had a lot of things with me – camera, jacket, umbrella, water…uff! There was a tram stop close to the hotel from where the tram brought me directly to the central station. And as you can see in the picture below, everyone was trying to find a shelter from the rain.

IMG_5169 (2).JPG

But by the time I got the information from the tourist information center (opposite to the central station) and sorted out some things, the rain stopped and I could proceed. Reached a shop that invited inside to take a look at the cheeses and take pictures. So I went in. Looked interesting as you can see below with cheese wheels, wooden shoes, weighing scales, mugs and a cow!


Inside the cheese shop


Royal Palace

Thus walking around a bit and taking in the scenery of the city, I decided to go for some lunch. I knew of my favorite South Indian restaurant being there somewhere. Went and had a hearty lunch.

I was waiting for the walking tour that was to start from the Dam Square. Reached and then the tour started. Sharing what I learnt from that tour.

The guide warned us by telling us that national sport of Holland is hunting tourists with the bicycle – we have to be verrrrrrrrry careful while walking around – nobody was to take a chance by stepping into the bicycle lanes! Second piece of warning was to NOT go inside the “Coffee Shop” if anyone wanted Coffee. Why you wonder? Because in Amsterdam, Coffee Shops are for getting drugs not coffee. Coffee is served at a Cafe. Phew..just saved! Thank goodness I had my coffee at the South Indian restaurant!

With those instructions we started on the tour. First stop was the Red Light district. It looked like any normal neighborhood during the daytime. Some windows showed the women waiting for clients. Although it is a profession, it still evoked some sadness inside seeing those women looking at people in a matter of fact emotionless way. Only good thing is that since 2000 it is a legalized profession in Amsterdam, so the workers can get insurance.

There was a huge church right in the middle of that area – Oude Kerk – Old Church with all the windows around that church, clearly showing how the city turned a blind eye towards the profession. According to our guide, and I guess there is some truth in that – it was a necessary evil – considering the number of sailors who came into Amsterdam after being on the ships for months, in the last centuries.


Oude Kerk

About the Dam Square – the big street there used to be the Amstel river. About 800 years ago, fishermen built a dam because the river used to flood the town.

As the country had no major natural resources, so they started business with other countries and gave rise to a huge shipping industry. In the 17th century, it was the richest nation in Europe. There was a city wall from medieval times, which was removed in early 17th century. It became the golden age for the country.

In 1889 – the harbor used to be where the current Central Station is – it is an artificial island!

Walking ahead, I saw this interesting setup with all the old style clothes and the photographer there.


The photo artist with his paraphernalia

We reached the New Market square and then moved on towards the Jewish quarter. Before WW2, around 120000 Jews lived there but around 60000 were killed.

The harsh winter of 1944 destroyed the area because it was so cold that people took everything and burnt down. It was in such a bad shape that when the city was liberated, the soldiers thought that this area was bombed! This is now a quiet beautiful residential area.IMG_5210[1]

Then we came to the Dutch East India Company. It was started in 1602 and closed by 1792 or so (taken over by Batavian government). It was the first company to start share trading in 1602 – at that time it was for shipping companies.


Dutch East India Company


The current king of Holland is Wilhelm and the queen is Maxima (Argentinian). They live in Hague.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Kingdom of Holland and made his brother – Louis Bonaparte the king. But it was a short-lived kingship for him as he was not the puppet his elder brother had hoped him to be.

A funny side effect of the French occupation of Holland was that til today, the people are carrying the whimsical surnames that their ancestors came up with when they were forced to have one for the purposes of population registry.  Family names were not prevalent before. People followed a kind of patronymic system like “son of x” or “daughter of y” – Jansen or  Jandr but there was no set pattern as such. But when forced, then they came up with interesting names like Zondervan (without a surname), Zeldenthuis (rarely at home). I am leaving out the more “strange” ones. Now this story could be a joke or real – take your pick :).

Other quick facts that I learnt from our guide were:

  • Eduard Douwes Dekker , pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar. It was about the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia.IMG_5218[1]
  • The Dutch people have grown taller – about 20 cm increase in height in the last century!
  • Every year, the water department of Amsterdam fishes out 12000 to 15000 bicycles from the canals. Seemingly throwing bicycles in canals is a popular past-time!
  • In Amsterdam, houseboats are like normal houses with gas and electricity connection. Mooring rights are sold just like you would sell houses in other places.
  • 11 million trees were used to build the base for the city center after reclaiming the land from the sea. The trees have rotted slowly over the years thereby tilting the houses.
  • 20% of country is below sea level
  • Amsterdam is a Unesco world heritage site with 165 canals!

Thus with fun and facts, we ended the walking tour.. There was another interesting thing that happened later but more on that in the next post.




The Clouds with the message..

As I was waving away goodbye to Italy, little did I know that the return journey would become so long. First the flight didn’t start on time – stood in that queue for almost 1.5 hours because in this cheap flight, they don’t let you in sequentially but rather haphazardly. So everyone just queues up to avoid problem later with no spaces left for the carry on luggage.

Finally it started and I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was being announced that we would be landing soon although the weather conditions don’t look good. I was thinking of my options from the airport once the flight lands. And then all of a sudden, the pilot made the announcement that the flight will go to another airport which is about 125 km away from the airport at which we were supposed to land! Reason given was weather conditions. But I think it had something to do with the delayed arrival too.

Everyone looked at one another incredulously but what else could we do? A little muttering started among people.

Finally we landed and waited in the aircraft while the crew was getting the information about what would be done. Then after some time, they let us disembark and told us that there would be a bus arranged to go to the other airport and “most probably there would be information at the terminal”! Not very promising but again, what could you do? I remember one such incident in India with a local low cost carrier there. They served us water and snacks for free while we waited for more information and then they flew that flight to the correct destination! But probably there it was a strategic move to prevent the situation from getting escalated – we all know the passion that warm countries can generate :).

So here, everyone came out of the plane and reached the terminal but nobody was there to give any directions. I went like some others to get something to eat while all this was getting figured out. Waited near the exit and gradually the people started appearing (after having collected their checked-in luggage). I wasn’t sure what would be better. To sit at this airport and wait for a shuttle that would start post midnight but that which goes to the city I needed to go or go to the other airport which has a proper train station (so possibility of more connections). I had about 3 hours to kill whether I sat at this airport or took the bus ride to the other one. Finally after an hour, a bus arrived while I was still deliberating, and I took it to go to the other airport. (First one got filled just before I could get a place, then a second one arrived some minutes later.)

Reached the main airport at around 23:10 hrs. But it is so huge, it was difficult to get the ticket, figure out where the train would be arriving, reach the platform and board the earliest train. You know the drill.

The next train was at 00:28 hrs. Not any better than the shuttle that I could have waited for at the previous airport. But it just felt safer here waiting than at the other airport which is in the middle of nowhere! It did need a train change at one station. So it was risky due to possible train delay. But I took the chance. The first train was delayed but thankfully the connection was from the adjacent platform (no running needed) and was also delayed. So I managed to reach as planned. Then took a taxi home. Finally sometime between 2 and 3 am, I was at home. And did I mention that temperatures were arouns 10 degrees outside and I was clothed according to the 22 degrees of Italian temperatures?

Was so exhausted but grateful to be safely at home in the warmth of my blanket and went to sleep immediately.

Looking back, it seems that the real adventure was in returning..