Poland was by no means even on my radar. Berlin was, and that’s the place I discovered myself after two months of Eurailing throughout the continent. The German capital had been a key goal from the very starting of my journey. However a number of spontaneous detours, just a few new friendships, and a number of prolonged stays in new favourite cities had delayed me.
A message from a pal I’d made in Florence pinged on Fb. The message mentioned she was in Warsaw. I needed to pull out my rail map to seek out out precisely the place Warsaw was in relation to Berlin. “Have rail go, will journey” I replied, embarrassingly, after I noticed there was a direct connection between the 2.
Berlin to Warsaw
On paper, the 2 capitals are miles aside. 356, to be actual. Given Europe’s diminutive measurement, that’s fairly a distance. Warsaw is sort of as far east of Berlin as Amsterdam is west. It appeared a frightening distance to cowl, and it was taking me dramatically off my authentic itinerary. A pal again house put me in my place with a trite message that also by some means resonated: “Neglect premeditated plans,” he mentioned. “Comply with the enjoyable.”
I found that there’s a direct EuroCity prepare, referred to as the Berlin-Warszawa Categorical, that cuts the journey time down to simply 5 hours. And like that, my itinerary shifted east to Poland.
Just a few hours into the journey the prepare floor to a halt. I gazed out the home windows and noticed nothing however brown fields and lifeless timber. Seconds later the scent of one thing burning floated down the corridors, after which smoke billowed previous the home windows. Fellow passengers appeared round bemused however unconcerned. “Poland,” mentioned a German man sitting reverse. “Typical.”
Maybe it was the brand new forex, the curious mismatched structure, or the sight of a well-known face after weeks of anonymity afforded by solo journey, however I used to be instantly in awe of the Polish capital.
Focused bombing all however obliterated Warsaw throughout World Struggle II. In consequence the reconstructed Previous City feels extra like a rigorously thought-about film set than an natural city growth. Nonetheless, there’s one thing miraculous about simply how a lot work needed to be achieved to revive it to its former glory. And although a lot of the Previous City is about open-air cafes, cheerful buskers, road artists, and the nice life, I felt a sort of disappointment nonetheless hanging over elements of town.
Subsequent days allowed for extra exploration of the Previous City and its numerous sights on foot. An ungainly encounter in a Milk Bar ended with me pointing on the incomprehensible Polish chalk board menu and hoping for one of the best. Fortuitously, even probably the most mediocre meal in a Polish Milk Bar is respectable, or on the very least nourishing. Higher but, it can seldom price greater than a fistful of Zlotys. Pierogi (stuffed dumplings) and hearty thriller soups (normally peppered with sausage) rule these staple eating institutions, which date again to the late 1800s. Truly, many really feel as in the event that they haven’t modified in any respect since, however that’s exactly the purpose.
It’s tempting to forged Warsaw as a capital struggling to maintain up along with her western neighbors. However that might be doing her an incredible disservice. There’s a youthful vibrance shining by means of. You may see it in its standard hostels, bustling espresso retailers, hip bars and eating places, dynamic bike share community, and informative, energetic strolling excursions. While you mix all of this with a captivating, albeit somber, historical past, the important function town performed within the musical world (it was the birthplace of Frédéric Chopin, in any case), and her beautiful city parks, it’s a metropolis tough to depart behind.
Finally my restricted time had me marching on. I boarded a prepare in Warsaw, and three hours later was in Kraków.
Legend has it Kraków was based after the defeat of a dragon. Skeptics might scoff at this delusion, however there’s a medieval allure that floats down from the fort on the hill and thru town’s cobbled streets. Kraków is crammed stuffed with hovering church steeples, certainly one of Europe’s largest market squares, dozens of noteworthy museums, and a seemingly countless assortment of underground bars serving a few of Europe’s most cost-effective alcohol.
Nonetheless, town’s tragic historical past and proximity to Auschwitz-Birkenau focus camp underpins the entire modern-day magnificence and revelry. Day journeys to this website are a typical a part of any journey to Kraków. The near-silent walks by means of the Nazi focus camp present ample alternative for reflection on Europe’s tragic previous. It’s totally shifting and unnerving.
If Warsaw is an enormous, sprawling, bustling metropolis onerous to pin down, Kraków is compact, immediately charming, and intensely livable. Two nights was 4. I out of the blue realized I used to be falling nicely behind the schedule dictated by my quickly expiring visa. After days wandering the streets till the early hours, reflecting on the nation’s harrowing historical past, and typically not wanting to depart, I boarded a prepare south for Zakopane — the one small city I may discover that had a prepare station.
I knew little or no about Zakopane earlier than I arrived. I checked into the city’s solely open hostel requested the receptionist what there was to do within the space.
“You’ve clearly heard in regards to the Valley of 5 Lakes,” she mentioned, pulling out a map. “That is the way you get there.”
I hadn’t heard in regards to the Valley of 5 Lakes, however the identify alone was adequate for me. The following day I boarded a small bus for the beginning of this well-known path into the Excessive Tatra mountains.
A while later I reached the summit, which overlooks a dramatic excessive altitude lake. After taking it in, I rounded one other to see one just a few hundred meters decrease, after which finally one other and one other. After a day of strolling by means of pristine wilderness I made it again to the principle thoroughfare and again to actuality. As soon as there, I walked a quiet path again accompanied by the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the swishing of rapids alongside me.
The hike provided a lot of time to replicate on an unplanned journey to Poland, and to additionally respect the true pleasure and spontaneity that touring Europe on a rail go can convey. I used to be now a number of hundred miles off beam from my authentic itinerary, however as I boarded a small bus early the following morning to take me throughout the Excessive Tatras to Slovakia, I couldn’t have been any happier.