Friday, 29 August 2014

The Invasion of Poland: Gdansk

After getting up and having some breakfast and getting packed up I checked out, admittedly in a bit of a hurry. Apparently my breakfast wasn't inclusive in my extra night, so I had to fork out another 15 euro when time was of the essence. Needless to say I didn't feel bad then about piling up my little lunchbox earlier. Anyhow, I got that sorted quickly and also made it across to the train station with time to spare.

It was then a long train ride to Gdansk - which involved 3 changes and a little drama as the German rail office had reserved me seats for the trains in Poland, but not actually had me pay for them, which I had assumed had been done, but looking back can see that that step had been missed and I didn't ask the right questions. Anyhow, it was easily sorted and to their credit the Polish rail staff knew English and were polite enough about it.

At 8:30pm I finally made it to Gdansk and then had to proceed to find my hostel. I realised on the journey that technology had failed me and the email I had with the details had not been downloaded to my phone yet as I hadn't subsequently taken it to a wifi hotspot to do that. I did however remember that it was near a hotel that is part of a chain I was thinking it was the Mecure, so I decided to walk towards that (it was actually the Hilton that it is near to) but I came across the Scandic hotel and asked them for help. 

After some more walking, consulting of road signs, and consulting the Hilton, I found my hostel. Despite it being semi-hard to find, it actually is quite a good set up with free wifi and internet computers, lockers etc.

After getting myself sorted, I went out in search of some Polish money and some food. By this stage it was almost eleven - I got some cash from an ATM, possibly too much, found a supermarket about to close and got some bier sticks in case that was going to be the only thing I was going to be able to find and proceeded back to the train station where I had seen a McDonalds and KFC when I had arrived. They were both still open and rather popular - I opted for a burger drink and fries from KFC and surprised myself when I couldn't finish the fries due to a lack of appetite.

I walked back to the hostel, now I had some money I was going to be able to get a towel, however the staff weren't at reception so I opted for washing my feet instead before hitting the sack.

I woke, or at least got up at 6, although it felt later due to the sunshine. I did a few things, had a quick look outside, took some medication, sorted a towel and a shower etc and by then breakfast was ready. Breakfast consisted of cereals, toast/bread (which I didn't have) and a selection of processed cheese wedges and salami and ham. You could've even had tomato too.

After breakfast I talked to one of the staff on how I would get to Malbork Castle and Egiertowo - which is where my ancestors were from. I then lost some time checking my account balances after having to pay for the Polish trains and then getting cash the day before. Once I had done that I headed out - deciding either Malbork or Egiertowo were still options, but if I was going to go to Egiertowo I wanted to see if I could do some research first, so I went to the History museum, which was a pleasant walk along the canal away. I had a small talk with one of the staff, but did not learn a huge amount more than what I already knew of the history of Poland, and the museum didn't seem to have a variety or much English. Some of what I was trying to establish was whether it was possible my ancestors were/could've been Jewish.

Once I finished there I walked to the train station having decided that Malbork castle was the order for the day and headed there on the 12pm train, which took about 50minutes. Once I hopped off I proceeded to the castle, via a shop where I picked up a Polish hotdog, which was rather nice, a slightly thinner sausage, in a hollowed out cylindrical bun, but before they put the sausage in, they pump the bun full of whatever sauce you chose. The woman serving was in her 20's, attractive and spoke English. It seemed a little hit and miss in Gdansk whether people could speak English or not, but I was pleasantly surprised that someone in a shop in rural Poland, albeit a tourist site knew English.

Anyhow, Malbork castle was good, but for some reason left me lacking, I don't know why. I took a guided tour, it was a good work around the castle, but I wonder whether because I'd watched the documentary ("Battle Castles") I was too familiar with it, and perhaps it was because it was a red brick castle as opposed to your grey or sandstone type.

Getting back to Gdansk took a little bit more time, as the train didn't leave the platform for ages, then seemed to pause periodically along the way.

On the way back to the hostel I decided to get dinner at a place I'd read about in a wikitravel guide of Gdansk. It was called Bar Neptune, and was in the old town, which I'd been through in the morning, so I knew how to get there. Apparently it was a legacy of the Communist times, and therefore should've been cheap. I didn't think it was that cheap, admittedly it was a decent size, but basically they have the meals on plates, on display and you choose one. They didn't speak English so I had to take a chance, and on top of that I think they then reheated it in the microwave. Anyhow, it was ok, it was potatoes, ham and some other stuff.

The next day was dedicated to visiting Egiertowo - where my ancestors were from. I got going reasonably early, but somehow made a wrong turn. After enquiring at a Police station I passed, I got on the right track and caught the 9:30 bus, which was the first for the day. It was an experience catching a bus to a rural place in Poland, but I made it. I went about exploring when I got there, admittedly it was a small stretch of road with a couple of roads coming off it. One good thing I discovered was that there was a map on a billboard which helped. I discovered an old cemetery in a bush off one of the side roads. At the gate was 1868, but it was pretty grown over with shrubs and growth, and I couldn't find any names on headstones. There wasn't much else there, but I decided to chat to a local and see what they could tell me, so I went into a restaurant that was there, armed with a crudely drawn family tree and pictures of a church and headstones. It worked well- they told me there was no church in Egiertowo but the next village back did - which I'd seen on the way there. Since the first bus back wasn't until 2:24pm, I had time to kill anyway, so I set out on the 3-5km walk to the next town. I got there, went to the church, which I assume was a Lutheran church based on the shape of it. Unfortunately there was no one there to ask questions of, but there was another conveniently located billboard map which showed me that there was a cemetery nearby. I proceeded there, but it was a fairly modern cemetery and all the names were Polish vs. Germanic. Anyhow, I walked back to the main road and saw a sign for a Skelp - which I've worked out means shop, so I found that and bought some lunch - a snickers bar, some chips and vanilla dessert thing, and then went to the bus stop (in that town, not back in Egiertowo) and sat down and ate lunch and read my book for probably about an hour.

On returning to Gdansk, I went and sorted my train to Krakow for the next day, and then also the train later to Prague.

I went back to the hostel, packed my bags ready for the early start the next day, then booked my accommodation for Krakow and Prague. After that I was ready for dinner so I asked where a good place for traditional Polish food was, they recommended I walk along the river which went past our hostel and there were some places near the old town - so  I did that and found a nice place - complete with a hot waitress that spoke English, and later on discovered there was a huge snake in a window in the floor. I went for a beef stroganoff soup and a dumplings with mushroom sauce. Both were rather nice and didn't break the bank.

After that I went back and hit the sack, waking up rather early, like 5:30am but I got up because I didn't want to go back to sleep and risk not getting up. I got myself sorted after a shower etc and made my way to the train station, grabbing a small McMuffin for breakfast once I got there. Hopped on the train for Krakow...

Thoughts so far - I thought I'd done a good job at minimising my packing, but it still feels as though I'm lugging the kitchen sink. Some of the problem being I brung some little pocket-sized books as I figured they'd be nice and portable, of course until I read them and then store them accordingly, they get in the road.

I'm a little worried about my lack of passion... Malbork castle left me luke-warm, similarly going to Egiertowo left me questioning whether I'm just trying to be some sort of hero, my appetite comes and goes, and then there is the fact that Poland is full of hot women, but my interest comes and goes there too.

Anyhow, tune in for the next instalment - Krakow.

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