Our last morning at Czocha was a bit of a whirlwind. Having checked the train time the previous night and booked a taxi all we had to do was pack…until we realised the train was half an hour before we thought, oops!! Luckily we had the type of driver who understood the actions for ‘step on it!’ and made it in good time. Whizzing through the Polish countryside we were really struck how beautiful, but poor, it seems to be. At least one in three buildings are either ruined or unfinished, roads unkept and cars left abandoned by the roadside.
The station looked like many other buildings we have seen in Poland so far, run down and slightly tumbling; reminiscent of something which was once beautiful, but is now just kind of a working ruin. After 5 minutes or so a little two carriage train trundled onto the middle track; luckily there were others waiting or else I’m not sure Luci and I would have gone against many years of ‘DON’T WALK ON TRAIN TRACKS!’ and crossed over to board. Another first time experience for us!
Travelling by train in Poland feels eerie. You cannot help looking at rusted tracks running alongside the well used modern ones and wondering if they were the tracks used to transport hundreds of thousands of families to the concentration camps and gas chambers which litter the countryside. Perhaps I’m being morbid, but it was a thought which struck us both.
Our next train was far more fitting two girls who had just completed a term at a College of Wizardry, with individual compartments which offered all mod cons like your own temperature gauge, announcement volume control and showed facts about how fast we were travelling and other interesting snippets. Yup, this was the way to travel! Until the conductor came along and informed us this was first class and could we kindly pay up or leave…oops!!
Seemingly not long after (but actually 6 hours) we pulled into Kraków. Usually at this point I’d be trying to find tourist maps and working out my orientation, but travelling with Luci is a breath of fresh air – the girl is so organised! She whipped out a printed nap and we were off, strolling through a lovely ‘planty garden’ (aka park) in the direction of our hostel. Most people travel by tram or bus but, as we know, the best way to see a city is to walk it!
It took around 15 minutes to reach the street meant to house the B Movie hostel. Staying in hostels can be a bit hit and miss, usually with the standards of cleanliness, bed comfort and amenities varying greatly from place to place, but the people always being awesome. In Kraków we lucked out. The B Movie hostel greeted us with a long wait in the rain outside a dilapidated gate, with a worn sign which even had a hardened traveller wondering if perhaps I’d finally been duped and this place had closed 10 years before. In the end it took visiting asking another nearby hostel to call on our behalf and convincing someone who’d popped out for a cigarette to gain entry. We climbed the dusty spiralling tilled stairs to the first floor and went in, where the receptionist showed little to no concern that the buzzer appeared not to be working. Great start. We were in the Godfather room (not a B Movie, but that’s a separate point entirely). I was all too aware this was only Luci’s second ever hostel and really wanted something positive to hit…unfortunately this place could only be labelled basic, but shoddy Internet, little to no breakfast and roomies from Indonesia who were freezing cold so the rest of us had to roast alive whilst breathing in the damp air from two loads of drying laundry. Hmm.
That evening we explored central Kraków, inside the castle walls, losing ourselves in the labyrinth of alcoholes and a seemingly endless array of gelato shops. At the very heart of the city is the market square, apparently one of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It has a really Russian feel (not that I have been there yet!) and is surrounded by elegant townhouses, all with their own unique names, histories and curiosities. Horses and carriages stand in a row offering historic tours of the centre. Unbeknownst to us we wandered the Royal Route, the historical coronation path of the Polish kings when Kraków served as the royal capital from the 14th century to the very end of the 16th century.
Around 8pm rumbling tummys got the best of us and we set out in search of food. Turned away from our first choice (though with reservations for tomorrow!) we ended up nestled between flame heaters right on the square overlooking the historic Cloth Hall where we enjoyed Bigos – a hunters stew served in a bread bowl. Warming and delicious for only 18zloty (about £3).