Don’t ever put your bag in the back of a Polish minibus

After a very scenic train journey we arrived mid-evening in Zakopane and checked into Target Hostel, where we were reunited with Sami from Finland who we had met in Krakow. There were very few of us in the hostel as this resort town is only really busy in the ski season and the hiking months of July-October. Therefore after making some food it was a very quiet night in.

The next day we decided to take one of the cable cars in the area up to a viewpoint. The highest cable car in the area was unfortunately closed for repairs, but we were still able to get up fairly high on another and were greeted with fantastic views of Zakopane and the mountains surrounding it. Walking down a steep footpath back into the centre we stopped for a well needed beer! That night we went to a restaurant that served local food and left absolutely stuffed, having greatly enjoyed the food that was mainly meat that had been slowly roasted on a barbecue.

Up relatively early the next day we got on a minibus to Poprad, Slovakia at 9.15. We intended to visit Aquacity, a water-park there, before continuing to Bratislava on the train. Another scenic journey through the mountains ensued and we duly arrived in Aquacity around 2 hours later. We got off the minibus, looking forward to a few hours swimming in good weather. However, when the boot was opened to collect Dad’s bag (there had been no space for mine and so I had it with me on the minibus) it was nowhere to be seen. Very shocked and worried we tried to figure out what we should do. We wrote down a list of everything that had been in the bag, thankfully there was nothing of any value as that was all in our smaller bags. We had passed through the main bus station in Poprad just a few minutes before we arrived at Aquacity, and had only stopped a handful of times at smaller stops on the rest of the journey, so we thought that the bag must have been taken from there. Deciding to return to the bus station we aimed to look around the streets next to it, hoping that if someone had stolen the bag they would have realised it contained nothing of value and dumped it somewhere. We approached the driver of the minibus to ask if we could get a lift back to Poprad. He asked us what the bag looked like and so we said it was black and described its shape. The bus driver, though his English was very limited, told us that he thought he had seen a blonde woman around 30-35 take the bag off at one of the smaller stops. He pointed out which stop it was and we asked if he could take us there on his return journey. He said that was fine, clearly slightly embarrassed about the whole situation.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at the stop and started looking around trying to find the bag, thinking that it may have been dumped behind a building or a wall. It was looking very unlikely that we would find it. Approaching a small wooden hut in the corner of the car park in which the bus stop was situated I noticed a sign that said ‘Parking Attendant’. A man was sat inside and I suggested to Dad that we should ask him if he had seen anything. Dad was hesitant to ask but I decided that it was worth a try. Nearing the booth I suddenly spotted a black bag on the floor of the booth. Asking Dad to see if it was his it turned out it was, untouched and with everything inside! The only reason we can think of for this is that someone took the bag out of the boot to take their’s out and forgot to put it back in, thus leaving it in the middle of the car park where it was collected by the parking attendant who put it in his office.

Thanking our lucky stars we waited in a nearby cafe for the next bus back to Poprad, determined to not let the experience ruin our day and still enjoy ourselves and relax in Aquacity. Dad ordered a coffee and a shot of vodka to calm himself down whilst we waited. Needless to say he needed it! About half an hour later another bus bound for Poprad pulled up in the car park. We went to get on and as we did the bus driver asked us a question that we certainly knew our answer to: “Would you like to put your bags in the back?”

There’s always a first time in a police car

After a very good night out with some of the others staying at Hostel Mosquito the next day brought with it our final day in Kraków. Up at around 9am we set off on the tram for the museum at the renowned Schindler’s factory brought to international attention in Spielberg’s film. The exhibition turned out to be extremely good, with a very thoughful layout taking you through the history of Kraków from its prosperous pre-war times to it’s experiences and changes under both Nazi and Soviet occupation. It also included personal accounts from those working in Schindler’s factory and their gratitude to Schindler for making the factory one of the best places for a Jewish person in Kraków at that time to work. 

However, after leaving the museum the day suddenly took a turn for the worse. A mix up with the tram system and a run in with some ticket inspectors meant that about half an hour later we found ourselves being bundled into separate police cars heading for the main police station in Kraków. Faced with threats of not paying the fine and not keen on spending the night in a Polish police cell we confirmed the amount, and after a trip to the bank to take out the necessary funds and handing over the money headed on our way a bit shaken up. 

Heading to the Rynek Underground Museum where we had booked tickets for an entrance slot earlier on, that we had clearly missed, we were shown kindness by the ticket seller who felt sympathetic and arranged for us to go into the museum right then even though we should have arrived about two hours earlier. Our luck was proving to be changing, though it was hard to focus clearly on the museum and the museum experience was therefore slighty detracted from. After a quick look round we headed back to the hostel to collect our bags, looking forward to getting on our next train. We would be heading for the Tatra mountains that lead into Slovakia, keen to be escaping cities for a few days and getting some fresh mountain air.

Just as we were leaving the hostel with all of our bags the hostel staff gave us a few stickers with the hostel’s logo on. They said that we should try and get a picture with the stickers stuck in an adventurous location and send it back to the hostel to be put up on a wall they had there. I said it was a pity we didn’t have one earlier that day, we could have put one in Kraków’s police station!

So Dad is too old for hostelling!

After a few very good days exploring the streets and sights of Prague we continued on our journey. Our first experience of the rail system in Eastern Europe was to be an overnight train from Prague to Kraków, the city which used to be the Polish capital. Departing at 22.29 and arriving at just before 07.00 the journey was a little cramped in a 6-bed dorm, with bunk-beds three storeys high and about a metre separating the two sets. However, we were lucky in that we were sharing the dorm with just an Austrailian couple and that the beds were comfy enough, allowing both myself and Dad to get a semi-decent nights sleep before our early arrival.

Upon our arrival in Kraków train station we walked outside and, spotting a map, we tried to locate our hostel with the strange name of Hostel Mosquito. We knew that it was close to the train station and we found it on the map just a couple of streets away. We arrived and got buzzed into the building, instructed to come up to the second floor. First impressions of the building were not good, it reminded us of a classic Communist-era building, and not a good one! However, we duly reached the second floor and were pleasantly surprised to find the hostel extremely well decorated and welcoming. Needless to say we were very relieved having booked two nights here!

We had booked these two nights in a 12-bed dorm and whilst checking in we discovered that there was an age-restriction for those staying in dorms in the hostel, 18-45. Therefore the question was answered, Dad is too old for hostelling! However, these restrictions luckily turned out to be more like guidelines and the hostel staff said that they were happy for Dad to stay in the dorm as long as he was okay with it, as people may be coming in at all hours. Naturally he was, joking that he may be the one coming back at 5 in the morning!

We spent the rest of the day exploring Kraków, beginning in the market square with a coffee overlooking the square, observing as it gradually began to fill with tourists and horses and carriages. We made sure to catch the bugle playing from the tower of St Mary’s Church, which suddenly cuts off in memory of a past bugle player warning the city that it was under attack before being struck dead. From the square we made our way to Kraków’s castle, exploring the grounds and seeing the “real fire-breathing” dragon outside of the castle’s walls by the riverside. Picking up lunch from the market next to our hostel we had a quick break and then headed out again, this time joining a free walking-tour of the Jewish quarter of Kraków. On this tour we stopped at many sites including multiple locations used for filming the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List as well the site of the old Jewish ghetto created during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Following a similar theme of Jewish history in Nazi-occupied Poland we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau the following day, reaching the museum site by train. Neither of us were as shocked as we thought we might be by the exhibits on show, even though these include 2 tonnes of real human hair and over 40,000 pairs of shoes belonging to the former inmates of the concentration camps. What we were shocked at though was the enormous scale of the camps. Birkenau was particularly hard to take in, having been comprised of 360 buildings over 420 acres as well as 4 gas chambers, now in ruins. The day truly was a sombre experience but one incredibly worthwhile!

After returning to the hostel we found some of the other hostellers planning to go out in Kraków, some for the fifth or sixth night in a row! Picking up some beers from the supermarket across the street I joined in for some drinking games and a night out on the town. Dad was invited but politely declined. Like I said, maybe he’s too old for hostelling!

And so it begins…

And so it begins. Three weeks in Eastern Europe with my dad. What have I let myself in for!

We arrived in Prague at 7pm local time after a very stress-free journey thankfully not affected by French strikes. Still very warm when we arrived we decided to head out, both driven by a mutual longing for a beer and something to eat. Having asked the hostel receptionist for a recommendation of somewhere close by with good, local food we were directed just a few doors down to “Lokal”. We were certainly not disappointed with authentic Czech food and, more importantly, authentic Czech lager!

Feeling very content we briefly wandered along Charles Bridge before heading back to our hostel for the next two nights, Hostel Mango, conveniently just a street away from the bridge.

We’re in a 6-bed dorm tonight, time to see if Dad is too old for hostelling!