By Brad, Dan and Jamie
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Wherever the Wind blogging for this guest blog/forcible blog takeover. Branmie (Brad, Dan, and Jamie) have seen first-hand how hard Jed and Caitlin work on their blog posts, so we thought we would relieve them of this duty for the two countries over which we tagged along on their world tour. Our schedules all lined up to put us in two countries to which none of us had ever been: Poland and Hungary. With our first stop being Warsaw, we jokingly named the plan the Warsaw Pact after the Cold War security agreement, and set off on our way.
Saturday, after we all met up at our Warsaw apartment, we had some groggy jetlagged/train-lagged pizza (actually, due to some translation issues, we had five pizzas, which we proceeded to destroy entirely). The five of us love to go out to the clubs, but we’re also, admittedly, not 21 anymore. This started a string of fairly embarrassing Google searches like, “large, un-crowded Warsaw clubs.” After a few delicious Okocim beers at the apartment, we headed to a club located in the basement of the Tower of Science and Culture called Club Mirage. The place was perfect, complete with an expansive dance floor encircling a huge fountain and a DJ who took whatever request we held up on our phone (he may have just been excited someone was paying attention to him).
The casino story is a good place to bring up Jed and Caitlin’s meticulous budgeting system. The two of them track each expense, no matter how small, on apps on their phone, which are automatically converted to dollars and measured against their planned budget for the particular country. The budgets are even broken down into categories so they know how they are doing (Jed’s lament at one point: “I am under budget on everything except ‘entertainment’” [read: casino losses]).
Sunday was our big tourist day in Warsaw. Our first stop was the Warsaw Uprising Museum, chronicling the attempts during World War II to oust the Nazis from Warsaw as the Russians approached the city. The museum offered a lot of explanation of the confusion and general awfulness of the time, even containing newsreels and various underground newspapers from the time, and a huge sobering memorial wall of the people who died during the uprising and the subsequent Nazi retaliation, which leveled the city. We were pretty sleep deprived and probably didn't get the full effect, but one thing that stuck out is how World War II really sucked for the Polish: their uprising failed, their city was destroyed, and then they ended occupied by the Russians anyway.
The evening found us wandering around Warsaw’s Old Town, which we heard in a few places described as “Disney Old Town.” Warsaw was leveled in the war, so they rebuilt the old town to look like an old European city. The effect was a little bit cheesy, but we did find a restaurant to try some Polish dishes – pierogies and, for adventurous Dan, pork knuckle: tender meat wrapped it its original fat and served with spicy mustard, horseradish, and sauerkraut. Nom nom.
Moment of admiration for the Wherever the Wind duo: even after only two days of travel, the three of us had trouble stuffing our belongings into our massive suitcases. Jed and Caitlin, old pros, got everything into their (much smaller) backpacks, and we were off.
The train to Krakow was smooth, with the five of us sharing a cabin with one unfortunate Polish businessman. We went to the restaurant car for a while, where the friendly – but constantly upselling – clerk, Maicek, gave us some Polish beers and regaled us with his English (it was basically saying “okie dokie” a lot).
Tuesday morning kicked off with an apparent Wherever the Wind staple, the free walking tour. The tour started in Krakow's main square, which is the largest medieval town square in Europe, and walking around it alone took the first part of the tour. Our guide gave us a condensed history of what must be one of the most beautiful and storied cities in Poland: capital of the country during its independent years in the mid-1000s, the seat of its kings, and its subsequent years of occupation, uprisings, and nonexistence. Our guide dryly noted that Poland was good at throwing uprisings, but not really good at winning them – over the years of occupation by Prussians, Russians, Austrians, Germans, and Russians again, Poland rose up against its occupiers a number of times, but they were put down every time. Still, they had the last laugh: free elections in Poland first took place in 1989, months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The walking tour took us up to Krakow’s castle, with awesome views over the Vistula River, and complete with a fire-breathing statue of a dragon. By that time, we were wiped – these walking tours are no joke; Jed and Caitlin will have calves of steel when they return.
After that long night, we split up into separate factions on Wednesday. Dan and Jamie headed to the factory owned by Schindler’s List’s eponymous Oskar Schindler. The factory was converted into more of a general World War II museum, with mention of Schindler and his list limited to just a few rooms. It was, however, a very interesting museum, with immersive exhibits, and served as an effective prep for the trip to Auschwitz to come. Brad, despite being exhausted from staying up to watch the sunrise from one of Krakow’s bridges, somehow managed to crawl to the top of the Krakus Mound, a prehistoric structure overlooking the city. Jed and Caitlin got an experience with Polish socialized medicine, with Caitlin twisting her ankle in a fall – but she bounced right back after a short stay in a weirdly vacant Polish hospital. Total bill: $70. Reconvening, we had awesome Italian food near the main square (Wherever the Wind pro tip: walking tours make you crave carbs like no other) and prepared ourselves for a rough, emotional day to come.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of "Wherever the Takeover" coming soon....