The Memoirs of Three (Four) Hopeless Travellers
Part One: Krakow, Bratislava, Zagreb.
For many, a holiday is an adventure. An experience. An escape from mundanity.
For me, it was all three and also a giant pain in my arse.
Lesson number one of Going on Holiday with Friends… For Dummies: do not get pissed the night before your flight so you fly on three hours sleep. Leave the aching pains and despair for the flight home. Secondly, when I say ‘lesson’, I do not use it sparingly. For this post is essentially a catalogue of mistakes from which I hope my enormous audience of my mother, father and girlfriend will learn from.
Anyway, save the drinking until you get there. I doubt I gave my mates the cheery welcome that they imagined en route to the airport when I rock up without saying hello and begin whinging about my ‘big fuck off bag’. And I know I didn’t imagine the weeks prior that I would be slumped waiting for my flight to Krakow, anxiety-ridden and shattered.
Lesson Two: activate your travel card before you fly so you’re not immediately fannying about with borrowing cash from your mates and spending precious brainpower working out how many pints equivalates to the money owed. However, my travel card from Starling Bank works wonders so hey, maybe I’m good for something.
Lesson Number Three: bring earbuds. For me, this was the first time I had travelled for a lengthy period of time with these lads. The only occasions I had slept in the same room as them were occasions I was ‘concussion mode’ drunk. After drinking I would be able to sleep through the noises of a construction site even if it was in the next room. The first night in Krakow, I wasn’t capable of getting in such a state. I therefore discovered that one of my mates snores. Well, I knew that already. What I didn’t know is that throughout the night these snores rotate between sounding like a human traction engine and a dying boar. So yeah, another four hours sleep for me. I can’t complain, however, I just feel sorry for his missus.
Preliminary lessons taught. Tick.
Now time for the actual holiday. Destination One: Krakow, Poland.
Puns aside, Krakow is a cracking city. There’s a solid blend between the historical tourist attractions and the young energy of the city. Bustling with students and bars, a lot of the time you’re better off going off the beaten track. If you’re drinking, avoid the main square like the plague. As a young lad, you’ll get pests wandering up to you saying ‘cocaine’ and ‘titty bar’ every two minutes. My advice? Hala Glowna. It’s one of many bars situated 10 minutes NE of the central square. Instead of getting ripped off, you’ll be paying less than two quid for strong beer and four quid for an entire pizza. The area its situated in is brimming with a young crowd every night – essentially Krakow’s Northern Quarter. Deck chairs, unstable hammocks and a dodgy smelling club all to boot. What’s not to love?
Poland is a country of good booze and shit food. It must be pretty depressing when your delicacy is pork knuckle. Because of the quality of the restaurants (and because we were being tight arses) we resorted to cooking our own food a couple of nights. Trips to the local supermarché were therefore necessary and this is where I ran into a bit of trouble.
So first night, just arrived, eager to head out to the city. But we’re hungry, we want to stock up on scran, we want to see Europe’s array of Milka bars. The shop is just round the corner, we get there, my mates take out some money, I borrow some of their money. We’re strutting to the entrance of the shop when some big bald Squidward-looking fella comes out carrying out the bins from the shop. After clocking my accent, he goes to swing this bin into my leg as he’s walking past. Like any normal Brit, I apologise once, twice, thrice. Squidward stands still, eyebrows twitching as if they’re about to fly off his head and stares, no, glares at me until he’s literally forced to blink. Always picking on the little guy…
Inside, he keeps looking at me like he’s got nothing better to do. My Milka bars are calling me though (FYI Milka and Tuc goes off). Whilst the cashiers took half an age to scan a single item, the trip to the shop finished smoothly. That’s until, we opened our large bottles of water. Now sparkling water is wrong on an ethical, moral, humanitarian and sensory level. It is angry water. However, apparently it is socially acceptable a beverage that tastes like puddle water from Chernobyl. We bought four, yes FOUR, litres of sparkling water before managing to buy a single bottle of still water. Always open before you buy people.
Now that I have proven I am able to complain about anything, even water, I shall ease up and tell you all the positives of Krakow and its experiences. The main square in Krakow is the biggest in Europe and it is majestic. In European capitals it is often hard to find an ugly building. Krakow is no different. Enclosed within lines of tall pastel-coloured buildings are grand clock towers and churches and picture-taking-tourists. The main square is somewhere to amble around. It’s good for A pint because of everything around you but no more.
Next up on our grand tour of non-emotionally-devastating landmarks of Krakow… we have Wawel Royal Castle. In all honesty, this castle won’t take your breath away. It’s well worth the steps on the way up and a welcome departure from any you will see in England. A concentrated agglomeration of domed and spired towers is the highlight and the gardens are pleasant but don’t take more than an hour. Ultimately, it is free to visit and that’s a rarity. Go see it, don’t be lazy.
Now for arguably one of the most emotionally charged tourist destinations in Europe, Auschwitz. Because of the price and our budget, we decided to go here instead of the Salt Mines or Schindler’s Factory and I don’t regret our decision for a second. About an hour out of Krakow, you can feel the sobering atmosphere once you step through the gates. Some particularly harrowing highlights of the tour were the guide reminding us that since the Nazi’s burnt a lot of the prisoners bodies, their ashes would be scatted among the earth we were walking upon and the collection of shoes in the museum. Within the workhouses are now glass displays, within which one held thousands of confiscated shoes. Between the mountains of shoes and the glass was a small bare space and as I walked along the corridor of the exhibition, I noticed a single shoe occupying this space. A shoe that will have belonged to a little girl.
Auschwitz is an intense experience and if it had not been 36 degrees and drained of all moisture, I would have shed a tear or two. The guides are genuinely excellent though and it would be foolish to visit Krakow and not visit Auschwitz. Just remember the tissues.
Next stop: Bratislava.
It’s in Slovakia.
Just a heads up, when interrailing, especially in the less prosperous countries of Europe, the trains are a pain in the arse. Our journey from Krakow to Bratislava was over ten hours in total. Multiple changes, three delays and two annoying twats sat next to me. I love them but when you’re in such confined spaces with your best mates there will never be a time when you’ll want to push them on train tracks. Bring headphones, a book and a deck of cards. And when dealing cards, never do it when one player is in the toilet or you’ll never hear the end of it.
‘You lot have cheated. You’ve given me all the worst cards. I’m not stupid.’
No, you’re just shit at shit-head.
So eventually, we arrived in Bratislava. Don’t get me wrong, we had fun whilst we were there. The cheap pints kept flowing, the unhealthy food kept on being guzzled and the heat kept us sleepless. Unfortunately, Bratislava is a graveyard of a capital that has cute little streets but monuments that scream communism and remind you of a Call of Duty map. The whole city can be seen within a day. 12 hours. 6 hours. 3 hours. An hour and a half if you’re quick. I’m being quite harsh as it did have it’s niche little spots. Umbrella-covered streets, sticker-laden walls and lego-constructed bricks. But ultimately, it was the most forgettable of all the cities that we visited. Even its castle looked like something my little brother would make on Minecraft.
Thankfully, there was two perks of Bratislava. Firstly, we stayed in a hostel rather than an apartment which meant that we spoke with other travellers. While generally, I’m quite antisocial and people struggled understanding what we said in our accents, it was nice and refreshing to speak to other people. Finding out about other cities and other people’s stories always makes for fulfilling conversations. Although, I must say, the Australian we shared a room with needed his mouth strapping up with duct tape – Mr. Worldwide type. Naturally, when you meet more people you’re more easily convinced to participate in group bar crawls and that is exactly what we did. Now, bar crawls are a rip off and I tried telling my mates that but do they ever listen? Aside from that and paying over 30 quid for a round in the ‘club’ the bar crawl ended in, it was a pretty fun night. One highlight was when some random skinny kid we were with getting kicked out after being caught stealing Coronas out of an ice bucket that belonged to a Brock Lesner look alike. But the best has to be that we managed to convince an American girl that everyone in Manchester says something is Claude Makelele when they want to say it is rubbish. Because Makelele… macca… rubbish. Yeah, doesn’t really make sense to me either.
Undoubtedly the best part of Bratislava, however, was that it was only an hour away from Vienna. On our second day we got an early train to Austria and ticked another country off our list. While Bratislava is bland, Vienna is rich. The simplest architecture was substituted for glorious sculpted buildings and so forth. Vienna is one place that I wish I could spend a long weekend there for. It is arguably the most beautiful city I’ve visited. It’s large though and thus, the six hours that we spent there weren’t enough. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see Schönbrunn Palace or the Museums Quartier but FORTUNATELY lime scooters exist. £15 well spent on whizzing about all day seeing buildings upon buildings, each more majestic than the last, whilst simultaneously pissing off locals because you nearly run them over was the best £15 I spent whilst I was away. My personal highlights were the Karlskirche and Hofburg but honestly, spend three days in Vienna, it will be worth it.
Slovakia ticked off for once and for all, we went onwards to Zagreb. Another 10 hour journey of inconveniences and intimidating Slavic police checks and we arrived. Waltzing out of the train station we were greeted by the sound of two Croatians, guitar in hand, making George Ezra sounding even worse than usual. But the sun was shining, the relief was real and we were ready to meet another one of our mates that night – which meant one thing… getting pissed.
Zagreb, many of you will be glad to know, took the crown for the cheapest pint all holiday. In the majority of the city and the main streets for drinking and eating, we found that it was around £2 per pint, which is reasonable enough in my opinion. But then we found the holy grail – the land of the one pound pint. Now this place was tucked away in a secret square, you’ve got to look or you won’t find it. Unfortunately for you (if you ever go to Zagreb, unlikely with King’s Landing on the horizon), I can’t remember the name of the place, nor can I be arsed looking it up.
Now, I’m not singing Zagreb’s praises purely because of the price of one bar’s alcohol. Zagreb had arguably the best atmosphere of all the cities I visited. It’s not bustling and stressful, everyone seems genuinely relaxed. No locals tried to kill me here which is always a bonus. But Zagreb had a grittier underground which we soon discovered. In our favourite gaff, we wondered which shit EDM club we could grace our presence with when a wallet fell out of a bloke’s pocket that was sat across from us. My mate, Charlie gave him his wallet back and this bloke started speaking to us offering his thanks. He told us he was a big Croatian actor, which I doubt otherwise he wouldn’t be mingling with the likes of us. Then came his second questionable claim – he told us that tonight, in exactly one hour’s time, there was a ‘big big party’ in a bunker that happens once every two years.
So off we go, no questions asked, like giddy school children with a belly full of beer. The more we walked, the more we said ‘where the fuck is this?’ Every step took us further out of the centre of town, to quiet little roads where old biddies walk their dogs. We thought he was having us on, until we heard a sound. Drums, drums in the deep. Google maps was thrown out of the window, we followed our ears like starry eyed fuck heads. A couple of minutes we were there, at the entrance of this clandestine tunnel. We went down into the rabbit hole. This seedy looking WWII bunker went on and on and on until it opened into this huge space, flashing lights galore, floor littered with Budvar cans and eyes covered with sunglasses. Store Street, eat your heart out.
So we run off quickly, apparently a bar next door was selling cans. Passing through lots of Croatians looking worse for wear and.. a small swarm of policemen. We begged and hoped for the best but alas, when we got back the rave had been shut down. Ten minutes, ten bloody minutes of bliss and feeling like we had cracked immersing yourself in a different society and it was over. Ah well, things went from better to worse that night as we went to a club, argued because Mario wanted to go home, forced Mario to stay and watched Mario projectile vomit across the dance floor. The night was cool though, a peak of the holiday probably. The next day, however…
Was absolutely horrible. With fatigue setting in, every day after we went out we were MIA, shades of our former selves – soft arses. Be prepared for days of moping about and feeling sorry for yourself on holidays like this. I must say, however, we nipped shops and bought our own food and cooked ourselves a stir fry. Well me and Oli did, some of us stuck to the chicken nuggets and chips. But honestly, homemade food may as well have been Michelin star quality. I had consumed so much shit that I was becoming what I ate and it felt good to eat something other than pizza or a burek.
Luckily for us, Zagreb isn’t a city that you need a lot of time to do all the sights. It’s compact with no major standout attractions. A couple fancy looking churches, like everywhere else. A few unexciting museums, like everywhere else. And one glorious looking cathedral that was ruined by large amounts of scaffolding, like every other attraction, ever. And thinking about it, I cannot recall a single time where I have looked up in awe at something, groaned at the disrupted aesthetic and then said ‘fair enough’ when I realised there were workers on the scaffolding attempting to preserve the building. Not once.
Oh well, just another opportunity to moan before ending Part One of The Memoirs of Three (Four) Hopeless Travellers.
Next stop… Ljubljana, Slovenia.