An excuse to return to one of our favourite European cities – Krakow. A speaking engagement at a conference allows us to re-familiarise ourselves with the enormous Market Square and its pleasant surrounding streets. We stay at the Hotel Polski right on the old town wall by Florian’s Gate, that little bit further away from the blind drunk tourists who shout all night and keep you awake.


There is plenty time in the morning to walk around, staring at the impressive St. Mary’s Church in the square, then down to the huge Wawel Castle complex which provides excellent views along the Vistula River. After lunch in the square at the Europejska Café I wander down to the Manggha Japanese museum to deliver my talk. It’s on the opposite bank of the river so afterwards I cross the bridge again to meet Sarah for drinks on a boat before capping the day off with dinner at Pod Nosem.

The next day we walk down Starowisjna to an industrial area over the river to visit Schindler’s Factory. The ticket queuing system is dysfunctional, the exhibition is cramped and confusing in very low lighting, and it tells you very little about Schindler, instead focusing entirely on the German occupation. Nor is there any indication that we are in or anywhere near Schindler’s factory. The contemporary art museum next door at least provides some natural light. Barely worth the trip if you are short of time. We walk back to town for a late lunch in the sun at Szara in the square before flying to Gdansk.

After an efficient one-hour flight we arrive in Gdansk and take a 30-minute cab ride at considerable speed to Sopot – the Baltic Riviera. Seconds after checking in to the Hotel Rezydent there is a massive storm so we sit drinking red wine on our balcony trying to photograph lightning. Other than that the weather is lovely, and the next day we stroll down the Monte Cassino main street to the pier (molo) to promenade. The pier claims to feature Europe’s longest bench, but we couldn’t find it. There were extensive repairs going on and it didn’t feel as though they were ready for the summer season. After a pleasant meander along the excellent and uncrowded sandy beach, we had a good lunch in town at Zaprava, followed by a nanny nap. Bosco in the main square provides the venue for dinner, offset by some truly disastrous roller skate dancing by odd people dressed in wigs and gold dayglo.

Gdansk is a 20-minute train ride from Sopot, and on the way there we got lucky by inadvertently boarding the express train and arriving in luxury. No one asked us for a ticket. On the way back we were confronted by a guard and had to take the correct 10-stop version back. 4 zlotys versus 100 roughly. Our main objective in Gdansk was the shipyard made famous by the antics of the Solidarity movement and Lech Walesa. The monument to the shipyard workers was built in 1980 to commemorate the workers killed ten years before. It’s an impressive 130 feet high, with huge crosses on the top. The European Solidarity Centre is a fantastic building – impressive on the outside, and brilliantly designed inside. It’s well mapped out over several floors, with plenty of space, poignant graphics, film, and everything in English if you want it. All the atrocities of communism, martial law and oppression are here, with an uplifting ending that should be an inspiration to everyone. Suitably buoyed, we walk from this dramatic cranescape over the Raduna Canal and down to Stara Motlawa, the main canal area. Here is the Gdansk crane – a hoist-cum-city gate that is much talked about but not very exciting. We have lunch in the sun at Gdansk Bowke and wander back to the station. Back in Sopot things are still lively, but we are hoping for slightly less beer chanting because it is Sunday. Dinner at the fairly posh White Marlin is okay, but not as good as expected.

A one-hour flight to Warsaw sees us arriving at the Polonia Palace Hotel opposite the commanding Palace of Culture and Science. A present from Stalin, many locals hate it as a reminder of communism. We wander up Nowy Swiat to the Presidential Palace and the Royal Castle, but this doesn’t have the same character as Krakow, possibly because the whole thing has had to be rebuilt. The Germans laid the charges to blow up Krakow but had to leg it before setting them off. Warsaw wasn’t so lucky. After staring at the Barbican we have a G&T at Otto Pompieri on Marszalkowska before a pizza on Pereca. The next day we head out to the zoo, which is definitely worth a look, and finish with lunch at the Bristol Hotel back by the palace in the old town.

Poland is a great country to visit. Strong on character and history. Things are good value and everyone speaks English. Enjoyable, easy, and highly recommended, especially for European history.

(see other Poland blog for more detail).