Monday, 9 September 2013

Euro Rail 2013

The timing isn’t great having only moved to my new flat 3 days ago, but I’m determined to have some much needed R&R on my backpacking adventure.
After a short walk from my flat laden with my backpack I arrived at the bus stop in Alcester for the 26 A service to Stratford Upon Avon. The bus came on time at 10.34 and I was off! The bus (£4.35 single) made its way through the surrounding Hamlets of Alcester and made its way to Stratford.

I made my way to the station, and my 11.36 train to London Marylebone was there waiting. I boarded my first train with a Latte and sat back for the journey. The train left on time (£6 single) and the journey was pleasant, and uneventful in comparison to my journeys through India.

The train arrived a few minutes early at London Maralybone at 13.30. It was then a short walk to Baker street station to catch the tube on the Metropolitan line to kings Cross St Pancras. (£4.50) I reached St.Pancras International without any dramas, to a magnificent building with beautiful architecture. The station was a mixture of old and new which blended seamlessly. After check-in (just like an airport with the luggage scanners and passport control) I sat at a continental bar for lunch – Red wine and an Antipasto Misto (£14.40!) We were called through to departures at 15.05 before my Eurostar train leaves at 15.31.

I boarded the train (£39 Single), found my seat and sat back to enjoy the journey across through the Kent countryside, under the English Channel onto my next destination….Paris. The journey was smooth and the seats were comfortable. I went to the buffet carriage to have a glass of beer just as we went under the channel.

As we made it to the French side of the Channel, the scenery was the same as in England apart from the toll roads you could see out of the window. The train ground to a halt just outside Lille, and moved slowly for the next hour due to train traffic, but we eventually got moving again and arrived at Paris Gard du Nord at 20.30.

From Gare du Nord I had to get the Metro to Place D’italie, from North to South Paris. This was 12 stops. I arrived at Place D’Italie and got my bearings and made my way down Avenue De Goblins to my hostel called Oops!! The hostel looked pretty neat and tidy and I was happy with my choice. My room was a shared dormitory with a bunk bed and an unknown occupant, but guessing by the shoes and trainers it was a male.

I dropped my bag off as the sun went down and headed off to the Latin Quarter, a short 10-minute walk away. I found a bar called Connolly’s corner, an Irish bar, to unwind and relax. They served superb Guinness, and there was a group of musicians playing Violins, Flutes and singing. A great location. Three pints later I headed back to Oops via an Indian restaurant I spotted earlier. They served what I think is the best Indian food I have tried outside India. A fabulous mixed vegetarian Thali. I said to the waiter that I was a travel writer, writing reviews of the place that I was visiting. I think this persuaded him to serve me a free Cognac!

Full and tired I headed back to Oops, to my bunk. As I sorted my bag out, a young American guy entered my room. I guess this was my roommate. I was on top bunk and slept quite well. The room was comfy and warm with a clean ensuite bathroom. A good value Hostel close to the metro lines. (€36 a night). Breakfast is included, which consisted of the obligatory Croissant, a bread roll, cereals, hot drinks and juice.

After breakfast I gathered my backpack to leave it in storage at the hostel for the day, and went out to explore. I bought a day pass for the metro €10.50 and headed to Notre Dame.

From there I walked to the Louvre and Place de Concord. The Louvre is a stunning museum with a glass pyramid in the centre, inside the Louvre is the Mona Lisa.

 Then it was back onto the metro to Pigalle and Sacre Coeur. The French Metro system is an excellent way to get around Paris.  The trains will take you near enough anywhere in Paris in about 20 minutes, and the day pass is excellent value for this type of trip. I could hear the sound of accordian coming from one of the tunnels linking the Metro lines.

The Sacre Coeur Basilica is at the summit of Montmatre in Northern Paris. The view at the top gives brilliant views over Paris below.

 The area around The Sacre Coeur is beautiful with lots of Cafes and street artists. A lot of great talent there.  I sat at a cafe with a Coffee for about an hour people watching and taking in the atmosphere. I had a crepe whilst I was there, a delicious sweet pancake.

 Then I caught the Metro to Tour Montparnasse. The building is largely an office tower which  towers over Paris, only surpassed by the Eiffel tower. A lift takes you to near the top of the tower where theres views out of the windows and a cafe. Then you can climb 2 further storeys to an open  viewing platform right at the top (€12.50) with incredible views.

 Then it was back on the metro to the Eiffel tower to see the magnificent building from the ground. I've been here several times, including a trip to the top of the tower. It still is a stunning building, which is worth visiting time and time again.

It was now heading towards 16.00, so I headed back to the hostel to collect my backpack, which was now buried under a mass of luggage. I hauled it out, and then made my way to Gare de L’est for my night train to Munich. I was there about 2 hours early so I had a snack and relaxed with my boots off, to give my aching feet a breather. The waiting room had power points so I was able to boost my mobile phone charge, and have  a pastry/cheese snack with a couple of glasses of French Lager!

I headed to the train ready for my 18.44 departure. I boarded the train and found my compartment ok. The room was tiny and was shared with 5 other people! I’ve had more room on the trains in India! I was sharing with 3 women and 2 other men, all French apart from me. Luckily the one younger student called Alicia could speak good English. She was friendly and we had a chat. I was on the top bunk and  had very little head room , so stood outside the compartment chatting with her watching the world go by. Everyone seemed to turn in about 9pm so I joined them to try and sleep in my coffin. I slept on and off for the rest of the journey and we arrived in Munich at about 08.00 the next day.

I found my hostel ok. Euro youth hostel, just close to the train station. It was a nice building and the staff seemed friendly. I checked in, but you can’t access the room until after 2pm. I left my backpack and headed out in the rain to have some breakfast. I came across a Turkish café and had a soup breakfast and a strong coffee to keep me going.

As the weather wasn’t great I decided to go and do a very German thing by getting Naked in a Spa!
I caught the S2 train to Erding on the outskirts of Munich to a spa place called Therme Erding. It cost €29 to get there and included entry for 4 hours. It was a huge place with many different steam rooms and saunas. After the initial shock of being surrounded by loads of naked men and women, I got used to it, and found it quite liberating. There was also a huge pool with a bar that you could swim out to, to have a beer or three. The main sauna had a salt ceremony, where you go into this very hot sauna, then outside into the cold to rub rock salt into yourself, followed by a cold shower, then more salt and back into the sauna. Quite a surreal experience, showering naked with 50 Germans!

Cleansed and totally liberated I went back to central Munich to the Hostel and to my room. A nice big room shared with 5 others. So far there are 2 young students from Luxemburg who seem friendly. After a bit of rest, I went out for a few drinks. I started off with a beer at the bar downstairs. The weakest beer they had was 5.3%! I had a 0.5l beer called Augustiner Helles. A nice smooth lager. I then went to a beer hall that was recommended by my hostel. Its called Augustiner Brewery, about a mile away. The place was a very typical German Beer Hall with lots of long tables, and buxom ladies carrying about 15 glasses of beer at a time. The place was packed and the atmosphere was good. I stood at the bar drinking several more cold lagers that were served straight from a wooden barrel. A few folk with strange long moustaches! I had Pork Schnitzel to go with my beer. I chatted to a couple of German men, who were good company, and they spoke good English.

I walked back to the Hostel, and met my 2 roommates from  Luxembourg for a few more beers in the Hostel bar. The Hostel has a great mix of people, from many different countries. There's always some Aussies and some Irish wherever you travel, but I met my first Russian tonight! It was a fun night and the beer was good, it was about 02:00 when I staggered off to my bed!

I woke up with a sore head and showered and dressed and headed out to explore. The city is beautiful, with some amazing buildings. Its all very clean and the Metro system runs under the streets. Most of the main sights in the old town are fairly close together so I wandered round taking it all in, and had a few German snacks and lots of coffees to keep me going. I felt very tired so went back to the Hostel, to my room and bed for a few hours, to try and shake off the hangover from last night!

A new roommate arrived whilst I was in the room, a Welsh man called Paul, who was over for 2 nights. We’re going to try and get tickets tomorrow, for the Bayern Munich game. He travels all over Europe watching the local sides play football.  I felt hungry so decided to go out for a Chinese to a place called Fire Dragon lounge It was a recommendation from the Hostel. I’ve never tried food like it before.

 It was true authentic Chinese food. You chose the ingredients from a buffet and boil them in a spicy broth on your table. The food you could chose from included Chicken feet, Pigs nose, snails, baby Octopus, Squid, Prawns, Beef, Lamb, Uterus, and some food I had no idea what it was! It actually tasted very good, and was good value at €16.50. I went back to the Hostel to do some laundry and chillout for the rest of the evening.

I woke up fresh and got up at 09.30, and left the Hostel with Paul, the guy from Wales. We had a coffee and caught the U6 line to the Allianz stadium, hoping to buy tickets for the football. It was no problem, although we paid €60 each for the tickets. The area around the ground was alcohol free so we caught the train back into Munich to have a few beers before the game at 15.30. The beer was good and strong, and we had a good laugh chatting about travel experiences.

We got back to the ground just before kick off. Our tickets were amongst the away supporters from Hanover. The ground was amazing, with a capacity crowd of over 70,000. The atmosphere was good amongst the away fans, who sang throughout the game. The game finished 2-0 to Bayern Munich, and was a good experience.

After the game we went back into central Munich and ended up in an Irish/Aussie bar, for a few more beers…Then it was back to the Hostel to drop my gear off, before going back out to the Mohamed Ali bar….the rest of the night is a bit of a blur, but it was a great night, with Paul.

I woke up the next day, in the Hostel, still fully dressed from the night before! Showered and checked out at about 11.15. I went back to the main train station, for breakfast, chicken and twirly chips! And waited for my train to Prague at 12:44. I found the train ok, and the carriage was comfortable with power points to recharge my gadgets. I could do with a recharge myself, feeling a bit fragile still from last night! Luckily I am next to the buffet carriage, to have plenty of H2O and coffee. The train journey takes about 6 hours and I’m due to arrive in Prague at 18:36.

The journey was good, through the German countryside, over bridges and through forests.The train finally arrived, right on time, and I then had to find my way to my Hostel. I changed some money at the station to the Czech Koruna, and bought a travel ticket, which was valid for 90 minutes. I caught the Metro on line C to I P Pavlova, and then the 22 bus to the road my Hostel was on. I’m staying at the Czech Inn, a clean youth hostel in a lovely old building. The décor inside is very stylish and modern, and my dormitory room is shared with 8 people.

 I was hungry after my travels and spotted another Chinese restaurant around the corner from the Czech Inn. A more conventional Chinese this time, Fried crab meat starter, Sweet and sour chicken and sprite - a bargain at £3!

I went back, showered and changed to have a beer in the bar in the basement, only the one though as I wanted a clear head for tomorrow, to explore Prague.I went to bed to chill and try and sleep only to be woken several times in the night with roommates coming home and lots of snoring. I managed to get a few hours and got up at 07:30, to shower and get my breakfast. The breakfast at the hostel was good. Toast, eggs, cereals and juice. I then headed out early to catch the sights of Prague.

I got myself a 24-hour pass to use the Metro, trams and buses in Prague. Good value at 115 korunas. I went via tram and Metro to Charles Bridge. This is my favorite place in Prague, if not Europe. It’s a stunning Bridge across the Danube, lined with incredible statues. It’s so photogenic. I then went up to the castle and Palace, and then the Gothic Cathedral. The weather wasn’t great and I got a bit of a soaking. It was then back across the river to the Jewish cemetery and the old town. There are so many sights, all incredible and within walking distance. I had a delicious meal of Duck leg, Pork, dumplings and sweet Cabbage.

 I carried on walking and discovered a couple of hidden sights, John Lennon’s wall and the cemetery at vysehad.

 After a couple of beers I went back to the Hostel, to chat to my roommates, 4 lads from Argentina. They were a good laugh and spoke good English, and I’ve decided to join them on a pub-crawl organized by the Hostel. There were also 2 female students from France in the dormitory. A bit of eye candy!

I had another Chinese from the local Cinska (Chinese) to line my stomach. After starting with a couple of beers at our Hostel bar we set off on the bus to another Hostel, were you could have as much to drink in 2 hours for Free! €18 for the entry. We were joined by a group of Aussies on the pub-crawl, although I was the oldest by a long way! Time to relive my youth. We then went to 3 traditional Czech pubs, great underground Bars in Cellars. We were given a free shot in each place and the beer at the bar was cheap (about £1 a pint). Finally we ended up at a nightclub called Roxy. Not really my scene, playing loud Euro Techno, which was just a continuous beat. It got better as I drank more. I ended up staying until the end at 05.30 AM. What a night! I caught the Metro back to an area I recognized and walked back the rest of the way, to my bed.

Two Hours later I was woken by the others and that was my sleep for the night. I had to check out of the Hostel at 12.00 midday and I do some laundry. After chilling out for a bit, in the reception with a coffee I went out again back to the same sights as yesterday to have a slow walk round in the Sun. I spent most of the time on Charles Bridge people watching and taking photos. There was a brilliant Jazz band playing there, The Bridge Band..... I bought a CD from them.

 I had lunch of Pig Knee and fries, (I’m working my way through Pig body parts!) it wasn’t a great meal, very fatty, but at least I tried it!

I stayed at the bridge to watch the sun go down. A great last day in Prague. I picked up my backpack from the Hostel, and then went back to the train station to wait for my overnight train to Krakow at 22.35.

I arrived at the station ok, after a Metro trip, as I walked through the station you could hear some beautiful piano music. As I got nearer, there was a Grand Piano positioned randomly with a woman playing. She looked unkempt, but she played superbly. The piano had a couple of men leaning up against it, mesmerised by her music. A strange sight, but a nice end to my stay in Prague.
I found my train listed on the departure board – always a good sign! I reached the platform and boarded my train. They had segregated all the passengers going to Krakow, so we wouldn’t disturb the whole train when we arrived at 06:29 the next day. The journey was as cramped as the last overnight train to Munich, but it went ok.

It was a short walk from the train station to my Hostel – The Flamingo. It was too early to check-in, but I was able to leave my backpack secure, and go for an explore. The Hostel is close to the main square- the biggest medieval square in Europe. It has a big market building in the centre, a huge church, and a clock tower. The place was very calm, as it was still very early, and it looked beautiful.

I bought some tram tickets and caught a tram to Schindlers factory, a museum on the site of the famous factory. Its situated across the river near the Jewish Ghettos. He saved over a 1000 Jews from extermination at the nearby concentration camp at Auschwitz. It was an interesting place, but would have preferred to see more of the original factory. I spent the rest of the day taking in the various tourist sites of Krakow. Some magnificent churches, castles and buildings.

After I checked in and had a welcome shower I relaxed in my 12-bed dormitory for a while.

I still felt very tired after my late nights and early rises, I decided to have a quiet first night in Krakow, and just get a meal at one of the restaurants that surrounded the main square. A tasty meal of Savory Dumplings for starter, and Chicken skewers for main. I got back to my room about 22:00 and slept well until 07:30 the next day!

After breakfast at the Hostel I prepared myself for what was planned next…a visit and tour of the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. We were picked up by a bus and taken the 1 hour journey to Auschwitz. After arrival we were allocated an English speaking tour guide to lead us first around Auschwitz and then onto Birkenau. The weather was appropriately cold and grey, fittingly depressing. The place was harrowing, I had shivers the whole day. The SS exterminated 1.5 million men, women and children. I had tears in my eyes as we were shown piles of shoes and toys that had been taken from young children before they were gassed in the chambers. It affected me a lot more than I imagined. After Auschwitz we were taken to Birkenau, a neighbouring camp, built to mass murder the Jews. It was like a production line. A train took the poor families through the gates. They were led to a building, to have what they thought to be refreshing showers after their long journeys. Only they were gas chambers to murder them. They were then cremated in mass crematoriums. It was the worst place I have been to, a horrible place, but the most important part of my trip.

After the tour we were taken back by bus back to my hotel. I had decided to visit the Jewish quarter of Krakow, called Kazimierz later that evening. Kazimierz is a vibrant area surrounded with bars, cafes and restaurants. There was a good vibe and it raised my spirits after a traumatic day. I chatted to a couple of Polish men who were in one of the bars. They showed me how the Polish have Vodka with cold Herrings from the Baltic sea and onions. It sounds a strange combination, but it seemed to work! After sampling many different Polish beers and several Vodkas I headed back to my Hostel, and decided to go to a nightclub opposite. A good end to a weird kind of day.

Next day I allowed myself a lie in and left the Hostel at about 12.00 midday. I was taking life at a lot slower pace in Krakow, time to chill out.  There is a new food market open, in a square behind the Basilica. I had a delicious and very large brunch of Polish food. First Sausage, then Hock of Pork, with potatoes, finished off with a fritter. I was stuffed!

 I spent the rest of the day on a solo photo walk, snapping away at the sites and people of Krakow….one of my favourite ways to pass the day. I went back to the Hostel to sort through my photos, to chillout and chat to my roommates. Quite a mix now....

2 Scottish Girls - 1 RTW trip, the other a young girl called Stacey - Lovely girl with a great outlook on travel
1 USA Girl - constantly eating Pretzel, and likes a good rustle in her bags early in the morning
2 Aussie Sheila’s - talk at one volume - LOUD
1 Aussie bloke - with one of the Sheilas
An Italian couple - Man snores
1 French man - sleeps all day, parties all night!

Theres some great street entertainers about, some of the music that  i've heard on my travels has been amazing. This guy played some superb original flamenco music, I bought his Cd too! I went back to chill for a while chatting to my roommates and to edit my photos and then  back out at 22.30 to grab a late night meal back at the Market, and then bed.

I woke up early on my last full day, but drifted back to sleep until 10.00 am. I got showered and dressed and checked in my flight back home the next day. The girl on reception gave me the timetable for the train linking Krakow to the main airport.

I left the Hostel and had a wander around an old flea market in the square, and had some lunch back at the food market. This time Chicken Stew, Veg and Potatoes, and again was absolutely superb.It’s Aston Villa in the early kick off today at 13.45 so I’m heading for the Bull pub near Krakow Main Square to watch it. The area is full of English Stag parties (mainly from Leeds) shouting, singing and swearing at midday, totally drunk….. You can see why the English get a bad name.

 Anyway Villa won the game 0-1 so its time to have a couple of beers to celebrate. There’s a band playing traditional Polish folk music. The female singer sounds completely off-key but it seems to add to the sound! I stayed around the market area taking in the atmosphere for the next couple of hours, before going back to the Hostel, for a quick shower and change ready to go out for my last night. I had a chat with Stacey, the Scottish girl staying in my room, quite a traveller.

I went back out to the Jewish Quarter for a few drinks in the bars I visited earlier in the week, starting the night off with a G&T. After a few drinks I returned to the old town, and met up with a couple of the lads staying in my room. An English man and a Swede. We had a few Vodkas and toured a few bars and pubs. Some were deep underground in a network of cellars and tunnels under Krakow. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur, but I remember going to the Rock Jazz café a nightclub with a great atmosphere and packed to the brim.

I woke up next day at 11.00 am and had to get ready to pack, shower and check out at midday. I went out in style on my last night and had a hangover to prove it! I had a KFC breakfast and collected my backpack and went to the train station to catch the Airport express train. A regular half hour service. Costing about 12 Zlotys. Included is a bus, which transfers you to the international terminal.

 That was the end of my euro trip, 4 superb cities with lots of history, beautiful buildings and so much going for them. The Hostels I used were all brilliant for this type of trip, and great value. Along the way I met some interesting characters from different countries, and made some good friends. A great way to travel solo. I may go even further East in Europe next time!

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