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After being in the US for two months, I went back to Krakow for approximately 9 days before heading off on another journey, this time to Donegal (north-west Ireland) for a few days, and then England for a little over a week (it’s my great-aunt’s 91st birthday!). Getting to Donegal from Krakow was a bit of a schlep, since Ryanair has a monopoly on budget flights into Dublin and most of Ireland. Sadly, I was forced to break my “I will never, ever fly Ryanair!” vow – but it really wasn’t that bad (aside from the fact that they charge you for everything, like most budget airlines, and spent most of the 30 minute trip trying to sell you everything from cigarettes to food. No thanks.) So, I ended up flying Easy Jet from Krakow to Liverpool, Ryanair from Liverpool to Dublin, and then another airline called Flybe from Dublin to Carrickfinn (Donegal’s airport, and also where I was headed). On top of that, there was too much fog to land in Donegal the first day, so after circling for about 90 minutes, we went back to Dublin! I made some lovely “plane friends” – there were only about 10 passengers, most of them older people with +1s who had been in Dublin for doctors’ appointments, so they were entertained to find a lone American on a rarely-trafficked route.
Anyway, my friends live in Carrickfinn, which is right on the coast in the Donegal Gaeltacht, so nearly everyone speaks Irish. It’s a fairly rural area, but very beautiful, and I slept very soundly after the city+construction noise of Krakow. It’s also a hotbed of Irish music, which is great if you’re me. Donegal music is fairly distinctive, and it has a lot of Scottish influence, both in choice of tunes (like highlands and strathspeys), plus in the style in which tunes are played. I was lucky enough to get to go to an all-Irish cabaret, where one of the guest acts was an Irish-ska band (in addition to, you know, the regular guy from Zimbabwe doing his take on Irish step-dancing while singing in Irish, which was just great). But I digress. Without further ado - picture time!
One thing that I noticed when I first moved here was that baking supplies are totally different. Now, for most people, this might not be a big issue, but I’m a bit of a baking fanatic, and for me, this was very upsetting. Suddenly, many of my trusty recipes were turning out slightly wrong. This was most noticeable with my super reliable chocolate chip cookie recipe – the cookies kept turning out completely flat! I set out to find the culprit. Clearly, there were some factors that I could not control for (finding professional grade cookie sheets, getting the oven temperature to be exactly the same, etc.), and my mother had sent me baking powder and baking soda from the US, so those ingredients were eliminated as issues. Eventually, I figured that it had to be either the flour or the butter.
Polish flour is about the most confusing thing ever. For starters, I think that there are about 6 or 7 different kinds, and aside from the one called “tortowa” (cake), they all have cryptic names like “poznanska” and “krupczatka”, as well as little “typ” numbers from around 450 to 700. I’ve been here for about 18 months now, and I still have no idea which of these is the equivalent of all-purpose. I’m fairly sure that it’s not the cake one (which is not self-raising, by the way), or krupczatka, because it has as weird mealy texture. But as for the other ones…nope, no idea. I believe that there are two forum posts out there on the subject, but neither has been particularly helpful.
Anyway, since the flour remains a total mystery to me, I decided to address the issue of the butter. At first, I couldn’t figure out what the substantive difference between “European” butter and the butter that I buy in New York could possibly be. Then, I read that “American” butter averages around 81% fat, while “European” butter averages 85-86% fat. Armed with my new knowledge, I decided that I would attempt something new – if I were using European butter for an American recipe, then I would use 95% of the butter that the recipe instructed (this is easiest if you weigh your butter in grams). And, voila! It worked! So, now I can enjoy my lovely chewy, not flat chocolate chip cookies once again. If I ever figure out the flour to some adequate extent, I’ll let you all know.
One of my friends was returning to the US this week, and she wanted to see Dresden before she left. Also an Irish group (Altan) I know was playing a concert there, and I’ve been deprived of Irish music in Poland. Also Dresden is an awesome city. So we went.
But first we were stuck in Wrocław for a few hours, thanks to the [in]efficiency of the PKP (Polish trains). I have to say, this experience was definitely a vote in favour of taking the first train possible, in case it’s delayed, so that you have options for the connecting trains. Also, it seems that the PKP is checking student IDs these days, so if you’re travelling on a student ticket, make sure you have your legitymacja with you, and that the stickers are valid, otherwise, they’ll make you buy a full price ticket.
I was surprised by how cosmopolitan Wrocław was. They had restaurants with real salads! (Yes, I judge cities based on their salad offerings.) Another note for travellers: the Wrocław train station is actually WORSE than the Krakow one in terms of being a construction mess.
But anyway, we finally made it to Dresden.
Also, the concert was awesome. Here’s a brief clip of a piece called Is the Big Man Within that I recorded for my mother (it’s her favourite). It’s unique because the A part is a slip jig (9/8 time), while the B part is a regular jig (6/8 time). The sound quality is a bit meh – iPhones aren’t great for this sort of thing.
And finally, on the way back, we successfully managed to all PKP trains and take lovely, lovely, nice, new, Deutsche Bahn trains the WHOLE WAY. It was a wonderful treat.
(Right, so, I never finished writing about my summer travels…perhaps I’ll get to it eventually.)
During the time I’ve been in Poland, I’ve had a few colds, but I hadn’t been sick enough to actually need a doctor. This was fortunate, as from what I had heard about Polish medicine, it wasn’t something that I was particularly anxious to experience. Well, unfortunately for me, I managed to come down with a nasty case of the flu, which turned into a persistent cough. After being ill for over 2 weeks, I finally decided (after my parents ordered me to) that I would have to bite the bullet and see a doctor.
Step 1: I googled “English speaking doctors Krakow”. There were some posts in travel forums, but eventually, about five hits down, I noticed a document by the US Consulate in Krakow which listed what it said were English-speaking doctors in Krakow.
Step 2: I tried to do some background research on the few internists on the list. It appeared that one of them was an British expat living in Krakow, so I figured that he would speak the best English and resolved to try to phone him the next morning.
Step 3: Epic fail. First, I rang “Dr Cory”, the British expat, directly on his listed mobile, within the “8am to 3pm” range (it was shortly after 8am). He didn’t answer. I wait 5 minutes and tried again. Still no answer. So, I decided to change tactics and call his practice directly. On their website, which had a remarkably coherent English version, it said that “the majority of MEDICINA’s medical personnel is fluent in English , French , German , Italian or Russian”. I thought I was set. Well, I called directly and said, in Polish, to the woman who answered the phone, “Hello, do you speak English?” Her response: “No.” Click. She simply hung up on me. It was at this point that I flipped out a bit. I was ill, I hadn’t slept a significant amount for about 5 days because of the cough, and I was frustrated. So, for the first time, I cried for a bit. Not a particularly productive response, but it did sort of make me feel better. Once I’d slightly regained my composure, I called one of my friends, who is fluent in Polish, and got her to make an appointment for me. The doctor spoke minimal English, and I’m not actually sure what my diagnosis was because she didn’t know the English words for it. She also said that my lungs sounded clear (they weren’t) and put me on antibiotics that…did absolutely nothing. (I am now in England, where I went to the doctor yet again – this time, I’m actually getting better.)
This may seem like a bit of a rant, but I feel that I have the right to be angry. After all, the Medicina website does state: “ At Medicina you will meet many of the top specialists in Poland from all fields of medicine. Most speak good or at least reasonable English, but we believe that it is better to be treated by an excellent physician than by an excellent linguist, so if necessary you will be accompanied by an English-speaking nurse or doctor to ensure that nothing is lost in translation!” My friend had explained to them that I spoke only a little bit of Polish, but that was clearly not taken into account. Oh, and I did finally get through to the mysterious “Dr Cory” (I wanted to know if the doctor with whom I had my appointment actually spoke English). He was rather surly, told me that he had no idea, and made absolutely no enquiries about my health when I explained my situation.
In my opinion, this was a very disappointing experience, particularly because I was using information obtained through the US Consulate (and a friend told me that when she was ill, Dr Cory was recommended to her by the international students’ office at our university, although she never went). I would avoid going to a doctor in Poland unless absolutely necessary, and I would take their advice with a grain of salt.
Our trip to the city of many names was relatively uneventful, given how we chose to get there: we walked across the Polish-Ukrainian border. It’s actually a lot simpler than it sounds, and apparently much quicker than taking a bus or train directly through from Krakow. The way to do it is: you take a train from Krakow to Przemyśl (something like 40zl per person), then from Przemyśl, you take a minibus to the border town on the Polish side, called Medyka (2zl per person). At this point, you begin the walk across the border, which took us about 30 minutes, including passing through both checkpoints. As one would expect, given that it is an external EU border, the Polish checkpoint is a lot more professional-looking than the Ukrainian one. After passing the Polish border, you walk for a few minutes through a fenced in area, after which the Ukrainian border guard will give your passport a cursory glance and a careless stamp and wave you on through. I was very excited, because this stamp became the first on my passport extension!we
So anyway, we successfully crossed the border. Then, after the border crossing, you have to walk a ways down the road and then turn left at the first intersection to get to the bus station, which I believe Wikitravel described as ‘new and modern’, although I would beg to differ. From there, it’s fairly easy to catch a small bus, called a marshrutka, to L’viv. Of course, you must first contend with the taxi drivers who will tell you that there is no such bus, as well as the hordes of people trying to push their way onto the bus without tickets. The ticket taking process is a bit suspect – before we boarded, the driver announced, “Only people with tickets can get on!” because of how many people were pushing and shoving. However, once the bus was full, he simply said, “Ok, does everyone have a ticket?” and then we set off. Along the way, we’d stop periodically and cram a few more people from the side of the road in, to the point where the door was bulging outwards.
The bus makes many stops along the way, and the road is in relatively poor condition (perhaps a slightly surprising fact, since it is the main east-west thoroughfare and connects Ukraine to Poland), so by the time we got to L’viv, it was already early evening. Our hostel was fairly mediocre (“WC and shower on the floor” that you actually had to go outside to get to them…although they were on the same floor), but we were seduced by the fact that it had historical value – Pilsudski lived in the building! – and was centrally located. Also, it was 9€ a night,
I’d heard mixed things about L’viv from various people, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The city itself has a slightly more bohemian, laid-back vibe than Krakow – for example, you see many more casually dressed people going out for the evening. Admittedly, we did have a number of excellent recommendations from a friend who is a L’viv native.
Our first night we ate at a place called Gasova Lyampa (Oil Lamp – apparently the first one was invented in L’viv), on Virmens’ka Street, followed by snacks and drinks at a magical place called Kryivka, at Rynek Square 14, where we returned the following evening. Kryivka is a 24-hour Ukrainian-resistance themed restaurant/bar, and you need the password (“haslo” in Ukrainian) in order to enter, after which you are offered a shot of vodka. The restaurant is decorated with pictures of resistance fighters all over, as well as some military equipment, and many of the dishes are named for fighters, with their biographies underneath. Both Gasova Lyampa and Kryivka serve very tasty western Ukrainian food, and they were the culinary highlights of L’viv for me, although the cafe at Dzyga Gallery has some excellent teas (we didn’t eat there).
As we only had one full day in L’viv before heading off to Kyiv, we mostly spent it wandering around the city somewhat aimlessly. We followed some dirt paths up into the hills and simply enjoyed the fact that, for once, it wasn’t pouring.
After cavorting about in the fresh air, we decided to set out for Kiev by the 8:37 train, which we missed by about 2 minutes after a 15 minute wait for a taxi, followed by an incredibly slow-moving ticket line after the realisation that it was not possible to buy tickets on the train.
On Saturday, I will be embarking on my voyage of the summer, to (ideally) a whole slew of places I’ve never been to before. My current plan is:
Train to L’viv/Lwow for a day or so
Train to Kyiv for a few days
Train to Odessa for a day or so
Ferry across the Black Sea to Varna (Bulgaria)
And from there, I will meander my way through the former Yugoslavia, perhaps going to Belgrade (provided that things with Kosovo don’t really deteriorate further in the next few days), Sarajevo and Split, and then up the coast to Zagreb somewhere around the 18th to catch a train to…
Salzburg, to see a friend perform in Die Zauberflote
And finally to Munich, where I’ll meet up with my parents/sister
I want to see the Balkans before the EU gets its claws into them, and I want to see summer (Krakow has had rather a lot of rain lately…). Along the way, I’ll try to be posting updates here/on Twitter/on Facebook to confirm that I am alive.