Maxine and I decided to go away for a week and settled on Poland a country neither of us have been to and agreed to split the visit between Kraków and Warsaw. I booked the flights, Maxine booked the accommodation and car, and keeping with the James tradition, I cocked up the flights by booking the return to and from Kraków, instead of to Kraków and return from Warsaw.
I got to hers on time but cocked up her MacDonald’s order and missed the part about her love of sausage, so she ended up with an egg McMuffin, and I ended up on the receiving end of what was probably a week of patient, but exasperated expressions.
First stop on the Poland trip - Ikea, Milton Keynes, ostensibly for a coffee “I know,” said Maxine as we set of for Luton airport, “let's go to Ikea for a coffee, after all, it's on the way!”
As we walked in, she then volunteered, “While we're here, I just need a couple of cupboard handles. Oh, and a bacon butty as well!”
Ikea do many things well, but sorry to say, bacon baps are not one of them. It was borderline pathetic, the bap was too big for the two fat laden pieces of bacon, or the bacon was too small for the bap. The lady behind the counter laid the bacon on the plate, and then placed the bap next to it, in other words, a self-assembly buttie.
What a load of crappy bollocks. By the time you get through paying, getting a coffee, getting pepper and mayo*, the bacon is cold and congealed.
A bacon bap should be assembled for you by the server so that when you reach your table, it's still warm and comforting. That was the first time Ikea have disappointed me.
Anyway, we got to check-in, and discovered I'd left Maxine's passport in the car. Queue another patient expression and off she walked back to collect it. I forgot about it the rule of liquids for hand baggage, I'm a fat 50 something sweaty white man, it would have been nice to see some racial profiling as I had to take my walking boots off.
Due to the size of my belly and general lack of flexibility, taking off and putting on clunky boots requires planning and a bit of a warm-up stretch, neither of which I got to do.
This was also all done in front of what seemed a judgemental audience of staff and other travellers.
A female friend of mine once said she hated going in to the mess on her own as it seemed as if a hundred pairs of eyes would look her up and down and think, “Yeah, I'd fuck her.” or that old favourite as they stared at her chest, “Nice tits.”
Me, as I struggled to put my boots back on, I could feel the eyes on me as my belly bulged over my jeans and out from under my T-shirt, my face turned red and leaked sweat, and their eyes all said “Fat bastard!” my jeans were also in danger of falling down as I’d had to take my belt off, because, you know, security!
You can tell how much an airline cares about you, by how they treat you. The staff were great and I've no complaints about their professionalism. However, once we had gone through the check-in at Gate 30, they stacked us all up in a 3-story sweaty stairwell for about 15 minutes or so as we waited for the aircraft to be cleaned from its last trip.
Because of my arthritis and the fact that Maxine's used to a little more luxury, we paid for extra legroom. When we got shoehorned into normal row I moaned about my arthritis**, and how much I would suffer, and a very nice young man who genuinely looked 14 years old moved us to some emergency exit aisle seats.
As of day one, the holiday was in danger of being nicknamed the piss tour. I got to Maxine's, we both a piss before we left. Got to Ikea, both had a piss, then got to the airport, guess what! Maxine broke first. On the aeroplane, I beat Maxine again, and lasted an hour and a half.
Our hire car was a Nissan Juke with an interior that's got orange highlights all over the place, it's as though group of mature male oranges threw a Lemon Party in there.
The first address we entered into the car satnav wasn’t recognised, although Google maps on my phone did recognise it and got us there safely. So, in other words the Polish Satnav doesn't recognise addresses in Poland - although in truth, that could just be operator error!
We decided to use Airbnb rather than hotels, as it meant we could breakfast and dinner when we wanted and not have to eat out every night. Our first address was an apartment, and I think we were the second lot of people to use it.
We chose our bedrooms, and then took a wander to do some quick sightseeing and shopping at the modern shopping centre which was a ten to fifteen minute walk away. Hotels are really going to have to step up their game. The flat in Kraków was brand new and absolutely beautiful and was set within a block of flats called The Pianissimo.
The local supermarket, a Carrefour, which is a French supermarket, was a fifteen minute walk away, and once wandering around it, discovered that we were in Poland - there was an alcohol aisle that was just vodka. Every type of vodka.
There was another main aisle and some counters scattered around it. The other isle was nothing but whisky, every kind of whisky, even Bells whisky was nicely packaged with a big Union Jack printed on it. This is probably because the jocks are too embarrassed to stick the Saltire on. Anyway we bought a traditional Polish breakfast for the next morning; salmon, cream cheese. But no bread, it would be stale the next morning.
For the first night we couldn't be arsed to cook so went out looking for traditional Polish food and ended up in Pizza hut, Maxine had the exact same as she would have in the UK, I went all adventurous and had the veggie choice.
My bed was very low and the next morning it took me a minute or so to nearly rock myself out and up, and I had to abandon my effort when I staggered upright in to a sort of squat position, nearly headbutted the wall, and then fell back down again.
So, I wormed my way down to the end of the bed like a dumpy anaconda, but with less lethal grace, and grabbed a chair to lever myself up. All went well right up to when the chair tipped back on me and dumped me back on the bed - bollocks! Effort two worked well having taken into consideration the lessons learned from number one.
Not being a believer in early starts when on holiday, Maxine was still in bed, so I went for a walk to the supermarket for a couple of rolls but got there too early.
Polish supermarkets don't follow the Tesco’s tradition of opening early and not having any fresh rolls, so I went for a walk to find another supermarket, got slightly disorientated and walked an extra mile, found a corner shop and bought a baguette.
Got back, started making brekkie and discovered that the baguette was actually garlic bread. So, brekkie was cold garlic bread smeared with tomato and garlic cream cheese, and topped with smoked salmon.
That first full day we visited Kraków castle and took the long way and had a nice meander along the river Vistula embankment to get to it, it would have been a lovely walk, but it bloody well rained the whole time.
The castle was quite impressive, but I preferred Alnwick castle. But that’s because it was part of the Harry Potter series. It was also full of school kids, the politest and quietest of which were the Japanese.
After the castle we walked to the city market square, which is world famous, but again, less impressive when it’s raining so much. After a good walk around the square and the inside market, we decided to call it a day and ordered an uber.
Now, I’ve never used an uber before, so thought it would be interesting to see how easy the whole process was. We decamped to Burger king to get out of the rain and the first thing I did was download the app.
After installing it, I entered all my personal and bank details, and opened the app for the first time. It immediately showed where we were (little blue dot), and where all the Uber cars in the city were (little cars), and a large text box asking us where we wanted to go.
After inputting the details of the shopping centre, it then recommended a driver. Once we had accepted the choice, it then sent through the details of the car and driver. Fantastic, I can now see why uber are taking over the world!
First uber driver wouldn't come to us despite there being a road running next to us, he wanted us to walk almost a kilometre to him as he sat in a taxi rank. By the time we had trekked through the rain and got to his location he had cancelled the booking and buggered off.
The second Uber driver turned up ten minutes later and genuinely did not say a single word to us. We flashed the phone to him, nothing. We got in, nothing. We spent half an hour getting bounced from side to side by a driver who only knew how to accelerate, slam round corners, or slam to a halt. We got out, nothing, not a word.
Other than the journey, it was a great ride, no pointless small talk. Oh yes, he also had a TV on his dashboard and was watching a Polish soap pretty much as he drove. Maxine thought it was for our benefit and that the screen had a filter onto prevent him, the driver from being distracted by it. So, I stuck my head up next to his head, and no, she was wrong, I could see it perfectly.
He dropped us off at the same shopping centre as the previous day. As we were knackered, we went straight up to the food court and after perusing the different restaurants, we settled on Restauracja Olimp, mainly because it was both buffet self-service and pay-by-weight. Below is my plate:
Chicken & pepper kebab
Roasties x 5
Carrot and beetroot spiralized into spaghetti
Courgettes different types (Inc. yellow ones)
Salad with olives and feta
The only bad thing was that the food was lukewarm rather than hot, perhaps it’s a Polish thing! After dinner we went to Carrefour again for smellies and to pick up some brekkie for the next day.
The checkout guy managed to serve us without a change of facial expression (miserable at how shit his life is), making eye contact, or speaking once. Even the guys and girls at our Aldi, who are under far more pressure, can spare a smile and a quick chat.
On the Wednesday we visited Auschwitz and joined a guided tour, with the exception of our guides the staff/security were some of the most miserable people we met, and we were in Poland, so that's some bar to surmount.
As sobering and informative as Auschwitz was, it was spoiled by the state of the paths. They (the paths) were all mainly smashed bricks and stones, and enough mud and puddles to do the Somme proud.
A large number of visitors were wearing normal shoes or trainers and between the state of the ground and the rain, their feet must have been soaking. The guide who took us round mentioned the state of the paths was practically the only complaint visitors had about the place, but that the management had other priorities.
On the way back to the flat we stopped in at the local MacDonald’s for a coffee. Maxine's very much in to doing all she can for the environment, so she now takes the fold-up camping mug whenever she goes out for the day.
The poor guy manning the MacDonald’s customer ordering booth struggled to understand that I wanted two coffees; one in their cup, and the second in Maxine's mug. To be fair to him his English was better than all of the other languages I speak***.
He told us to drive around and explain it to him face to face, which we did and once he understood he gave a big smile and took the mug and disappeared. At the next window the young lady who then served us gave it back along with two cups of coffee in disposable/throwaway cups and said, “Here, you pour it out. We're not allowed.” Ahh, crazy Polish rules!
The flat had Netflix and Maxine had discovered Brooklyn 99, so once we are settled in the evening that was all we had.
Cracow and Warsaw were awash in electric scooters and bikes. The bikes it seemed had to be picked up and dropped off at specific pick-up points, but the scooters were GPS tagged and were just abandoned anywhere. Next time I come to Poland, I’ll make use of them as although it initially seems lazy to use them, you can pack in a lot more sightseeing.
We booked a tour of the Jewish quarter, the Jewish ghetto and the Schindler museum. The tour was carried out in an eight-man electric vehicle, and the guide drove in a manner that I would describe as quite forceful.
At one stage he raced, and outran, a tram and cut just in front of it causing it to slow down. Pedestrians on crossings were just an impediment to go around as closely as possible; none of this stopping for them bollocks.
The separate guided tour of the museum was pretty good, but the building suffered from too many tourists and tour guides. At one stage our guide was asked to lower her voice as she was interrupting the Russian speaking guide.
The tour around Jewish ghetto and quarter were okay, but it would have been nice to be able to get out and walk around, and although that option was offered by the guide, the fact that a couple of people instinctively said no, the rest of us just followed them like sheep.
Once that malarkey was finished with, we tapped into Google ‘Vegan restaurants.’ The first choice we walked to had as the specialty of the day that good old vegan standby, Lamb!
Clearly Google struggled with the concept of ‘vegan’, and ‘no-kill-animals’ and after a minute or two of zooming in and out on the phone screen we found one that had the words ‘Vegan’ in it, and so walked there.
I'll be truthful here, in my experience vegans tend to be sad, anorexic, pale, and interesting people, and there was only one in the restaurant, and she had the ubiquitous nose ring that all people who do enormous fibre-based poo’s have.
The restaurant was very compact and had seating for approx. 10-12 people, this could be a reflection on the number of vegans in Kraków, or perhaps it was just trying to be intimate and edgy – you choose!
It also did not have a toilet, again, perhaps they’d learned their lesson with the bog being blocked by plant-based materials. Whilst there I had yet another Polish specialty - the Texan burger, Maxine went with the Middle Eastern soup, and both were filling and surprisingly nice.
The drive to Warsaw was some four hours long and went quite quickly, but that was because I dozed for most of it. When it was my turn to drive and after we had set off, Maxine asked me how we were doing for fuel, I checked, and we were on half a tank, so no problem. When we arrived, she asked again how the fuel situation was. Again, the tank was half full.
Then she suggested that I might be reading the wrong gauge – and buggery bollocks! she was right, I’d been looking at the temperature gauge, and we were nearly out of unleaded.
On the positive side, the temperature stayed remarkably level for the whole trip, so kudos to Nissan for making a car that didn’t vary in temperature too much.
And first impressions of our new Airbnb were positive. The house was on a dirt track set off the main road and was walled and gated. The whole place was pretty awesome and in the basement was a swimming pool, a one-man hot tub, and a 4-person sauna. The bedrooms were huge, and Maxine’s was ensuite, so I got the main bathroom to myself.
The house was very nice, however! It is on a septic tank, and according to the tasteful signs on the wall above the toilet, all toilet paper and other non-faecal matter must go into the small lidded container next to the loo. I used shit-bins when I was in Kuwait back in 2002 so I had no problems with it (so long as I didn't have to empty it). Maxine’s face, however, was a picture of delight when I told her.
Additionally, as mentioned above, we each had our own toilet; hers ensuite; mine off the landing corridor. Problem was, mine had an opaque, but not frosted, just slightly wavy lines running vertical, glass door and the toilet/loo was right next to it. In fact, if the door is opened whilst one is on the crapper, one has one's toes painfully squished by the door.
If someone was in the corridor, a slight glance to the side would reveal a backlit person having a dump (or whatever) and yes although the glass is opaque it's possible to see the bulk (in my case, mass) squatting and dropping, so to speak.
The bed was a queen size (do they have those in Poland, or did the commies execute/exile them?), it was nice and firm but for some reason I was only supplied with a single sized quilt. There was a heavy bedspread that was the right size that went over it, but it was a bit weird. For an idea of what it was like strip the quilt off your double or queen-sized bed and place a single quilt in the middle, and you'll get an idea of what it was like.
As a practicing and devout fat man, and has already been mentioned, I struggle putting on walking boots. So, imagine my delight in finding out that both Airbnb’s had Ikea extra-long shoehorns. Either it's standard across the Airbnb world, or the Polish ones are just used to dealing with chunkies.
The next day, Friday, rather than drive into Warsaw and struggle with both Polish drivers/traffic and parking, we took the train. Asking several people for help always starts off with the following phrase “Hello, do you speak English?”
The youngsters, on the whole, could, but the elders, not so much. So out came the most valuable tool of the century for any traveller - Google Translate (GT).
I typed in the question, it then showed the text in Polish and gave me a choice of using the speaker to dictate it. Using the speak-and-translate function produced some hilarious results.
The train from Jozefow to Warsaw cost 9 zlotys, so about 2 quid. There was no ticket machine or office on the platform. The rule is if you have no ticket you get on the first carriage and pay the conductor. She didn't speak English, but GT came to the rescue.
I got a bit cocky on the train and misread where we were to get off, but Maxine pointed out that we were nowhere where we needed to be, but in my defense the train took a different route to the one on Google.
First stop in Warsaw was MacDonald’s for coffee, and for me, a McRoyle, remember, this is the continent, and to quote that great philosopher, Vincent Vega, ‘They use the metric system!’ so it was really just one of the greatest foodstuffs in history - a quarter pounder!
The MacDonald’s also had a rather intimidating security guard doing a constant circuit staring down at the seated customers, possibly to scare people into honesty. A point of interest - MacDonald’s coffee in Poland seemed better than in UK.
We ended up only spending the one day and night in Warsaw, and decided Krakow was better, mainly because Warsaw is too spread out, but then that’s probably true of most capital cities. The drive back was smooth and problem free, I think! I dozed and drooled practically the whole journey.
Once we arrived in Kraków we went to the Polish Aviation Museum, and as enjoyable as it was, it seems heart-breaking that all those aircraft are just sitting outside rotting away.
We booked a hotel next to the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was our destination the next day before catching a flight home. Once we had dumped our luggage we took a train in to Kraków and spent the rest of the day wandering the old part of the city, in particular, the Old Square which was filled with food stalls and the whole place smelt fantastic.
We chose a Polish restaurant and I ordered the Polish selection which I couldn't finish. It was a selection of all their different foods and was easily one of the best things I’ve eaten in years. Maxine went with the potato pancakes with a sauce with small hunks of beef in it.
We had booked two double rooms at the hotel. Now to us, being naive, a double room meant a double bed, but to the crazy Poles it means three or more single beds. I say three or more because that’s how many I had in my room. when I met Maxine later and bragged about the number I had, she shrugged and said, “I've got four!” I checked, she did!
The two preceding Airbnb’s had good-to-fucking-awesome sized showers and shed loads of shower gel and/or shampoo laid on for our benefit. The hotel had two poxy bars of soap that had I have stacked the one on top of the other, they would have fitted in to a matchbox. In their defence there was also two sachets of shampoo, each about the size of an individually wrapped condom.
The problem from my point of view is that the bars of soap were so small that each time I put one in the centre of my palm and rubbed; the bloody thing shot off like it was spring loaded. I spent half my time in the shower shuffling backwards and bending over to retrieve the thing. The shower took a lot longer than it needed to and I was in danger of having a stroke and was out of breath by the time I had finished washing from all the effort.
The three beds in my room were in a tight row and the only thing separating them were the bedside tables which were tightly jammed in between them. I’m not a small man and have for the past few years slept in a double bed, so the thought of sleeping in a single bed filled me with trepidation.
I had genuine worries about gashing my head open on the side table when I rolled over or rolled out of the bed. Once the light was out, I did an experiment and decided it was just too dangerous for me to go to sleep with a sharp(ish) wooden corner lurking just inches from my face.
I got up and unjammed the table to the right of the bed and laid it on the next bed. The one on the left, I moved further away so if I did roll off, I would get my head stuck in the gap but not get bashed open by the edge.
Brekkie was the typical continental brekkie, or a Polish version of it and was based around cheese and coffee. Feta, cheese triangles, different types of cheese slices, cold hams and something else that was so pale and moist I think it had been recently carved off a fresh corpse, but could have been turkey slices pumped full of water.
There was also that Polish favourite, lard. A large jar of it with another jar of large pickles. There were three types of bread and a couple of different types of rolls. There was one dish there, that can be best described as boiled eggs roughly mashed down with a generous helping of bull or horse sperm and allowed to slowly turn to a slimy eggy mess. There was also chopped up lengths of frankfurters stewing in their own cold juices and disappointment.
The Salt mine was a 10-minute walk from the hotel and we bimbled round in plenty of time and after getting a coffee we chilled out in a rare piece of sun, and waited our turn. We joined the queue and when we reached the head of it and showed the operator our e-ticket, she shook her head and directed us over to the Online ticket office. It was actually next to where we had been sitting whilst drinking our coffee, but it hadn’t registered in our minds.
The salt mine was impressive in every respect and was one that along with Auschwitz left an impression, obviously in different ways.
From the time we got to the hotel at the start of the holiday I tried to confirm the return trip online, but no go. When we got to the check-in, we were not only told I couldn't have extra leg room because we did not online check in, but because we did not online check-in, we had to pay an extra 62.68 (308 zlotys) to get on the flight.
I explained that the online booking kept coming up with ‘Flight disrupted, online booking not available’. Apparently, that wasn't good enough, and the woman at counter said it was my fault as I didn't phone to complain, I pointed out that there was no phone number on bookings page, but that was our problem. So, we had to leave the check-in counter, walk approx. 50 metres and pay an extra 310 zlotys. One complaint coming up to Wizz Air.
We were both a bit annoyed/emotional at being pissed around, and it didn't help that were both hungry. We visited a coffee shop in Departures, and I picked ham and cheese but when I got it back it had turned in to a slightly warm egg mayo salad. Maxine ordered an eggplant wrap, but upon toasted delivery it had turned in to eggplant and brie. Pretty shitty if she was a full-blown vegan. We swapped, I took a bite of the wrap and the fucking thing exploded all over my lower face - queue wet wipes to get it out of my beard.
Wizz Air Balice seemed a bit more on ball than Wizz Air Luton and loaded us straight into the bus to take us to the aeroplane rather make us wait in a stairwell. But no, it was just a ploy to lure us into complacency!
We drove out to the plane, pulled up, and sat there for fifteen minutes. In other words, replace sweaty stairwell for sweaty bus. Kudos to Wizz Air for damaging the end of the holiday.
Once we were loaded on the plane, it turned out there was a fault on one of the doors and the captain didn't want to take a chance. Despite how shitty I was starting to think Wizz Air was at that stage, I had to agree with him.
Again due to the inadequacies of Wizz (as in ‘I'm going to the bog for a quick Wizz’) Air (as in we're going to deprive you of Air, and make you lurk in stale stairwells and buses and smell each other’s farts) I was again not given the extra leg room I had paid for.
There was no chance of moving as the aeroplane was chocka, bit luckily, I end up on an aisle seat and was able to stick my worst leg out and become an impediment to cabin crew and passengers alike.
Much as I have moaned about Wazzock air, the check in staff in Luton were brill, as was the cabin crew on both legs of the journey. The staff at Krakow Willy Air could do with more smiles, or at the least neutral expressions.
*And tomato ketchup if you're common and have bad taste.
**Try having arthritis and having to keep the knee bent for a couple of hours.