A Travellerspoint blog

October 2018

Day 17

Warsaw

sunny 20 °C

I like Warsaw a lot...it’s a city but with big open spaces and greenery. Keith, however, does not like it because it’s a city and consequently you hear noise and sirens everywhere! However, hotel is good and having finally managed to book the train to Berlin online, we set off to explore.
The Old Town is lovely and Castle Square at the start of it another big open space. Some lovely decorated buildings and lots of churches are the highlights of the old area, but there is also a nice walk around the Bastion or Barbakhan ( wonder if that’s why the lovely Polish restaurant in York is so named?).
Castle Square

Castle Square


Again we were lucky with the weather...maybe too lucky as it was a warm 20-22 degrees - a bit warm for walking.
One of the things I really liked was that there are stones “Chopin benches” around. We found one in Saxony Gardens...they have a bit about Chopin’s early life in Poland before he moved away ( and stayed away) but best of all, they have a sensor to trigger which then plays one of his piano works. There is something very moving about hearing the lovely music in the open air in a park.
Chopin bench, Saxon Garden

Chopin bench, Saxon Garden


We could have visited the Chopin Museum, but it was such a nice day to be out and walking, I demurred in favour of enjoying the Old Town more.
After a welcome rest back at the hotel, we headed off to indulge in a substantial meal of pierogies...had to be done! They and the beer were excellent. And so to bed...that’s explored 8 new capital cities so far plus the interesting places in between like Hamburg, St. Petersburg and Bialystok...not to mention Daugavpils ( please don’t mention Daugavpils!!).

Posted by nanny0gg 09:41 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Day 16

Bialystok to Warsaw

rain 7 °C

Well the train did eventually get to Bialystok and in heavy drizzle! Couldn’t see where to go to get to main station in the dark so hauled the luggage up and over a footbridge with much difficulty to get to main entrance and taxi rank. Next day in daylight, we found dropped kerbs for crossing the tracks to get to various platforms, but they weren’t obvious in pitch dark and drizzle, sadly! Hotel was lovely...very fin de siècle in style and so comfortable. Called Hotel Branicki, it was a short walk to the Branicki Palace and gardens...known as The Versailles of the North as the Branicki family employed a French architects and garden designers with that in mind.
Branicki Palace

Branicki Palace


The buildings aren’t open on Mondays , but are used as part of the local university, so wandering round isn’t a problem. Even at this time of year there was a little colour left in the flower beds, but there were teams of gardeners clearing the summer plants to prepare for winter and the fountains were all working too. It was lovely and peaceful though - a lovely surprise to visit in a place that was really only a stopover to make the journey to Warsaw shorter.
Branicki Gardens

Branicki Gardens


By early afternoon it was time to get back to the station to head on to Warsaw. We faffed about deciding which of two trains to go for and picked the earlier one...then arranged a taxi to the station. I’m always stressed getting to stations in time for trains, but this was stress plus! First the taxi was a bit slow to arrive, then it got stuck in heavy traffic. When we got to the station, we still decided to try for the earlier of the trains, then had to wait in the ticket queue. Next the card machine ( probably as a result of Keith’s electronic death ray ) refused to get payment right until we had only 5 minutes to find platform, train and seats! Luckily in this instance we found the easy way to cross, checked it was the Warsaw train and bundled in! The only good and less stressful moment came when the lovely booking clerk accepted Keith to be eligible for a senior discount ticket, but queried that I was old enough 😃 - I am extra pleased as it’s for over-60s! That made my day.
Train journey was easy and comfortable and we arrived on time in Warsaw Central...right in the middle of the rush hour. However the taxi driver managed to find a way and deposited us here in good time.

Posted by nanny0gg 02:31 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Day 15

Vilnius to Bialystok

overcast 4 °C
View Anniversary expedition on nanny0gg's travel map.

Another day of prolonged travel, but at least we had the extra hour of sleep to enjoy thanks to daylight saving time! Aware that it was to be a late arrival in Bialystok, we ventured out to the local market after breakfast at the hotel so we could by bread and meat for an ad hoc tea at tonight’s hotel. It was a brilliant market with lots of produce on display, but without a car to carry vast quantities of food, it was a bit wasted on us this time. Then we had another little wander into the Old Town where I managed to find just a little bit more amber to buy. According to my research, Vilnius is the best place to buy as it’s so close to the Russian source, it’s cheaper for them to buy the real stuff than to buy fake plastic amber… I haven’t got much anyway, and if it’s fake it would still be a good souvenir! We managed 6 miles of walking yesterday, but barely 2 today as we didn’t have much time left in the town.
Then back to lovely Vilnius station and off on the train to Kaunas. Didn’t see anything of Kaunas but it was interesting to see all the tiny stations we stopped at ( some with hardly any platform)...and we stopped at a lot! We were in the upstairs bit of the lovely Lithuanian train for that bit...sadly, the shorter element of the journey( 1.5 hours)...so it was nice, comfy seats and a clean loo. At Kaunas, we boarded the Polish train for a LONG trip to Bialystok ( nearly 5 boring hours as it’s too dark to see anything) with very hard seats and what started as a clean loo, but didn’t last long. But apparently it’s better than being on a bus. If they didn’t stop for 10 minutes or so at a lot of the stations, it would take less time. But it’s cheap and will reduce the journey to Warsaw tomorrow and it’s getting my day’s blog done early as I’m unable to do much else ( for another hour and a half at least).

Posted by nanny0gg 15:21 Archived in Lithuania Comments (0)

Day 14

Latvia to Lithuania

overcast 5 °C

It was always going to be tricky as some of us do not do early mornings, but in spite of me setting my alarm wrong and having to speed up to be done before Keith drags himself into the bathroom complaining about the hour,we made it up, breakfasted and to Daugavpils station by 0820 yesterday in time for the morning train to Vilnius. For obscure railway reasons, trains only come into and out of Vilnius station from a distance at weekends, so that was why we had to visit Daugavpils...in order to get a train on a Saturday. It’s all Byelorussia’s fault...it’s in the way between Latvia and Estonia and you need a visa to cross it. It’s possible to get in and out of Vilnius by bus at any time, but trains are Keith’s preferred option ( and I didn’t in times past cope well with long bus journeys so he’s avoided them). So that’s why we were on a slow train to Vilnius early in the morning. Vilnius station is lovely...not quite as beautiful as Helsinki, but not bad at all,
Vilnius Staion

Vilnius Staion


However, it was such a different ‘feel’ to the train from yesterday...on this train, people talked, laughed, smiled - the atmosphere felt lighter, less threatening ( Keith still reckons I’m mad to think this).
Gates of Dawn

Gates of Dawn


Arrived in Vilnius in light drizzle and after a few false starts, found our lovely hotel just near the Gates of Dawn. Exploring is easy, it’s a lovely place to walk and not too crowded. Still not as charming as Tallinn but that’s mainly that the buildings are later and Baroque so much grander but not as pretty. I felt compelled to investigate as many Amber shops as possible before making a decision...so that was fun!
Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square


Eating out was great too...very dumpling-y so substantial and tasty fare! We’re not far from the town market at the hotel, so before embarking on a marathon train journey to Bialystok ( change to a Polish train at Kaunas), we’ll visit it to find something to eat tonight as we won’t be in until gone 9pm!

Posted by nanny0gg 01:25 Archived in Lithuania Comments (0)

Day 13

Riga to Daugavpils

sunny 4 °C
View Anniversary expedition on nanny0gg's travel map.

Another disturbed night for Keith due to lovely Latvian beer which makes my snoring worse ( so I’m told...I wouldn’t know, I’m asleep!). We’d walked past the Latvian Railways Museum yesterday, so as we only had half a day left before the train to Daugavpils ( a staging post for one of the few trains to Vilnius), it seemed a good place to visit. It was brilliant...lots of lovely old trains, many of the Soviet built...looking like something from “Dr. Zhivago” plus some interesting indoor exhibits. Lovely place to visit...and with sunshine, the photos look good.
Big Russian Locomotive (4-10-0)

Big Russian Locomotive (4-10-0)


Keith ‘driving’ train

Keith ‘driving’ train


Having collected our bags from the hotel and got to the station, found the platform and train, we were off on the busy fast train to Daugavpils. We were booked into a 4* hotels ( for €36 for both of us...which says it all)...but it was only a short walk from the station. The town seemed so dead on a Friday night apart from gangs of bored teenagers, we were glad to get in and settle. Probably not a place to put on a scenic tour of Latvia, but necessary in the big scheme of the trip!
I can’t explain why ( and Keith thinks I’m mad) but I really didn’t enjoy Latvia! There were great things to see, but I found the people so unfriendly...even their appearance was hostile - with the exception of the staff in Thursday night’s restaurant. I think it is that they are predominantly Russians but without the pre-World Cup training that made them at least appear more friendly. The taxi drivers were dour (and that’s being charitable) and fellow train passengers scowled most of the time -not just as us, but at their compatriots. Russian peasant faces predominate...think of Yeltsin and Brezhnev and that’s the standard male physiognomy. I just felt very uncomfortable both in Riga and Daugavpils. However, I’m now in Lithuania writing this and already feel more comfortable. It’s just gut feelings, but it matters!

Posted by nanny0gg 04:45 Archived in Latvia Comments (0)

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