A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

Lublin and Hrubieszów

Some time in Eastern Poland and a visit to my great-grandmother's hometown.

snow -4 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We made it to Lublin without too much trouble although on a rather crowded train. Poland has a surprisingly sophisticated train network for having been totally destroyed and then neglected, even if the trains themselves are a little less luxurious than the ones in Western Europe. We had a really short time here so our first evening after we dropped off our bags at the hostel we went out to see the old city and have a bite to eat.

The reason we came out to this eastern city is really to see Hrubieszów. It still amazes me how well every village in Europe is so well connected. You can get quite literally anywhere you could ever want to go, if you’ve got the patience to work with the sometimes limited train/bus schedules. Anyway, we used this convenient bus service to take a day trip out to the town one day, although unfortunately I’m completely ignorant and thought Easter was a set date, or at least always in April, and we ended up in a rural Polish village on Easter Sunday, which this year was in March.

Needless to say, the town was dead, although I’m not really sure if it ever “comes to life”. The reason we went here is because it is my great-grandmother’s hometown. I never knew her, but it was really humbling to be walking where she walked and seeing what she saw, even though the town has completely changed since WWII. She left for Canada with another Polish Jew in the early 20th century, and eventually I ended up in eastern Canada. Nearly half of the residents of the town before the war were Jewish, and now they’re virtually all gone. For me that’s the most revolting part of the whole Holocaust – that it accomplished one of its sick goals. There are virtually no Jews left in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, the extremely small communities that are left are extremely vibrant and active, but in terms of numbers they don’t compare to the pre-war situation. It’s unbelievably depressing to think of the potential that was lost and the lives that were wasted, and even more so to think that some of my relatives would have perished under such awful circumstances, but seeing the Jewish communities thriving today in Europe, Israel, and everywhere else in the world, is probably one of the most inspiring things I can think of. What else could they have possibly lost? A people reduced to living in sub-human conditions under constant starvation and torture, not only forgives their oppressors, but moves on and creates some of the most lively and successful communities we have today.

We saw the Jewish cemetery there, which was decimated by the Nazis upon the deportation of the Jews in 1942. What’s there now is a memorial to the Jews made of the smashed grave stones found after the war. The town, and the whole country, really, has been changed in irreversible, unimaginable ways, but I think the memorials in Eastern Europe really are amazing. They're always thought provoking and have so many levels of meaning.

It was really great to be able to make it out to Hrubieszów, and I’m glad everything worked out despite the fact that we probably chose the worst possible day of the year to go. We went back to Lublin after a few hours in the town and managed to find I think the only restaurant that was open to get some supper. Nothing like a proper easter feast we’d get at home, but close enough.

Next we’re going to Kraków, which is our last stop in Poland. It’ll be most of the day tomorrow getting there, but I’ve got lots of reading to keep me busy!

Posted by kmclean 03:53 Archived in Poland Tagged winter poland lublin jews Comments (3)


One of the few cities that has always been Polish.

semi-overcast -5 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We made it here with no troubles and even managed to get some rest on the train. The Polish couchette wagon was a little less luxurious than the German one and a little louder, but nothing terrible. Sheets and pillows aren’t included and the couchettes are a little slanted so you tend to roll into the wall no matter how you lay, but luckily we’ve become masters at sleeping with eyemasks and earplugs in a sack with a makeshift pillow.
As a side note, those are the best things you can travel with. Eyemask, earplugs, and a spare pillowcase you can stuff with clothes to make a pillow. I’ve had many extra hours of sleep thanks to those.

Luckily the hostel in Warsaw let us check in early, so we hopped right into bed and took a nap before rolling out to catch the morning walking tour. One nice thing about travelling east, or seemingly anywhere other than Switzerland and Germany, is that things are a lot less official. If the beds are empty there’s never a problem checking in early or late. You would never be refused an empty bed in Poland just because “it’s not check-in time yet”. Anyway, there are good things that can come of all that order, too.

The walking tour in Warsaw was great. It’s a really interesting city, with such a devastating history, but I feel like that’s just the general feeling in Poland. It’s been through so much over the years but still refuses to quit. If you ever start to lose faith in humanity, travel to Poland or Bosnia and see for yourself how resilient and strong people can be. It’s always sad hearing about the sick ways of war and oppression, but it can be quite inspiring to meet people who have accomplished amazing things even in the face of others who have quite literally made it their life’s goal to see that that never happens.

On our second day in the city we went to the Warsaw Uprising museum. It’s relatively new in the city, and extremely well done. It’s massive so it’s kind of one of those all-day museums, but definitely worth it. Another great museum was the Marie Curie house. I actually didn’t know she was Polish, but it turns out she only made her life in France because of the brutal treatment of women in Poland and everywhere else in Europe at the time. The house where she was born has been converted into a small museum about her life, and they even have a few pieces of her actual equipment.

Any trip to Poland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Warsaw; people say it’s not the best city in the country, but it definitely shouldn’t be missed. The history is rich and the city has been beautifully rebuilt; it really does look like a proper European capital. We had a great time in and around the old city seeing the memorials and monuments, and there are at least a couple of museums here worth checking out. It seems like it would be a great city to just hang around in, but a couple of days seemed to be enough to take in the main sites. Next up on our tour of Poland is Lublin. It’s a couple of hours away by train, so we’ll be heading out tomorrow.

Posted by kmclean 03:45 Archived in Poland Tagged winter warsaw poland Comments (0)


A really great small city with a long and diverse history.

semi-overcast -4 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We took right off the night mom and Dad left on an overnight train for Poland. This is the third and unfortunately last leg of our semester break adventure. The train was definitely better than the overnight busses we’ve had to take, but you don’t exactly get a restful sleep either. Our first stop after a short layover in Berlin was Wrocław, formerly known as Breslau. It was a really interesting city, and with such a long and really fascinating history. It’s been part, at one time or another, of almost every major European dynasty – from the Czechs and the Luxembourg dynasty way back when to the Third Reich. In between it passed through the hands of Habsburgs, the Prussians, Napoleon, the Russians, and even the Poles once or twice, on top of being part of both the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.

Poland is located in a terribly unfortunate location, right between Germany and Russia, and at the time the Prussians and Russians had massive and developed armies, they also had the militant Swedish army to the North and the Habsburgs to the South with the Ottomans beneath them. A lot of powerful empires have tried to claim the land that we now call Poland over the years, but luckily their language and culture has survived it all and today there is one amazing country to visit with an unbelievable history.

As for the city itself, I really liked Wrocław. It’s a relatively small city by European standards, although one of the bigger ones in Poland. I like the cities you can get around on foot, though. We spent some time just seeing the sites – the old town, market square, cathedral and bridge(s). At the risk of sounding jaded, these are always the main things to see. Almost any village and every city in Europe has them, but it never gets old. Wrocław also has a really great museum about the city’s history, which we had the time to check out. We were happy to spend the day inside a warm museum anyway.

The weather is a lot colder than we were expecting. I figured at the end of March it would be spring, and naively associated “spring” with warm temperatures. It’s been about -5 degrees or so for our stay, but they have the same icy wind here as back home which makes feel a lot colder. It’s nothing we’re not used to, but after having spent the last six weeks travelling through places like Turkey and Spain, it just takes a little readjusting.

We’re heading to Warsaw next on another overnight train. It’s definitely not an ideal way to travel – a few too many restless nights can really take their toll, defeating the whole purpose of travelling overnight which is to save time. This trip we don’t have a ton of time though, and we’re really trying to cram in as many cities as we can to get a feel for Poland, so onto another “City Night Line” it is. I can’t wait to see Warsaw.

Posted by kmclean 03:43 Archived in Poland Tagged winter poland wroclaw Comments (0)


Just one more reason to love Spain.

sunny 16 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 2 on kmclean's travel map.

This is just one more reason to love Spain. Barcelona is an amazing city. The three days we spent there weren’t even close to enough, but we tried to cram in as much as we could during our short stay. This is another one of those cities I’ve just got to come back to. We did some walking tours here, a day trip to Montserrat, and spent some time wandering around the old city and Las Ramblas, but I feel like there’s still so much to see and do in the city.

Our first night we took a tour of the Born, in and around “Picassos” district. He lived in Barcelona for nine years when he was young, so there’s a really great museum which we unfortunately didn’t have time to see that has quite a bit of his earlier work. It’s a really trendy neighbourhood with tons of vintage and boutique shops, and even more tapas and pincho bars – which are, by the way, by far my new favourite type of pub. This is where I discovered this new great way to eat – pinchos. They’re basically like tapas, except usually on a piece of bread and always ready to serve. You kind of just walk into a place, pick up a few bites of something, pay and leave. There are a couple of places where you even just pay by the toothpick – at the end, they just count your toothpicks and you pay up. I guess the Spanish are honest people, or at least the Catalonians are.

We spent one day in the city walking around a doing a couple of tours. The first one showed us a few of Gaudí’s masterpieces, of course including the Sagrada Familia. I’ve seen some pictures of his buildings before, but in person they’re even weirder. I love the walking tours, though, because you learn so much about the things you’re looking at, which is great for lazy people like me who (unfortunately) don’t read up as much as they should before visiting such an epic city as Barcelona. We did another tour later that day of the Gothic quarter, or the old city, which was also excellent. I had no idea how rich and recent Barcelona’s history is.

That evening we went out for the mandatory Paella while in Barcelona, which unfortunately was a bit of a disappointment. I guess for one, a little bit of sea food isn’t that impressive, coming from the Maritimes. Also, rice in Canada has a reputation as a poor man’s meal, and as a student I’ve been eating a lot more than my share of it over the past couple of years, so the Spanish delicacy to me kind of just looked like a left-over sea food meal on rice. Anyway, overall the food in Barcelona was amazing, and there are probably a million other things besides Paella you could eat there.

The next day we went to Montserrat early in the morning to spend the day there. It’s a lot bigger and more developed than I thought it was, it’s really like a whole little town way up on the mountain. No idea how they got everything up there! The main thing to see is the monastery, which has been there in some form or another since 888. It still blows my mind how old civilisation is, and how young Canada is. The rest of the little town was cute too, with a small museum and little movie they show you about the history of the mountain and the monastery. The cafeteria lunch we had was by far the worst meal on the trip, but what can you expect?

One of the best restaurants we tried was a little pincho bar in the newer part of the city. You could pick out your own little bite-sized plates at the bar, or order hot ones from the menu. The first time we went there we just had a quick meal of cold pinchos. Everything was delicious, but watching them carry out and serve all the hot tapas was painful, so we had to go back and try it out properly. The second time we ordered a little bit of everything, and tried a lot of the hot plates which were amazing. Nothing at the restaurant was bad, except maybe the service from one of the waitresses! That’s definitely no reason to pass this place up, though. The night we ordered the hot food was probably one of the best meals we had the whole trip.

We had a great time in Barcelona, although it was definitely rushed. It would have been great to have had more time to just relax at the beach and in the city. You could easily spend a week here trying all the different tapas and pinchos and shopping in the older parts of the city. Spain is definitely still my favourite country, and Barcelona is one amazing city.

Posted by kmclean 16:12 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain pinchos Comments (0)


Next stop and another great city in this part of the world.

sunny 12 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 2 on kmclean's travel map.

Our next stop on our trip with Mom and Dad was Lisbon. We arrived kind of late so didn’t get to do much our first night, but we managed to at least get out for some wine and cheese. We spent the next three days touring around the city and the last night we ended up staying out way too late, but we all managed to crawl into the taxi early the next morning and make our flight to Barcelona.

We went to a little restaurant in the Alfama district where we were staying on our first night for a bite to eat. Portuguese wine and cheese must be this world’s greatest kept secret. I’ve never heard anything fantastic or special about them, but it turns out they’re the best I’ve ever tried. We didn’t have one bad wine our entire time there. The food was also delicious, but to be honest my favourite meals were all at the Spanish-style tapas bars. Eating one delicious bite of 12 different things is definitely my favourite way to eat. Besides the food, though, there are a lot of other things to see and do.

Everything we saw was really interesting, and it’s a great city. On our first day it was a little rainy, so we took the tram 28 all around the city to try to get an idea of the main sites. It runs in an around the older parts of town, going near the sé cathedral and the castle. Lisbon is a really neat city with a lot of hills, so the tram was a little easier than a walking tour, which we skipped in this city. That night we went to a little restaurant for some food before we went out to see some Fado music – something typical of Lisbon, I’m told. You’re definitely supposed to eat at the same place to listen to the music, but reviewers say that all the places with great music have bad food, and vice-versa, so we broke the rules and went to a place with great music. We ate first, though, and just had dessert and wine at the Fado club, enough to add up to the compulsory €15 per person minimum charge. The music was great, though, and really something different. You sit there with your food and every ten minutes or so someone comes out, sometimes accompanied by a guitar or two, and sings for you. It’s really loud and deep, definitely worth seeing if you’re ever in Lisbon.

We spent our second day in Belem to see the Monastery, the Maritime Museum, and the Belem tower. Usually I’m not so into military or maritime history, but there was a time when the Portuguese navy was definitely something worth noticing. The museum was great, and like the monastery, free since we went before 14:00 on Sunday. There’s also a cute restaurant out that way with excellent sea food and even better service, although we may have just been lucky and got the best waiter on his best day.

On our last day in the city we went up to one of the lookouts, the “miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara”. It’s at the top of one of the hills so you can really get some amazing views. There were also a ton of artists and artisans at the top selling their work, and we came across one photographer and one painter whose work was really excellent. Both Mom and Dad and Mike and I bought a few of their pieces. Some of my favourite souvenirs from our trips are the art works you can pick up on the street for unbelievably cheap prices. At the top of the hill near the lookout there was a really great Argentinian restaurant we tried on a whim, and ended up staying for a while on their terrace to enjoy the view. Since we had kind of a big lunch we did another tapas-style supper at a little cave restaurant right around the corner from our apartment in the Alfama district. We stumbled across it the night before and went in for a few little plates of cheese, sausage, and whatever else, and it turned out to be great. The food was perfect, not to mention the local wine right of the casque at €6 per litre… not bad. Anyway, we ended up talking way too much and staying out way too late, something I think we all regretted when our alarms went off the next morning at 5:30 to catch our flight to Barcelona. When in Rome, though, right?

Anyway, we all made it to Barcelona even if we were a little beat, and now we’re looking forward to enjoying yet another epic city. We had the best time in Lisbon, and I would definitely recommend it. You could probably see all the main sites in two days if you really rushed, but four or five days in a city like this would be great so you could really enjoy the food, the wine, and the music.

Posted by kmclean 12:32 Archived in Portugal Tagged music lisbon portugal fado Comments (0)

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