Poznań – Friday 5th to Monday 8th May
Almost as soon as we were across the Oder River we could feel the change from West to East. We had made it to Poland – unbelievably, only the fifth country on our journey. The passing landscape felt almost like a parody of the Eastern Bloc; dilapidated buildings and wooden railway water towers offset by modern Ford Focuses and the occasional Audi – the most obvious signs that we were no longer in Soviet times.
Arriving into Poznań, we hailed a cab to the hotel. We had decided to go upmarket a little bit and give ourselves a bit of a treat since it was Hannah’s birthday weekend, so had chosen City Park Hotel & Residence to stay. Not that it was that expensive – we got it at a 50% discount for £58 a night. We had to do a little bit of very un-British complaining to get some things sorted in the room, and then headed into town for a bite to eat. What we had failed to do, however, was grasp quite how far out of town our hotel was, and not worked out the public transport system before heading out! As a piece of advice to any tourist in any city – work out the local transport system before going anywhere.
Tired, frustrated, and eventually armed with 72-hour tickets, we made it into town in time to grab a quick late lunch and head back to the hotel for naps for Hannah and the pool and sauna for Phil. Not wanting to leave our local area again that day we found an amazing Scandinavian dinner at Lars, Lars & Lars.
On Saturday we headed back into the Old Town to watch Poznań’s biggest tourist draw. This is the main event in Poznań, evidenced by the full town square, even off-season! Every day, at twelve noon, following a small parade of soldiers on horseback, a bugler bugles from the balcony of the town hall, and two mechanical goats butt heads as the clock strikes. That’s it. As underwhelming as it may sound it was really amazing to see how tradition can come from almost anywhere. The goats have been butting heads every day since 1551 (with a break when the Town Hall burned down), to commemorate, literally, a pair of goats locking horns on the steps of the town hall and causing a spectacle.
Crowds massing for the main event in Poznań:
The rest of the weekend we spent strolling the streets, going to the pool and generally relaxing and enjoying being in a nice hotel. We had terrible dinner service at Restauracja Papiero, but incredible innovative meat sandwiches on Hannah’s birthday at Meat Us, to offset it. We liked Poznań. It felt relaxed and easy, and very comfortable with itself.
Warsaw – Monday 8th to Tuesday 9th May
Come Monday we were back on the road (rails) to Warsaw for a one night stopover, taking the train from Poznań for £5.40 each. We stayed at the unusual, but comfortable, Loft Hotel for £37.50. Hannah decided she wanted to try some proper traditional Polish food, so we ate at the Radio Café. This place was apparently once a club for former Radio Free Europe DJ’s, and actually managed to avoid being the terrible cliché it could so easily have been. The food was good, in a Soviet sort of way, and Phil had a warm spiced beer, which was not.
Kaunas – Tuesday 9th to Thursday 11th May
Skipping through Poland was both an easy and a difficult choice for us. We would have loved to have had a chance to explore more, but the country is enormous, and travelling around would have eaten up too much time. In the end we opted to move quickly on to Lithuania and the Baltic States. Taking the Lux Express coach to Kaunas (£12 each) we settled in to the six and a half hour journey, enjoying the comfy chairs and seat back entertainment screens.
Kaunas proved pleasant, but uneventful. We took in the Old Town; Europe’s Longest Pedestrianised Street; the Devil Museum (free on Wednesdays, it turned out!); made wishes at the confluence of the Neris and Neman Rivers; and had traditional Lithuanian lunch of chicken broth and spurgos (meat filled bread).
Vilnius – Thursday 11th to Saturday 13th May
Keeping up the pace we took the train to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Once again treating ourselves, we decided to travel 1st class, costing a dizzying 50p on top of the 2nd class ticket price (£5.20 each). Without wanting to sound like a broken record, we, once again, found ourselves faced with the same set up: a charming Old Town with the usual assortment of bastions, churches and a cathedral, surrounded by a modern city. The only real dampener was a few issues with our Airbnb – the first of our trip which hasn’t lived up to expectations (£32.50 per night).
Going city to city in such quick succession this week has made for a fascinating change. Instead of being able to get to grips with the places we’ve visited, our shallow delving has left us with somewhat shallow impressions. We have been only seeing the most superficial elements, and then moving on to the next place. Perhaps that’s what the last few cities have been good for – we have seen plenty of Brits away on long weekend-type trips, and we’d recommend all three for such a visit. I’d be willing to bet that given more time we’d have found a great deal more under the surface.
Next week, we’ll be slowing down again…
Hannah and Phil x