Poland June 2017 – Warsaw Zoo & Torun Gingerbread Museum
A few days in Poland, specifically based in Warsaw, to visit Warsaw Zoo and Torun Gingerbread Museum.
Warsaw (Poland) – Apartment Next to Central Railway Station – booked through Booking.com, a 15-minute walk from Warszawa Centralna. A young lad was waiting for us when we arrived and quickly showed us around the apartment before heading off, leaving us to get acquainted with the place.
The main room was massive, the one bedroom wasn’t so, and the kitchen area was 3ft by 3ft, if that. Still, it was a decent place, was very clean and tidy and had everything we needed; apart from a washing machine!
Warsaw – Torun & return booked direct through the PKP website.
Local tickets around Warsaw bought at ticket machines.
Monday 11th June 2018 (Meeting up in Warsaw)
I was meeting Danielle at Warszawa Centralna and she departed Doncaster airport on her Wizz Air flight at 0805 UK time, an hour after I left Wien Hbf and had just entered the Czech Republic at Breclav. By the time she landed in Warsaw, I was at Bohumin, with my train undergoing a loco change to cross the border into Poland. So, while she’d done Doncaster to Warsaw I’d travelled through the Czech Republic from Breclav to Bohumin. Unfortunately, and despite the train having been bowling along nicely, it seemed that the timings were way too tight. The result of a couple of slow sections in Poland and an extended 17-minute stop in Katowice resulted in it being nearly an hour late by Warsaw. It was starting to get a bit hot in the compo too and the air-con didn’t seem to be able to cope with the warm climate; yet on other Polish coaches recently, I’ve been overwhelmed by the cold air and my eyes had been streaming when I’d got off. At 1600, almost 8 hours after boarding at Wien Hbf, I set foot onto the platform at Warszawa Centralna; having been on board EC104 for longer than I’d been on my overnight from Zurich to Wien the night before!
Danielle was sat waiting for me in Starbucks and once I dragged her away from the little boy who’d befriended her, we headed out of the station and got lost trying to find a way to cross the main road directly outside Centralna station. As a result, we ended up taking about 25 minutes to walk to the “Apartment by Central Station”, which I’d booked through Booking.com, and the young lad waiting for us when we arrived looked relieved to see us. I’d agreed at 1530 arrival time ad he’d rang when I’d been on the train too, bless him. He quickly showed us around the apartment before heading off, leaving us to get acquainted with the place.
The main room was massive, the one bedroom wasn’t so, and the kitchen area was 3ft by 3ft, if that. Still, it was a decent place, was very clean and tidy and had everything we needed; apart from a washing machine! So, I set about washing my clothes in the shower before we headed out and only found the shower gel they had, in the bathroom cabinet, after I’d used their hand soap to do it all! At leas there were hangers in the wardrobe to hang everything up with.
Food for the evening was sought at a nice little Indian restaurant called Rasoi, which was only a5-minute walk from the apartment, towards Centralna shack. It was a very small establishment, with room for only 16 people max, and it would be very cozy at capacity. The food was excellent though, fresh, piping hot and very tasty, which is sometimes hard to find in commercial Indian restaurant back home in the UK. It seemed that Rasoi was run by a family though and the food was cooked properly as opposed to batch cooked. We were both absolutely stuffed when we got back to the apartment and had to veg out for a bit to let the wedge affect ware off! At least we didn’t have to be up early the following day, so we chilled for a bit before bed; without a TV in the apartment to train our eyes on.
Tuesday 12th June 2018 (A visit to Warsaw Zoo and the Crazy Star Villa (as featured in the Zookeeper’s Wife))
After not getting up too early, I was pleased to find all the clothes I’d washed the previous night were dry and packed them all away for their next stint in the Ukraine. With no deadline, other than we had to be at the Crazy Star Villa in Warsaw Zoo by 1400, we set off to the Zoo late morning and went a rather unconventional way to get there, by using the airport shuttle services out to Warszawa Praga and then a local towards the terminus station of Warszawa Gdanska, to Warszawa Zoo; which is half way between the two.
At Warszawa Zoo station, the Zoo isn’t signposted until you get down to the main road down below the station but if you use the footsteps down from the platform level, cross the road and turn right when on the other side, that’s you skirting the periphery of the zoo and the entrance is about 500m along the road, around the corner on the left. Outside the main entrance, and along the footpath leading into the zoo, there’s a raft of pathway improvement works going on, which doesn’t take into account that the pathway needs to be used by people every day. We arrived at 1130ish and there was no queue at the ticket kiosk, but the zoo was full of school parties, with all the buses waiting outside to whisk them bac to school later.
Tickets cost PLN17 per person and while there are student discounts, these are available for up to 26-year old’s only. Once past the grumpy old man on the main gate, who rips a bit off your ticket to prove you’ve been in, that’s you in for as long as you like. I didn’t know what to expect from a 21st century zoo as I’d not been to one since I was about 5, but it was immediately apparent that standards in Eastern Europe weren’t quite what they were in Western Europe and the two hippo’s we came across first had to make do with a 12ft by 12ft pool of shitty water to swim about in. The aquarium nearby had a very cool outlook with kids being able to stand and smear their greasy hands all over the glass as they glared into the abyss. Unfortunately for the curious fish, their water was as shitty as the hippos and didn’t look to have been cleaned for days!
During our meander about the place, which has signs in Polish only I might add, we came across a few big cats, the lion was sleeping in the undergrowth, as far away from people as it could get, the puma was hiding at the back of its small pen, we caught a glimpse o a Leopard as it went trotting into its house for dinner and there was no sign of the Snow Leopard; which is just utterly ridiculous to have in captivity anyway!
There were plenty of animals that seemed to be enjoying the hot weather, the solitary giraffe being one ad the three elephants being the others. Equally though, there were plenty of animals that were having a hard time of it and the poor seals looked they were going to die in the afternoon heat. Their pool was all but empty and what little water there was didn’t even cover their bodies and their skin was really dry. I got the impression that the pool had been drained and cleaned and was being refilled but it was taking an age to fill up; meanwhile the seals suffered! And while that was going off a guy from WWF was asking for donations over the way…
The funniest animals in the zoo had to be the Marmosets and chimps. The poor Marmosets were keeping themselves occupied by stalking flies on the trees in their pen, badly and quite comically. The chimps however, we just being lazy in the early afternoon heat and the grandpa of the group looked about as pissed off with life as someone that was really pissed off with life. His posture and old face were quite something. The youngster of the group, however, was playing with a pink bucket, which it was generally inside of but every now and again we’d see a head stick up out of the bucket before he went back to bobbing up and down inside it; it too was quite comical at times, but not as comical, or disgusting, as him shitting into his hand and then sifting through it on a ledge afterwards!
The gorillas, on the other hand, didn’t care to do anything other than vegetate and sleep, mostly with their backs to the enclosure window; that was, until someone clearly shouted that I was dinner time and all three then ran to the other side of the enclosure and took up a certain spot. The keepers then threw onions to each of the gorillas, who then took them away, peeled the skin off and just chomped on them, raw. Talk about bad breath…..
All the different animals naturally led us to the opposite end of the zoo, where the Crazy Star Villa is situated. Long story short, the villa was used by the then zookeeper to hide Jews from the Nazi’s during the war. A lot of which were taken from the Warsaw Ghetto in trucks loaded with vegetable waste bound for the zoo, which would be fed to the animals. Tours of the Villa have become more popular since the making of the film The Zookeeper’s Wife, and we had our own guided tour of the Villa, by an English-speaking guide, who explained how the Jewish families lived and were kept safe when Nazi’s turned up at the front door. There’s a tunnel leading from the basement to the Villa gardens, which would be used by the Jews when the lady of the house played a certain thing on the piano, meaning that Germans were in the house, and they’d all be picked up outside and taken somewhere safe until it was safe to return to the Villa. The tour itself is only 10 minutes long and as the Villa isn’t that big, there’s no way to string it out. At the end of the day, it’s a house, which had a basement that sheltered Jews and a tunnel that led from said basement to the back garden as an escape route. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll probably understand more of what the guide tells you than I did, as my wife did; but it’s still worth a look around, just to understand that even when life does hit rock bottom, there is always someone that will put themselves in harms way to help others. The trip around the Villa was free but there’s a donations box outside the main entrance to allow you to pay your way.
By the time we’d finished our tour, all the school parties had all but vacated the premises and just when we thought we’d seen everything the zoo had to offer, we spotted a polar bear wondering around its enclosure. For a captive animal it was very large and very white; unlike those at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster, which have scruffy coats. It was a good spot too, as no sooner did we get over to have a look at the fine beast, did it clamber out of its pool and disappear off to its den. That was our cue to do one ourselves and we headed back to Warszawa Centralna via Gdanska for a snack and then back via Praga and the way we’d come that morning.
That evening we discovered an excellent Thai restaurant, San Thai, in the posher part of the city and to be honest we looked a little out of place, but our money was as good as everyone else’s. One of the staff members was great and spoke good English, the other was an utterly miserable cow, who shouldn’t have been working in such an establishment with a screwed-up face giving the impression she didn’t want to be there! The food was excellent, and the portions weren’t too big either, which allowed you to savour the food and have room for a starter, and/or desert; we did both and walked back to the apartment feeling like we’d eaten some good food and weren’t stuffed to the gunnels like we had been after the Indian the previous night.
Some of my t-shirts had been soaking all day as when they’d dried the still stank of sweat under the armpits. The soaking had done the trick though and they were hung out to dry before we went to bed.
Photos for Tuesday 12th June 2018 (Warsaw Zoo)
Photos for Tuesday 12th June 2018 (Warsaw Zoo – Crazy Star Villa)
Wednesday 13th June 2018 (A trip out to Torun to visit the Zywe Muzeum Piernika – Gingerbread Museum)
When we’d visited Torun 2 years ago, Danielle had wanted to visit the living gingerbread museum (Zywe Muzeum Piernika) then. The problem being was that we were on tight timescale and the gingerbread museum sells out of a daily basis, so just turning up on the day isn’t advisable. I’d booked out tickets on the museum’s website, which cost PLN17 each. I also booked us first class tickets on the PKP IC website to get to Torun and back, which cost PLN71 each, each way.
Our train to Torun wasn’t until 0830 and we had a leisurely get-up at 7 o’clock as a result. We had every intention of using the bakery on the corner, by our apartment, for breakfast but despite it opening at 0730, there was nothing on the shelves at all at 0745 when we walked by. So, the Golden Arches at Centralna it was, which now had very handy self-service screens that could be used in English as well; making life loads easier for “Johnny foreigner” to get what he wanted from McD’s in a foreign country. And you get two hash browns with breakfast, not one like you do in the UK.
McD’s was all munched down we boarded our TLK28102 0523 Lublin – Kolobrzeg. Our 1st class compo already had three people in it, but our seats were still free, and it was a pleasant 3-hour journey to Torun, with no rowdiness, no window riots and nobody snoring either, it was just an all-round nice journey.
You can get a bus from outside Torun Glowny station to the old town (Miasto) or you can walk like we did. It takes about 35 minutes to walk, which is as simple as heading out of the station, turning left at the main road and then right at the roundabout; which then takes you over the river bridge, with a panoramic view of the old town soon becoming visible. Its worth the walk just to take in the view!
With not too much time to kill before our 1400 tour of the museum we had a bit of a wander before returning to the museum to wait it out in their reception area. Signs at the kiosk confirmed that all tour were sold out for the day and they suggested going online to book for a following day. The reason most of the tours were booked out soon became apparent when two school parties entered the building! The whole town was bustling with young kids on school trips and it made sense that they’d be given a tour of the museum while there. When the guide came down to collect everyone, it was soon evident that only about 6 people on the tour were English speaking and there were about 70 Polish children to boot! I’m not sure he was so pleased when he asked if we liked children and I replied “no”!
Upstairs was a large open area, which was essentially all made of wood, including the large tables that were set with tools, molds and implements for making gingerbread. Before the fun part, we were given a talk on how the gingerbread was made and various people from the group got roped into helping make the gingerbread that was being prepared; including me! I was the lucky one who got to crush all the spices, one of the guides told me to imagine that it was my mother-in-law’s face!
Once we’d made the gingerbread we were then assigned to a table and talked through how to knead our own gingerbread and pressed it into one of the molds on the table, before taking it out, trimming it and placing it on a baking tray for the oven. While our creations were baking we were given time to look around the shop, which is when the guides prepare the room for the next group and all the gingerbread cut-offs were kneaded back together and placed back in the bowls for the next group to use; which is why they advise that you don’t eat what you’ve created and go as far as saying that they don’t adhere to hygiene standards too.
When the baking trays came out there was a clear difference from one side to the other, between the adult’s creations and the children’s creations but everyone was pleased with their own. After collection everyone was shown to another room where a demonstration of how the gingerbread was made in the early part of the century was given and there was a lady neatly decorating some of the gingerbread; which you could have a go at yourself for a fee but did get to keep what you decorated. As the children were doing what children do best, and not having a care in the world for anything else around them, we scarpered as soon as we could to get away from them, thanked the guides for their time and headed out to find somewhere to eat before out 3-hour train journey back to Warszawa.
We settled on a Pizza place called Brando’s Music. The owner had just finished his own pizza when we approached an enticed us to sit outside with his fluent English. None of the menus were in English but its hard to fail at an Italian as everything is essentially in Italian. The pizza was worth the wait and was cheap as well, and swilled down with a decent draught beer.
Our return train to Warszawa was TLK82102 1138 Kolobrzeg – Lublin and it was spot on time, which is the opposing working of the train we’d done out to Torun earlier. There were two people in our compo and the four of us occupied it all the way to Warszawa without interruption from anyone else along the way. The compo at the end of the coach had a guy and his dog in it and the dog didn’t seem to take kindly to people opening the door, judging by its barking! I’d have growled at the little fucker if it had started on me, I hate dogs, especially those that think they own the place.
Despite our best efforts on day one, we hadn’t been able to find a way out of Centralna station, that led directly to the opposite side of the main road outside. Having found it the previous night, by accident, we had a quick exit from the station and ended up at the Indian again. This time we shared a starter, a rice, a naan and a main course; having learnt from our Thai experience the night before. And we left satisfied, not stuffed and the food had been very good too.
Back at the apartment we had the grand task of packing, before leaving Poland the following morning. Thankfully Danielle’s bag had enough room to take home a load of crap from the first week of my trip, that I wouldn’t need at all for the following two weeks, which made my bag a bit more manageable; it included a raft of window labels from various countries and the bash book too. It seemed like it was over before it had started, but with Danielle starting a new job she hadn’t been able to get the leave she’d wanted, which meant out time together on this trip would be limited to only a few days. Ready for the off, we had everything packed before bedtime and we’d both checked in for our respective flights.
Photos for Wednesday 13th June 2018 (Torun Gingerbread Museum)
Thursday 14th June 2018 (Flying back to Ukraine for another two-week stint)
This morning was much the same as the previous morning, but for the fact we had to post the key on the way out of the apartment and we had our big bags with us. McD’s was the same, then it was a pair of SKM EN76’s to the airport.
Chopin Airport is easy enough to navigate your way around and my LOT flight, operated by Nordica, had the gate number on the boarding pass when I’d checked in the previous day. As it happened, my flight to Odesa, Ukraine, was only a few yards away from the gate where Danielle’s Wizz Air flight to Luton would depart from an hour after mine; so, we could chew the cud until my flight boarded. When it was announced, the staff pounced on the majority of wheel-along cases and apologized to people as they tagged them for the hold. As the plane was a “small” plane there wasn’t enough room on board. As I was waved through onto the plane, with my big rucksack still with me, I waved Danielle off to her gate and soon realised why bags were being tagged for the hold. My rucksack barely fit in the overhead bins itself and had to go in sideways on at that. It was only a two-plus-two layout and was full. The crew were all speaking English and it soon made sense why, when I asked one of the cabin crew. Nordica is a LOT subsidiary based in Estonia and both the plane and crew were Estonian; with the plane having arrived into Warsaw from Tallinn. As none of the crew could speak Polish or Ukrainian, they simply spoke English instead; and most people on board responded to it as well.
I was soon back to the grind in Ukraine and Danielle was soon back to the grind in the UK. Poland had been a pleasant interlude to my travels.