Monday, September 30

Paris, Day Three: Au Revoir

On this, our last day in Paris, we really only had one plan to execute - and that is to see the Mona Lisa. We got to the Louvre later than I would have liked, but in a reasonable time considering the circumstances. Getting into the glass pyramid itself wasn't that long a wait, but buying tickets was frustratingly slow; even more so after we found self service machines with no queues afterwards.

But in we got and straight to the Mona Lisa we headed. And, erm, there she was. Now I'm not really an art lover (even though there have been some examples which I have strongly liked) so perhaps my reaction was to be expected, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I wasn't the only one there that day who had been massively underwhelmed. My theory is that the Mona Lisa is like other items of artificial self-fuelling desire, like designer handbags or reality shows: it's actually only famous because it's famous? But anyway I actually found the crowd much more interesting as they (well, we) all jostled for the best position in which to take pictures and selfies. I was a bit surprised that cameras were allowed at all, but apparently that's a recent policy change. I think it's a shame that most people only saw the art through their phones, but I guess that's where we are now - some orderly queues would have been nice though.

The Louvre is pretty huge (I'm not sure I have ever visited a bigger museum) and so we established and stuck to the priorities - they being Egypt and Islam. Those alone took us a fair few hours and we managed to get out of the Louvre well past lunchtime. My plan was to also visit the Orsay, but that is closed Monday which kind of sucked and shows exactly how much planning I had put into this weekend. I guess I'll have to come back for that one.

So instead we all leisurely walked up Jardin des Tuileries toward the Obelisk, which pretty much ended our tourist trail. We headed back to the apartment for the final time to pick up our luggage, and then on to Gare du Nord to catch our train back. Although the weekend was short I did think it was really good, and it was nice to revisit Paris after almost thirty years. Of course I won't be going back any time soon... but at least I know that if I did, I'd know my way around a bit.

Sunday, September 29

Paris, Day Two: Get It All In

Today was all about ticking things off. We started off with the Arc de Triomphe, which we not-so-comfortably managed to squeeze in before our scheduled entry to the Eiffel Tower (which, by the way, I thoroughly recommend all visitors doing). We then hung out in Champ de Mars for lunch and a doss after which we made our way to Notre Dame. Forgive me for glossing over the details, but in short everything was very pretty and full of history.

After stopping off for ice cream we made our way back home to have a small rest before... heading back out to see the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower again, but at night. Perhaps it's because I'm no longer used to travelling with family but I found the whole thing pretty strange and amusing. But I have to admit it was nice to walk around after hours too.

By this time we had gotten pretty used to the metro system of Paris, although we had spent a lot of time yesterday trying to figure out the most cost effective and flexible way to buy tickets. It turns out that the book of singles (similar to the carnets we used to have on the London Underground) were a clear winner - very much so than the "value" travelcards they were punting to tourists.

Saturday, September 28

Paris, Day One: A Change of Plans

Around a decade ago I made a promise to myself, that I would never go to Paris unless it was in a romantic context. Yes, it's a lame condition but I like to think it was qualified by how a) I had already been (albeit as a five year old) and b) it's not the most inaccessible of places for a Londoner to visit so could be done at any time. And so I spent the time since declining various trips and outings I had been invited on, the most regretful of which being the bros' Mosque-Crawl-cum-Before-Sunset-Reenactment-no-homo of Ramadhan 2009.

But ten years is a long time and all plans have an expiry date. And so I found myself booking a late ticket to join an already planned family trip to Paris.

I have to say that the Eurostar is pretty impressive. Yes, we all know the theory, but to get on a train and arrive in the capital of another country is something very novel for those who live on an island like Great Britain. It's amazingly convenient and also quite striking to realise how close Europe is.

After settling into the cosy apartment, we immediately headed out to get started on the sightseeing. Sacre Coeur has always been vividly locked in my memories for some reason so I was especially poignant as we approached the, in my opinion, stunning church at the top of the butte Montmartre. I always become dismayed when I hear of people who leave Sacre Coeur off of their tourist itineraries, and a part of me was glad that we only had the one item on our own list this afternoon - there would be no rushing through here.

My cousin and I decided to walk home from there, which was a nice and efficient way to soak in the city with the small amount of time we had. It didn't take long - around an hour - but we got to visit street markets, take in some local architecture and generally hang out with the locals.

It was great to have my suspicion of Paris having so many halal places to eat too - not that it mattered of course as we had brought our own food from home. Naturally.

Sunday, September 22

Goodbye Poland

And there you have it - the last day in Krakow and thus Poland. Today was reserved for Krakow proper, and it was great to find a free walking tour here as you would in many other places these days. At almost three hours long it was a bit of a slog, but well worth it as pretty much all the interesting bits of Krakow was covered. The Jewish Quarter however was omitted, but that was okay as it was on the way to the station anyway - stopping off for a quick look and grabbing a zapiekanki while there (and really, that alone was worth the detour).

But time wise the day had been killed; so much so that the train back to Warsaw was almost missed (which is more fun than it sounds). In hindsight I should have flown directly back to London from Krakow, but then I suppose the three hour journey back didn't change much really.

And before I knew it I was back in Warsaw and back at the airport to catch my flight back home. Poland may never have been on any travel list of mine but I have to say I'm glad I had the chance to go - the trip, and Poland itself, turned out to be pleasantly surprising and exceeded all expectations I had.

Saturday, September 21

In Krakow

So the weekend and finally the chance to be 100% a tourist. And how easy it was too - unlike Warsaw, Krakow appears to be built for tourists with a lot to see and do and plenty of others who had come directly from abroad to do it.

Today was to be pretty packed, with a tour selected that would pack as much stuff in as possible (albeit with sights all outside of Krakow proper). The first stop was Auschwitz which probably doesn't require any introduction except for me to admit that I didn't actually know it was near Krakow until I had to come here. It was both as expected and surprising - as cliched as it sounds things really do become more material and... real once you actually see where it happened. It was all pretty sad.

The second part of the afternoon was spent visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines (but not before enjoying some Polish ice cream of course). As interesting as the mines were I have to admit having been slightly underwhelmed overall. That's not to take away anything from the attraction itself; I guess I've finally been desensitised to mines and caves.

The tour ended early enough to catch a nice dinner in a boutique restaurant back in Krakow old town. You'll be glad to hear that I didn't have dumplings - but even though the food tonight was much fancier I was still surprised by the bill. For you foodies out there: food in Poland is very cheap. Go nuts.

Friday, September 20

A Polish Jummah

Blah blah, I can't miss jummah wherever I am, blah blah. I don't think I ever expected attending jummah to be a problem in the capital of Poland, but it didn't go as smoothly as I was hoping it would. Okay, so the mosque was a 20 minute taxi from the office, but the thing that really screwed me over was that it started at 2pm, two hours after the start of Zhur. So of course I had got there way too early which kinda sucked. But the jummah itself was as expected - an Arabic khutba with Polish synopsis - and it was nice to see a packed mosque for the congregational prayer.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, mainly around the catching of a train to Krakov. It turns out the train was a far superior choice to renting a car, being both cheaper, faster and more comfortable to travel in. That said it did pull into Krakov pretty late and taxi drivers from the station to the hotel did have a tendency to rip off their customers that evening (here's a tip: make sure the meter is running)... but overall I do heartily recommend the train for intercity travel anyway.

Thursday, September 19

Going Native

Of course it takes much longer to actually genuinely become "native" but I think there comes a point when living in a city that a tourist stops becoming a stranger. That seemed to have happened to me today, as maps were left at home, senses of direction and purpose established and places off the beaten path were explored.

I don't think many tourists get to visit the local university (with echoes of Seville ringing in my head), but the crown jewel today was tea at Same Fusy, an intimate little tea house-cum-cavern in the old town.

I'm a little sad that tonight is my last night actually. On the other hand, I think I've done as much as I would like to in Warsaw.

Wednesday, September 18

Warsaw Old Town

Today I had the opportunity to check out what is probably the biggest attraction in Warsaw: The Old Town. I have to say that this was pretty much the same as other old towns, with the architecture, history and vibe being the majority pull over any single monument in particular.

I was nice to have non-work related exposure to Warsaw, and I think I've pretty much concluded that the city is safe and clean (which is quite the novelty for someone who has lived in London all his life), and the people much more nice and friendly than I am ashamed to say I expected.

Dinner was dumplings, topped up by a quiche. I suspect a pattern forming here.

Tuesday, September 17

Oh My: Dumplings

A very rainy evening forced me and a friend to take shelter at a random restaurant in a random part of Warsaw. Little did I know that this turn of events would lead me to discovering the best bit about Warsaw so far: Dumplings. As is well known, I'm not really a foodie, so I can't really describe what kind of dumplings they were, but they were pretty amazing, in both taste and texture, and better still the filled me up. So good.

SMBC Click for more info


But seriously you have to wonder right? Is everyone just making it up?

Sunday, September 15

In Warsaw

So here's the thing - I've never actually been on a business trip before. I guess the closest commercial and non-holiday time I've had away from home was Bristol a few years ago, but even that was a bit of a doss rather than having to actually go into an office daily. I think many will know (or guess) that the idea of travelling alone for work doesn't particularly appeal, and if I'm brutally honest Poland has never really ever been on my travel list.

I got in quite late tonight and although I took a quick walk around the area I stuck to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I gotta say it was pretty neat expensing stuff, but apart from that heady height of the day I don't have much to write about now.

You probably shouldn't expect daily posts.

Wednesday, September 11

Food: Pie Factory

Well isn't this a little gem? For a start, there's already something irresistible about pies (probably the butter), but add a decent and clean place to eat them in, some great service and the convenience of having a mosque across the road and you end up with a pretty solid experience. The food itself was generous (even though I wolfed it down pretty quickly) with each pie coming with a choice of two sides and gravy.

And it wasn't even hard on the pocket: £5.50 got you a "special" pie with sides. Amazing value for some amazing food. Very much recommended.