A Travellerspoint blog

Communism and Vodka

From Nowa Huta to Kazimierz

sunny -1 °C

Lemon vodka, honey vodka, cherry vodka, peppered vodka, bison-grass vodka and even just vodka - all this and no time, unfortunately, for more. In Krakow they have it down to a fine art and I am the unashamed consumer. When not presented in the form of a simple, but admittedly seductive, shot, I made sure to dress it up in various decadent guises such as a Tatanka, Crème Brulée, and a Bloody Mary - not quite comparable to the mixture back at home, lacking the mix of Worcester sauce and horseradish. From Rynek Glowny to Kazimierz, we occupied dark spaces and drank through indulgent smiles as if bearers of the key to some unspoken secret. Alchemia, AntyCafe, Barfly, Carpe Diem – just welcoming names that flew past on the way to casual drunkenness.

Whispers breezed through the age-darkened walls of the communist city of Nowa Huta, where we tasted the sweetest vodka of all as a palate warmer for cheese pierogi. Restauracja Stylowa housed a passion for the past that the media at home would swear blind had ceased to exist in 1989. The buildings were attractive in their simplicity and one thing you can say of the communists - they certainly understood the appeal of open spaces. Ludowy Theatre is a wonderful example of attractive Socialist Realist architecture, and is a commanding presence sat proudly within the avenues. To see all this we had jumped on a tour of some quality directed by a guide of high charisma, but whose naive quotations of Thatcher, made in support of the still largely misunderstood capitalism, became too much for me to ignore. I headed up a tour-group mutiny and he was left alone with his dog eat dog politics, but it was nothing more than a difference of opinion and we all finished the tour in good humour.
With the group dispersed we rambled in to the cold, cheerful town of Krakow, and in the company of new Italian friends we exchanged second-hand stories under the watch of a changing world.

Posted by Craggy 13:55 Archived in Poland Tagged church vodka krakow communist nowa_huta Comments (0)

When the music is over, turn out the lights.

The Fete des Lumieres ends for another year


I learnt something this year: That a saturday night is a bad time to experience the festival of light in Lyon. There was just too many people. It was difficult to view anything properly and you could barely get in anywhere to get a decent meal. All the while I was just spending my time dodging people and trying to sprint from space to space. Because of this Saturday was largely a dissapointment. But when all seemed lost, Sunday came along and most people thankfully fucked off. Finally we got to view some excellent shows, one of my favourties being "Meme Pas Peur" which was simple and mystical, hidden away in one of Lyon's many dark corners. Also "Cosmogole", which was of a higher budget and dramatically lit up Ampitheatre des 3 Gaules.

A bottle of wine by the river and a jambon and fromage crepe later, and I was back in love with the weekend there, despite the sad fact that a lot of the restaurants put their prices up for the duration of the festival.

The best ones don't do that though, and they really are the best. The food, the wine, and the music all helped to illuminate Lyon. It's hard to leave a city that weaves such magic...


Posted by Craggy 13:45 Archived in France Tagged night france light christmas lumiere lyon december fete Comments (0)

La Fete des Lumieres commence


The first day of the event is the most special as burning candles adorn the ledges of many windows throughout the city. We took a guided tour through many traboules of vieux Lyon, traversing through buildings from one street to another, pausing to look at the wonderful staircases that take centre stage within the secretive courtyards hidden there. After finishing the tour to witness the astronomical clock in the St. Jean Cathedral, we sat down to some excellent Lyonnais food, before embarking on our own tour. Through the illuminated streets we waltzed in and out of the many sellers of vin chaud, grabbing the odd one as we did so. We passed the dominating presence of the Fourviere and watched the arrival of the precession to the Catholic basilica that is the tradition of December 8. After decending through darkened streets largely empty of tourists we emerged again at the Saone, before climbing back up to le Croix Rousse. Many of the light shows were magical. Photos to follow...

Posted by Craggy 00:58 Archived in France Tagged france lights light show lumiere illumination lyon december fete Comments (0)

A French Christmas

Metro... Ticket pour une expo


Lyon charms again. I wasn't ready to leave Paris after only two days, after wandering through Montparnasse Cemetry in the rain and haunting the cobbled streets of Butte aux Cailles, but I'd only really gone there for one reason. The Metro Ticket exposition was on show at Musee des arts et metiers, and I was looking to fuel my fascination with Parisian underground system. The exposition was well crafted, and a lot of work had evidently gone in to the display. The exposition was almost fully interactive, utiilising educational games, videos and audio, and created a sense of wonder at the technological achievement of such an overwhelming project. When considering the power of human engineering, this exposition gets top marks. What it unfortunately lacked was any understanding of the cultural impact of the metro at any point from its inception in 1900 to the literature and films of today. The only reference to this was the Zazie and Guimard books you could buy in the shop, and they didn't even have any copies of the Zazie comic that I wanted. The exposition could have really done with this addition, and the musuem could really do with replacing the miserable old boot in charge of their sales.

The restaurants of Chez Gladines and Mondol Kiri were definite highlights of that two days in Paris.

Now I'm in Lyon and the I can see hints of what is to come with the festival of light this year...

Posted by Craggy 23:52 Archived in France Tagged paris metro lumiere lyon fete Comments (1)

All I want for Christmas is a ticket

Two weeks of European InterRailing


It is the 4th of December. The snow has taken an unmerciful grip of London rarely seen before, and escape seems decreasingly likely. An impossibly early morning and we are lucky. Good seats and in Paris only a little late.

We are treated with indifference at the acceptable Hotel Liberty. To raise our spirits we spend some time with the dead, through tunnels and chambers we stroll among the lifeless exhibits of graveyards and catacombs, stopping only briefly for a little rock ‘n’ roll at Café l’Industrie on avenue Parmentier. We go back to 1900 and traverse the other Paris below, emerging through Guimard’s édicules only to stare at Piaf, Chopin, and later Satre, as if they need our eyes to rest.

Paris Metro

Paris Metro

The edicules by Père Lachaise

The edicules by Père Lachaise

From Montparnasse to Père Lachaise, death makes short entertainment so we rise with them to eat and drink at the small but attractive Part des Anges in Montmartre. I finish with something strong, and from a blur some time later we emerge in Lyon to see the dance of the ribbons and an explosion of colour in Place du Bellecour.

Dancer at the Fête des lumières

Dancer at the Fête des lumières

Merci Marie for the Fête des lumières, all lights and colour, mulled wine and cigarettes. It is warmer here. The best I can do is taste Lyon, from Chabert & Fils to la Traboulerie, hiding from the eye of judgement of the now illuminated Notre-Dame de Fourvière; the magic here is in the food. I buy a cap from la Croix-Rousse in anticipation of the cold. We stop by the wonderfully named Cassoulet, Whisky, Ping Pong for a well-enjoyed bottle of wine. One last night-time look over the illuminated Lyon, and after three fantastical nights we check out with regret of the welcoming Hotel de la Marne.

A drink for the journey and we are to Strasbourg. A tale of two cities is Strasbourg, torn as it is between languages and no less beautiful for it. They celebrate Christmas several times over throughout the streets here, although each Christmas is much the same. The hostel Ciarus is a good place for a game of cards and a cheap beer. One night is not enough but at least we have a taste of Germany now.

In Nuremberg we can swap wine for beer, and enjoy a culture of drinking perhaps more akin to our own. Once again we are in Christmas wonderland, and once again it is much the same. Like Strasbourg, the straight-off-the-bus tourists make it difficult to navigate but the city is welcoming and has torn itself from a past it seeks to confront head-on. Masses of Christmas-seekers, singing Bavarians and frustrated merchants betray the beauty of Nuremberg, but it is most certainly there. Breakfast at the excellent Treibhaus before we exchange the reliable trains for an equally decent coach ride.

Christmas Market

Christmas Market

Prague is always in my dreams and through red-wine tinted glasses the spires tempt me through the decayed upper chamber of the station and on through its winding streets. The City Club hotel is dead and lifeless, left empty without a care on a road impossible to cross. The pavements are full of holes and filled with snow. Prague sparkles in a busy glow of broken activity. The Whale Bar is good for a drink and metal music. The late night walk around Vyšehrad is good for the soul.



We catch some live music at the Ungelt Jazz bar, and the food matches the happy atmosphere. The snow is now relentless but the next morning it stops long enough for us to climb the slopes of Petřín Hill and breathe in the beauty surrounding Prague. After such a walk we eat and drink Czech style, and the dumplings are well worth the wait.
We stand in a snowy silence in the Jewish Cemetry. The stones are shining white and all sound is dampened within the walls. There is not much to be said but the silence says it all. Further on the exhibitions are less than inspiring and add little to the shocking truth already laid out in stones.

The Whale Bar

The Whale Bar

Once again we continue our train journey to our final destination. The overnight train to Amsterdam is unbearable, late and freezing cold. We sit bolt upright between a frozen window and an arrogant fool being frozen out by a girl he isn’t impressing. After they leave we are left, for many more hours, at frozen stations where all information is likewise suitably frozen.

We arrive with the snow at Amsterdam. I have never seen it so stunning and the city becomes a closer companion with each visit. Behind the piss and vomit of American, British and German tourists, and hanging between the final casts of a red-light glow is a very real and artful city. The hostel boat, the Gandalf, goes a long way to cement this impression, and it is there that I sit at the end of the night, with a cup of tea and a moment’s reflection. What a way to travel.

The Amsterdam (VOC)

The Amsterdam (VOC)

Hours, drinks and a couple of meals later I find myself at the hell that is Bruxelles Midi, staring down the barrel of the Eurotunnel, ready to have my head blown off by reality, taking my soul with it. I do have with me, however, the desire to get back on to the (mostly) reliable rails of Europe with impressive speed.

Posted by Craggy 09:03 Tagged prague paris amsterdam lyon nuremburg strasbourg Comments (0)

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