My passport, only about 8 months old, is a confusing jumble of stamps from Madrid’s airport and random obscure border towns from across the former Eastern bloc. Concerned about being let back into the European Union’s open borders area (I’ve been on the Continent for over a year, well past the 90 days normally allotted to tourists), I came armed with my Spanish residency/work documents plus copies of relevant sections of the Schengen Borders Code in English and Polish. But the Polish border guard, upon seeing I was American and not Ukrainian, immediately stamped my passport. “Have a good time!”
I’d been pondering whether or not I wanted to visit Ireland after seeing family in Madrid, and an hour in the common room of the Krakow hostel confirmed it for me. A Toronto couple was telling me about how Muslims are destroying Europe, and how Brussels is so dangerous (I loved Brussels, and felt totally safe walking around the Muslim district at night; plus, they had great affordable food!). Obnoxiously loud and drunk British weekenders were everywhere, and the euro trippers were all talking about starting their trip in Ireland.
That, plus looking at the weather forecast for Ireland and Scotland in October/November, prompted me to buy a one way ticket back to the Balkans.
Although it’s somewhat touristy (albeit for good reason), I thoroughly enjoyed Krakow and would love to see more of Poland one day. It was a bit of a shock entering a developed country with excellent infrastructure after traipsing through the former Soviet Union for three weeks. Almost everyone spoke flawless English, and the food was probably the best I’d had all summer.
Krakow has phenomenal connections to Germany, and I decided it’d be fitting to end my Eastern Europe jaunt the same way the Soviets did: Ukraine to Berlin via Poland. The train was 50 euros one way, and the bus was 20 euros…an easy choice. However, I stupidly left my water in luggage storage under the bus and went 8 hours in a state of semi-dehydration. I was able to get some fluids out of the clementines I brought on board. It was nothing compared to some of the 50km (31 mile) waterless stretches on the PCT, so I was prepared.
It’s true that Berlin is a rather new city, but I very much enjoyed its hipster haunts and multicultural vibe. It was surprisingly affordable, a nice plus.