If you’re a keen traveler and always looking for new affordable travel experiences, housesitting, pet-sitting or otherwise, blogs drawn from real life travel can become a great source of inspiration and timely information. At HouseSitMatch we are keen to share great travel finds with our network, and we were delighted when Celine our student intern returned from a two week trip to Poland with tales of a European hipster paradise and exciting adventures in a colourful land resonant with history and culture. Read Celine’s report and her top tips for an affordable holiday in Poland.
Great place for affordable travel
Poland: land of gnomes, cider and main squares. Whilst that probably won’t be the latest tagline for the Polish tourist board, it gives a rough idea of the variety of the weird and wonderful things which the country has to offer, especially for those seeking affordable travel or on a tight budget.
Growing up with my Mum’s colour-coordinated folder filled with travel inspiration, I’ve become obsessed with countless travel Instagram accounts and am an avid subscriber to the Lonely Planet. After reading a Guardian article on the most colourful cities in the world, I became determined (in a slightly obsessive way) to work my way through the list. Having visited Cinque Terre and Murano in Italy last year. I wanted to continue my travels after finishing my second year at Uni. As a perpetually broke student, I’ve had to put my dreams of South America on hold to focus on more affordable travel within Europe. Having worked full-time last summer and feeling the post-Christmas blues I decided, probably very irresponsibly, to spend my summer savings on going to some more of these amazing places. Hence I’m now going to Copenhagen and Morocco (with a 3 day stay in Chefchaouen, naturally) later on in the summer.
The penultimate city on the Guardian list was Wroclaw, a city in western-Poland. I have to confess I had never considered Poland as a holiday destination. I knew that Eastern Europe was supposed to be a cheap option for affordable travel. However, as someone who loves pretty buildings, I’d been dismissive of what I assumed would be grey cities filled with monotonous apartment blocks. I blame Schindler’s List. This was one of the few times I’ve loved being wrong. My best friend had been to Gdansk in Northern Poland the previous year and had raved about it. So with the seal of approval of my two most trusted sources, Kate and the Guardian, we booked flights to Wroclaw. Staying in a quaint hostel which was a 10 minute walk from the Main Square where the famed colourful buildings stand, we set out to explore. The Main Square was as stunning as the photos we’d seen online but the best surprise was the pop-up beach. Complete with sand and deckchairs, it held the prized location underneath the old clock tower. We ordered one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (for about £4-affordable travel tick!). We then wound up in a Cuban-style bar drinking cocktails and dancing with elderly Polish men to salsa music. Still not entirely sure how that happened…
European hipster paradise for travelers
The next day we wandered up to Cathedral Island which was further up from the Old Town. What soon became apparent was that, owing to its position near the University and large student population, these backstreets were a European hipster’s paradise. Without any of the pretentiousness or the price tag, for us this was true affordable travel. In the evening we headed to a string of bars and restaurants which were built under an old railway pass. These had been discovered the day before as my inability to use a map meant that we had headed in completely the opposite direction to the hostel. Instead, we ended up drinking seriously good cider out of milk bottles.
Determined to do something other than eat and drink, we headed to the Wroclaw National Museum which had a temporary exhibition on Polish fashion from 1914 to modern day. As a history student who has always wanted to be a costume designer, this was the dream. The exhibition was a huge display of the way that, even under Communist rule, fashion and clothes have always been open to experimentation. I was left lusting after an amazing 1950s dress, inspired by Dior’s New Look, and this 1960s timepiece shift.
The next stop on our adventure was Krakow, one of Poland’s largest and best-known medieval cities. Like Wroclaw it has an even bigger main square which at sunrise, as we discovered after a night out, plays host to some beautiful skies.
On the opposite side of our hostel was the Jewish Quarter which is filled with cafes, a flea market on the weekend which had some great vintage finds, and plenty of independent shops. However, by this point in the trip temperatures were at around 36 degrees which meant the majority of our time was spent hopping from one cafe with aircon to another. In order to gain a different form of respite from the trip, we looked to go swimming. Here comes the incredible discovery of Zakrzowek Lake, a hidden gem in an almost unbearably hot city. Although getting down to the water was a somewhat harrowing experience, my photography skills don’t do justice to just how amazingly clear the water was.
A search for history
Our final day was spent with a trip to Auschwitz which was just over an hour and a half bus journey from the centre. It was a visit which I have felt it important to make for a long time. It is a heartbreaking, numbing place. However, it has been written about by Holocaust survivors and professional historians in a far more eloquent way than I would be able to. All I’ll say is that now, more than ever, it stands as a crucially cruel reminder of the ease with which humans can so easily numb themselves to dehumanising those of their own kind.
We continued our quest of historical knowledge in Warsaw with a visit to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This was hands down one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever been to. You can see why it easily won European Museum of the Year 2016. Not only was it absolutely huge, but from a replica of a Jewish synagogue, to a model street complete with interactive shops, each room was designed to the standard and quality of a film set.
Our final day was spent exploring the street where our hostel was located. It was populated with a fab vegan burger joint, a charity shop where you pay by the kilo, and a coffee shop which served seriously good apple pie. Feeling drowsy, we headed to park Lazienkowski. This is an oasis of calm in the Capital, which understandably felt like the most industrial of the three places we visited. It felt reminiscent of an English National Trust garden, filled with numerous follies, paradoxically small palaces, a replica Roman amphitheatre and two Chinese summer houses. The best part of all this? It was free! Affordable travel 1-Overpriced, expensive holiday 0.
Land of surprises
Having spent just over a week in three different cities was a good way to get a taster but it’s left me wanting more. This was particularly the case for our first destination. Filled with street art, great food, and gorgeous buildings and culture, Wroclaw is the perfect European city. I’ve always wanted to live in Europe after I finished uni and Poland is coming up as a seriously impressive contender. In this way, housesitting with HouseSit Match would be the perfect option for me. Not only would it be by far the cheapest way to enable me to experience affordable travel, but also it would give me the opportunity to experience a longer-term trial of a city. So here’s to my next adventure, hopefully with HouseSit Match!
Three top tips for fun, affordable travel:
- Prepare to embrace the weird. All around the city of Wroclaw are hundreds of bronze gnomes (although the Polish call them dwarves) which popped up as a commemoration of the anti-Communist movement. Although you can do specific dwarf trails, you can see plenty just from wandering around the city.
- Eat as much as possible. With the Euro currently offering pretty poor value at the moment, the Polish currency zloty is potentially a better option to help you engage with gluttony. Surprisingly for me I haven’t mentioned too much about food yet, safe to say it was very very good. We were lucky enough to stumble across some gems. Highlights include burgers from Pasibus in Wroclaw, traditional Polish dumplings in the Jewish Quarter in Krakow and special mention goes to the crimped Lay’s paprika crisps which we ate every single day!
- Get lost wandering down side-streets. Although this probably applies to most cities, this was where we discovered the most interesting areas, the prettiest buildings, and the coolest graffiti (all for free!)