Day 06: Lublin, a Slice of Life

We were up around 7:00 after cat-napping through the night, done with breakfast and checked out of the hotel around 8:45.   Goodbye, Torun, we really enjoyed our brief pit stop.

At the train station, ready to go

At the train station, ready to go

We walked over to the city bus stop to catch the bus that would take us across the bridge and to the main train station.  The ride only took about 5 minutes and thus we were there about 9:00 for a 9:47 train departure, but that was okay because we found that on average it would take us 45 minutes in train or bus stations to sort out getting tickets, using the facilities one last time, finding the right departure track or location, and then confirming and reconfirming a few times that the train or bus we were getting on was actually the right one.  One day maybe we’ll be two of those people who breezily stride into the station 5 minutes before departure, finds their place and sits down as the train pulls away, but until then, we are not nearly that nimble.

Enjoying the first class digs

Enjoying the first class digs

Because it was a long journey (5 1/2 hours) we splurged and bought 1st class rail tickets (98zl each/$31), the difference in price being about 33zl per person/$10.50, and the comfort level being worth every penny and more.  First class compartments only have 6 seats total (3 on each side facing each other) while 2nd class had 8 seats per compartment.  We found our car and seats and there was only one other lady in the compartment for most of the ride.  We were living life large.

Arrival in Lublin was on time at 15:10 and we went outside the train station to get the lay of the land.  Lublin is a city of about 350,000 located in SE Poland and appears to be off the usual tourist radar, which we knew going in, but there were a couple of towns in the area we wanted to see and Lublin geographically made sense as a home base.  Besides, we figured now was the time to get to SE Poland since a couple of places we’d like to visit on the western side of Poland would be easily reachable when combined with a future trip to the eastern bits of Germany.

Lublin Old Town Square

Lublin Old Town Square

Because the train station in Lublin isn’t located that close to their Old Town (where we’d be staying), we wanted to pre-purchase our tickets to Krakow a few days later so it would be one less thing to do day of departure (especially since the best train option for us left at 5:35 am).  There was a ticket machine in front of the station that we thought would be easy to use because it had an English option, but even in English the machine was smarter than we are.  Once you commence the ticket-buying procedures you only have a certain number of seconds to complete the transaction before it boots you out and you have to start over.  The first time we tried we took so much time verifying the date, time, and location that the machine gave up on us and routed us back to the beginning.  The second time we tried to be more expedient but when it came time to pay our first credit card wouldn’t work.  We tried the entire process again with a different card but that was a no-go, too, so back to the beginning one more time.  On our last attempt we decided to try to pay cash but we couldn’t figure out which slot the cash would go in, at which point the machine appropriately deemed us completely inept and brought us back to the beginning for about the 5th time.  We were about to try again until a helpful man nearby informed us the machine only took credit cards.  We greatly appreciated his input because there is no telling how many more rounds we would have dumbly gone with that blasted machine, trying to shove cash into every nook and cranny.  I’d like to blame it on sleep deprivation.

So inside we go to buy from a ticket sales window.  I once again carefully wrote down all the pertinent information in Polish to help the transaction along, and behind the ticket sales window we found not one, but two very helpful Polish women willing to get things sorted out for us.  All of us working together made for one of the most pleasant train station experiences we’ve ever had and we left with tickets in hand and a spring in our step.  And we had once again splurged the nominal amount for first class (tickets to Krakow 96 zl each/$30).  We felt so uptown.

Task number two at the Lublin train station was to figure out how to get away from the Lublin train station via public transportation.  The very helpful man who gave us the tip about the ticket machine was still outside so I approached him with questions about which bus to take to Old Town.  Once again he showed great willingness to help and we went together to the bus stop to read over the schedules.  He determined that there were no buses that would take us directly to Old Town, there was one we could take that would get us somewhat close but it would still be a bit of a schlep to get the rest of the way.  Schlepping wasn’t high on our list of desired activities, nor did we have a map of the area, so we just broke down and took a cab (25zl including tip/$8).

Gate to the castle, with our hotel on the right

Gate to the castle, with our hotel on the right

We arrived to our hotel, Hotel Waksman, about an hour after arriving in Lublin.  I’m sure everyone else on our train had already managed to get to where they were going, including a stop for groceries, and start a couple barrels of sauerkraut, make a few dozen pierogis, and finish off a couple of ice cream cones during that same time.  Oh, well…  The Hotel Waksman is situated right in Old Town and very, very close to the castle (oh, Lublin has a castle, too).  The staff was very nice and pleasant and our room, #1, had a good view.  The décor was also very romantic and castle-y, with pink walls and thick, dark, ornate trim and matching furniture.  This is where the charm ended, at least for me.  The bed, although billed as “king sized” was the size of a double you’d find in the US.  You know those couples out there who romantically spoon and nuzzle up next to each other all night, basking in the security of being in a loved one’s arms?  We are not that couple.  A night for us on a double bed involves a lot of jockeying for space, fighting for covers, and possibly falling out of bed.  And a lot of swearing.  The other downside to this hotel room was the shower.  It had one of the popular European hand-held wands but there was no way to mount it to the wall and angle the water so you could stand under it hands-free.  That can be problematic when washing hair and makes for a cold shower.  The water pressure was also such that if you turned it on full-force you ran the risk of shearing off sensitive frontal bits, and the faucet was in an awkward spot that made it easy to accidentally knock the pressure up a peg or two.  This would result in much yowling and quick coverage of sensitive frontal lady bits for fear they’d be shorn clean off (to be fair, sensitive man bits were likewise at risk).

The Krakow Gate, with sinister types lurking on the other side

The Krakow Gate, with sinister types lurking on the other side

Well, the important thing here was we made it to Lublin so we needed to get out there and discover what this town was all about.  We strolled through Old Town, stopping by the TI to get a proper area map and ask a couple questions.  Old Town is fairly small, and it soon spit us out through the Krakow Gate where you cross a busy street to a main pedestrian zone called Krakowskie Przedmiescie.  It was as we were about to cross the street when we noticed a group of young punks loitering around that were clearly up to no good.  About the same time as we noticed them one of them peeled off and practically ran up to Jim, spittle-screaming mean-sounding Polish words in his face.  It was rather jarring and we both attempted to ignore him, but he wasn’t satisfied with our reaction so he proceeded to follow us, switching to English by saying, “Maybe you don’t understand me” and launching into an English version of his verbal attack.  Let’s just say he was very derogatory and intimidating, and it appeared he was either mentally ill or very high and not on life.

Aaah, Lublin

Aaah, Lublin

We walked Krakowskie Przedmiescie a while before veering off and walking a wide circle outside the Old Town walls.  This town felt really scruffy to us, both in the quantity of neglected, run-down buildings and the dubious sorts wandering around.  A short time later Jim was again accosted, this time by a very drunk man who was more aggressive in asking for money than anything we’ve ever encountered (and this coming from two people who have lived downtown Chicago for over 20 years).  After shaking that guy we were trying to double back into Old Town when two more really shifty looking guys started coming toward us so we just crossed the street right then and there.  They ended up accosting and harassing a single female who had been walking behind us but we kept a good eye out to make sure nothing happened to her.  Man, we were starting to see why Lublin doesn’t get more visitors.  We’d only been there a couple hours and had just about had enough.  Listen, it wasn’t the visual scruffiness that was off-putting at all, or even just one of the above-listed encounters.  It was the fact that we had 3 such uninviting occurrences within 45 minutes of walking around on Day 1 and we had three more nights to go.  At this average we were preparing ourselves for the worst.

Lublin Castle

Lublin Castle

Before heading back to the room we walked up a slight hill to get up close and personal with the imposing castle that overlooks town, especially as it was such a short walk from our hotel.  We looked around for a few minutes before sitting down on a ledge to take in the views of Lublin.  At this point we noticed quite a few couples sitting in the area doing a lot of canoodling, and surmised that this was somewhat of a Kissing Lane in the evening.  It seemed like such a sweet and stark contrast to the otherwise mean streets of Lublin.

More of Old Town Square

More of Old Town Square

Our hotel room suddenly seemed much more comfortable upon our return so we rested a great while before heading out to dinner.  We were in the mood for pizza (ok, I was) and the front desk woman said the U Szewca Irish Pub just up the street had great pizza.  As advertised, it was just up the street and had great pizza (cheese with a lot of garlic for me) and a pretty good burger (for Jim).  Our waitress was super friendly, to boot.  Interestingly, Jim’s burger came with cabbage on it, something we found a lot of chefs slip into everything they possibly can, almost as if they can’t help themselves.  I think it’s the National Vegetable and everyone is held to a minimum daily consumption.

After dinner and a couple of beers (Zywiec) we retired back to our room around 22:00 for a night of cover jockeying.

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