Thursday, 15 January 2015

Travel at 21: Kraków

In the spirit of making the most of the time I have left before returning to university, the husband and myself hopped on a Ryanair flight on Monday to spend two nights in Kraków, Poland [12th January to 14th January]. Add this to the three nights and four days I spent there in autumn 2011, and I've almost got a week's worth of knowledge of the city!

Kraków looks, to me, like a bizarre mix of the remnants of Communism alongside the most jaw-dropping architecture dating back to the city's 7th century beginnings. The main market square (Rynek Glówny) dates back to the 13th century, with its famous cloth hall reconstructed in 1555. A few hundred metres away stands the barbakan, built in 1499; you can still see the space where its moats once lay. There is also a castle and countless churches, all with their own unique histories. The domination of this ancient history against the more well-known twentieth century history of the city is endlessly fascinating to me.



The main market square is worth hours of your time. Whether it's shopping for watercolour paintings, souvenirs or flowers, or just doing as much shopping as hand luggage will allow in the multi-storey chains of Zara and United Colours of Benetton. St Mary's Basilica can be visited, as can nearby museums. On this visit, we spent a long afternoon in La Grande Mamma, an absolutely gorgeous restaurant looking out onto the square. I had the best vegetarian calzone I've had in my life, and on leaving the waitress handed us a paper bag full of cookies!

My second favourite thing about Kraków, after its year-round beauty, is its prices. A three course meal with drinks in a traditionally decorated restaurant just off the main square set us back 124 PLN. That's about £22. For two people. And it was delicious. Our hotel (booked in typical last minute fashion) was £50 for two nights including a lovely breakfast buffet. Located right in the centre of the city. I'm a big fan of going to this city for just a couple of days because I end up spending next to nothing.

Visiting Auschwitz is a once in a lifetime experience that I've somehow ended up doing twice, now. The museum of World War II's most famous concentration camp is located an hour's drive from the city, and we spent £40 for a minibus transfer including a guided tour. All in all, it takes about 6 hours (our alarms went off at 7am that morning) but I can't recommend it enough. Both times I've been, the tour guides have been informative, sensitive and patient. There's a huge feeling that they care a lot about making sure this history is not forgotten; educating visitors so that it never happens again.

The Wielickza Salt Mines are another unforgettable tourist attraction. The first time I went to Poland, I visited them right after visiting Auschwitz. Many tour companies offer this combination, and I'd really recommend it. You go from wondering how human beings are capable of such atrocity, to being breathtaken that human beings are capable of such unfathomable beauty. Once you make it down an anxiety-inducing 378 steps, (not to mention the claustrophobic elevator that brings you back to ground level) you spend a couple of hours marvelling at underground churches, sculptures and even a lake.

During my first visit to Kraków, I also went to Schindler's Factory, and with the Jewish Quarter of the city and stories of Polish resistance during the war, it's fully possible to have an educational historical holiday here.

I read The Happiness of Pursuit and How Many Miles to Babylon? during the three hour plane journeys. I'd recommend both, but not as much as I recommend this wonderful European city. 

Facts and Figures

The second largest city in Poland, Kraków has its own airport: John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice (Pope John Paul II was Polish). You could also drive to Kraków if you find yourself in central Europe.

The currency used is Polish Zloty. 1 Zloty equals about £0.18. 

You can travel from the airport to city centre (12km) on a 292 bus for 4 Zloty. 4! There's also a train which at the time of writing this was under construction so is unusable. 

The main language is Polish. Spoiled as ever as an English speaker, I've never had any trouble. 

Winter is cold in Poland. However, we didn't see any snow or rain. As long as you bundle up in winter wear, it's so pleasant to walk around and a great excuse to buy hot chocolate.


Travel at 21 is a series on my blog where I talk about the places I visit in the hope it'll help and inspire people of my age/income. If you want to talk travel, drop me an email at

Monday, 5 January 2015

Travel at 21: Marrakech travel

We spent four days and three nights in Marrakech [December 28th to December 31st] and it felt like enough time to experience everything the city had to offer, though a longer trip could've allowed for a trip to Casablanca, or a night or two camping in the nearby Atlas Mountains. 

It's worth knowing that Marrakech has two 'city centres'. There is the old city, home to its most beautiful mosques and the famous souks (a neverending labyrinth of markets that sell literally everything.) The newer city centre isn't far away, but the atmosphere is entirely different. You'll see Starbucks and McDonalds and large hotels on either side of huge, palm tree-lined avenues. 

Accommodation is worth spending a little time looking into to make sure you get what you want out of Marrakech.

We stayed in a traditional Moroccan Riad in the Medina (the older part of the city.) A Riad is basically a house with a courtyard and roof terrace. Ours had only five bedrooms. Riads are inexpensive and a surefire way to make you feel like you're actually in Marrakech, but they are located in cramped alleyways right in the middle of the Medina. I didn't feel safe walking outside mine at night, and never ventured out on my own. The most luxurious of Riads offer massage treatments, swimming pools, gardens and wonderful food. Our Riad definitely felt very far from a hotel; it felt like being a guest in someone's house and trying to remain quiet and unimposing.

Let's rewind to the souks, if I may. 'Get Lost in the Souks' is the number one 'thing to do' activity for Marrakech when you find yourself Googling. And I can safely say we did that.

We entered the souks in the famous Djemaa-El-Fnaa, and didn't emerge until many hours later. The most popular items we saw were slippers, beautiful lanterns, bowls and sweet confectionary. And everything else you could possibly think of. Haggling is the order of business, I'm told, but if like us you are just walking to experience this bizarre tradition, be warned: you will be talked to by every owner and if you get lost, directions may be misleading in order to keep you in the souks spending money. For someone who doesn't do particularly well in small spaces with lots of people, the fume-filled alleyways eventually got too much for me, (mopeds are very popular in Marrakech and they are everywhere) but it was still a highlight of our trip and like nothing I've ever seen before.

I also enjoyed Morocco's food - vegetarians rejoice in homely couscous dishes and large tagines. Nice restaurants are inexpensive, and we found most menus to contain a few Moroccan dishes alongside pizza, pasta and burgers. 

Marrakech. Easily the busiest place I have ever been despite it being late December during our visit. Wonderful weather, good food, and an atmosphere that is impossible to describe (is that what all bad writers say?) Not somewhere I feel the need to return to, and the memories of being taken advantage of by a taxi driver and made fun of by strangers on the street will probably last longer than the beauty of Marrakech's skyline at sunset, sadly.

Facts and Figures
One of the largest cities in Morocco, North Africa. Reachable by ferry from Spain, or by plane directly to Marrakech Menara Airport, 5km from city centre.

Main languages are Arabic and French. Most people can also speak English, but it's worthwhile having some basic French phrases to politely say 'Merci!' etc.

The currency is Moroccan Dirham. €1 = about 11 Dirhams. It is a closed currency so spend what you have left before returning to the airport. Keep the currency conversion in mind when purchasing anything, as 'tourist rates' are common and you don't want to be ripped off.

Reaching highs of 37°C  in summer, and lows of only 14°C in winter, pack sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Speaking of water, drinking tap water in Marrakech is a no-no.

Photos are stills I stole from Jake

Travel at 21 is a series on my blog where I talk about the places I visit in the hope it'll help and inspire people of my age/income. If you want to talk travel, drop me an email at

Sunday, 4 January 2015

This Is Where I'm At | January

So, that whole regular blogging thing wasn't a rip-roaring success, eh?

I return with my metaphorical tail between my legs not in the spirit of 'New Year, new me' - that my return is on the first month of the year is purely coincidental. And we like when lists start at the beginning, and we collectively treat January like a beginning, right?

Slow down rambly lady 

If I do nothing else on this blog this year, I want to check in every month and state where I'm at. I don't mean geographically, I mean where I feel like I am on the great map of LIFE.

I am currently at home, enjoying the final twinkling of the Christmas tree before it gets shoved back in its box tomorrow. I have a coffee at hand, and I recently acquired one of those filter teapots so I now drink loose leaf and I feel like a wild thing.

I am married now. Two weeks in and perhaps it hasn't sunk in, or perhaps that nothing has really changed is the beauty of it. I am procrastinating about filling out forms and making phone calls because those things are boring and not nearly as pleasant as rewatching our wedding video and staring at my ring.

This month is beginning with a week of frantic essay writing in order to complete my first semester modules (one on Irish Literature, one on BBC period dramas/their novels.) I enjoy writing essays but with these two it seems I just keep building ideas on ideas on ideas and it reminds me of when I'd draw trees as a child and branches would lead to smaller branches and smaller branches and eventually twigs and then smaller twigs before a squiggly flower would finally appear at the very edge of the page. I am searching for the sweet smelling flowers of my essays and I am hopeful they will come.

When essays are done, we take a flying visit to Krakow, Poland. Those who have known me (or known my internet presence) for a few years will know that I've been there before. It remains one of my favourite cities and I cannot wait to return.

I'll finish off the month by spending some time in London, where I hope to see friends before the terror of my final semester of university kicks off.

I am flitting between job sites for crappy retail jobs, and those that tempt me towards trying to make a go of freelance writing as a steady income. I scoff at the words 'this is an unpaid position' now, and I feel that means I have really aged. I want to write a lot this year, perhaps find some sort of niche because do you know how easy it would be to write for money if I knew a lot about gardening or the economy? I've become a lot more nonchalant about sharing things I've written, and I think that too means I have aged. Sometimes being self-conscious is a luxury that I cannot afford.

When I'm not buried in literary criticism, I've been reading Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman and Richard Ayoade's Ayoade on Ayoade. Both are as strange as each other. I like to think the two men would be friends, in another life.

A song that's in my head right now is Punching in a Dream by The Naked And Famous. One of those songs that I always think is a happy one and then I listen closely and oh, no.

The last film I watched was The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. It was so beautiful and I had a lump in my throat for about half the movie because it's just so painfully sad. However, lately, I've become really anxious about these 'historical' movies (The Imitation Game comes to mind) that centre around a specific person. I know they're not documentaries and can do what they want with facts but I remain a little deflated that these wondrous people didn't really say these beautiful things.

Yours, with patience,