In the beginning of June I had to travel from Warsaw, Poland to Lviv, Ukraine. The same question came up once again: What’s the cheapest way to get there?
And as usual the choice consisted of flying, going by bus, train or car. First of all I checked out BlaBlaCar. A few rides were available, priced at around 60PLN ($20USD). However the dates didn’t work out for me and the single convenient ride was cancelled a few days before departure.
Flying was out of question because the plane tickets were at $300USD. The train seemed like a good option. I like trains because they are comfortable and often overnight. Get on, fall asleep, wake up at your destination. I found someone’s blog stating the train ride from Warsaw to Lviv was about 120 zloty ($40) which seemed somewhat reasonable. Unfortunately the tickets were not available online since this was an international train (yep, that’s an issue).
I headed down to the main train station in Warsaw, worked up my Polish skills since the cashiers at the ticket office didn’t speak English and tried to find that ticket. You can imagine my surprise when I was told the ticket costs around 250PLN ($80USD+). Only later I figured out the “120 zloty” price I found online was posted in 2009. Seems like the price doubled in 5 years.
My last option was taking the Warsaw Lviv bus. I bought a ticket for $29USD through BusEurope. When I got to the bus station (Warszawa Zachodnia PKS) I didn’t find the bus right away since the bus I had to take was labeled as Warsaw – Ivano-Frankowsk (and Lviv is simply a stop on the way). The bus left at 6pm and was supposed to arrive to Lviv at 5:30 am or so.
On the way the bus broke down. The brave drivers fought the pouring rain and fixed the fuel issue within 30 minutes and we were on our way once again. It smelled like diesel for the first hour but I didn’t mind it too much since diesel smells better than the undigested garlic consumed by the person sitting infront of me. I am a very tolerant person and I adapt to things. I also love garlic but I would never eat it unless I am sure I won’t encounter another live being that day. Anyways…
At 10:30 pm we arrived at the Polish border. We waited for a while, eventually a border officer came into the bus and took our passports. 20-30 minutes later the bus driver gave the passports back to us. All in all it took 1 hour. The bus drove for 100 meters and we were now at the Ukrainian border. Another officer picked up our passports once again (while carefully studying our faces and making sure we look exactly like in that ugly passport photo). Ukrainian border took about 30 minutes. The crossing was surprisingly empty, that’s why it didn’t take long. The bus stopped once again, right after crossing the border – so people could exchange their hard-earned zloty to Ukrainian hryvna. Surprisingly the exchange rate at the border is as good as in the city and a lot better than at an airport or train station.
At 12:30 am we were in Ukraine, however there is a time difference and it was 1:30 am local time. In less then 2 hours the bus was in Lviv. So instead of 5:30am as expected, the bus dropped me off on the outskirts of the city at 2:45am. There was a closed gas station and nothing else. Two young ladies got off at that stop as well and I asked them to call a cab for me, since there was no other way of getting into the city at that hour. Three of us got in the cab and went to the center. I paid 40 hryvnas ($4USD) for quite a long ride, and the driver left towards the other passengers’ destination.
All in all the trip was fine. 7 hours in the bus isn’t that bad, especially when the bus is somewhat comfortable.There was also an empty seat next to me which helped a lot. It would have been faster, cheaper and more comfortable with ride share but as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t find anyone going my way.
Would I suggest this way of traveling from Warsaw to Ukraine? Definitely! And another quick tip: bring 2 or 4 zloty with you for this trip. There is no toilet in the bus and the toilets available at the rest stops are not free (2 zl), even at the Polish border.
Writing about Auschwitz-Birkenau is hard, visiting the death camp is even harder.
Barbed wire fence in Auschwitz I
While in Warsaw I have decided to spend a week-end in Krakow. A beautiful city in Southern Poland. I have been to Krakow in December 2010, when the city was cold and full of snow. The warm days of late spring promised a lot more. So off we went. After getting in touch with Michał on BlaBlaCar and arranging a ride to Krakow I had to figure out some activities for the week-end… besides going to bars.
Most people who visit Krakow will do 2 things: Salt mines and the infamous death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. To be honest I didn’t care so much about the salt mines, since I’ve heard it wasn’t all that impressive. Auschwitz, however, was a must-see.
Getting to Auschwitz
The city of Oświęcim (renamed to Auschwitz by Germans) is located 67km away from Krakow. Nazis built 3 concentration camps there: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II – Birkenau and Auschwitz III–Monowitz. Most tourists will book a guided tour to Auschwitz directly in Krakow. Most tours cost 100-150zł ($35-50USD). This includes transportation from Krakow to Oświęcim and back. However, you can make that trip on your own, for a lot less.
One way train tickets from Krakow to Auschwitz costs 9zł ($3) and bus ticket is 12zł ($4). This website will help you find the schedule for the trains and buses. I recommend taking a bus since it’s faster (1h15-1h20) and the local train takes over 2 hours to reach the city of Oświęcim. Some buses from Krakow will drop you off at the train station, others will take you to the Auschwitz I gate. If you need to get to Auschwitz from the train station you can catch a cab for 10-15zł or take a local bus (numbers 1 and 24-29) for less than 3zł. There is a free shuttle that runs every 30 minutes (sometimes more often) between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Entrance to both sites is free, however they have “donation boxes”, so feel free to leave some money which will help maintaining the museum. Remember that access to Auschwitz I is only open to organized tours from 10am until 3pm. If you are coming alone, make sure you enter the museum grounds before 10 or after 3, You can also join a guided tour at the museum for 40zł. You can also buy a brochure for 10zł at the museum kiosk, this brochure will explain a few things about the site.
I should mention that buses back to Krakow are running until 5-6 pm or so, last train is departing around 7:30pm. I might be wrong but that was my experience (on a weekend). Before going there I suggest you check the schedule on the website I mentioned earlier and plan your return trip so you don’t get stuck in Oświęcim for the night… unless you really like very small towns.
The Auschwitz I
“Arbeit macht frei” – “work makes (you) free”
When planning to visit the Auschwitz museum I was expecting it would be a sad experience. To be honest – it wasn’t sad. It was heart-breaking, it was disgusting, it was painful and very touching. Walking through that territory and imagining the suffering of Poles, Jews, Romas and many others is simply devastating. Then, I walked into the gas chamber. I can’t really explain what I felt. All I can say is that within minutes I had to walk out as I got dizzy, sick to my stomach and holding back tears.
Auschwitz I gas chamber
After a relatively brief tour I walked out from the museum grounds since I planned to visit Auschwitz II – Birkenau. This second site is located about 3km away from Auschwitz I. You can walk if you feel like it but I suggest taking the free shuttle.
Another tip: look at the shuttle schedule before entering the museum. This way you will make it to the shuttle stop and wouldn’t have to wait for 25 minutes till the next shuttle. Just make sure you get to the shuttle stop a few minutes before the departure.
Auschwitz II – Birkenau.
As I was approaching the second site I couldn’t believe how huge it was. Barracks after barracks after barracks.
This second concentration camp had a capacity of 200,000 people at a time. Millions of people were sent to this site, most didn’t make it out of there alive.
The railway tracks inside Birkenau split in different directions as camp was divided. Some parts were exclusive to men, some to women, some to Gypsies, some to Russians, etc. The rails that go to the right were probably the scariest, although most prisoners didn’t know about it.
Jews selected by SS for immediate death were headed along this road upon arrival to Birkenau. On the left and the right side of the road you can see ruins. Nazis tried to destroy the barracks and crematoriums to hide the evidence of their inhuman actions.
I probably would not visit Auschwitz any time soon. It is a very difficult experience. Besides understanding how many people died there and how they were killed a lot of other things seem to be happening. Maybe my mind played tricks on me but I could swear I still smelt like something was burning near the destroyed crematorium. The air around the camp was heavy and the atmosphere was just… different.
If you ever get a chance – please do visit Auschwitz because no one will ever be able to explain what’s it really like.
I spent a lot of time deciding if I should publish this post since writing about it brings back the sadness and some other feelings. I hope this post will help you get prepared for the visit to Auschwitz – Birkenau.
You don’t need to be a millionaire to travel through Europe, however money helps. If you are on a budget, there are several things you can do in order to travel without breaking the bank.
Flying in Europe
Flying is actually one of the cheapest ways to get around Europe. Especially if you don’t have a particular place to go to and if you are traveling light. You can fly from Warsaw to Oslo for less than 15$, from Frankfurt to London for $30. $30 will also get you from Milan to Paris. However, flying with these “low-cost” carriers may be difficult at times. You are only allowed to bring a small carry-on because checked-in luggage will cost you more than the flight itself. You also must be careful when booking a ticket. Some of these companies try to impose a bunch of extras on you which significantly increases the price of the ticket. Some even require that you print your ticket in a specific way, otherwise they fine you. Be careful.
Most known European low costs are Ryanair and WizzAir.
Ridesharing in Europe
Another cheap way of traveling around Europe is rideshare (aka car pooling). As I mentioned in a recent post (Traveling from Warsaw to Berlin) I used carpooling to get to Poland from Germany. I also went from Warsaw to Krakow and then back to Warsaw. I have also used this method in 2010, going from Berlin to Prague.
There are many ridesharing websites but BlaBlaCar seems to be the most popular one at the moment. It’s often cheaper and faster than buses and trains. The down side of carpooling is that you might not be able to find a ride exactly when you need it. A lot of site’s users offer a ride within a week of departure. If you are not time-limited, ride sharing could be a great idea but it could be hard to plan a trip in advance.
Hitchhiking in Europe
For the most adventurous there is hitchhiking. The fashioned “thumbing” on the side of the road seems to be making a comeback. In most countries this method of traveling is free, however Ukraine and Romania you might be asked to pay small fee. In order to prevent a misunderstanding it’s always a good idea to make sure the driver understands that you won’t be paying for the ride. I have been reading quite a lot of articles on HitchWiki about this method of transportation since I am planning to use it in the near future.
Unfortunately don’t have much experience with hitchhiking. In 2010 I traveled through Ukraine with my own car and I picked up quite a few hitchhikers that were going my way. This year I am planning to become a hitchhiker myself, when I will be traveling through the Balkans. I guess after that trip i will be able to share quite a few stories on this blog.
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The best way to see any city is by simply walking through it. Especially when you have a knowledgeable guide. This is exactly what I did in Warsaw: Free Walking Tours.
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
I actually attended 3 of the 4 possible tours: Old Town Warsaw, Communist Warsaw, Alternative Warsaw. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to do the Jewish Warsaw tour. The guides were great, friendly and they knew the history of their city in great detail. Our guide, Agnes, not only knew lots of cool stories and details about Warsaw and the world history in general, she also made us laugh quite often with her great jokes.
– The Old Town Warsaw walking tour takes you through… well, the old town of the city. On this tour you will learn lots about the city, how it was destroyed and how it was rebuilt, mostly from looking at 18th century paintings of Warsaw. That’s the tour that will make you understand why the residents of Warszawa are so proud of their city. Everyday at 12 pm. and 6 pm. (summer schedule).
– The Communist Tour concentrates on the USSR influence and another part of Polish and Warsaw history. A lot of historical facts will be told by the guide so you could understand why the communism was not the most favorite regime of the people. Of course you will be making a stop at the infamous Palace of Culture and Science and a few other “key” locations. Wed. Fri. Sun. at 10:30 am. (summer schedule).
– The Alternative Warsaw tour is brand new. I think we were one of the first groups (if not the first) that went on that tour. This tour takes you away from the central Warsaw all the way across the Vistula river, to the Praga district. Praga has been the ghetto of the city but is now turning into a hip district. I could probably compare it to Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Montreal’s Plateau. Hipsters are starting to take over because the rent is cheap and the district is getting more and more artsy and fun. If you want to see bears practically walking on the street, if you want too see where “The Pianist” was filmed, if you want to see what many tourists won’t see – I highly suggest this tour. Mon.Thu.Sat. 10:30 am. (summer schedule).
The free walking tours in Warsaw are free and the guides earn their “paychecks” with money that attendees contribute at the end of the tour. The cool thing is that you are not obliged to give them any money. This makes the tour accessible even to the tourists on very low budgets. However, if you can – please do contribute as much as you think your guide deserves.
The same foundation offers free tours in other cities of Poland, such as Wroclaw and Krakow. I can only imagine these tours are as great as the ones in Warsaw.
Check out their website here for the tours schedule or like their Facebook page. I like their FB page because they constantly posts cool facts and stories about the city.
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In April I decided to leave Warsaw for a week and visit Berlin, my favorite city in the world. There are many ways to get there but what’s the cheapest way to get from Warsaw to Berlin?
Warsaw – Berlin by air:
This is the first option that comes to mind – however this is usually the most expensive one. The cheapest plane ticket I found from Warsaw to Berlin was about € 200 ($280). I am sure you might be able to find some cheaper low-cost flights from time to time but I wasn’t able to find any.
Warsaw – Berlin by train:
Traveling by train is often comfortable and the train journey from Warsaw to Berlin lasts a little more than 5 hours (no connections needed). The train ride will cost you abut € 60 ($80). A lot cheaper than flying, however, still not the cheapest way.
Warsaw – Berlin by bus:
PolskiBus.com is a quite popular way of getting to Berlin from Warsaw (or back). Traveling a long distance by bus is not very comfortable – but it is cheaper. PolskiBus leaves Warsaw and stops in 2 other Polish cities before heading to Berlin – this is why it takes almost 9 hours to reach the destination. The cost? € 25 ($35) if you purchase the ticket a few days before leaving. You can pay as low as € 12-13 ($17) if you buy this ticket months in advance.
Warsaw – Berlin by rideshare:
Rideshare or carpooling is becoming more and more popular around the world. It seems like BlaBlaCar.com is the most popular car-sharing website in Europe. On this website you can either find a driver with a car, or offer a ride in your car for a relatively small fee. The goal here is not to make money but to simply split the cost of fuel. The prices vary from 15 € to 35 € but the number that I see most of the time is 22 € ($30). Warsaw to Berlin car trip takes about 5 hours.
The Best and Cheapest Way to Travel from Berlin to Warsaw (Warsaw to Berlin).
Flying is expensive. Trains are expensive. I went from Warsaw to Berlin by bus for 25 € – which is rather cheap, but I really hated being in the bus for about 9 hours. PolskiBus also advertizes free WiFi on board, however WiFi was not available in that bus, which made the trip that much longer. On my way back from Berlin to Warsaw I decided to go with rideshare (BlaBlaCar). For a bit more than 20 € I got to Warsaw within 5 hours. Besides the fast trip, I was also a lot more comfortable in the car (it was actually a Mercedes van) than in the bus. So my personal recommendation would be carpooling. It’s the most comfortable and fastest way to travel without breaking the bank.
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How much money would you be willing to pay for an exhibition that you can’t see? I paid about $8 and it was totally worth it!
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
The Invisible Exhibition (Niewidzialna Wystawa) in Warsaw offers just that: a tour into the world “without sight”. They asked us to not reveal too many details about this great exhibition so I will keep it short.
Before entering the exhibition rooms you will be instructed on how to behave. These little rules and hints will be very useful, so listen carefully. After the instructions your guide will take through a very memorable experience when you will use all your senses, except the sight. Your guide will be either blind or almost and you will not see anything for about an hour, while going through the exhibition.
It is highly suggested to contact the folks at Niewidzialna Wystawa a day in advance (especially if you want a tour in English). When I went there they told us that sometimes you might wait a while for a tour and someday they are sold out for the day. If you are a big group – you should also contact them in advance and reserve a tour.
If you can’t visit this exhibition in Warsaw – you can also visit it in Budapest and Prague.
One last tip: bring a few złoty with you for the tour, they might come in very handy at the end of the tour 😉
The regular tickets cost 24 zł on weekdays and 28 zł on weekends. You will pay 3 zł less if you buy the tickets online. Lower prices are also offered for students, elderly, families and groups.
For more info: Niewidzialna Wystawa Website (EN and PL)