I don't think Poland (Polska) was ever on my hit-list, if I'm being honest. However, when you meet someone who is so passionate and patriotic about their country, its culture, natural beauty, food (especially meat) and vodka you can't resist the temptation to see the place through their eyes. And I'm glad I didn't.
My friend and I talked for four hours straight, from Stansted Express to the flight, to Krakow Airport, pissing off almost every unfortunate soul that had to be around us. We were picked up by a (very beautiful) young man in a fine Mercedes E-Class, which was a nice intro to the country. Although I wouldn't call a local experience, it almost felt necessary after Ryan Air. Apart from a pit-stop for a hotdog in a quiet petrol station, we got to Zakopane within an hour and a half, a small city right at the bottom of Poland.
We checked into a wooden cottage style house, although a little tricky to find in the middle of the night. The inside of the house was decorated with pretty crochet pieces used as curtains and lots of paper decorations placed strategically around the walls, with a nice warm and cosy feel to it. It felt a bit like a prelude to Christmas.
touching slovakia: tatra mountains
The following day, we went to Koscielisko Valley in the Western side of Tarta National Park. This was an 'easier' trek near streams, through forests and some waterfalls and a lovely secluded lake, until we decided to check out the caves. We thought this would involve strolling into a cave, taking a few photos and walking out. Instead, it involved close-to-vertical climbs and descents on soap-textured rocks, using nothing but a metal chain and a lot of arm strength.
This was real-life bouldering and I was close to tears. I still can't say if I enjoyed it or hated it (probably both). On one side, was the sense of achievement and on the other side putting myself through that freight that: "if my hands or feet slip I may fall and will die". A slight change from indoor bouldering in Harrow (you fall onto a mattress), or abseiling in Thailand or canyoneering (or canyoning) in Costa Rica where you have a harness and are clipped onto all sorts of things to make sure you will at least hang in the middle of nowhere, but you won't fall into the valley. It was certainly one of the highlights, though.
krakow: the oldest city in poland
Overall, my impression of Poland has been eye-opening and is certainly under rated or less spoken about as a tourist destination compared to many other European counterparts. The history, the religious influence, the art and architecture, natural landscapes and the vodka... I will be back for more.
The only thing that I wish I could change about this trip was Ryan Air and Stansted Airport. Neither should be on anyone's bucket list, unless you have a desire to torture yourself, confuse each other and generally not want to travel again (for a while). I will spare the details this time.
I have to say, I do struggle to find a good cup of coffee when I’m not in London, but that’s probably because I don’t know the right places, or my taste buds have become biased by the city of coffee addicts. I remember (almost) shedding a tear of joy when we found a nice coffee made with condensed milk in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam after what felt like weeks. I think I had half a dozen terrible coffees on that trip, before I had a good one.
Note: in South East Asia stick to tea.
A health adviser from BUPA told me recently that ideally, caffeine should be avoided altogether as it's a stimulant and can tamper with your heart rate, but two to three cups of tea or coffee should be fine. Working life in London typically involves a lot of caffeine (and alcohol). When you're slaving away in your job all week, and wise people tell you not to drink 'too much' tea or coffee, you need to make sure that the few cups you do have are good ones and guilt-free.
According to BBC Health, 400mg* of caffeine is 'safe' per day. So we could have 1-4 cups of coffee as long as we don't have any other energy drinks, chocolates, tea, etc. (Hurray!)
*200mg for pregnant women
And if you care about how 'fatty' your coffees are, a small flat white, latte or cappuccino with full-fat milk is around 100 calories and 5-7g of fat. There's a quiz from The Guardian to test your coffee-calorie knowledge, which covers the high street coffee chains: Starbucks, Pret, Costa, Nero and good old Greggs.
Health aside, I'm sure many of you have your personal favourites for the quick and easy coffee, whether they get your name right or change it completely (I once got my takeaway Frappuccino with "FAN" written on it). But if you don't mind waiting a bit longer for what's usually a (much) smaller portion of coffee for what you usually pay, here are some 'artisan' coffee shops to check out in the city on your lunch break:
1. artigiano, st paul's
These guys need to thank me for at least 50 cappuccinos consumed in 2 years and now this blog. And I can thank them for all the good cappuccinos and loyalty stamps I have enjoyed. Step out of Artigiano and there's the grand beauty of St Paul's Cathedral. What more could you possibly ask for?
The staff are quirky, friendly and sometimes they may even give you an extra stamp for your loyalty and a big Cheshire smile. What's more, they serve beer, wine and cocktails (with happy hour) after 12pm. Genius.