2 hour 6 Euro Ryanair vs. 8 hour 45 Euro train

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Thursday, September 25, 2008

And the winner is...the train.  I know you would have expected me to choose the cheaper plane option but the train wins hands down in this competition.  No hassles, no airport security, no waiting in line after line, no having to get there early, no extremely uncomfortable seats, no rules to follow, and I even had my own bed and could take as much junk on board as I could carry.  

This was an overnight Polish train from Bratislava to Krakow called the Galileo.  After a very relaxing evening just hanging out at the hostel and meeting people from around the world I made my way over to the train station.  Arriving 30 minutes prior to departure was more than enough time it turns out.  I had no clue how to board the train or maneuver around the system and everything around me was in Czech.  At this point I was just relying on pure gut instinct to figure everything out and hoped that was enough to get me there in one try by morning.

I did luckily find out that each train is divided into segments depending on the destination and cars are added and taken off at various stops along the way.  Get in the wrong car somehow and fall asleep and off to Siberia you go.  Random milling about brought me right up to a partially hidden sign showing the car designations for the Galileo.  The first two were for Krakow and the others were for Warsaw, Minsk, St. Petersburg and Moscow.  I was just thinking how cool is this that I am on a train bound for Russia.  I just didnt want to accidentally wind up there though.

Overnight trains (in this part of Europe at least) require an advance reservation for the sleeping berth and had I not bought the ticket earlier in the morning, I would not have been traveling last night.  That was just pure luck I had bought it early.  My spot was #25 which turned out to be the top berth of three on the left side of the compartment.  There were six beds total, three on each side.  I walked up to the door for my compartment and it was locked of course.  One of the already sleeping through passengers from Budapest unlocked it finally with a lot of angry fanfare and motioned me in.  She slammed it behind me and gave me the universal signal to keep it quiet.  Yes ma'am, I am NOT messing with you tonight.

Keeping it quiet is about impossible when getting to the top bunk requires a climb up a rickety ladder that is attached to the opposite side in complete darkness.  I had to climb up, then straddle the two sides, grab some metal and swing myself over.  I did this all while balancing a duffel bag, backpack and grocery bag and while maneuvering six feet of me into a space with maybe about three feet of headroom between the bed and ceiling

I actually fell right asleep and had been worried I would sleep right through the Krakow stop.  I was so tired though I didn't even care at that point.  This was an express train so the stops were few and far between and I barely remember any of them.  At some point during the night some new passengers had arrived into the compartment and my old lady friend I had angered just by my arriving had vanished into the night.  I didn't even hear them and I got my best sleep in a while.  About 20 minutes before arrival the conductor came through to wake everyone up so it turned out there were no worries about accidentally ending up in Outer Mongolia.

Express in Eastern Europe does not necessarily mean fast.  This trip only covered about 350km but took over 8 hours because the tracks aren't up to German or French standards.  MARTA moves faster through the 'hood in Atlanta I think but the Galileo was reliable, clean, comfortable and got me to Krakow 5 minutes early at 0620 this morning.  I didn't have to find a room last night either so whatever the train cost above Ryanair was more than made up for in not having to pay for one.

The hostel I am at in Krakow is right across from the train station and was recommended by several people I have met along the way.  At 6:30am I was greeted there by a friendly guy and girl and a Polish breakfast of cold cuts, cheeses, breads and egg salad.  Now that's exactly the food I like to start my day with.  Now that I am rested and fueled up I am ready to explore this beautiful city.   First thing this morning I am going to try to take the bus over to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  I don't want to miss visiting the two concentration camps since how often am I in the area?  I know it will be depressing but I really feel I need to see them.  I will let you guys know what I see and find around here later tonight.
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