Saturday we saw Tam off onto an ATAS coach at 5:30 (with a friendly driver and no need to pay to change the ticket, apparently) before Paul went back to bed. I made tea, went to read some comics / check email, finished packing and then wandered around outside, took some photos of the site and had a several-language conversation with one of the parents who was turning up to collect their kids. Cricket things were abandoned next to a large pile of photocopied resources Karen had spent time sorting.
The tour bus turned out to be a real coach – absolutely brilliant; leg room, double seats and everything. Steph got back from Empik by 9:10 triumphantly clutching Deathly Hallows and we left straight after that, with a short detour on the way to Zakopane to drops some things off at another camp (which looked a fair bit more worn than Puławy and Nysa, though I don't remember what it was called.)
The hotel was the same place in Olcza we'd stayed a couple of years earlier. There's a small grocery store underneath the hotel bit and the hotel does decent traditional food, but it's quite cramped three/four to a room and far enough out of town to make travel awkward, with outgoing bus stops a way off and taxis back in an evening expensive.
Paul made friends with a puppy from the place next door (he looks about eight in the photos), then – when the klaxons went off down the street – we saw an auxiliary fireman pulling on uniform whilst running to duty. With wood being a main building material, fire's potentially a big issue for people living on the mountainside.
When we went into town I got to cross miód pitny (lit. "drinkable honey") off the list of things to try. Mead is usually served hot in Poland. The taste is an interesting mix of sweetness and acidity (plus a wine-like alcoholic kick) which you probably wouldn't want to drink too much of, but I'd be curious to see what it tastes like chilled.
The town was very busy on Sunday considering the day, though there were some closed shops and stalls. I got a floppy hat and didn't have to go far to find a selection. After a brief cable-car trip up the mountain Błazej and Sylwia proposed a trip to a new aqua park, so most of us went off to that whilst Mark and Steph headed into town and Paul and stayed in at the hotel. I was a bit sceptical, but the place was large enough to swim a bit as well as do slides, and it meant we got to work up an appetite. Lunch was pretty awesome – a street corner cellar restaurant with grills and fake traditional decor, large portions, lots of liquids and bowls of fat with bacon bits and onion plus bread to start. This is much tastier than it sounds, believe me...
Monday was Morskie Oko (mountains, winding path up, lakes at the top) for the new people, town for the rest of us, as we initially decided to get a horse and cart up but the queues showed no sign of getting shorter. I read James' copy of Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind whilst waiting for others to get back, which I'd highly recommend. In the evening, we went to a restaurant where the staff turned out to be American and got a surprisingly cheap eight-person taxi back as only Mark and Lisa wanted to club.
We left the hotel on time in the morning, which is the first time that's happened, then did the Dunajec river rafts on the way to Kraków. I suspect it's a lot more interesting the first couple of times, but on a nice day there are worse ways to spend two hours.
The hotel turned out to be remarkably plush – double rooms and en-suites, but more importantly: it wasn't Hotel Alf. Instead the Dom Studencki is a short walk away from the town centre, so you don't even need taxis... uh, unless you get lost in the dark late at night, but I've never had a good sense of direction...
Was less pleased with being woken up when we got to Kraków, everything unpacked (failed communicating to the driver that I just wanted the small case) and having to navigate lifts, losing track of people in process, but after several cups of tea and a pleasant stroll into town things seemed a lot better. Just don't trust Steph's sense of direction either – we basically walked four sides of a square to the Jewish quarter.
I went back to the main square to take some photos, deliberately losing Lisa a bet on how long I'd stick around in bars. Didn't quite make it back to the hotel, but flagged a taxi down at a red light and it was more-or-less just around the corner. Curled up with more tea and biscuits and reflected that new people seemed to be enjoying things, which is the point. Plus I'd managed to get some washing done before going out.
Wednesday was the best day of the tour. Whilst we went around the Wieliczka salt mine (quiet and lots of time to take photos as it was the end of the tourist season) Steph and Mark opted for a day of drinking. After the mine we had lunch at a little café opposite (sausage, chips, onion, bread & butter and mayonnaise – yay!) and the afternoon was spent in a bigger aqua park with slides that had sound effects. Evening meal was a very nice pasta soup back at the hotel. Around about then we ran into Karen outside the hotel, who was in Kraków for a Polish language exam the next day.
In the early evening we walked into town. Couldn't see any comics in Empik apart from trade paperbacks, but Paul managed to get a plug-to-USB-socket charger he'd been after. Sat out on the square and chilled with tea and cheesecake, then everyone moved on to Music Bar 9, where they have proper mugs. Mmm.
Friday was a distinct mix. James and Lisa did Auschwitz in the morning, at some point during which Sylwia had to be taken to hospital with dehydration.
I went for a long walk in the morning through the parks around the outside of the castle, before heading in to pick up some music, throwing stars from the stalls at the back of the castle and a Śmierć (Death) trade paperback containing Time of Your Life and High Cost of Living. Got accosted by aftershave market researchers just off the main square, sat out a park and flipped through a dictionary trying to work out words, before meeting up with people. We'd been expecting the Auschwitz party to join us for town, castle and farewell-present buying, but after some time there was no sign. Since B + S were planning to settle elsewhere in Europe and not coming back to Poland for a while we opted for guide stuff they could use to explore the region, plus standard Kraków tourist tat: a cuddly dragon, and a bouncy ball on a string since Sylwia had been losing the one Błazej had everywhere outside the aqua park. We also picked up several large bottles of Żubrówka for the evening... since Błazej hadn't managed to find a function room in the hotel to rent, the plan was to sneak stuff into the outside bar next door.
When we headed back to the hotel we found out the Auschwitz party had only just made it back and about Sylwia being ill. I'd already packed earlier and gave Lisa a potted Wawel tour: whale bone, ramparts, fire-breathing dragon sculpture at the back.
I remember up until about half-way through the evening that followed, which is a good example of why drinking games are a bad idea. Particularly when the bastards you're with top your beer up with vodka and you aren't in any shape to notice. Remarkably my camera made it through intact, though the metal case my glasses were in folded like a cheap hooker – the glasses being mostly alright apart from the right lens... but that's an almost neutral prescription anyway. At some point, bruises across my back attested, I got dropped several times, and apparently I tried it on with Lisa. I'm sure all of this seemed like a very good idea at the time. Sorry and/or I hope it was sufficiently entertaining.
The trip back to Puławy on Friday (leaving James in Kraków to travel) was therefore spent feeling like śmierć, with a lot of snoozing and Powerade for hydration when I eventually sobered up. Carrefour turned out to have restocked the CD player I was looking for, but for some reason you can't just take goods to the counter and pay for them – there's paperwork to be filled in in-store, rather than a warranty card in the box you send the receipt in with if you care about that sort of thing. Paul ran into some girls he'd taught the previous year at Łuków and the nice people at Bursa sorted us out with rooms for the weekend.
Saturday involved a reasonable lie-in, interrupted only by the 7am (!) music camp practise sessions. Wandered into town for internet café use and fast food, and lucked into finding a guy at Vision Express who spoke English to try to get my glasses fixed. I'd texted home to get the prescription, plus I'd superglued the pieces of the right lens together, which let them check it. Unfortunately the prescription wasn't quite in the format the lab expected and he didn't check the intact side, but two returns, thirty quid and some dashing through rain later I had replacement lenses. Frankly this was more than I'd expected to achieve during the day we had free in Puławy, and I was just grateful I hadn't had to stumble through trying to explain with the maybe couple of hundred words I can sort-of articulate in Polish.
For the evening we'd booked the mafia restaurant where, to not much surprise, we didn't see anyone other than us and the staff there. Later other people went to Sabat, came back and probably managed to outstay our welcome with the new camp by being loud . Lisa bit Mark, got into bed with Steph and apparently managed to soak her copy of Harry Potter... then the next morning, still drunk, managed to pack an open bottle of water into her own bag.
Puławy to Garwolin was a remarkably straightforward coach ride away (no worries about baggage space) and I didn't even have to ditch the older CD player. Paul did manage to leave the speakers I'd given him on the coach we got to Puławy, though.