Poland (Oct 2005)
Very friendly people, also plenty of English speakers luckily, as I found Polish unpronouncable to my English tongue.
Yet another country where you can smoke on the trains, but oddly smoking is banned on the platforms.
I was ignorant of Poland's geography, my perception gained from looking out of window on travels at miles of continuous trees is that Poland is heavily forrested - I've not checked to see if this belief is right or wrong.
The one place I did not want to be detained was Ukraine; so it was an incredible relief to have my passport and departure card (which I had "modified" to cover possible exit via Slovakia) accepted by the Ukrainian border control at the Polish border. The female border guard did make me sweat though, as unlike other passengers she spent a good 5 minutes comparing my passport photo to the real thing (I know a photo cannot possibly convey my good looks).
The train terminated at Przemysl just across the border. I only spent a couple of hours waiting for a train to Krakow but I felt as if I'd re-entered civilisation. People helpful and smiling when asked for directions or rail tickets despite my inconsiderate inability to speak any Polish and their lack of English. Still has cigarette scroungers though!
Talking about civilisation this is the only photo I have of the town and I see in hindsight even the architecture is not that dissimilar to Bath.
Krakov was recommended by most backpackers I met, and even at this time of year it was still popular with tourists (in some ways this was reassuring after the absence of foreigners in Moldova and Ukraine).
More expensive than the earlier countries of my travels but still a lot cheaper than UK. A pretty old town square (apparently 2nd largest in Europe), geared up for tourists and a good centre for visiting other areas e.g. Auchwitz. Like the other old town squares I have seen on my travels the authorities had ensured it was photo unfriendly; this time by arranging for half the square to be dug up during my visit.
Apparently the cycle tour is very good, I went on the tourist information office walking tour (one of many) - probably the worst tour I have been on.
Just my notes below ignore - still to be writ up:Krakow: Tour - not v good, guide not suited to role at all, not waiting for old man, discussion with Hungarian over roles in war, moaning about Jews post war (KGB/ Mossad no go areas). Bus to Auschwitz - would always wish went if didn't. Train journey back most crowded ever, standing but only romm for one foot on floor, 3 people plus upturned bike standing in loo. Students with packs returning to Krakow sunday eve. But had good chat en route. Amazed at amount of forest along track Salt mine. Warsaw - Nazi prison found more touching than Aus - personal effects and histories. Night clubs small.