Back to Marrakech

We had a lovely relaxed morning in Essaouira yesterday before making our way back to Marrakech by public bus.  I knew that this trip had some public transport in it – and initially, I was thinking, ‘Well, that could really suck’.  But turns out I was concerned for no reason… this is not Turkey c.2007 apparently – the bus driver is not allowed to smoke, use his phone and drive in the middle of the road here – so me and Moroccoan ONCF bus services can remain friends. The transit was the best type of transit. Uneventful.

Our group checked into our various hotels – most of us at the Moroccan House Hotel in Marrakech, and we checked into the Trois Palmieres, some four doors up from the rest of the group.  There was something about the very noisy electrical box in Room 45 that made us feel like the hotel might burst into flames or electrocute one of us when plugging in a phone that made us not want to stay there again.  We had informed Intrepid, but they didn’t seem to share our safety concern, so we just ended up repaying for the booking.  It was a good move; worrying about spontaneous combustion is rarely conducive to sleep (all that watching the bushfires unfold on the news back home was probably not helping).

Tonight was the last night of our tour and a farewell dinner with the group.  Across the two back to back groups, we have been fortunate to be travelling with simply wonderful groups of people, from London, New Zealand, Brisbane, California, Melbourne, South Africa, Quebec, Ukraine, Greece and Victoria, BC.  And of course, our Intrepid leader, Samirr who is originally from the High Atlas Mountains, but now lives in Marrakech.  We don’t usually do group tours like this, so were pleasantly surprised to have met such a lovely bunch of people – we have been duly warned by others who have travelled with Intrepid, G-Adventures and Peregrine a lot, that this is not always the case!  Most of them were seriously happy to have been with such a harmonious group too. We had a lovely dinner, shared contact details and there were hugs all around.  It’s weird how you can get to know people so quickly – I’m going to miss my morning hug from Chris.

Anyway, we had some work today do while in Marrakech, and then it was one last foray into the medina for some last-minute shopping. I have to admit that after our madhouse experience here just before New Years, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.  I mean, we were told that town is busy on the weekends, and it would be much quieter when we came back on a Tuesday… but even I hadn’t anticipated this quiet: Gone was the soundstage with the makeshift concert venue set up for 40,000 people, gone were most of the snake charmers, monkey handlers, watermen, spruikers, and the heaving tide of humanity that we pushed through when we were here last.  The place was just eeriely quiet.  This is 10am on a Tuesday in Marrakech’s main square!

Even once we dove into the medina, it was predominantly empty!  Which was both great – no crowds of locals and tourist to push through, and also not great – we were the lone target for the few pushy shopkeeps we did encounter.
Literally, shop after shop, empty. Guess what Dr Nick?  I have made it through three weeks in Morocco surrounded by gorgeous pashmina and haven’t bought a single one!  Not even under the pretence that it’s a gift for someone else… who would have thought such a thing could ever happen!  🙂 
After our rather quiet (and I have to admit, pleasant) trip into the medina, we went to pick up some laundry and do a few errands before it was back to the hotel to play Tetris with the luggage – that’s always my job.  Making it all fit in.  We normally make sure we don’t buy things that need to be declared when coming back into Australia – it always just reeks of too much effort when you’re shattered from the long haul, but the handicrafts here have defeated us and we have several things that need to be declared, so I have carefully packed those for easy access at customs.

Saw this sign and remembered that I have failed to mention that Morocco still has barber-surgeons… you go to the barber for your haircuts, shaves and basic dentistry etc.  Yeah… you first. Spent the afternoon getting some work underway and packing.  After that, though, we were too stuffed to go out to hunt and gather for food.  So this is what we ordered from room service at our hotel – a Scillian pizza (with way too much capsicum and missing the requested anchovies), a kefta tagine (which was very tasty) and some Moroccan goats cheese and herb briouats (little filo pastry pies).  It was extremely tasty.

I’ve found a nice looking recipe for a kefta tagine that I’m going to have to try out when I get home.
After this, we managed to find a movie on the TV, (‘Man on a Ledge’, in English) and aimed for an early night.  So much for that!  Woke up at 04:17 and haven’t been able to get back to sleep which seriously sucks when I am facing a 24hr+ transit starting around 11:00.  :/

Transit to Chefchaouen

This morning we left Fez behind and set off in a private bus (thank fuck for that – the original itinerary said we’d be on public transport!) for Chefchaouen. The private bus was so we could stop here and there and check out a few things on the way, have a picnic lunch somewhere and take our time… it’s not my preference to turn a 4 hour drive into a 6 hour one, but if it saves us from squishing in with 50 or more, and a driver who’s likely on his phone and smoking while whipping around the mountains on the local bus, then I’m down with that.

We had a few photo stops on the way, this is one of the water reservoir dams that feeds Fez.  You can see the waterline is way down on ‘what it is supposed to be at this time of year’. We also made a stop at an orange orchard so we could buy a few fresh oranges for our picnic.  The oranges here are lovely, you can get large, cheap glasses of fresh orange juice in restaurants everywhere and the juice tastes slightly more like mandarins than the oranges at home. Everytime we get into the countryside, I can’t believe how green everything is…. the grass is lush and green, the trees are green, the stock looks fat and healthy… the drought at home is quickly brought into stark contrast. Another stop we made was at an olive press co-op.  Some of the smaller local farmers don’t have the expensive machinery required to press olives, so they bring their harvest here and their bags are numbered.  They then wait their turn and put their olives through the press.  The air felt thick and kinda slimy… the ground is literally dripping in olive oil.I actually disllike olives, which is weird for me as I usually love savoury and salty foods.  The smell here was getting to me quite a bit.  Bags of olives belonging to different farmers. A couple of the men who worked here – their clothes are soaked through with olive oil, their hands and faces black with oily gunk.  This must be one of the few largely automated processes we have seen in Morocco so far… until now, it seemed like nearly everything is done by hand.
The first press olive oil is thick and green. Everyone was offered a bit of bread to try it, along side other oils that had been processed for the second time and third time. I quite like my extra virgin olive oil, but not being a fan of things that actually taste like olives, I gave it a miss (good thing that turned out to be – at least two in our group said they paid for it as it went right through them and they were running for the bathroom a few hours later). Anyway, back on the bus and a few kilometers down the road we stopped for a picnic lunch. Before leaving Fez, we went to an enormous supermarket and all picked up some tidbits for lunch.  We had some very tasty sandwiches and wraps with meats, cheeses, nuts, dates, figs etc. We even managed to buy some drinks so many had picked up some beers to have with lunch. Hay stacks for the winter.  Everywhere, you could see enormous rows of prickly pear.  They use it for a few different purposes – hedgerows are grown to make fencing to keep their animals in.  The plant itself is eaten in some dishes, and the flowers are used for a natural dye.  At home it’s a noxious weed. About another hour or so down the road and we arrived at Chefchaouen.  Chefchaouen is nestled between two mountain peaks – the word itself actually means ‘two mountian horns’ – and is located at 560m above sealevel, about 70kms from the Mediterranean to the north and 130kms from the Atlantic to the west. From this lookout we could see some glimpses of the blue walls this city is so famous for. We arrived at our hotel Darechaouen and were greeted with cups of Moroccan mint tea and date cookies while they sorted the rooms out.

We found ourselves being escorted to a lovely suite room with a large living room attached and a huge ensuite.  Very nice!

After everyone had settled in, we went for a bit of an orientation walk around the town.  Firstly up to see the mountain spring that feeds the town with fresh water.
After the winter snow melts, this spring will have twice as much water pouring from it. Directly to the left of these four ladies was a bench with four men, presumably their husbands… “What you talking about?” – “Shopping” … “What you talking about?” – “Football”

Chefchaouen was founded in 1471 as a small kasbah (fortress) to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco.  Many local tribal people, Berbers and Ghomara peoples, as well as Moriscos and Jews, settled here after the Spanish Reconquista in the medieval period.  In the early 20thC (c1920) the Spanish seized the city to form part of Spanish morocco.  Spanish troops imprisoned local leaders in the kasbah for several years and there is a decidedly Spanish influence to a lot of the local architecture and food etc.
The blue walls are what draws the tourists to town – it makes a stunning backdrop for photographs and is reminiscent of the blue-trimmed whitewashed walls of Santorini or Mykonos.  No one is entirely sure why the walls are painted blue – there are several theories though.  One popular theory is that the blue keeps the mosquitos away, another is that the Jews introduced the blue when they took refuge here from Hitler’s regime in the 1930s.  Another is that the blue paint was brought down as leftover paint from what was used to paint fishing boats to the north.  And yet another theory is that the blue symbolizes the sky and the heaven to serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life.  However, some locals apparently say that the town mandated walls were to be primarily painted blue simply to attract tourists at some point int he 1970s… which while far less whimsical, is probably far more likely.
And it works.  Chefchaouen is a very popular tourist destination, partly due to its proximity to Tangier.  There are over two hundred riad and hotels to cater for the influx of tourists – once largely catering to the European tourists (lots of Spanish arrive here at Easter and Christmas holidays), but now more commonly the Chinese tourists are here for their photos too.  

The region is also known for its native handicrafts that are not seen anywhere else in Morocco, particularly Berber style woollen garments, rugs and woven blankets. Want to see my scoot?! The surrounding countryside is well known as a prolific source of ‘kief’ – marijuana, and as we walked the town you would semiregularly get a strong whiff of pot as you rounded a corner or walked past a shop. There are public fountains dotting the town that are gravity fed directly from the mountain spring – hundreds of years old, they have seen a lot of use. There are quaint little alleyways in every direction, most of them steep and because of the fountains located around the place, most of the walkways were slightly wet and rather slippery. Chefchaouen is also knowns for it’s remarkably varied and popular blue doors… so many gates and doors everywhere – some simple, some elaborately painted, some enormous and some so small I have to duck to go in. This (below) is one of the most famous photo spots in the city… Samirr warned us that if there were Chinese tourists here, we would ‘have to come back next year’ rather than wait for them to finish taking their photos.  The locals are completely over the habit of Chinese tourists to stand in front of any famous object and take fifty photos of themselves in a myriad of very posed positions (tbh, so am I – Iceland last year was a real test of patience on that front).

When we arrived here of course there were a handful of Chinese tourists hogging ‘the spot’ for their selfies and posing away for their friends with the camera… as soon as one moves out of the way, another will quickly jump in.  Samirr’s shoulders slumped and he said, ‘I guess we have to come back next year’.  Instead, as one (totally overdressed Chinese lady) was moving out of shot and another was about to move in, I very loudly and firmly said to their group ‘Thank you! Thank you!  No people for a moment please!’ and unexpectedly, it worked! They all held back while our group took a few photographs of the street with no people.  Samirr was impressed at my crowd management skills, our small tour group was pleased to have their chance at photos sans Chinese tourists, and I was simply stunned at the amazing beautiful blue colours of the steps on this tiny little street that attracts people from all over the world.

As we walked away from the area, everyone was thanking me for clearing the street, but after last year in Iceland where we would stand around patiently waiting for 10 to 15 minutes or longer, waiting for self-absorbed arseholes to get out of the way – I give up.  You obviously need to speak up or you just end up wasting time or missing out…  patented Mommy Voice for the win.

A little futher we came to an area of town selling pigments for the local craftsmen. I know it looks like the town is nearly empty in most of these photos – but this is just my judicious sense of timing.  Pick a spot and wait for the person to move right out of frame and *click* before someone moves into the left of frame.  But trust me, there were plenty of people around and the medina only became busier as the sun went down and the locals came to town for the restaurants and clubs.

The original 15thC kasbah which we may go visit tomorrow… The town’s main square, which is pretty much at the bottom of the steep medina.  Still.. there were further little alleyways winding further down the mountain and we were diving back into them to find a Berber carpet shop.  As tradition dictates, one must go carpet/rug shopping when in Turkey or Pakistan or India or Morocco and well, nearly everywhere from North Africa to the Subcontinent!
Abdullah, our host offered us all sweet Moroccan mint tea… very sweet this time and quite refreshing.  This is also part of the tradition, coming right before the selling!  In Turkey, I think they have much more success with the selling part, as they often ply customers with beer and raki instead.  Here, have a buzz, buy a rug! The group waiting for the rugs to start falling. And so they did… Abdullah*, threw down about fifty rugs in total, all of them locally made by Berber tribes, and in a wide variety of colours and sizes.  These rugs are unlike any I’ve seen before, predominantly kilim style and most of them asymmetrical in design – which makes me twitch like all giddyup.  So I was pretty safe from any unplanned rug purchases.

(*We were fairly confident that Abdullah was stoned off his gourd which was vaguely amusing.) Anyway after our rug shopping experience, where no one found anything they liked, we went to a restaurnt called, Restaurant Bab Ssour, for a lovely rooftop dining and some delicious local tagine dishes. The view across the medina from the rooftop terrace. Goat cheese is a speciality local dish, served with balsamic.  It was really good and had a smooth creamy texture.
Goat tagine with plums!  The meat was just falling off the bone and absolutely delicious. After our long day of driving followed by what was supposed to be a short orientation walk (6kms), we head back to the hotel for a vodka tonic and crashed in our big luxurious bed.

Morocco Bound

It’s been a long and fairly difficult year on several fronts… and an even longer and more difficult last month or so. So Mr K and I decided we should ‘do something’ for a bit of a break at the end of the year. Given he’s got work coming up in Qatar on electric buses and we half expected to be in Qatar for work, come Xmas, we decided to look for something to do in the region and were tossing up between Egypt or Morocco as a suitable destination. In the end, we chose Morocco – largely because Casablanca has the largest electric bus fleet in North Africa and we could combine our break with a bit of useful investigative work that will help next year. Doesn’t everyone choose their Christmas destination based on where the largest electric bus operators reside?

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, we booked and got things sorted and, as per usual, I read and booked and understood the transit arrangments, but also as per usual, I completely forgot how much I absolutely hate the long haul transits. We had a 14 hour flight from Brisbane to Dubai, followed by a 2 hour lay over there, and an onward 8 hour flight to Casablanca. Urgh… my back pain was through the roof and my feet were killing me. :/ Grrr… really need to break these trips up (I keep saying that, and I keep forgetting when booking shit).

We arrived in Casablanca about 1pm local and had to wade through customs and the usual. Because I thought I might be arriving solo (given the high probability that Mr K would be coming from Qatar), I had arranged an airport transfer… usually we would just use public transport or haggle with cabbies when we got here. Our driver swiftly reminded us that we weren’t in Kansas anymore by driving like a Turk – all over the road, no indicators from him (or anyone else), braking short all the time and weaving in and out of the traffic. All he needed was a cigarette and one hand on his mobile phone and it would have taken me back to 2007.

When we got here and checked into the Hotel Almouday, I was absolutely shattered and REALLY need to get my poor feets in the air. So Mr K went out hunting and gathering looking for SIM cards, water and to sus out the local area while I tried hard not to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon… with varying levels of success. Eventually, we caved and had some little pizzas for dinner (loaded with anchovies – yum!) around 7pm and then crashed. I managed to sleep until around 2am and even managed to get back to sleep until around 6am… exhausted after the last few months much? Ahuh.

Today is Friday … buses, buses, buses. Maybe we will see some of Casablanca by Sunday.

WTF are we doing in Belarus!

We left Kiev yesterday around midday and headed back to Warsaw. Had another relatively uneventful flight with Ukraine International Airlines, where yet again, passengers clapped when the plane touched down safely – over the years I’ve seen this in Turkey, Pakistan, Argentina, Peru, now Poland and Ukraine, and it still weirds me out. We were just transiting through Warsaw this time, so didn’t spend any time there.

We picked up a rental and yale set the GPS for Vilnius and off we went. It was a bit of a long drive – but when you’re from Australia, it doesn’t seem that far.  Not like trying to get to Festival in a day or anything crazy like that.  We passed through some pretty little towns on the way of varying sizes and modernity.
Some cute churches, and everything all sweet and fabulous…  Until we encountered kilometres and kilometres of trucks all lined up in a dead stand still. For a while we thought it might be some sort of rolling blockade protest – people around here seem to be constantly protesting something.  Or perhaps they were all lined up waiting for a weighbridge station, given how politely they were all lined up on the right and letting the cars pass them.  We then came across this – the lane we had been travelling also at a dead stop of cars. Bugger, we thought – it was obviously the queue for the Polish/Lithuania border. So we pulled up behind the blue car in the photo below…  At this point, one of the truck drivers (most of whom were not in their vehicles) came over and told us to drive around.  He pointed to the licence plate of the blue car, Belarussian, and he gestured for us to go around (our vehicle obviously had Polish plates on it).  So we dutifully went around and ended up at the top of the queue: Whereupon it became obvious that we were in the middle of the military checkpoint to enter Belarus!  Which meant we were miles from where we were supposed to be, and well and truly inside the borders of Belarus! Fark! Now we knew when we set out that there were two routes to get us to Vilnius, one of which was slightly shorter and chopped through the corner of what is effectively the dictatorial presidential state of Belarus and the other which went only through the border between Poland and Lituania.  Now, guess which route yale somehow programmed into Wayz…?

The border guard came over to our car and asked us where we were going, “Vilnius,” we replied. He then asked for our passports walked away.  Then came back for the rental agreement on our vehicle walked away.  Then came back for the registration papers for the vehicle and then he walked off again for what felt like an age. While he was gone, I was Googling looking for real-time info on any known delays at the Lithuanian and coming up empty. Now because we couldn’t read any of the damn signs anywhere, it was only about this point that we realised we were at the fucking Belarus border and not the Lithuanian one!

Eek… we had no idea what was going to happen here.  We totally weren’t supposed to be in the middle of this border complex, we had no visas for Belarus (they’re difficult to acquire and expensive), and these guys obviously have complete control over what is effectively a no mans land.

Eventually, he came back.  Handed us our passports and all the paperwork and said: “You have to go back.”  Well, thank fuck for that. For all we knew there could have been serious penalties for attempting to illegally cross the Belarussian border?!  We were laughing with relief as we turned the car around and drove off… and then we got to take a bit of the scenic route through some tiny villages as we made our way back to the route we were supposed to be on in the first place if yale only weren’t ‘the reason we can’t have nice things’. The countryside was simply stunning though – there is a beautiful quality to the light here (once you get out of the cities). Honestly, I grabbed these shots out the car window as we sped past and they have not been altered or had filters added or anything. Stopped at a servo for a fortifying something something after our little run in with the Belarus Border Force guys. WWII memorial in a little town on the way. Oddly, the Polish/Lithuanian border was far more like what we had been expecting – almost non-existent.  Being both part of the Schengen Agreement, there is pretty much borderless exchange between the two countries.  We did see some guards in a jeep on the side of the road, but they weren’t doing anything at all. The delay set up back a little arriving into Vilnius, but we arrived found our B&B and got settled pretty quickly. The B&B is in an old building with massive oak beams, exposed brick and stuccoed walls and old chunky furniture, right in the middle of the city.   After our adventure just driving here today, we decided to try and find some local food for dinner.  yale scoped out this place on Trip Advisor and it had the two most desireable elements we could have asked for, 1) great reviews and 2) mega close proximity.  Because it had been a long day already. We walked in and there was a wait for a table. The restaurant didn’t appear to be very big so we were a bit disheartened and I was considering looking for other options, when it became apparent that there must be more space off to the side of the entrance and perhaps downstairs as well.  We didn’t have to wait too long for a table and were led downstairs through a veritable rabbit warren on cosy dining spaces.First things first – a drink!  This place does paddles of brandy tasting so we thought we’d give that a go. From the left, very drinkable with cherry flavours, quite sweet with honey overtones, something akin to metho, disgustingly strong liquorice shit, and slightly less strong but equally disgusting liquorice shit!  Still, most of it went down just fine.
For entrees, everything looked really good on what is an extensive menu.  We ordered a few plates to try – fried cheese with bell peppers (effectively jalapeno poppers – which seemed odd for Lithuanian cuisine, but my knowledge there is quite limited).Next we tried the ‘thick and creamy wild mushroom soup’… which I tried and exclaimed “I hate this place! Best mushroom soup I have ever had, and it’s in bloody Lithuania!”
yale also ordered a second entree of meat dumplings served with sour cream and some sort of nutty soupy broth stuff.  It was very tasty – somehow just the right amount of salty.We had finished the brandy tasting paddle and the beers etc, so yale ordered a couple of meads and a homemade vodka. On the left honey mead, the vodka (average, but we may have been spoiled of late) and some god awful herbal mead shit that was 75% alcohol! Man that stuff is strong.
Dinner consisted of venison meatballs served with spinach mashed potato, loads of beetroot and a cranberry/blueberry sauce.  Delicious. And yale had some enormous dumpling things filled with mean and drowning in a thick mushroom sauce. After dinner (and all those strong drinks) we barely managed to find our way out of the hidden tunnels of amazing foody goodness. We want to get a full day to check out Vilnius tomorrow and both of us have laundry that needed attending to so we head back to the B&B for what was supposed to be an early night but it is already getting close to midnight.  Again.

Looking forward to checking out the G-spot of Europe tomorrow.  😛

Transit to Kraków

The clock chiming outside our window woke me up this morning so I opened the blinds and had a peek outside – yet another dawn bridge (to be?) getting her photo taken in front of the clock.  You really got to ask yourself – with the amount of post-processing that the Chinese apparently like in their photographs (people photoshopped out, rubbish, pigeons, and all sorts of things erased is okay) why don’t they just use huge backdrops and shoot them in China?
Breakfast from Mozart’s Cafe which is the Grand Hotel’s restaurant… of course with clock outside the breakfast room. After breakfast, we had arranged a private transfer to the train station having discovered it was pretty much the same exorbitant rate that the rip off artist taxi drivers and Uber drivers were charging from the train station anyway… only this way we would have a fancy car and a nice man helping us with our luggage.  Worked well and we got picked up right in the pedestrian square in front of the hotel.

We arrived at the train station around 0930 for a 1024 train.  The train station is huge having been remodelled in the last decade or so and felt like a shopping mall that happened to have trains going from it – plenty of stores selling shoes, handbags, toys, books, as well as cafes etc.

Once we figured out the boards, we waited patiently for our platform to be announced.  I was getting quite concerned – it was nearly our departure time and no platform had been announced, I wasn’t looking forward to having to run for the platform with my suitcase in tow after having been standing around waiting for 50 mins…

Time was moving slowly.  We were really unsure what was going on.  No one seemed to know what was going on.  There were several delayed trains showing up on the board that were possibly holding up other services from arriving.

Eventually, our train showed a 20 minute delay and we all dutifully stood around waiting to see the board give us a platform as there might be plenty of shopping opportunities at this train station but there is very limited seating for people waiting for trains on the concourse.

When the 20 minute delay was announced, it was then that I felt we needed to find a seat.  I can’t stand around indefinitely with my stupid back pain and I really can’t do it after all the standing around on street corners listening to Martin that we did yesterday.

I ended up having a chat with Mr K back home, that went like this:

Mr K:  What train today?
RMB: None at this rate. Delayed.  No platforms on the board and we are getting rather stressed.  Krakow if it ever turns up.
Mr K:  Bugger.  I am sorry to hear that one.  Hopefully, the train ride itself is enjoyable.
RMB:  Just delayed another 20 mins. So our 10:24 train that we were here for at 09:30 is now allegedly going to leave at 11:05 and there are no seats in this entire fucking place.
Mr K:  No seats?  I don’t think people who design stations ever use them. That makes no sense. <3 Sending you love, that sounds awful.
RMB:  There’s too many people to provide enough seating.  James just hovered over some poor people until left, so I have a seat.  For now. But it’s been panicky all morning as we have come close to and seen our departure times keep lapsing.  They have no platform on the board.  So it’ll be a mad dash once they tell us.  Other trains are delayed 40, 70, 100 minutes.  So fuck knows how long before our train comes.  And that means a LATE arrival to Krakow.  Seven-hour trip. So we won’t get there until well after dark now.
Mr K:  Fuck.  That sounds terrible for you guys.  I can’t imagine how stressful that is. :'(  Travel days!  Did you at least get a decent nights sleep?
RMB: It’s fucking public transport is what it is.  We’d be dealing with none of this shit if we had been able to keep a hire car to take into Eastern Europe.  Yes and no on the sleep.  Lots of yahooing in the square over football matches or some such shit.
MrK:  Yes I am sure every delay has a little twinge of painful due to the car hire situation.  Would annoy me.
RMB:  So they only just made the announcement that our train is now 50mins late.  But that 50 mins is up in 2 mins, so I guess it will then go in a queue for another late announcement after all the other late announcements.
RMB: That column on the right shows how late the trains are.  Photo was taken 20 minutes ago.
Mr K: That is a difficult board to read
RMB:  The platforms are the second last column.  So we’ve been standing around for about 45 minutes waiting for a platform only to start seeing the delays.
RMB:  90 minute delay now.
Mr K:  Your story is not getting any better here  :'(
RMB: I am aware.  We could have had a midday check out from the fancy hotel.  Instead, we rushed out by 9am.  :/  This is a bit balls.  We have just heard that one trains has been replaced with a bus service.  Hopefully that was a domestic route.  But we are looking at flight options in case our train is cancelled all togheter.
Mr K:  <3
RMB:  You want to know how stressful this is for everyone?  Some guys is literally having an epileptic seizure right near us.  He’s on the ground and people are tendering first aid and calling emergency services.
Mr K.  No, I have a fair idea. but that is a bit full on.

And so on and so forth.  There really was an unfortunate gentleman having a seizure right near us. He seemed well attended by family, and people were on the phones presumably for ambulance etc, but I did see someone who obviously worked for the train station walk right past the situation without doing anything or calling for assistance.

By the time we were done we had been waiting for nearly two hours.  The poor man had his seizure only minutes before our gate was finally announced.

In the interim we had people of varying proficiency sititng down to play this nearby piano.  It was in equal parts delightful and atrocious.
At one point a well dressed lady on her phone sat down on the piano stool with no intention to play the piano and was patently ignoring the dirty looks people were giving her for using the stool for a seat and not playing (station’s fault really for not providing enough seating and many were sitting on the floor), until some kids came along and started mashing the keys incoherently which eventually forced her to relinquish her position so she could stay on her call.  Gotta love kids – they don’t care.

Then predictably our platform was posted without notice and it was a mad dash to make it to the platform.  Given the delays we had no idea how long it was going to wait around to load passengers. We get up to the platform and see the signage is telling us that yes, this is the train to Krakow. Our previously posted 90 minute delay was now showing a 110 minute delay, so we found ourselves standing around on the platform with a bunch of Czech people who looked confused. I spoke with them and they said they didn’t think this was actually the train to Krakow. FFS.  They seemed to have a slightly better knowledge of what was happening than we did – so I thought we’d stick with them until we were sure this was our train… last thing we needed after over two hours of waiting was to get on a train going somewhere else!

They spoke with a lady who was cleaning the train who told them the train was not going to the town they wanted which was on the way to Krakow, so they thought it wasn’t the right train. Then another lady came along and said it was the train to Krakow but that the crew hadn’t arrived yet (How the fuck could the crew to drive/service the train not be there? We had been waiting for over two hours?!).

On the platforms, we could no longer hear the PA system’s recorded announcements telling us what was going on with the delays or final boarding calls anymore.  So confusion reigned for everyone – tourists and locals alike.  Eventually someone came along and said that this was definitely the right train and it was definitely going to Krakow and we sort of went… ‘Well, ok then’ and boarded the train, still somewhat unsure of what the hell is going on.
We settled into our compartment and were hoping for the best.  Two people came along to talk to us, neither of whom spoke English so we were still a bit ‘Errr…?’ until about 20 mins into the journey a conductor came along asking for tickets.  We handed over our ticket and she didn’t express any alarm about us being on the wrong train so we took that for a good sign.  

Finally felt like we could relax a bit and just let this damn train journey happen.  yale went down to the dining car and found some Happy Hour ciders at just 55kr each (about $1.60) and I was starting to feel like maybe this won’t be so bad.  We are at least on our way. The next six hours passed in a blur of forrest and small towns with the occasional stop to not pick up anyone and seemingly not really to let anyone off.  The train was more than half empty so I have no idea how this is at all profitable to run.

I spent most of the day catching up on my post about our stupidly ambitious Prague walking tour.  That and drinking more cider.

Some late afternoon views as we were heading closer to Krakow. So, we know we are going to arrive into Krakow station a full two hours late.  Yay!  Which means that we had been on the phone from the train trying to make sure that our hire car would still be able to be picked up.  We were concerned that their office may have been closed.  Turns out that was an impossibility, they don’t have an office, they have a guy who meets people at a pickup point in the main carpark to hand over keys and sign paperwork so we had the hire car main office people trying to track him down to make sure he could meet us in the carpark still.

We got off the station and discovered that there were signs leading to airports, connecting buses, taxis, a shopping centre, but do you think we could find our way out of there to a carpark?  Any carpark?  We were going up and down the levels of the terminal building looking for signs to a carpark when I nearly got cleaned up by a suitcase that someone had let go of, on an escalator.  A young woman with a 60cm roller suitcase had stepped onto the escalator with her suitcase in front of her and must have either let go of it thinking it’d be fine or lost control of it, because yale grabbed my bag and hurried off the escalator backwards and yelled at me to get out of the way as this large suitcase was flipping down the stairs end over end heading right for us!  FUN!  A loudly spoken, cow/sheep wrangling American managed to stop the runaway bag from doing any damage, but the heart rate was up!

We did eventually manage to find a ‘P’ for parking sign that led us out to a rooftop car park hat extended in every direction for almost as far as you could se.  Bugger.  How are we going to find the meeting point here?  Even Google maps didn’t help us – it was showing several rental car meeting points.  yale left me with the bags and went to scout out the probable location, at which point I was like, is this wise?  I’m here with two bags I can’t carry, and a few big boofy looking Polish dudes standing around shooting the breeze looking rather bored.  Hmmm…

Anyway, he didn’t walk far and came back to get me.  We went to the meeting point and ran into some hapless South Africans who had been waiting nearly an hour for their appointed meeting to actually occur and what little energy I had for dealing with transit crap just fled. They said our guy had been there earlier but had left.  So we waited no t knowing how long the dude would be or if he would turn up at all… we were only able to contact the head office people?!

Eventually he turned up.  Hoo-fucking-ray.  And they did the paperwork in the half dark and we got our car. It was nearly 8pm now and we had expected to be doing al lthis around 5pm.  So by the time we got our stuff loaded into the car and drove the 10 minutes to the hotel we were shattered.  Dinner?  Oh bother.  Should have grabbed something on the way.  We ended up doing something I find positively abhorrent and used Uber Eats to just ‘find food’.  It was nigh on 10pm by the time we had something to eat.

Long stupid transit day, done.  Urgh.