Friday, July 5, 2013

The OM-D Visits Europe - Part 2 (Poland)

Taking a stroll in Mielec, Olympus 45mm 1.8 @ f/2.8


This is part two of my visit to Europe, in part one, I told you the story about my visit to Stockholm, I encourage you to read it if you like travel photography and stories. In this post I will show you lots of pictures from my visit to Poland.

THE FLIGHT

As I described in part one, I went to Europe on a business trip, I spent the first two days in Stockholm, then took a plane to Krakow on the third day. We used Norwegian airlines, and the flight was a bad experience, the plane smelled really bad, I had an aisle seat, and both the passengers to my left (an old Polish couple) kept getting on and off their seats, three times in total, add to that the high level of noise caused by everyone talking loudly at the same time, and the strong smell of wine the couple to my left were drinking, and you can imagine how I was feeling, sick. BTW: as a Muslim, I don't drink alcohol, and it's not sold in 95% of the restaurants and shops in Egypt, so I am not used to seeing or smelling it.

Mielec, an industrial town in Poland, with most of the population having jobs in factories

Anyway, I could have just described the flight as a local bus taking a few locals to their home town, that's how it felt to me. We arrived around noon, a car was waiting for us to take us to the town we'll be staying at for a couple of days, it's a small industrial town called "Mielec" (which is pronounced as "Mielets"), two and a half hours away from Krakow's airport. The car that took us was a turbo-diesel Skoda Superb, during my stay in Stockholm, I noticed that a very large percentage of the cars were diesel powered, but I didn't expect the same in Poland, my second observation was that it had a ridoncoulously (have you watched the movie "Bolt"?) large boot, it easily fit all three of our large travel bags, and four small handbags with ease, wow.

Third observation was the manual transmission, this is not a cheap car, and it looks no older than one or two years old, and it has all sorts of options installed, so why the manual transmission? In Egypt, the only new cars sold with manual transmission are the very basic models of certain brands, so that they can be affordable, and there are a lot of new cars that don't have the option of manual transmission at all, anyway, our driver didn't speak English so I wasn't able to ask him. Fourth observation was the main highway we drove on, it was very modern and clean, I didn't expect that, the speed limit was 140 km/h. Sometimes, I noticed brick or plastic side-walls installed to the sides of the road, I wondered why, and I got the answers later.

Scenery during the car trip was fascinating, huge plains of green everywhere, nice looking houses with slanted roofs that I only see in movies, and every house had a large green garden surrounding the place, they looked very cozy and full of family warmth. I wanted to have a place like this. In Cairo, all of the buildings are just blocky looking, and very close to each other, but I believe most major cities are like this, and it gets more relaxed on the countryside.

All the time during our car trip, I saw houses like this

DAY ONE & HOTEL ATENA

We reached the hotel around 3 pm, and to my pleasure, the hotel looked just like those houses that fascinated me, it was a two story house, with the reception and the restaurant on the lower floor, and the rooms on the top floor. It looked very cozy and warm, totally opposite to what I felt in Stockholm, the hotel there (and the whole town as well) was very modern, but had a no-nonsense feeling to it, everything was practical, but cold feeling.

The hotel was just a two star hotel, my room didn't have state of the art facilities, TV, air conditioner, bath, alarm clock, smart key, etc..., nor was it as large as the one in Stockholm, but I felt much happier there, and I actually didn't mind spending time in my room, and for the first time in my life I found a hotel that used light fixtures in the ceiling, what a relief, at least there is some hotel owner in this world that understands that people need good lighting in their rooms, what is it with all the other hotels just featuring a couple of small lights on the walls and one on the side of the bed?

Below are some shots of the hotel and its surroundings.

My room, captured with the Galaxy S4, it's a bit dark because I didn't want to blow the highlights in the window


Hotel surroundings

Breakfast on day 2



Immediately after check-in, me and my colleague unpacked our bags, took a bath, had our lunch at the hotel. Then we took a quick nap before heading outside to discover the town. Sunset was not as late as in Stockholm, but it was still quite late at around 9 pm, our stroll was late, and the sun was getting down fast.

Mielec turned out to be a very quite and lovely town, as I said before, it is an industrial town, and most of the people living there had some job or another related to the factories around town. During our walk we saw a few cars, motor bikes and a few cyclists, the surroundings were very quiet, there were green plains surrounding us everywhere, and those lovely looking houses, indeed it was a very enjoyable stroll, calm and serene.

We were hungry, and we weren't sure the hotel restaurant would be still open when we returned, we looked for some place to eat, but we saw no people around to ask, so we tried looking for a restaurant and didn't succeed. Later on we found a large market, and we went in to buy something to eat, but we didn't have any money, only credit card. We were told that everywhere in Europe accepted credit cards, so before picking anything up, we asked the lady at the cashier if they accepted credit, but we found out they don't speak English, bummer, that was our first interaction with a Polish citizen apart from the driver and the hotel staff who spoke acceptable English, so we show her the credit card and she shakes her head "no", double bummer. Then before leaving, we asked her about a nearby restaurant. Now, you must be wondering how, didn't I just say she didn't speak English? Well, you see, sometimes I see people in real life and on TV who don't speak a common language, and each one of them insists on continuing to speak despite the zero probability that the other party will understand. I didn't think that would happen to me, but it did, I kept talking in English insisting on my question about the restaurant, and the girl kept replying in Polish and saying stuff I didn't understand! If I was an outside observer, I would laugh at my stupidity, but anyway, I remembered I saw the word "Restauracia" on the outside of the hotel's restaurant, so I asked her saying that word and moving my hands as an exclamation, she shook her head "no".



Our savior, the petrol station's mini-market


Outside we go and continue our quest for food, we reached the petrol station you see above, it had a mini-market selling drinks and stuff, we asked if they accepted credit, and once again the girl didn't understand English, but I noticed the credit machine. We bought some soft drinks, water and chocolate, and went back to the hotel. When we got back, we discovered that the restaurant is open till 11 pm, so we ordered a couple of pizzas, and had our dinner "outdoors" on the table in front of the restaurant.

Outdoor section of the restaurant, a very serene place at night

Below are some of my favorite pictures I took during the stroll:

A Bicycle

A Motorbike

And, a car


DAY TWO

The next day, one of our hosts picked us to the factory with his car, a recent model manual transmission Nissan Qashqai, that's two cars now. We attended a few meetings, then we headed for lunch at 12 pm, just like in Sweden, we went to an Italian restaurant, but not knowing what exactly to order from the menu, and that there is no halal meat or chicken, we went for the safe choice and ordered a pizza, turns out the small pizza size is as small as a round dining table, me and my friend shared one and we took the other one as a takeaway.

When we finished the working hours, me and my colleague decided to return to the hotel on foot, it was just a 15 minute walk. The factory is located in a large industrial zone, they told us this place was used to manufacture fighter planes for the Soviet Union during the world war, anyway, we lost our way inside and seemed to enter a restricted area, a guard came running towards us and shouting in Polish, of course we understood nothing, and cue the TV show, again I kept trying to explain the situation and ask him about the exit in English, and he kept on blabbering in Polish, and at the end he just pointed us to go back where we came from, and we found our way back.

The Industrial Zone, or "Zone Industrille" as Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed would have called it


That day we had dinner with our hosts at 7 pm, they picked a very nice restaurant for the dinner, and everyone had a nice meal. Below are a couple of pictures from that restaurant.

Restaurant's Entrance

Pond Decoration

What's "sheep's cheese" anyway? And with apple?



THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT POLAND

Now I would like to tell you a few things I learned from our hosts about Poland that I didn't know before:
  • EU: I didn't know Poland was part of the EU, turns out they joined the EU in 2004, and as I was told, the EU provided Poland with funds to develop the country's infrastructure, that's why I was impressed with the highway we traveled on.
  • Road Side-Walls: remember these side-walls I talked about at the beginning? Turns out they are built there to prevent road noise from reaching the road sides according to the highway building code. I also learned that people didn't appreciate it that much, especially that it increased highway building costs, and blocked an otherwise very nice view.
  • Manual Transmission: turns out manual transmission is favored by the Polish people, old habits from the olden days, they told me they didn't trust automatic transmissions and preferred to have complete control of the cars, and if you had an automatic transmission car, you will have a hard time selling it.
  • Sparkled Water: I forgot to tell you about this in part one, but for some reason, people drink this thing in place of normal water, I had this bottle in my hotel room in Stockholm, and I have to say, it tastes bloody awful. In Poland, I made a mistake and bought this water instead of normal water, yuck, why does it exist?


POLISH LANGUAGE

Polish Language: I was very intrigued with the Polish language, it mostly used the English alphabet, but it had some puzzling letter combinations that twisted my mind, how would you pronounce something like this:
  • Jak się masz?
  • Co słychać?
  • Dobry wieczór
  • Cześć
  • Do zobaczenia


It was curious for me to have something written in letters that you know, but you can't pronounce the words at all, so I turned to our Polish hosts for help, and help they provided. They taught me the basics of reading Polish (I didn't want to learn words, I just wanted to be able to read it correctly), and I had lots of fun trying to read anything written around us in Polish, and they would help me read it correctly.

At the end, I found it an interesting language that I would like to learn one day, oh , and I was able to read 80% of the stuff i see correctly in less than 48 hours of tutoring.

P.S. Are you still wondering how the above words are pronounced? I found this link that provides just the required sources to enable you to read correctly, go have fun.

P.P.S. "cz" is pronounced "ch", "sz" is pronounced "sh" and "rz" is pronounced "j", oh, and the "w" is pronounced a "v".


KRAKOW

We left Mielec at 2 pm next day, and we arrived at Krakow almost two hours later, we stayed at an hotel called "Wielopole" in the middle of Krakow. Now Krakow is a touristic city, its main attraction is a place called Main Market Square, it's a huge open area containing lots of old buildings, churches, a flee market, a zillion restaurants and all sorts of shops, all in one very large place. Also very near is a huge shopping mall that's typical everywhere in the world, all the famous international brands are there, and a nice food court as well.

Main Market Square, see all those yellow tents in the distance? These are restaurants surrounding the whole square


We arrived in Krakow on Friday, so it was a weekend, and that night when we went there, it was crazily crowded with very loud people having all sorts of fun, it was just crazy, nothing like I have seen before, there were light shows, music shows, crowded bars and restaurants, everything a party person would love, but I am not such a person. We had a quick tour because it was dark, then we had dinner in one of the surrounding restaurants, and went back to sleep.


Next day, we had a free day, but it was a weekend and I wanted to visit a camera store that closed early, so we went looking for that first, I knew this shop from dpreview forums, and when I visited their website, I found good prices. I know I shouldn't go to these places to avoid triggering my gear acquisition lust, but I already knew what I wanted, I wasn't seduced by any of the shiny lenses or camera bodies there, but I was interested in a carbon fiber tripod, so I went there and had a look at the tripods they had, and picked out one I liked, I got the model number and promised to come next day and take it after reviewing the interwebz. But I will leave that to another post.

I could summarize my stay in Krakow in one paragraph, I was intimated by all the old buildings and churches everywhere in Krakow, some looked just old, and others looked scary and reminded me of old Roman castles (Dracula?), you wouldn't want to spend your night in one of those buildings alone, you'd die of fear right then. I visited the market square and got bored very quickly, especially that it was crowded and I hate crowded places, then I went to the shopping mall four times and made all my shopping there, full stop.

You wouldn't want to wake up and find yourself here

Or here

Or here

SHOW ME THE PHOTOS

Because we had a lot of free time in Krakow, I was able to dedicate some time to take street photos, but I didn't want to capture the crowds, the photos would just be meaningless, below are some select photos.

Main Market Square Streets

In Color

Lots of different looking trains, this is an old looking one

Another old one

A modern train

Intersection

This door attracted me, it looked like something Neil VN would use

I instructed my friend to walk past the door, and captured this image



And before I end this post, I would like to tell you something about the hotel in Krakow, it was more modern than the one in Mielec, but it was not as home-y, and the rooms were very very small and tight, and when I opened the window I found this view:

Window View, at least it has some colors for the image

Zoomed window view


And finally, a snap taken with my Galaxy S4 that I like very much, that phone is great.

Garden Chair, Samsung Galaxy S4

I hope you've enjoyed this series, in the coming posts, I will talk about my tripod, and next I will pick a couple of photos from this series and show you how I processed them in Adobe Lightroom.


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The OM-D Visits Europe - Part 1 (Stockholm)
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Fayoum Desert Trip - Part 2
Fayoum Desert Trip - Part 3