Europe’s largest market square and bands on the roof…Krakow

From 8pm-3am, six days a week, the same soviet style blue van pulls up next to the kerb in a suburb just outside Krakow old town. The two men get out of the van each night, dressed in white coats like butchers or doctors, and without talking to each other, cook up hundreds of delicious traditional kielbasa (polish sausages) for passers-by. The huge banger is cooked over a wood fire, and served up with a bread roll and a dollop of mustard.. This was polish fast food at its finest, and the que of ten people in front of us let us know we had found a winner…

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Dumplings in a new old town…Warsaw

Possibly the best place in Warsaw to watch the world go by is on the monument steps opposite the royal palace. From here you can watch the bored novelty balloon sellers trying to sell the helium filled angry birds, nervous looking Mormons on religious converting missions, over enthusiastic tour guides hawking for business and even the odd irritated local weaving through them all, all set against a backdrop of a grand palace, cobbled streets and even a river beyond. There may be nicer places to spend an afternoon in Warsaw, but I’m not sure if we found them…

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Snuff, Solidarity and Hitler’s bunkers…Gdansk and the wolfs lair

Nothing helps you to get to know a country like turning up at 6am on an overnight bus, after getting barely any sleep. This was the case with Poland, for us. I naively thought that perhaps we might have a problem finding somewhere open for a coffee at the early hour, but no. All the bakery kiosks were open and all the buses had been running a full timetable since 4am! It was as busy at 6am in G’dansk as it would have been at 9am in any city in the UK…the Polish early starting and solid work ethic was in clear view and we were glad of it…for the caffeine hit at least!

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A castle on an island and a republic of artists…Vilnius

Sitting, sipping beer on the grass, in the evening sun, we learnt that we’d missed a few “hipster” trends in the almost year and half we’d been travelling. Firstly hot dogs with heaps of toppings were in, you were no one if you didn’t have a top knot and you weren’t in vogue unless you had a pet husky (in Lithuania anyways)! We had managed to find a very cool weekend food market, with lots of the best restaurants in town setting up a stand to sell take away delights to a cool Lithuanian crowd. There was even a DJ to soundtrack proceedings and don’t worry, he was of course supporting a top knot of his own. It was great to see a real side of Vilnius, and locals who were enjoying their city, we even managed to talk to a few of them… except they lived in St.Albans not Lithuania… Either way, the city gave a great first impression!

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Sand, sea and a lagoon…The Coronian Spit

With Russia to the south, a lagoon towards the mainland and the Baltic out to sea, the Coronian Spit is a unique corner of Lithuania and Northern Europe. The spit itself is not only a beautiful national park, intertwined with cycle and walking paths, but also a UNESCO world heritage site due to the ever shifting sand-dunes which make it. The area is also a draw for german tourists (let’s be honest where isn’t), who come in search of the summer-house of Thomas Mann, a famous german writer, situated in the small town of Nida. This town is also where we stayed for our trip to the spit, in one of the most difficult to find guesthouses this journey had yet thrown us…don’t worry we eventually did.

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Castles in the woods and daisies in the beard…Sigulda and Liepaja

Since moving to Australia and then travelling through Asia we had not seen spring for many years. It felt like in Perth (where we lived) spring maybe lasted a week before the scorching summer sun came out! So to see blossom, the light green of new leaves on the trees and wild flowers growing amongst the hedgerows was lovely. To celebrate the fact we made daisy chains in the sun and filled Ryan’s beard with as many flowers as it could hold…travelling had changed us into flower power hippies, at least for a little while in the Latvian countryside!

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Pickled vegetables in a zeppelin hanger…Riga

As we rolled into the Latvian capital of Riga, the sun was shinning and there seemed to be flowers everywhere. Not only were all the parks and gardens choc a block with multicoloured tulips and pansies, but there seemed to be flower sellers on every corner, or someone clutching a bunch. So we discovered Latvians like flowers…we were also to discover they like pickled vegetables, smoked meats and drunkenly fighting at bus stops (obviously not all Latvians, just two gentlemen in particular) but that was all to come!

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