Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2005/13 posted by hidden europe on

Stopping off in Kraków on our way back from Ukraine, we headed as often before for the Hotel Saski, a mid range place just off the square. There we were distraught to find that one of the hotel's two principal attractions has retired. The splendidly whiskered Mr Jósef Pietruska, an old style concierge with gold embroidered uniforms and a manner to match always looked as though he had graced the foyer of the Saski since it was called the Hotel de Saxe back in the 1920s.

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Dear fellow travellers

Isn't it interesting how sometimes when travelling, you really fall back on the basics of life? Away from the distractions and comforts of home, we are always reminded of the importance of food, water and shelter. Well, modern Ukraine is anything but primitive, but travelling through the country last week, with a string of days at 30°C plus, even the hidden europe team was beginning to flag. Cold showers, crisp cotton sheets and colourful salads textured our dreams while by day we savoured Ukraine's religious diversity (from Armenian ritual to onion domed Greek Catholic churches and a rich array of Hasidim), the best vareniki in the world and the splendid inefficiency of a staggering bureaucracy. The latter really had us beat, when it came to trying to procure train tickets out of the country. As the luxury of kupeyny sleepers slipped from the horizon, we made do with platzkartny, where local colour complemented simplicity and the satisfaction that we were getting a taste of a great Ukrainian tradition. Whether we would ever have managed to secure any tickets at all without the help of our friend Slav in L'viv is quite doubtful. Slav's native intuition was just what was needed to ride the roller coaster of the Ukrainian Railways booking system, so we're delighted to add this modest plug for his company, Lviv Ecotour (www.lvivecotour.com).

Kraków style

Stopping off in Kraków on our way back from Ukraine, we headed as often before for the Hotel Saski, a mid range place just off the square. There we were distraught to find that one of the hotel's two principal attractions has retired. The splendidly whiskered Mr Jósef Pietruska, an old style concierge with gold embroidered uniforms and a manner to match always looked as though he had graced the foyer of the Saski since it was called the Hotel de Saxe back in the 1920s. The retirement of this handsome octogenarian means that the Saski loses a little of its colour, but thankfully the hotel's other star attraction is still in daily service. That's the magnificent ornate lift which still somehow defies gravity to edge its way up to the top floor. A masterpiece of engineering and embellished design, the Saski's elevator is said to be even older than Mr Pietruska. May they both prove to be immortal!

Guinness in the Faroes

We've had no end of summer snippets from readers who have sent us news of their travels around hidden Europe. Few to match that from Mr Ted Richards, though, who is punctuating his travels through Europe by drinking a pint of Guinness in every capital on the continent. That's more than six gallons of Guinness in all! Sad to report that draft Guinness isn't the norm in the Faroes, but luckily Ted was able to track down a few cans covertly imported from Denmark. The pint of the Irish black stuff consumed, the next city name was drawn out of the hat, so Ted is now bound for Vilnius in Lithuania, where draft Guinness is surely as rare as in the Faroes.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.