I’ve always enjoyed travelling by train, especially when the journey virtually takes you door to door. Wroclaw Glowny – the main station – is a short tram ride from my hotel. Whilst the exterior is certainly striking, it’s only once you get inside that you see the grandeur of the place.
In most place where railways arrived, the companies running them came with investment. A grand station showed that you had money to spend and passengers were treated well. Wroclaw central is no exception – dating back to 1857, the building was extended in 1899 by the German Empire.
The impressive booking hall still boasts wood lined ticket booths, these days divided between the state operator PKP and a second company run by the regional goivernment. And for less than £20, I have a first class ticket to Krakow. The train is modern enough, but first class today is limited to half of one carriage, annoyingly divided into six seater compartments.
Now on the one hand, the romantic notion of a compartment shared by six strangers conjures up an image of Hercule Poirot suddenly appearing to announce that there’s been a murder. The reality is somewhat less romantic. A middle aged couple speak only at the start and the end of the journey, basically announcing the stations we’ve left, have yet to pass through, or have arrived at. A younger woman stares endlessly into her laptop, while another man appears to be engrossed in Game of Thrones.
None of this is remarkable, but the train doesn’t have working Wi-Fi, and as far as my phone is concerned, there’s nothing stronger than a 3G signal. How they’re managing to make the tech work is beyond me. And cramping six seats into such a small space hardly gives the impression of this being a first class experience.
Out of the window urban Wroclaw gives way to a large railway yard and, eventually, rural Poland; characterised in this part of the country with fiends of crops, shall settlements and the occasional church building. And while the main cities of Katowice and Krakow have equally imprissive stations, intermediate stops are definitely more functional. On a rainy Friday afternoon you wonder who actually uses them.
Approaching Krakow, the familiar industrial furniture of a big city returns, and passengers prepare to disembark – many with far more items of luggage than a single person can possibly carry. But it all seems to be a clear symbol that Poland’s railways are cheap and accessible to many. Krakow’s main station feels as busy as any I’ve visited in London.
It’s time to check out a new city.