September 2013. It was finally happening…After the chaos of the original Eurotrip A-Team (from An Unusual Latvian Bathroom), 3 of the original 5 members were reuniting deep in the heart of Eastern Europe. We had been looking for a reason to reunite, and the travel bug had bitten us again. Matt, the fun-loving international sales rep and the original Faceman, was headed to Amsterdam from San Francisco for a conference in mid-September. My little brother, Logan, the wacky life of the party and the original Murdoch, had been working his ass off and definitely needed a break from the ho-humdrum of the Bay Area. Unfortunately, Brian (the original B.A. Baracus) and Julia were busy traipsing the globe on other adventures and work, so the Eurotrip A-Team would be 2 members short, but we could definitely make it work. After a false alarm, when we tried to plan the trip for end of July 2013 so that my good buddy Roland (from The British Firestarter In Amsterdam and A Shanghai Summer Olympic Romance from Shanghai could try to join us, we settled on early September 2013. Late enough to miss peak season crowds and high ticket prices, but still warm enough so we could see cute European girls that weren’t totally bundled up in fur. The destination? The quaint cobblestone streets of Old Town in Krakow, Poland and the mysterious depths of the former Soviet republic: THE UKRAINE. Matt, Logan, and myself would be spending 3 nights in Krakow, Poland, fly to Odessa, Ukraine for 3 nights there, then Matt would take off for his conference while Logan and I continued exploring The Ukraine for another week.
Some of you may be asking yourselves, “Why the hell did you go to The Ukraine?” That’s a totally normal question, one that we also got from quite a few Ukrainians and Poles during our trip. Simple answer? We wanted to visit Chernobyl, get irradiated, and develop mutant powers. Just kidding! The true answer? Between, Matt, Logan, and myself, we’d already hit most of the major cities and countries in Western Europe and over 45+ countries, so we were looking for something really exotic that not that many people had been to. Also, the tickets to and from Poland and The Ukraine were pretty cheap, along with the cost of living there, and at least for my brother and myself (Matt had gotten himself a serious girlfriend), we had to see if everything we had heard about Polish and Ukrainian girls was true. The reputation for Eastern European women, and especially Ukrainian girls, as being total hotties was a thing of legend. It was the sort of urban legend that’s passed along in stories by world-traveling bachelors, James Bond films, and other crazy anecdotes. Matt’s sister, who worked in fashion, once told us that like half the models that they had hired were from the Ukraine. That was reason enough to go. But the truth was, NONE of us knew anyone who had actually been to The Ukraine and barely anyone we knew had been to Poland. It was time to discover the truth. Oh yeah, and we wanted to take in the culture/see churches/museums/sights/yada yada yada. ☺
And so it was that after a frantic 2-weeks of last minute planning over Facebook with Matt and Logan, I landed in Warsaw International Airport. After a ridiculous painfully long flight, involving a fun but exhausting 10 hour stopover in NYC en route to Poland, I breezed through customs, bought myself a SIM card, took out about $200 worth of Polish zlot currency from an ATM, and awaited the arrival of the 2nd A-Team member, Matt. As Matt tiredly came through the international arrivals gate, I held high a sign with the word “FACEMAN” written in big letters and blasted the theme song from The A-Team on full volume, while all the Polish chauffeurs, family members, and other people next to me looked on in confusion. Matt immediately spotted me, slunk over embarrassed, gave me a big hug, and said “Dude, good to see you! What the hell man, put that junk away!” I had to excuse myself for being a little too excited to get The Eurotrip A-Team: REDUX started. We glanced around, and quickly realized (not for the last time) that we were probably the only Asian Americans around. Matt and I had a nice catch-up lunch in a nearby Polish restaurant, because we had barely seen each other since our last trip to Croatia in June 2012, and then hopped a quick 2-hr train ride to Krakow. We flew into Warsaw because ticket prices were much cheaper to fly there instead of Krakow, but were bailing out immediately to Krakow since it was supposed to be a funner party center and much more scenic. Logan would be arriving the next day on Friday and meeting us a day later in Krakow.
Finally, after settling into our nice 2-BR AirBnB apartment on the outskirts of Old Town and showering/cleaning up, we immediately hit the gorgeous Old Town streets of Krakow for some dinner and a Thursday night on the town. Too excited to let jet-lag seep in, we were excited to see what Poland’s cultural capital had to offer us. As we wandered the gorgeous cobble-stoned streets of Krakow, with its multiple cafes, horse-drawn carriages, and classic Eastern European architecture, surrounding a stunning Town Hall, we were reminded why Europe rocked: Gorgeous surroundings, parties that never ended, a totally exotic skyline, and even more exotic people! Krakow was like a cross between Old Town Prague, Czech Republic, and Old Town Tallinn, Estonia. It had managed to escape most of the destruction and bombings in World War II and the invasion of the Nazis, and had survived intact for all of us to enjoy. Matt and I had a nice dinner at a Georgian (the former USSR republic, not the US state) restaurant, realized that we basically couldn’t tell the difference between Georgian and Polish food, and then headed off to our first clubbing stop: CIEN! It was supposed to be Krakow’s HOTTEST club, and we were determined to hit it and rip up the dance floor to celebrate our arrival in Europe. We had been given some good advice from some Polish friends of friends, and had already signed up on a bunch of guestlists for all the Krakow lounges and clubs, so we were set for the weekend. Or so we thought.
As Matt and I pulled up to the guestlist line of Cien, with barely anybody in line because it was around 11 pm and almost nobody showed up to party in Eastern Europe before midnight, we were psyched to see the crazy clubs we had always heard about. We avoided the plentiful street promoters on the way yelling, “Girls? Girls? Tittie bar? Wanna see girls and have fun?” and made a beeline to Cien. No, thank you very much, we didn’t need strippers when we were headed to Krakow’s HOTTEST club! With images of cavernous clubs filled with pounding electronica music and strobe lights flashing off the bodies of leather-clad Eastern Europe lingerie models, greased up midgets, and drugged-out unicorns in our heads, we gave our names to the guestlist girl and prepared to experience the party of a lifetime. Then the Polish guestlist girl scanned the guestlist, shook her head, looked at us innocently and said “Sorry, you aren’t on list. It’s private party now. Maybe you come back after 1 am, and we let some other people in then!” Little did we know it, but The Eurotrip A-Team had just gotten SERVED and had its first experience with FACE CONTROL!
So I should probably explain what Face Control is for all those of you who are confused. You should look it up on UrbanDictionary.com, but essentially it’s a term first started a few years back to refer to the ridiculous door policy at exclusive clubs and lounges, most notably in Moscow and Russia, that was designed to keep “undesirables” out. “Undesirables” could mean anybody: drunk stag/bachelor parties with no girls, poorly dressed nerds, smelly homeless guys, ugly fat chicks, but over time Face Control came to be associated with any door policy at clubs that was designed to keep foreigners/ex-pats/travelers out. This was just the first of many MANY episodes of Face Control, and it became a running joke to us after awhile. To be fair, we weren’t sure we had actually gotten Face Controlled that night. The Cien guestlist girl sweetly explained that the guestlist website we had signed up on had been having some problems lately, and so they had been missing names lately. A convenient excuse we accepted for now, but we found it suspicious over that weekend that we happened to be on the guestlist for a lot of other lounges and clubs that weren’t A-list material, but never made it onto the Cien guestlist.
Luckily, Matt and I made it into Krakow’s SECOND hottest club nearby, Frantic. More strip club promoters jumped in our way, trying to dissuade us from that club, with more cries of “Tittie bar? Girls? Titties?” We deftly side-stepped them, got into Frantic, threw back some drinks and beer, and danced away the night in the modern white Art Deco depths of that happening Krakow lounge. Brian and I were amused by the fact that (a) Thursday was Ladies Night and the ratio was awesome (b) Poles seemed to have the same dancing style (Frantic) as the club name, and one girl head-banged and thrashed her head so hard that her hair ended up in Matt’s beer, and (c) for some bizarre reason, almost all Krakow bars and lounges seemed to be built into intimate tiny cellars. I spotted a total doe-eyed booty-shaking cutie brunette, whom I never got the nerve to talk to, that we came to call Polish Ariana Grande. She was the standard for Eastern European hottieness, and we thought girls couldn’t possibly be cuter. But we had no idea what was waiting in The Ukraine. After a fun first night, we walked back home and passed out in our beds, eager for the arrival of my brother Logan, the 3rd A-Team member. Barring our first Face Control experience, it was an awesome first night in Eastern Europe.
The next day, Matt and I took in the awe-inspiring sights of Old Town Krakow, which were even more beautiful in the daytime. We were joking that the strip club promoters didn’t seem to be around to bug us, but maybe they were busy working side-jobs selling tours in the streets instead of strippers, and once the sun went down we would get harassed again. Two Asian guys walking around Poland get a lot of attention, but I’m not sure why we looked like we always needed strippers. As we strolled the streets of Old Town Krakow, I got a text message from my Polish and Austrian girl friends, Kristiana and Hannah, old friends of mine who were training & driving down to meet us to join us for a weekend of partying. They had their own apartment they had rented in Krakow, and we were excited to join forces and tear up Krakow on a Friday/Saturday night. For the rest of the day, we wandered the cobblestone streets of Old Town, explored the nooks and crannies of the old Jewish Ghetto, Kazimierz, did a fun underground tour of the old ruins & catacombs of Krakow’s Town Hall, and leisurely strolled around the beautiful grounds of Krakow’s main tourist attraction: Wawel Hill. With audio guides in hand, we toured Wawel Hill’s beautiful Royal Residences, their ancient Arsenal/Armory, and the mysterious limestone cave of the Dragon’s Den. After a nice bro-mance dinner date over some not-so great mussels at a Jewish ghetto French bistro, Zazie Bistro, we passed out for a late afternoon and were awoken by the ding-dong sound of the doorbell: Logan had arrived! Following multiple bro chest thumps and hugs, dirty jokes, and comments on how ridiculous Eastern Europe was, Logan passed out for a quick post-travel nap, while Matt and I showered for Friday night and Kristiana and Hannah arrived in Krakow. I knew then and there that this group was a killer combination and ish was about to get REAL.
Matt and I quickly got dressed, I brusquely kicked Logan out of bed, and we had a quick and classic dinner of falafel and doner kebabs, while once again somersaulting past and ninja-jumping around the multiple strip club touts handing out flyers yelling out “You from America? Wanna see girls? Tittie bar? Need some company? Tittie bar? Tits?” We joined up with Kristiana and Hannah at a nearby café. Introductions were made all around, and then we decided to skip the Face Control of Cien and head to some more chill lounges and bars in Old Town. Since Frantic and its fun next door neighbor, Shakers, had humongous lines already, we went to nearby Goraczka, meaning “Fever” in Polish. Goraczka had no cover, no lines, and was like the sweaty, hoodrat, sluttier sister-bar version of Frantic and Shakers, but we didn’t care. The five of us somehow squeezed into a free table in the cellar of that bump & grinding brick dance bar, and with the hip-hop/Euro-hop blasting, we downed drinks, danced, and welcomed Logan, Kristiana, and Hannah to Krakow. After a long night of bar hopping, we decided to call it a night at the early hour of 4 am, and save up some mojo for Saturday night. Once again, it had been a classic bar-hopping weekend night in the depths of Eastern Europe, but most importantly: NO FACE CONTROL had occurred!
For our last day in Krakow and Poland, Kristiana took Hannah around all the sights she had missed, while The Eurotrip A-Team headed off to the famous Krakow Salt Mines, about 16 km outside Krakow. It sounds like a silly thing to go see, but it’s Krakow’s #1 tourist attraction and a ridiculously impressive sight to see. We wandered underground for 3 hours, through 2 kms of gorgeously lit underground caves and caverns. Large statues (including one life-size statue of Polish Pope John Paul II), sculptures, and even full on churches were made entirely out of black salt. Ridiculously long tunnels and caverns criss-crossed for kilometers below and above us, and it was like a majestic sight out of some fantasy novel or “Lord Of The Rings”. It seriously looked like the dwarf caverns from Fellowship of the Ring in some parts. If you ever have a chance to go to Krakow, I think this is definitely a must-see attraction, just so you can be blown away by what humanity can achieve. You’ll never look at salt the same way again. After 2 hours of strolling through only 1% (ONE PERCENT!) of the salt mine caves, we were driven back home, did our early evening ritual of napping and getting dressed, and had a nice Italian dinner at a fancy yet decently priced Old Town Italian restaurant called Boscaiola, and headed out to meet the girls at Cien. Yep, we would be trying our luck one last time with the infamous Polish Face Control, which as we were to find out soon paled in comparison to Ukrainian Face Control.
TO BE CONTINUED…