Warsaw in Spring

The organisers of the 12th Congress of Controversies in Neurology have devised a remarkable solution to ensure that I will attend every session of the opening day, which is being held in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Architecturally it is modern and well designed, located however in outer suburbia surrounded on all sides by drab, depressing high rise housing complexes with nary a shopping complex in sight. Our accommodation, the Hilton Hotel is more than 20 km away in the opposite direction, the same distance from the tourist old town and requiring a column of buses to transport more than 800 delegates across town in peak hour morning traffic , the journey taking about 28 minutes. Moreover to use public transport from hotel to the historic precinct requires change of bus, takes an hour, the other option is a breakneck taxi ride costing 50 Polish monopoly notes , about $20 which in the scheme of things is not going to upset my financial planner.

The presentations on this the first day have been like the curate’s egg. There is, hopefully a full day on epilepsy the day after tomorrow and the conference moves back to the Hilton hotel, which I trust you recall is a little more than 16 km from the city centre.

Today, Thursday promised “snow showers” in the morning clearing to a crippling biting breeze. There is no way one could cycle in this weather, even if there were safe dedicated cycle tracks (and there were quite a few) as ones’ hands and fingers would be frozen in a clenched fist around the handlebars. For the same reason, it has been nigh impossible to undertake photography of the outside scenes.

It is both disconcerting and yet absolutely fascinating to realise that most cities in Europe were subjected to such carnage and destruction during WWII, that palaces and cathedrals I now explore and wonder at , have been meticulously restored or rather recreated /reproduced ( not even the walls remained untouched). No where was this more evident than Warsaw, Dresden and as I learned last July, St Petersburg. So buildings that were centuries old, ravaged by recurrent fire and the odd cannonball , managed to keeping standing, at least the bricks and mortar, until in the space of 5 years, the Germans, Russians and British (both sides are to blame for these atrocities), razed the cities to the ground. What is just as impressive, if not more so, is that out of this anguish, economically gutted, these countries found the will, patience and resources to rebuild their history, starting even within a few years ofter the armistice and indeed continuing to this day.

There are few obvious tourists, not a single photo stick, nor even a huddle of oriental travellers. I have a deliciously politically incorrect image of a “huddle” of Japanese tourists, mimicking the behaviour of those huge colonies of Emperor Penguins, that squeeze into a seething, steaming catherine wheel, slowly rotating from outside to inside, during the blast of winter in the Antarctica. However it was not the Asian hordes that invaded museums, art galleries and cathedrals, but Polish school children. They were mostly of infants school age, walking along, rugged up and wearing their bright yellow reflective vests and with typical innocence holding hands with each other, or the occasional anxious boy holding the female teachers’, it was delightful to see and to appreciate that from an early age they are encouraged to learn about their heritage. They are also much easier to navigate past than a moving mass of “penguins”.

During my adventure holidays over the last several years, I have without fail, lost or misplaced items of clothing, cycle helmets, bike locks on a regular basis. Indeed it is inevitable that I will manage to lose either one sock or a single mitten (mostly the left hand) and the absolutely amazing thing is that I seem to misplace or dislodge one of a pair of things whilst actually wearing them……..Poland is no different and I have now lost in two days, both of the warm caps (beanies) that I carefully packed in anticipation of the weather.

Whilst waiting for the WARSAW train in Poznan, I felt like a Baguette and so I gazed at the selection and eventually pointed to the rack that contained the healthy cheese, tomato, lettuce. I pointed to the front where there were the multigrain, pumpkin seed baguettes. The assistant quick as a flash grabbed one of the baguettes closest to him wrapped it up and had it in the bag with paper serviette before I could say, ‘multigrain’! He had picked the white bread. My attempts to explain that I had chosen, indeed pointed obviously to the front of the display case, did not go down well! He leaned across the counter in a rather menacing way and it was at this very instant that I also realised he was about 6ft 6 inches and played front row for the ‘Warsaw Wringers’ – the local Rugby team and that he had ‘mother’ tattooed across the knuckles of his right hand. He then said as he clenched my baguette in his fist, ‘are you English’? I felt that if I said ‘No, Australian’ this may have provoked him further so I said ‘yes’. He then confirmed in reasonable English that I had indeed asked for a cheese baguette. He said that the paper bag contained a CHEESE baguette! Yes I agreed, trying to be assertive, but failing abjectly, by then noting that he had a skull and cross bones tattooed on his neck with the word ‘KILL’ where the teeth should have been. Mild mannered Clark Kent, by now was thinking of withdrawing, but at the same instance it flashed into his Neanderthal brain, that he was about to lose a sale, so he changed tack and admitted almost with a degree of guilt that the multigrain bread was in fact just white bread that became brown and ‘ healthy’; by the simple addition of molasses to the dough! I stood my ground and he relented. I must say the baguette consequently lost some of its tasty attraction.

Not sure what the moral of this story is? Perhaps it is that some seemingly straight Poles, can be bent?

Poznan

Having been terrified by the sights of the ‘Beast from the East’ weather pattern across Europe in the week before I left Adelaide, it has been a remarkable beginning to my holiday, at least as far as the clear, blue sunny days. Granted there is a biting breeze and a chill factor that brings back memories of Iceland in July last year, but so far every day has been perfect – a sort of reverse temperature variation of the weather slogan for Queensland!

Today I shall visit the Palm House Gardens before leaving at 15:30 for Warsaw and the Conference! Yes I do need to justify the expenses claim, I have no doubt that Stephen Marshall will be checking up me personally.

Incidentally, as a complete aside, being the trend setter that I am, more than 6 years ago I committed FaceBook suicide and started my own blog site – the very reason you are on this page! The reason had nothing to do with the fact that my daughter had 4983 ‘friends’ and I had 3 , 2 of whom had actually accidentally ‘liked’ the wrong Graham Norton anyway. Seriously I am, I feel vindicated by the current data breach mess, not that I have anything to hide: it is in the open domain that I am a ‘pillow biter’ and have never slept with a member of parliament- state or commonwealth.

A few pictures with occasional comments

Lets get the picture of interior of the local cathedral out of the way first

Various pictures of the Poznan town square. In the centre is an ornate town hall and municipal offices which is now an historical museum. I have a sense of déjà-vue, but I cannot remember where I entered a town or city square like this in Europe. Any suggestions?

I explored the Cathedral Island a fortified island in the middle of the Worta River. There is a flourishing monastery and I saw several priests in black flowing cassocks, some quite youthful surprisingly. At least two carried IKEA bags which begs the question of what on earth would a seminarian need to self assemble in the cloisters, or perhaps the closet? I dawdled in the vicinity in the hope that I might chance upon a Nun or two carrying bags from the Polish equivalent of Bunnings, it was not to be.

This is a VERY clever visual perspective optical illusion…. look carefully at the picture below..

Well… have you worked it out? The Yellow red roofed building to the right of the square is real, BUT the facades of the buildings facing towards you, the green house, the tree and all the mish-mash of houses and appartments are PAINTED on the side wall of the pink faced building facing east, right up to the sky line of the pink building .. I also mean the tree behind the green house not the tree at the corner of the square, which is real.

Finally in the 20 km I walked on this day, I finished up exploring Citadel Park – a forest atoll with many graves and a rather derelict museum of war machinery – tanks, airplanes etc. It not really a War Memorial as such but nevertheless a large peaceful park in Poznan for meandering and meditation

Poznan The BlowUp 5050 Hotel

A long train trip from Gdansk to Poznan – mostly on flat rolling plains with agricultural villages interspersed with zones of industry and transport hubs. We rolled along at 120km/hour a sort of Japanese air-rifle train . I was not asked to pay added fees for this, although it was clean and safe. The trolley lady ignored me as she served the other ‘Premium passengers’. Eventually I went independently to the Dining Car and paid for a cup of woeful coffee and 2 rusks… (Autocorrection suggested ‘tusks’, which on second thoughts I should have accepted).

I am staying at the Blow Up Hall 5050 Hotel- part of a modern conference centre and shopping complex. I was reassured by my wonderfully efficient local travel agent that the name was NOT in anyway related to previous acts of Polish liberation uprisings in the 1950s, but was named in homage to the movie “BlowUp” staring David Hemings ( I thought it was Terence Stamp) and Vanessa Redgrave. It was made in 1966 and for every (nay most) Adolescent males, sitting up the back in darkness watching Vanessa Redgrave being photographed in the NUDE, was far better then being given enough money to buy a box of Fantales. It was understandable that this talented actress was known henceforth as ‘Vanessa the Undresser’ As to I , my preference was a box of Jaffas AND the unrequited desire to see David Hemings in his underpants. Although I still prefer Terence Stamp.

The Hotel is described on various web sites as Avantgarde- which is interior design speak for the shiny black, chrome and mirrored finish in my room. It is very disconcerting indeed disorientating. Words are not adequate to describe the visual catastrophe. The bathroom has a full length mirror along one wall, so that if you have any difficulty in perspective when showering or shaving, one can always do a stand alone gym workout by turning around and facing the mirror. I include pictures:

The toilet is separate from the bathroom. It is totally BLACK – close the door and one can experience for free, the sensory deprivation so effectively used by the invading American army in Iraq. It is impossible to know where one should sit or stand to answer the call of nature. Even at the best of times in my well lit bathroom in Adelaide, my sense of aim is problematic, but then as my friends know I can’t even throw an ball or catch it with any sense of manly skill or pride.

The room it self is quite big and very quiet. The TV appears to be kaput. There are no tea or coffee making facilities, although it has just dawned on me that I should undertake a more careful and minute search of the walls and shelves, as if the kettle is in shiny black plastic, I will not see it.

Gdansk – a sunny cold start

Gdansk Sunday

A brilliant start to the holiday – having fallen into bed around 7pm ( 4am Sunday Adelaide time) I woke around 6:30am, to clear blue skies and once outside, a bracing, biting breeze. I wandered around the waterfront of the “old town”- fascinated by seagulls that appeared to be ”walking on water”or at least standing on water in the sunlight of a new day. With that introduction, the more astute of you will realise that the birds were walking on ice!

So I explored the waterfront till about 7:30 then returned to the Q Hotel for a worthwhile breakfast, before warming my hands to venture back and explore the “old town “.

That is ice on the river!

The lone seagull is standing on ice. Look carefully

The home of the Gdansk Philharmonia concert hall

A few pictures of the old town….

The Polish people also sent children, mainly Jewish, away to foster homes in Britain just before the invasion and this is a tribute outside the main Gdansk railway station. The more observant will note the faded ex KFC logo on the original old railway administration offices.it is still. KFC outlet – I positioned the camera to block out the yellow M!

The Gdansk railway station

The Amber Museum in one of the medieval towers of the town wall

In the afternoon I spent the part of 6 hours in the Museum of the Second World War. It was opened in 2015 and is one of the most compelling, confronting exhibitions, housed in an architecturally stunning building all coming together in a technological multimedia experience. There are 20 rooms that start with the seeds of war – the direct consequences ultimately of the loss of WW1, by the Germans. Thence the rooms follow a logical sequence based on the time line as well as the many theatres of the conflict. The use of modern interactive technology is awesome. To give one example, the audio devices automatically sense when you pass the entrance to each of the 20 rooms, activate the introduction, lead to the various displays then end by saying something like

feel free to take your time and wander around the exhibits and when you have finished leave by the door on the left above which is a huge picture of Hitler and I will be waiting for you in the main corridor.”

Then the audio guide detects that you have entered the main hallway and asks you to turn left or right as the case may be into Room X. In fact so intuitive is the system it detected I had entered the women’s toilet and gently questioned whether I had made a mistake. As to whether it’s query related to the fact that either the female toilet was not part of the exhibits, or rather cleverly that I was in fact, male, is a moot point.

Put Gdansk and this museum on your bucket list.

It is 4am and I am disturbed from a restful sleep by noisy laughing people in room 103. They are not speaking a recognised European language and to minimise the risk of accusation of racial prejudice, I say for a fact that room service has just delivered breakfast of steaming hot fried rice and soup. I think it only fair now that I am wide awake , I should do some Recorder practice.

Today I head by train to Poznan.

The main hallway of the museum with the rooms on each side

Warsaw

The Frederick Chopin international airport of Warsaw was blanketed in fresh snow, the sky clear and sunny, the outside temperature -10 degrees. The Boeing B77… (remember drop the last numeral) kissed the piano keys ! Indeed I have yet to have anything but a smooth gentle touchdown in all my international flights! The airport was cavernously quiet on a Saturday at 11am. Being one of the first off the plane I reached immigration to face the obligatory 2 lanes: EU passports to the right everyone else left lane … in a few years time it will give me a wonderful sense of schadenfreude to think that British travellers will be forced to veer left.

Anyway I trotted along literally hundreds of metres of the mazed, roped off lane, a lone non EU citizen, to discover on arriving at the immigration hall, both lanes converged and in the end I was pissing in the wind, merging into a seething mass of Europeans!

Emirates managed to successfully book my luggage straight through to Warsaw, unlike Qatar last year who managed to lose my luggage once it left Adelaide and who achieved the unenviable feat of doing the same thing for Vivienne on a later flight!

I was met at the arrival hall by a willowy blond baby faced polish lad who escorted me to a shiny black BMW.. it was huge and all I remember when I enquired, was that it was a “7.. XX “ in other words, as with Boeing aircraft, it was a BMW 7… something! I explained that in underdeveloped Australia we were still at “BMW 3 …” something.

So efficient was the whole process that my blond Pole had me disembarking outside the Warsaw Central station by 12:15, an hour to the minute from touchdown, the train to Gdańsk leaving at 14:20.

I had a prepaid Eurorail pass , indeed costing some 400 euro for the month and several sectors, at least I assumed so. Presenting my voucher at the ticket window proved to be an exercise in futility. The man gave the distinct impression that in 48 years of exemplary service to the Polish Railway, the ticket I had presented was an an utterly new experience. It could have been a pawn shop ticket , a laundry list or a counterfeit Russian 1000 rouble note. -I think he favoured the latter having held it up to the light and turned it over several times. He disdainfully pushed it back through the window and indicated The service desk, uttering the word “English”. Eventually I was able to deduce that the counterfeit 1000 rouble note, was in fact just the seat reservation, not the actual ticket and furthermore because I was booked onto the Polish equivalent of a Japanese bullet train, there was a surcharge of 43 polish Monopoly money which I had to pay immediately lest I be downgraded to the local mail train. It has been all sorted, I have paid the excess and now sit in the Polish bullet train, 2 hours from Gdańsk and 28 hours from Adelaide.

The Q hotel room – Gdańsk