Dresden – in transit.

The train from Wroclaw to Dresden was a well appointment, clean electric train with individual seating and large panoramic windows, not unlike the modern metro trains in Australia. Again it was relatively empty on departure but progressively filled, especially once we crossed into Germany. At the border station, the driver and conductors all changed from Poles to Germans. Smart-arse comments will be ignored , you know what I mean.

At The Dresden Station, I turned left at the tunnel and ventured forth into sunlight, but was momentarily confused as the ‘Vienna Plaza’ , was obviously not before me, which the Apple maps app claimed it should be. I showed the map to a passing pedestrian. She looked a little bemused then suggested in perfect English that instead of turning left, I should have turned right. People who know me well recognise that by nature, I have always instinctively turned to the left.

How correct she was. Back into the tunnel and there in brilliant sunshine was a huge Plaza with the multi-storey Intercity Hotel just to the left of the square, 100m away. It was not in anyway the Dresden Intercontinental , but a large clean and basic hotel that serves as a transit hotel I suspect for local and international travellers. For me it served that purpose well. I meandered into the city along the pedestrian mall and shopping centres. I had been there is August 2013 as the setting off point for my months cycle trip along the Elbe and Moldau rivers into Czech Republic. These two photos are from that time and show that I travelled lightly! A new bike which I had pre ordered from Australia and collected from a bike shop in Dresden.

Again and possible even more so, I was absolutely overwhelmed with the awareness that this city more than any in Europe was obliterated by total and unnecessary bombing in the last months of the war by the British. So I stumbled again on the Dresden Opera House, at which La Boheme was about to start. I seriously thought about buying a ticket, but was definitely under-dressed when compared to the average Dresden opera going member of the public, and secondly Puccini in not my favourite opera composer.

I think I can safely say that in ALL of the cities and towns that I visited on this trip, in the town square there were 3 people (always 3) , members of the Jehovah Witness congregation with a stand and their literature in several languages. What reminded me about this was that in the Dresden shopping mall, there they were, but were forced to move along when a morbidly obese man sat himself down on one of the adjacent plaza seats and produced a guitar and amplifier and proceeded to sing, loudly and off key.

During my final packing today, and having as is my custom, discarded several items of worn and bleached spotted clothing as well as a pair of shoes, I found secreted amongst the various pockets and crevices of my luggage, the items of clothing that I confessed I had lost. Thus it is that I leave Europe, minus 5 shirts, 3 pairs of underpants and I pair of worn shoes, but with 4 woollen hats ( 3 more than I packed) and 3 neck bandanas ( 2 more than I packed).

The Wroclaw Railway Station – which is in a case you are wondering is No 5 on things to do according to TripAdvisor.

The Wroclaw Drama Theatre and Gardens.

A 2018 view of Dresden cathedral

Finally this is what an 8.7Kg back pack looks like minus 5 shirts, 3 pr underpants and a pair of shoes but with 3 additional woollen caps and 2 neck bandana, prior to being booked all the way from Dresden to Adelaide. I trust the Germans to get it right.

Slow Train to Wroclaw

A journey of about 370 Km took from 11am to 7pm, 8 hours , so the average speed was 46km/hour. The train originates from Zakopane, was another all 2nd class train, but I had a booked seat, although there were already 5 hefty polish men in the 8 seat cabin when I boarded (two facing bench seats , 4 a side ) so I did what most Poles do in this situation, walked along the corridor until I came to an empty berth and settled in. Surprisingly I was alone for about half the trip, but then as it stopped at almost every town and village along the way for the last 6 hours, I shared my cabin with eventually, 7 others and a dog!

The contingent of friends and family who came to farewell the young woman and her canine companion, seemed to be more distressed and sad to see the dog depart, waving and blowing kisses to the pooch through the window. It is increasingly common now, for humans to travel with an animal, not just for friendship and the occasional lick, but allegedly such dogs provide medical support. I understand the fact that a dog may be valuable for those who have lost sight or hearing, but the list of seemingly miraculous abilities of dogs to detect or warn their owner now include such things as

  • A diabetic coma – too high or too low glucose
  • An epileptic fit
  • Narcolepsy
  • A panic attack
  • Migraine
  • And finally and by no means least and surely most impressively, cancer.

I would say that from the constant grazing of buns, cakes, doughnuts and chocolate bars, that the woman was absolutely in no danger of having a ‘hypo’ but rather that her blood sugars would be very high, a state that does not require Lassie to diagnose. Moreover some 2 hours later she suddenly lapsed into a deep sleep not in any way related to Narcolepsy, but simply a post prandial nap, induced by a surge of blood to the liver and concomitant severe reduction of blood flow to the brain. The dog, to its credit did indeed detect that things were not normal and spent the best part of several minutes licking her face, lips and ears, all to no avail and she remained semi comatose until we arrived at Wroclaw. Another woman boarded at the next station with a dog that resembled a Siberian Wolf Hound. I saw on one of my walks to stretch many legs, that she had a cabin to herself (and ‘das hund’) – which of course is a brilliant way to score an empty cabin. The dog might detect a panic attack in its owner, but sure as hell would provoke one in anyone else.

I am in my penultimate town, tomorrow is my last train trip to Dresden. Having now toured several of the recommended towns and cities of Poland and walked on average 15km a day, through the ‘historical old town’ of each and every one, I detect a profound sense of familiarity in all the old towns’ ‘ main square. Here is a photo of the Rynek Glowny of Wroclaw:

For those of you who wish to stay at home rather then cope with the crush of visiting all the European main tourist cities and towns and their ‘old town main square’, here is my analysis. Think of a large area, the size at least of a football field. In the centre will be a Town Hall and around the 4 sides are delightful 17 and 18th century, homes and small palaces, all of them a painted in different colours so long as the hue belongs to what an Australian colour consultant would classify as ‘heritage’ in type.

I have dozens of pictures of quaint town squares taken over the past few years and they are all strikingly similar. The sad thing is that what makes them even more so is that many of these medieval, baroque structures are now occupied on ground level by American fast food chains: McDonald, KFC, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Pizza Hut, Hard Rock Cafe, Burger King, Wendy’s, the list is never ending. We surely are becoming ‘one world’ at least in terms of America culture.

The Old Town Hall in the middle of the square – at dusk

Two pictures showing some detail of the facade of the Town Hall during the day:

Now I will show you come of the photos I took on my day’s walk around Wroclaw ,

  • The streets around the square
  • The Old University precinct
  • The Cathedral Island
  • The Theatre district

I make the point that in the vast majority of European cities, those magnificent edifices that were constructed centuries ago, were ravaged by the destruction of the Second World War – and both sides the terrible conflict were responsible: Germans, British and Russian and in Poland I suspect that the Russians and Germans were the main culprits. So basically what we see as wonderful architecture has been lovingly and faithfully restored from 1947 onwards. Two pictures will illustrate this so poignantly;

Cathedral of St John the Baptist – 1947

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist – 2018

Incidentally, have you ever wondered what happens when one is shooting a panorma with the iphone and suddenly a bloody car drives into view? One swears and stops the panorama.Note the Burger King outlet

The ‘Sand Bridge’ across the moat/river to Cathedral Island. It’s the most number of ‘commitment padlocks’ I have ever seen on one bridge and the other side was just as dense. I seem to recall there was a similar bridge somewhere in Paris I think that the civic fathers had to dismantle the rails as the structure was threatening to collapse under the weight into the Seine.

I stumbled across the Wroclaw ‘central market’ not a patch on the Adelaide Central Market.

The original Wroclaw University building now the University Museum of it’s history.

The National Forum of Music and Plaza. Essentially a Performing Space – similar to the Adelaide Festival Theatre.

I would be remiss not to include the Wroclaw Opera Theatre. I missed out on the opening night of Rossini ‘La Cenerentola’ by a day – it’s tomorrow.

Look Dad it’s snowing.

To the a Pole, waking up to this is part of life and the weather’s riches. To a man who loves his sunburnt country, it was rather exciting. To remind you, this was the Tatra Chalet on arrival:

This was the Tatra Chalet at noon today:

Once the snow had ceased I rugged up and walked gingerly into the village

Once there I joined those perambulating along the mall, eventually diving into the warmth of a bakery where I joined in and had a pancake

The next course, to no doubt prepare oneself before venturing outside was the quaint custom of each and every local to finish off with a double scoop of ice cream. I felt it unwise myself.

Still on cuisine, here is the menu for dinner each night at The Chalet

and finally, finally here is the lamb saddle:

The Road to Zakopane

Getting to this delightful town at the foothills of the “Polish Alps” proved somewhat of a nightmare. My Eurail Pass had the trip as taking more than 3 hours for the 100km and ominously in an all 2nd class train without allocated seats. Kraków Train station is modern and seemed to be extremely busy even at 7am on Good Friday. My train was to depart at 7.35 but I could not decipher “Zakopane” on the Departures screens. I joined a queue, apprehensive as I was about to interact with my third railway ticket officer. The train service to Zakopane has been replaced by a bus service. That seemed straightforward, but the extremely frustrating consequence was that despite several requests for help and directions, most of them provoking a curt response, such as a finger pointing UP, I was sent in all 4 directions of the compass as well as up and down several concourses and levels. At one stage I found myself in a football sized field of muddy quagmire – and hundreds of buses of all sizes and age but without any obvious humans that resembled potential passengers. The time approached 7:30am and I was no closer to finding the bus substitute to Zakopane Anyway I eventually found a bus station, not the correct one, but at least I found a bay which had “Zakopane” and which suggested that buses left very frequently, so you can imagine my relief. The final hurdle was that in an interaction reminiscent of my first encounter at the Warsaw station, the driver rejected out of hand the very official looking Eurail pass as hundreds of people queued up at the bus door behind me, waiting to buy a ticket. And so to get me there I paid 20 Zlt and boarded the bus.

The reason that there is no train to Zakopane became very obvious as all along the route, major highway and infrastructure works were being undertaken, so that within 5 years there will be a motorway and I assume high speed rail (Polish high speed) to this mountain ski resort. I am not sure that I will make the return journey to see it however.

I arrived within the 3 hours. I had not had any food or drink, so I went into a local bakery and had what I suspect is a Polish Easter Cake sort of like an Italian Panettone – the display case was full of them in all sizes and with various decorations.It had the taste and look when bitten into of a coarse butter cake.

The weather has been problematic, cloudy with breakthrough sun and variable misty rain. I hiked along a trail later that day – a local favourite obviously as there were lots of people rugged up and strolling along the ice and snow strewn path. It was not enjoyable for me as although I had walking shoes, I was not stable and slipped and slid, especially when descending, so much so that a local lent me one of his walking poles.

This was the sign at the entrance to the hiking trail, I did have second thoughts.

A couple of pictures of the scenery from the hiking trail

The second day, Easter Saturday I visited the 3 best ‘things to do’ in Zakopane according to TripAdvisor. The first was The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and as it was Easter, the place was seething.

There is a quaint custom that Polish people tend to fast on Good Friday or eat mainly fish then take a small basket of food to be blessed on the Saturday and once blessed, then that night and from then on, it’s the starter’s gun to indulge in gluttony: sweets, meat, meat and more meat. The Tata Chalet has a fixed dinner menu and then on Sunday there is a special Easter Breakfast. So I did venture in and out of the various churches if only to immerse myself in the Easter activities and the blessing of the food.

I also explored the Cmentarz Zasluzonycha na Peksowym Brzyzku (I can only assume there is no such thing as a low score in a game of Scrabble in Poland). It’s the local cemetery but as over the past few centuries, this mountain village has been the natural home of many Polish artists: painters,sculptors, writers, poets,philosophers and musicians, so the graves and headstones reflect the artistic talents of those interred. There were several musicians, but as far as I could deduce not an obvious Baroque Recorder player.

I also wanted to visit the Willa Koliba – a beautiful wooden villa designed by the famous architect Stanislaw Witkiewicz. It was closed but some pictures of the building reveal the detail and structure of what I can only surmise is the world’s biggest example of ‘tongue and groove’ technique? The building is situated along the original Main Street and all along this thoroughfare are beautiful examples of these wooden villas.

I then took the cable car up to the summit of Gubalowka mountain. Incidentally I discovered that the Polish way to say “return” as in “I wish to purchase a return ticket , please” is “up-down”. If only I had known that before. At the summit is a tourist Mecca of food and souvenir stalls.

The view from the summit

Overall a 20km walking day. I had a sauna upon my return. This is the Tatra chalet

And finally should we have moles in Australia ( not in the Russian embassy) but the Wind in the Willows type, then this how my back lawn might look.

A Food interlude

It is now common knowledge that food is by far the most frequent subject snapped on the iPhone.

Here is a snap of a dozen Crispy Kreme donuts”…. which can be blown up to be a feature on the kitchen wall as my iPhone has a resolution of a zillion pixels/mm.

Anyway here are the inevitable. Dumplings feature twice and the two with meat are in fact duck. The last is an Easter special called “The Pope’s Cream cake”.

Krakow Day 2

There is a delightful old town walk that I did, so far my Apple fitness app calculates 15 km walking a day on average this past week, so guilt ridden as I am by nature, I feel justified in consuming a daily Ice-cream AND a large Polish sausage. The Polish sausage comes with the lot, mustard, bread and makes a Bunnings offering, positively miserly.

I hasten to explain that these two seemingly mutually exclusive taste sensations, are not partaken in parallel but rather sequentially, some days it’s ice cream first then sausage and on their days it’s the reverse. After much deliberation, I trend to favour something hot in my mouth first then follow with something cold.

The walk is well set out and each point of interest fully explained in perfect English. There is indeed so much to see, the main tours touted by all the numerous tour offices appears to be in this order

• Tour of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

• The Salt Mines

• Schindler’s Factory ( thanks to Spielberg)

• Day trip to Zakopane.

• The Old Jewish Quarter

Then there are of course the various organised tours of the Old town which one can do by one self or if one has the urge

• A horse and Surry – even with a fringe

• Small golf buggy type contraptions

• Bicycle

• Segway – although thankfully not too many of these were obvious, as far as I am concerned they are dangerous and a lazy option.

Whilst the Wawel Castle and Cathedral sitting atop a hill ( as ALL European Palaces and castles are invariably situated) was fascinating to explore from the outside and to meander through the gardens and square, I elected to forgo the cost of a ticket to visit the Royal Private apartments, armoury and exhibits of their priceless treasures. I was quite frankly rather ‘over’ looking in awe at the royal bedroom and bed, even with a seniors reduction in price. Instead I chose to visit the oldest university in Poland – the Jagiellonian University founded in 1364. At its inception there were three faculties: philosophy, medicine and law. The oldest building still standing is the Collegium Maius. The inevitable regular fires over the centuries and of course additions have changed it somewhat but the tour that I took visited several of the original rooms: The library, The common room and the “Aula” – sort of like a Great Hall of our modern university, where special university events are held and the seats occupied by members of the University Senate.

The singular claim to fame of this university was that Copernicus enrolled there as a lad of about 18 from 1491-1495 , which if my poetic memory is correct is during the time that “ Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”. There was a bequest of a certain Professor leaving 3 unique astronomical instruments, used by Copernicus, including a celestial globe, an astrolabe and a torquetum- what ever that may be? Any gifted science teachers who can enlighten me?

After that I took a taxi to the Polish Aviation Museum, the subject of the previous blog

This picture is part of the original medieval wall around the old down of Krakow:

Several photos of the huge town square (the largest in Europe it is boasted) at dusk

this long beautiful building sits in the middle of the square and is called the Cloth Market – now it sells trinkets, cheap jewellery – what would be described euphemistically as “bric-a-brac”

Now to the Jagiellonian University Museum in the Collegium Maius

The Library:

The Dinning Room:

The large Porcelain cylinder in the top left corneris a heater. The overall feel was a little similar to the dining room and refectories at University and the various colleges – such as St Paul’s , which I attended. It is of interest that two former Australian Prime Ministers attended St Paul’s : Gough Whitlam and William (Billy) McMahon. I grew up and followed Whitlam at least in the political sense although some may say I followed Billy McMahon in another sense, and I do not refer to my large adolescent ears. It was said he had the appearance of a Volkswagen with both doors open.

The university senate meeting room:

Several of the original scientific instruments used by Copernicus

The quadrangle and cloisters:

One can picture Copernicus wandering around this very square and at night gazing up at the stars. In his day the academic staff and professors lived an almost monastic life each having a basic room which opened up to the cloisters. It’s a shame that we have abandoned some of these customs in the 21st century really.

The Polish National Aviation Museum – Kraków

This remarkable aviation museum deserves a blog of its own. The day started out rather wet and bleak, so there were a few options:

  1. A sauna and massage (naturally a genuine Thai full body with badger bristle mits)
  2. A day trip to the salt mines
  3. A visit to the aviation museum

The aviation museum won hands down. It is based at an old airfield obviously and is a combination of new parts and well set out exhibits and then a vast field of aircraft of all ages and types rather haphazardly set out and many show the unfortunate consequences of being outside and exposed to the elements, which in Poland are at the extremes especially in the winter months.

There was a row of helicopters ….quite a bizarre image , somewhat explicable when one realises the rotors are missing!

It almost looks like some sort of animal face?

Then there was a fascinating row of agricultural aircraft, fixed wing, helicopter and even a prototype jet engine plane! A Russian design not surprisingly. It never took off -at least figuratively.

The agricultural jet aircraft prototype, all one can say is “WHY”?

Then a few rows of various military jet aircraft mostly MIG understandably so, from the early post war period up to the late 1980s

And finally some familiar and famous transport planes from WWII, German and British

And the Polish museums’ unique claim to fame is this aircraft:

Can you hazard a guess? A hint perhaps- it was NEVER going to crash cause it had God on its side…here is the interior:

I shall reveal the answer in my next blog.

The Hotel Ilan

I have learned that Poland from the 15th century became home to the first Jewish settlers, particularly Lublin which region became known as “The Jerusalem of the Kingdom of Poland “, and was the leading centre of Judaic culture and religion. In the 1930s was established a world famous Jewish academy and rabbinical school – I am only guessing but I assume similar to a catholic seminary? It had a famous synagogue attached. Now it is a Jewish museum, a hotel and restaurant specialising in Jewish cuisine. The hotel is not a Hilton but is a rather poignant and slightly shabby establishment but nevertheless clean, friendly and it gets 4 stars from me…

Majdanek Museum and Memorial

Having travelled by “private” Mercedes minibus to Zamosc yesterday , I woke to a dull wet day and for a few minutes, flecks of snow! I resorted to TripAdvisor for recommendations on things to do around Lublin that involved Museums. As it turned out the top site on the list was the Majdanek Memorial and Museum. The second most recommended thing to do in Lublin was to explore the local equivalent of the Westfield Shopping Complex. Truely! By the time I had showered and had a presumably Jewish breakfast, the rain and snow had stopped. The Majdanek Museum was in fact a former German Nazi concentration camp. It occupied an area of 270 hectares or 2.8 sq km! This was divided into 5 fields each containing 2 rows of prisoner huts and a middle open space between each double row for assembly, roll calls. Around the perimeter of electrified barb wire double fences were huts and barracks for workshops, the SS Guards not to mention the bathroom halls, gas Chambers and crematorium. It was ghastly in the extreme.

All I can say is that it was somber and sobering. I shall leave the few pictures I took tell the story of mans’ Inhumanity to man. I was numb physically from the freezing cold and mentally from disbelieve at the site and the it’s cruelty.

The entrance with its Monument Gate – marking the historical entrance to the original camp. The sculpture is a symbolic entrance alluding to Dante’s Gates of Hell.

From here there is a wide road – the Road of Homage, to an immense circular mausoleum under which is a huge mound of earth containing soil and ashes of many of the victims. It is set out somewhat along the same lines as the Anzac Parade from the War Memorial to Parliament House in Canberra. The circular mausoleum like a giant saucer can be seen in the distance.

Part of the bathroom washing sheds. Taps which feed rows of shower heads along the ceiling. The initial stream was icy cold followed by several seconds later, water at boiling temperature. Inmates were then “drenched ” by immersion in the cement tubs containing carbolic acid solution.

Gas cylinders that fed the poisonous fumes into the gas chamber. Note the small window and grill through which I presume the executioners could quickly check on their deadly progress.

A day trip to Zamosc

There are literally hundreds of “private”minibuses that crisscross Poland. They are invariably Mercedes vans and whilst this may seem impressive, they are all in various states of decay belching diesel fumes as they transport thousands of locals between towns and villages that dot the countryside. Such bus stations , seething with humanity and the fumes of diesel and tobacco, evoked memories of such bus stations all over Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

This is the minibus station in Zamosc much more sedate and civilised than Lublin

Having reconnoitred the evening before, discovering that the bus to Zamosc left from terminal 4 ( of which there are more than 26 bus terminals ( in reality a sign post) and rather impressively leaving every 20 minutes, I presented myself at 8:40 with the iPhone pre loaded with

Chciałbym kupić bilet powrotny do Zamościa..…thanks to Google translate –

One does not need a higher degree in language to pick up a word such as “Bilet” and “Zamosc” to have a reasonable stab at the intent. Sadly the driver looked at the screen intently in my hand , then took it himself , looked at it more closely, at this point I had a sense of profound déjà vue ( recall the Warsaw Railway Station ticket saga). He did not turn the phone upside down or back to front but simply stared at the screen as though mesmerised without a single word not even in Polish. Perhaps I had an illiterate bus driver? Had he never laid eyes on an iPhone before?

He eventually turned to the remaining passengers and after a brief discussion, a young woman came to the front of the bus, read the text and explained that I had completely stumped him by requesting a “return “ ticket! To Zamosc it’s one way or nothing. If truth be known the bus had a large sign on the windscreen stating ZAMOSC, so the simple act of getting on the bus would have indicated my intent and I could have handed him a 20 Zloty bill and paid without the need for the spoken word, unless of course I had persisted with my request for a return ticket. I fear he will go home after work tonight, get drunk on vodka or beat his wife or quite possibly, both and I will be to blame.

The medieval fortress town of Zamosc is justifiably a UNESCO World Heritage site. Surrounded by the inevitable walls, moat and bastions it managed to survive mostly intact until the invasion by Germans and Russians during the Second World War.

The 3 pictures above show the famous town square, devoid almost entirely of humanity at 10:30 am, a few Poles and certainly no Japanese. Not sure that Poland is on the bucket list for wealthy Chinese or Korean tourists. The town hall sits at one end of the square. The very colourful buildings that surround the square once belonged to wealthy Armenians ( not Americans!)

Whilst the old town occupies a few hectares, the rest of the vast metropolis is a bleak, depressing landscape of dull high rise appartments… the winter weather, the deciduous, dormant trees give a feeling, common so far in Poland , of an Eastern European country – which indeed it was until a few years aback

Finally tonight , having decided to forgo bread and wine for the rest of the trip, the waiter tempted me with a baked cheesecake. Not any old cheese cake but a typical Jewish Cheesecake..

why it is a Jewish I have no idea, but rather than pressure the waiter, I felt that it required circumspection on my part .