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?


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