Friday, May 16, 2008

Trains Across Europe Part 2

To continue, I caught the Berlin- Warsaw express which takes a little over 6 hours to travel the distance. Unfortunately my journey was on Sunday which is one of the busiest times on European railways and the train was quite crowded even in 1st class. Reservations are compulsory so finding a seat was not the problem but I was surprised to find half the carriage full of about 12-13 year olds apparently returning home. It is a bit much to expect that age to sit quietly for so long but did become tiring as could be seen on the faces of the other passengers after any particularly noisy episode. But I was lucky to find myself for the first half of the trip sitting opposite two New Zealand girls who were travelling to Poznan. Amazing to find they had both studied at Dunedin University and one still lives there. As most of my readers will know, I have plans to move to that city whenever I can arrange to fix up and sell my present home.

I would not recommend Warsaw as a place to put high on your need to visit list. I went to Krakow in 2000 and it is a much nicer and more interesting city. Of course Warsaw was obliterated by the end of the 2nd World War so one cannot expect a lot. While looking at "old" buildings, I was always conscious that they had been completely rebuilt.
The main area where I stayed has wide squares and boulevards full of traffic and pedestrian tunnels (no escalators, a problem with luggage) and is dominated by the Communist built Palace of Culture. this is now being challenged by modern high rise offices and hotels. I spent the first morning in the old town (14th & 15th centuries) then in the new town (17th & 18th centuries which, I guess, makes the area in which I stayed (post 1945) the very new town.
The photo is of the Mermaid Monument in the Market Square of the Old Town which has been the symbol of the city since 1938
There were some beautiful buildings and ornate churches and I toured the Royal Castle, blown up by the Germans in 1944 but rebuilt in 1988. The Marble room is particularly ornate but beyond my camera when flash is not allowed. The photo below is of the Throne Room.
After a lunch of fruit and buns in the park, I went to the Ghetto area made memorable to me by the film 'The Pianist'. The whole area is marked by granite monuments or headstones carved in Polish and Yiddish but the largest monument is for the Ghetto heroes who decided to fight to an honourable death.
Nearby is a moving memorial depicting Willi Brandt, the post war German Chancellor kneeling before the Ghetto Memorial.
Also there is a memorial at Umschlagplatz Square where the Jews were loaded into goods wagons to be transferred to Auschwitz and Treblinka. Called the Monument to the Three Hundred Thousand it is a white marble wall covered with names and symbolising both the Wailing Wall and the wall which once surrounded the Ghetto. Photos were difficult as a group of American students were having a lesson sitting in the middle of it.

A few things made my time in Warsaw frustrating. My studies of German at school, although an awful long time ago do make travelling in German speaking countries comparatively easy. Now I was forced to ask for English menus and make wild guesses at the meaning of signs. Especially frustrating when I waited at a bus stop and someone came along and pointed at a sign and all those waiting with me looked annoyed and wandered off. I guessed it said 'No buses today' or something similar.
However my main frustration was with the Thomas Cook Guide book. While it had some good descriptions, its maps were hopeless and finding places a major task. Most annoying was lack of practical information. So on Tuesday I went to the highly recommended Museum of the Warsaw Uprising only to find it is closed on Tuesdays and I was to leave on Wednesday at 7am . My feelings were to throw the guidebook in the Vistula River but that would be pollution. Thankfully I usually use Lonely Planet guides. They have their occasional errors as well but are a million times better than Thomas Cook.

Instead I went to the National Museum (Art Gallery). English directions were lacking but I did see some impressive church altar pieces, tryptychs etc from the middle ages and interesting Polish art including Matejko. Somehow I missed the other European art mentioned in the guide book. I was amused here and at the Royal Castle at the number of stern black uniformed women employed to watch carefully as you move around each room. At one time I guess there was a shift change and the march of these women down the corridors reminded one of prison warders.

I spent the afternoon (following the bus stop fiasco) wandering through the Lazienkowski Gardens which had some beautiful water scenes and buildings including the Palace on the Water.
and a monument to Frederyk Chopin.
Even this monument was built in 1926, destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1958. Probably the story of poor Warsaw.


Davis said...

Reading your travel blog has become an occasion of sin - Envy!

Brian R said...

Good Davis, it is the devil makes me do it :-)