Thursday, 3 November 2016

A DAMP DAY IN WARSAW

11th - 12th Oct 2016

Palace of Culture and Science. Central Warsaw
Having travelled down through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, small nations and rather similar in outlook and history, I couldn't help feel that they might benefit by merging into one stronger entity, perhaps to be called 'Estlatania'. Just a thought.
Anyway, on south-west, by bus again (still no direct rail service), to Warsaw; a seven hour journey departing at 11.00am from Vilnius central bus station. We crossed the border somewhere between Marijampole in Lithuania, where we stopped for a leg-stretch, and Suwalki in Poland. Polish immigration police came on board here. Not sure who or what they were looking for as I never saw any sign of illegal immigrant types in Lithuania (or in Latvia or Estonia for that matter). It was a fairly cursory check. The next notable occurrence was that the previous excellent free bus wifi service packed up. I was told "no bus internet service in Poland".
We were informed that instead of taking us, as per normal schedule, to central Warsaw, we would be be dropped off at some unpronounceable Metro station. We were at least given complimentary Metro tickets. By the way, I have still not seen a proper hill, indeed scarely an undulation, since leaving Tallinn (with the possible exception of Vilnius). The countryside towards Warsaw continues flat and unremarkable.
As advised, we were dropped off at a Metro station called something like Mokozyrwtowski, and it was raining. The bus was going on to Krakow and then Prague.
Anyway, it was a relatively short three-stop underground journey to the centre of town where I was to stay in  (for me ) an over-expensive hotel. Apart from a few rather dodgy sounding hostels, there appears, despite much searching, to be no cheapo hotels here. The currency is the Zloty, of which there are 4.6 to the £. A year ago it was 6.6....
My first impressions of the city were not particularly favourable, not helped perhaps by the dismal weather; if it wasn't raining it was drizzling. As you are no doubt aware Warsaw was practically bombed flat during WW2. The new city, that I saw, and I was only going to be here for a day and a half, contains many high rise hotels, large apartment stores and office blocks. The main city streets are wide and multi-laned with heavy traffic.  There seems to be a surprising lack of small caf├ęs, pubs and bars...I never even saw an Irish bar which is, I thought, a compulsory feature for most cities of the world.
I had limited time to look around on the only full day available to me, so I decided to start, as most tourists do, in the Old Town to the north of the centre and alongside the River Vistula. This did not escape the bombs and shells in WW2 and so most of the Old Town is reconstructed...a New Old Town if you like.

The central feature of which is the massive red brick Royal Castle (left). This was flattened by the Germans during the war, and painstakingly rebuilt subsequently.
It had it's heyday in the 17th century, before becoming a residence for visiting Russian tsars and then, after independence in 1918, the Polish president.
I paid an entrance fee (20 Zloty) and set off around a marked route through innumerable rooms.





Most of the rooms, and I never did complete the whole route, were lavishly decorated and sparsely furnished.











Left: This was the 'royal' bedroom (or one of them). If that thing with the drapes behind it is the Royal Bed, then the royal occupant must have had remarkably short legs.


   









Right: One of the big halls or assembly rooms. I never did find out what most of these rooms were used for. Ten-pin bowling? 












Left: A room containing several Canaletto paintings. I was told they are originals.



One of the common features of some of these ex-Soviet style museums is the type of sentinel that stands guard over each room. They tend to be female, of a 'certain age' and very bolshy. OK, they don't speak much English (not their fault), but they look at you with grim suspicion. They never smile. One of these harridans insisted that I take off my (dry) waterproof coat and hand it in to a cloakroom, miles away. I never found out why I should. The secret, as I have discovered, with this kind of old dragon  is simply to totally disregard them. They just grumpily shrug their shoulders and let you go on your way or do what you want. They are probably the life and soul of the party on their days off.

Right: Another elaborately and garishly decorated room.












Left: The Throne Room containing a throne, and a few Japanese tourists.

I think that is enough, of many more I took, of the interior of the Royal Castle. It got me out of the rain for a while.








Right: A view of some of the Old Town. 












Left: The Barbican, originally a defensive tower, at the northern end of the Old Town. Another reconstruction after the original fell victim to German bombs. I am told it is a popular spot for buskers and art sellers. Not today it wasn't.








I then decided to walk on to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews on Anielewicza St. A hike of about 2 km. It was a site recommended to me by a Polish friend in UK. I was told it is a most impressive museum and well worth a visit.


Right: As indeed it looked from the outside. 





Disappointingly it was closed due to today being Yom Kippur. Silly me, I had completely forgotten. So the mysteries held within I have yet to discover.




Right: Outside the museum I took a photo of the seated statue of a very famous Polish Jew. Unfortunately I forgot to note who it was.


Then on back towards the centre to the Saxon Gardens, said to be modelled on the French gardens at Versailles. A most pleasant park which, during fine weather, must be a lovely place to stroll around. It once had a grand palace in it, the Saxon Palace, but this too was flattened in WW2. There are, apparently, plans to rebuild it.
Left: A fountain in the Gardens at the end of a long statue lined avenue.


Right: At the eastern side of the gardens is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This is guarded by two soldiers who stood rigidly to attention for 10 minutes while I hovered about. They then broke into a bit of marching and rifle drill before resuming their pose. I can't think it was to amuse me (the only other person present); probably to restore the circulation and get warm. 

The photo at the top of the Palace of Culture and Science I saw because, being the tallest building in Poland, it is impossible to miss. Built by the Soviets in the early 1950s it is 231 metres high. Unfortunately I didn't have time to go inside. It contains not just a museum but congress halls, cinemas, theatres and presumably shops. It also boasts a fine panoramic view of the city from the observation gallery on the 30th floor. Another reason for not going up it, and normally I would have like a shot, was that the 30th floor was in cloud for most of the  time I was there. I got this pic on my way to the station the following day when the sun began to peek through.

To be honest, I had only the briefest time to see this big city which I'm sure contains many fascinating  and amusing things to see and do and which I did not. Especially when it's not raining. I had intended to go on to Krakow in the south of Poland, certainly worth visiting but, for once, I was on a tightish schedule and had to make headway back to Blighty. Always in a rush to make sure I didn't miss my train onwards I went to check out of the hotel reasonably early the next morning. Just as well, because there was a group of five Chinese guests who were causing mayhem at reception. They insisted of paying everything by cash and each one of them insisted on paying for the others. It must have been a matter of prestige. I've never seen so much cash being bandied about, and total chaos. The hotel receptionist was being most patient.

I made the train with time to spare because, thankfully, reinforcements were called in to hotel reception. The Chinese are probably still there arguing about who should pay.

Right: Inside Warsaw Central Railway Station. Very smart and well organised with, of course, the mandatory MacDonalds (far right) on both floors. 

On next by rail to Berlin, Brussels, Lille (brief overnight stops with a day in Lille) and back to London. 








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