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Poland May 2012

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Poland May 2012

POLAND I recently returned from an enlightening trip from Poland, having spent ten days visiting her major cities of Wroclaw (also known as Breslau), Warsaw and Krakow. Despite the stereotypical misgivings that some people in the UK have about Poland, I found it to be a friendly and inviting country, steeped in much important history. WROCLAW This is a picturesque university town and very easy to navigate through its resplendent architecture.  Both the main square and Salt Square were lined with colourful buildings, vibrant nocturnally when the bars and restaurants were brimming with tourists and teenagers.  Despite the stylish exteriors of the churches, their interiors were not as opulent as the ones found in Rome. St Maria Magdalena’s church had two towers that were connected by a bridge that, after a mountainous climb, you could traverse for panoramic city views. Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski), a little north of the old town, reminded me of rural France, with its quaint streets and buildings, except for the beautiful skyline above the river Odra. It’s amazing how most of this city and Warsaw were destroyed by the Nazis and had to be rebuilt. Thank goodness for Polish builders! The most bizarre thing for me was the Panorama Raclowkci.  Expecting to go to a tower with city views, I was instead was greeted by a 5m x 120m painting depicting the 1794 battle of Raclawice (a village 320km away) when Polish peasants defeated the mighty Russian army, accompanied by a 20 minute presentation. Despite initial preconceptions of it being dull it is probably one of the most splendid of art works I have ever seen in my life. It was so detailed with hundreds of painted figures and trees as to almost look 3D. It was remarkable how they merged the painting’s surrounding areas with the foreground, which was a mock up using hay, wood etc.  The Szcythieki Park had a fountain 'show,' where jets of water were released in time to music.  The Japanese garden at the back was pretty and atypical for a city like Wroclaw.  The abundance of malls in Wroclaw seem to reflect the Polish love of shopping. I also found it odd that they called a giant roundabout the Ronald Reagan Roundabout, both in Wroclaw and Warsaw (Warsaw even has a monument to the late US president), but given the copious support he gave to Poland during his tenure one can appreciate why they would want to honour him.   WARSAW Warsaw was just too big. There was the Old Town, New Town and the Castle route. Wanting to see everything meant 4 days of roaming the sites, namely statues, monuments, churches and palaces.  One of the highlights was definitely the Royal Palace, home of Europe’s first constitution, although 32 rooms was a lot to take in, especially with an audio guide.  The Chopin museum was probably one of the least interesting museums I've been to (luckily it's free on Tuesdays) but the technology was like something I have never seen before.  Your pass activated touch screens, which are programmed presentations with subtitles automatically in your own language or to play music. The Palace on the Island was the most important building in Warsaw’s huge 76 hectare park, Lazienkowski Park.  Within it, was small amphitheatre. Opened in 1791, it uniquely separates the audience from the stage with water. The influence of other cultures such a Roman or Greek on Poland’s architecture was evident everywhere. Warsaw easily rivals any European city in terms of culture, history, architecture and greenery, and aesthetically is easily on par with Madrid, Rome and Paris.   KRAKOW Again, a very beautiful city with a town square, a castle (Wavel Castle), barbican walls and fortifications. In terms of historical significance, it was the most interesting city of the trip and I will remember it for 3 things: Oscar Schindler's Museum, the Salts Mines and Auschwitz. The Salt Mines is a subterranean world of labyrinthine passages, giant caverns, underground lakes and chapels with sculptures in the crystalline salt and rich ornamentation carved in the salt rock, astonishingly mined over 900 years. Our tour only took us 135m down covering just 1% of the mine. Everything was made from salt; walls, ceilings, floors and I inhaled as much as I could of the supposedly beneficial fresh air down there. Schindlers' Museum is an old factory that employed Jews to save them from the camps and gave a very detailed account of what happened during Nazi occupation.  Nearby is the old Jewish ghetto of Kamizierz (named after King Casimir), notable for its synagogues, but it didn't really provide a sense of what it would have been like in the 40's when the Jews were forced to settle there, before being sent to the camps. The Concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau were my last stop before I returned to London. The camps have been turned into museums.  There were pictures of emaciated people and rooms full of items removed from people at the camps; spectacles, shoes, cooking pots, even hair.  Birkenau was even grimmer, where a rail track divided the camp into 2-wooden barracks for men and brick ones for women. At the end of the rail track were the gas chambers and oven (now destroyed).  The inhuman toilets consisted of rows of holes in concrete slabs. It was said that the best job in the camp was mucking them out as it was indoors, thus avoiding the harsh elements as well as the beatings from the SS men who would hardly venture in there.  I was taken aback by the sheer size of the second camp, Birkenau. It looked like a small town. The museum wasn’t as gruesome as what I had seen in Cambodia last year (the legacy of the Khmer Rouge ) but it was still very eerie. Reading about what happened to the people in the camps, it was difficult to imagine the suffering of the prisoners (who were incidentally not just Jews, but Soviets, handicapped, Polish, POWs, etc) and inside the camps it was even harder to envisage as it looked so bare. The scale of it is impossible to comprehend but I saw on the tour how the Nazi’s had in fact industrialized genocide in such an efficient manner.  I would advise everyone to visit this place as reading about it doesn’t even begin to touch how atrocious the place was.   MISC In Poland I mainly stayed in youth hostels (private rooms), very central. They were of a very good standard with helpful and friendly staff, and my RBS colleague owns the one in Warsaw. That was a very charming place, with very great facilities. With the constraints of time, I tended to eat on the go, but I did try a couple of Polish dishes. The Pierogi dumplings were good although a little on the greasy side. I also had a typical polish meal of potato pancake and beef chop (bone removed so how is that a chop??). Unfortunately after 10 days of travelling in the heat with blisters and churches and castles merging as one in my head, I felt it was time to call it a day.  I had planned to go to Lviv and Kiev but I lost the motivation to plan and to live another 7 days out of a case.  I called it a day and vowed to return to the Ukraine in the autumn.    

Jun 12, 2012
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Poland May 2012

This post has 24 photos Jun 12, 2012197 views

POLAND

I recently returned from an enlightening trip from Poland, having spent ten days visiting her major cities of Wroclaw (also known as Breslau), Warsaw and Krakow. Despite the stereotypical misgivings that some people in the UK have about Poland, I found it to be a friendly and inviting country, steeped in much important history.

WROCLAW

This is a picturesque university town and very easy to navigate through its resplendent architecture.  Both the main square and Salt Square were lined with colourful buildings, vibrant nocturnally when the bars and restaurants were brimming with tourists and teenagers.  Despite the stylish exteriors of the churches, their interiors were not as opulent as the ones found in Rome. St Maria Magdalena’s church had two towers that were connected by a bridge that, after a mountainous climb, you could traverse for panoramic city views.

Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski), a little north of the old town, reminded me of rural France, with its quaint streets and buildings, except for the beautiful skyline above the river Odra.

It’s amazing how most of this city and Warsaw were destroyed by the Nazis and had to be rebuilt. Thank goodness for Polish builders!

The most bizarre thing for me was the Panorama Raclowkci.  Expecting to go to a tower with city views, I was instead was greeted by a 5m x 120m painting depicting the 1794 battle of Raclawice (a village 320km away) when Polish peasants defeated the mighty Russian army, accompanied by a 20 minute presentation. Despite initial preconceptions of it being dull it is probably one of the most splendid of art works I have ever seen in my life. It was so detailed with hundreds of painted figures and trees as to almost look 3D. It was remarkable how they merged the painting’s surrounding areas with the foreground, which was a mock up using hay, wood etc. 

The Szcythieki Park had a fountain 'show,' where jets of water were released in time to music.  The Japanese garden at the back was pretty and atypical for a city like Wroclaw. 

The abundance of malls in Wroclaw seem to reflect the Polish love of shopping. I also found it odd that they called a giant roundabout the Ronald Reagan Roundabout, both in Wroclaw and Warsaw (Warsaw even has a monument to the late US president), but given the copious support he gave to Poland during his tenure one can appreciate why they would want to honour him.  

WARSAW

Warsaw was just too big. There was the Old Town, New Town and the Castle route. Wanting to see everything meant 4 days of roaming the sites, namely statues, monuments, churches and palaces.  One of the highlights was definitely the Royal Palace, home of Europe’s first constitution, although 32 rooms was a lot to take in, especially with an audio guide.  The Chopin museum was probably one of the least interesting museums I've been to (luckily it's free on Tuesdays) but the technology was like something I have never seen before.  Your pass activated touch screens, which are programmed presentations with subtitles automatically in your own language or to play music.

The Palace on the Island was the most important building in Warsaw’s huge 76 hectare park, Lazienkowski Park.  Within it, was small amphitheatre. Opened in 1791, it uniquely separates the audience from the stage with water. The influence of other cultures such a Roman or Greek on Poland’s architecture was evident everywhere.

Warsaw easily rivals any European city in terms of culture, history, architecture and greenery, and aesthetically is easily on par with Madrid, Rome and Paris.

 

KRAKOW

Again, a very beautiful city with a town square, a castle (Wavel Castle), barbican walls and fortifications. In terms of historical significance, it was the most interesting city of the trip and I will remember it for 3 things: Oscar Schindler's Museum, the Salts Mines and Auschwitz.

The Salt Mines is a subterranean world of labyrinthine passages, giant caverns, underground lakes and chapels with sculptures in the crystalline salt and rich ornamentation carved in the salt rock, astonishingly mined over 900 years. Our tour only took us 135m down covering just 1% of the mine. Everything was made from salt; walls, ceilings, floors and I inhaled as much as I could of the supposedly beneficial fresh air down there.

Schindlers' Museum is an old factory that employed Jews to save them from the camps and gave a very detailed account of what happened during Nazi occupation.  Nearby is the old Jewish ghetto of Kamizierz (named after King Casimir), notable for its synagogues, but it didn't really provide a sense of what it would have been like in the 40's when the Jews were forced to settle there, before being sent to the camps.

The Concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau were my last stop before I returned to London. The camps have been turned into museums.  There were pictures of emaciated people and rooms full of items removed from people at the camps; spectacles, shoes, cooking pots, even hair.  Birkenau was even grimmer, where a rail track divided the camp into 2-wooden barracks for men and brick ones for women. At the end of the rail track were the gas chambers and oven (now destroyed).  The inhuman toilets consisted of rows of holes in concrete slabs. It was said that the best job in the camp was mucking them out as it was indoors, thus avoiding the harsh elements as well as the beatings from the SS men who would hardly venture in there.  I was taken aback by the sheer size of the second camp, Birkenau. It looked like a small town.

The museum wasn’t as gruesome as what I had seen in Cambodia last year (the legacy of the Khmer Rouge ) but it was still very eerie. Reading about what happened to the people in the camps, it was difficult to imagine the suffering of the prisoners (who were incidentally not just Jews, but Soviets, handicapped, Polish, POWs, etc) and inside the camps it was even harder to envisage as it looked so bare. The scale of it is impossible to comprehend but I saw on the tour how the Nazi’s had in fact industrialized genocide in such an efficient manner.  I would advise everyone to visit this place as reading about it doesn’t even begin to touch how atrocious the place was.

 

MISC

In Poland I mainly stayed in youth hostels (private rooms), very central. They were of a very good standard with helpful and friendly staff, and my RBS colleague owns the one in Warsaw. That was a very charming place, with very great facilities.

With the constraints of time, I tended to eat on the go, but I did try a couple of Polish dishes. The Pierogi dumplings were good although a little on the greasy side. I also had a typical polish meal of potato pancake and beef chop (bone removed so how is that a chop??).

Unfortunately after 10 days of travelling in the heat with blisters and churches and castles merging as one in my head, I felt it was time to call it a day.  I had planned to go to Lviv and Kiev but I lost the motivation to plan and to live another 7 days out of a case.  I called it a day and vowed to return to the Ukraine in the autumn.  

 

View from St Maria Magdelena's Church, Wroclaw.
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View from St Maria Magdelena's Church, Wroclaw.

Jun 12, 2012
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St John's Cathedral, Wroclaw.
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St John's Cathedral, Wroclaw.

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Centennial Hall, Wroclaw.
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Centennial Hall, Wroclaw.

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Pergola in Szczytnicki Park, Wroclaw.
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Pergola in Szczytnicki Park, Wroclaw.

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Japanese Garden, Szczytnicki Park,Wroclaw.
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Japanese Garden, Szczytnicki Park,Wroclaw.

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Church Of St Casimir, Warsaw.
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Church Of St Casimir, Warsaw.

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Mermaid Statue, Old Town Square, Warsaw.
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Mermaid Statue, Old Town Square, Warsaw.

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Part of the Old Fortress Wall around the Old Town Square, Warsaw.
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Part of the Old Fortress Wall around the Old Town Square, Warsaw.

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Royal Palace and column of King Zygmunt III.
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Royal Palace and column of King Zygmunt III.

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Graffittied wall along General Andresa Avenue, Warsaw.
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Graffittied wall along General Andresa Avenue, Warsaw.

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Church (unknown), Warsaw.
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Church (unknown), Warsaw.

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War Memorial, Warsaw.
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War Memorial, Warsaw.

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President Reagan. 
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President Reagan. 

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Cathedral Of St Michael the Archangel and St Florian the Martyr, Warsaw.
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Cathedral Of St Michael the Archangel and St Florian the Martyr, Warsaw.

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Fountain at Saki Garden, Warsaw.
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Fountain at Saki Garden, Warsaw.

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Adam Mickiewiczowi Monument, Warsaw.
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Adam Mickiewiczowi Monument, Warsaw.

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Church Bozego Gala Kazimierz, Krakow.
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Church Bozego Gala Kazimierz, Krakow.

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Wawel Cathedral, Krakow.
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Wawel Cathedral, Krakow.

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Church (unknown), Krakow.
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Church (unknown), Krakow.

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College Maius, University Of Krakow.
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College Maius, University Of Krakow.

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Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
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Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

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Birkenau Concentration Camp.
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Birkenau Concentration Camp.

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Female toilets, Birkenau Concentration Camp.
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Female toilets, Birkenau Concentration Camp.

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