Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cologne to Warsaw

In which no corners are cut, leeches appear in tins and the water of St Stanislaus is tainted.
And starring three inflatable Smurfs and a racist Brit

Poznan's old market square
From Cologne I caught the overnight train to Poznan in Poland (sharing a compartment with two Polish women who studiously ignored me) and spent a happy morning pottering around the pretty main square before getting the train to Warsaw.  Despite the proximity of a Ryanair airport it was decidedly unblemished by British tourists.  For the local families the main attraction of the day was not the beautifully preserved medieval town hall or the ornate street lights, but three enormous inflatable Smurfs hovering over one of the squares in honour of the film’s imminent release. 

Warsaw could teach Cologne a thing or two about post-war reconstruction.  The beautiful Old Town and confusingly named New Town were completely rebuilt in under 60 years as exact replicas of the original buildings (mostly from paintings). 

Consequently it’s quite hard to imagine the extent of the devastation but there’s plenty of information on how many millions of people were killed – particularly large numbers in churches which were systematically targeted by German troops who knew they were being used as hospitals. 

Warsaw Old Town Square

The tourist office dish out maps with routes past all the good buildings and includes plenty of info about the evil Germans and resilience of the Poles.  Quite a few courtyards have things you are supposed to do for luck – walk around a bell, touch the feet of a statue etc – wondered whether this is all a post WWII phenomenon. 

At the end of the Royal Route (No 1!) is the Lazienki rolewski Palace with huge sprawling gardens and lots of fountains and little bridges and teenagers snogging on benches. 

My favourite building in Warsaw was the House of Military Council Fund no 11 which is also called the ‘Building without Corners’. The fund administrator who oversaw its construction fulfilled, quite literally, his promise that “no corners would be cut”.

The Building Without Corners

Krakow Old Town Square

Took a train to Krakow for the day.  It’s far more touristy than Warsaw so lots of crowds and queues particularly to get up the tower in the main square which seemed rather pointless as the empty town hall also had a great view plus you could see the bugle player at the top of the church tower from there. 

Leech Tin

Aside from all the pretty buildings and streets and cafes and what not, there is a great Pharmaceutical Museum (the joys of travelling alone including not having to ‘sell’ your weird museum choices to anyone else) containing such delights as inflated puffer fishes, stuffed crocodiles and tins of leeches.  No extra charge for the musty smell and original interiors.

The castle/palace overlooking the town is absolutely stunning with elaborate dragon themed guttering and huge white courtyards. I’d not been planning to go up and see it at all but was admiring the walls from a cafĂ© below when the woman sitting next to me, hearing I was English, launched into a racist rant about the riots before demanding to know what I was doing next.  I had to make something up quickly and fled leaving half my coffee undrunk.

Castle Courtyard

Supposedly good for drinking
From there I walked to the Church of St Stanislaus which was one of the few churches left standing at the end of the war and featuring a holy well from which it was apparently safe to drink the water. I filled up my water bottle before noticing it had the most unholy reek that could in no way be attributed to the macro and micro elements it reportedly contained but was more likely to have been caused by the dead pigeon bobbing in the sunken fountain. Water bottle has not been the same since.

Walked back through the Old Jewish quarter which had some lovely shops and bars and quite a few drunk Brits downing champagne and dancing raucously by 6pm. Had a very nice bowl of Broscht for before getting the train back to Warsaw. Shared a compartment with a lawyer from Warsaw who wanted to discuss the relative merits of 19th Century Irish Poetry.  Was somewhat out of my depth.

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