12 April 2010

Poland, unluckiest country in Europe?

Poland’s done and dusted. We arrived in Vilnius today after a 9 hour train journey, but I’ll go into that in the next posting, as I’ve yet to cover most of the Polish stuff.

We went to Auschwitz on the 8th (the day after my last posting), with the two lads we met two days previously in Bratislava, plus a couple of other random South Americans they’d picked up on the way. Turns out they’d also got bored of Bratislava pretty quickly. The bus journey was long and bumpy, and as far as we could see, devoid of any farmland, despite the fact it was mostly through the countryside. I always thought Poland was a land of farmers.

Maybe it was just that area. We had a five hour journey out of Poland today and actually some farmland, as well as spotting some between Warsaw and Krakow. But not once did either see a single farm animal. Zero.

Auschwitz. I don’t find these types of things as harrowing as a lot of people say they do. Being very interested in history in general, and knowing quite a bit about the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s (living in Germany for a few years also plays a role in this), a lot of the stats are nothing new. The famous rooms with the hair, suitcases and shoes were also something I was prepared for.

But the absolute scale on which all of this was carried out on was what really hit you when you got there. It is terrifying that this was able to happen in the last 100 years without very little of the outside world understanding what was actually happening at the time. How the peoples affected, the Polish in general and the Jewish in particular, have managed to get back on their feet after such a deadly chapter in their history is amazing. Although the numbers of Jewish people in east and central Europe is most certainly much, much lower than pre-WWII.

While there we seen an exhibition about Polish history around that time, but also covering it generally, and it really makes you feel sorry for Poland. In Ireland, we’ve always thought we were unfortunately positioned (you know what I mean), but the Poles have had it worse. Being between two of the major aggressors in wars in the last few centuries (as well as the nice Swedes, they were once ruthless as well) have left it being a country that has ceased to exist a few times.

The following day, we went out to Nowa Huta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowa_Huta), which was a commie town built outside of Krakow in the 50s, but that is now part of it. It’s a huge sprawling place with a huge steelworks that used to be a major polluter. It actually seemed ok, as some of the pictures from the Wikipedia article show, but then again, this is 20 years after the fall of the berlin wall and billions of $s of investment in east Europe.

We got the train to Warsaw later that day, and on the journey got loads of interesting info out of a native, didn’t get his name, but we’ve named him Pawel for now. He filled in loads of our gaps in knowledge of Polish history, and how Catholicism has been a uniting factor for Poland for many years, through communism and the dissolutions of the state, leading to why it is still so religiously followed today.

Pawel also told us of the great 'gift' to Poland from Stalin, the Palace of Culture and Science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palace_of_Culture_and_Science,_Warsaw). Which he made the Polish pay for. According to the wiki article:

An old joke held that the best views of Warsaw were available from the
building: it was the only place in the city from where it could not be seen (a
claim originally made by the French writer
Guy de Maupassant about the Eiffel
Warsaw was a very different place to Krakow. Decentralised, sprawling, wide avenues, high rises, edgy. Beautiful Krakow wore thin after a couple of days, as it was a pretty town, but similar in many ways to other pretty towns. Nice market square, ornate churches and rarely leaving the centre.

Due to Warsaw being 80% destroyed after WWII, a lot of it is relatively new, with an eccentric mix of old, reconstructed-old, stanlinist and modernist architecture mixed with a few skyscrapers. It also means walking/moving around a lot to get to see things. The bit I enjoyed most was the dodgy run down east bit of the city (why is that all things east, in my experience, tend to be the run down bits, e.g. Munich, London, Europe) and trying out a real milk bar.

Yesterday, when we woke up, Poland was mourning the shock loss of their president (who Pawel had been slagging off the previous day...) and many of the cabinet. There was a strange feeling around the hostel, as you can imagine, and as we were out on the streets, you could see people gathered around any TV screen in the hope of getting more info.  It was somewhat ironic that they were going to visit for the 70th Anniversary of Katyn, where Russians wiped out a sizeable amount of the Polish intelligensia.  Polish flags were out in force:

We departed at 7:25 this morning (11th April).


Katie said...

wow... what a journey!! i feel that if i know more about the places i can comment more, but for now.. i'm totally enjoying reading your adventures!
the milk bar article is quite entertaining!

King prawn said...

I'm back baby!! On Line and ...er, in charge. Who said computers where difficult??. All I had to was turn my laptop off and on again and 2 weeks with out Internet came to a sudden and welcome end. HOORAH I say. Break out the champers and, with my newly discovered IT skills, I'll take that Goldman Sachs vacancy left by our beloved and favorite logger of the day Mr O' Kane.

Great piece, you should write for Wiki. I believe in you forest!! (ha ha, an oldie but it's still makes me giggle like a little girl). Well it's Tuesday and with you gone Ive got no one to masturbate with anymore. Remember what fun we used to have? Ahh, happy days.

But seriously, glad to hear you made it out of Auschwitz (Interesting that Shoe Shine Tam told me that the Gas chambers are still fully operational. Is that just in case there is another war?) in one piece, and now your rested your ham and eggs (legs) on the 9 hour train journey I cant wait to read about Vilnius.

Keep up the good work and Ill get you a raise.

Scott xx

Sokratees9 said...

I don't know who you are...

Shoe Shine Tam, I love it, she'll never have another name now.

King prawn said...

It's a good job you guys are not flying out of the UK today. There is a massive ash cloud from the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland that has grounded flights from the UK. Cant see it from Leyton though!!

Niall said...

I think Iceland is currently the most unluckiest and least pop[ular country in Europe!

Check this video out esp the Hooters hoodie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34mHZgP9vkc