Category Archives: Poland

Valentine’s Day in Warsaw

warsaw-poland

On arrival in Warsaw it was most noticeable was that it was very, very busy indeed and this turned out to be on account of the fact that this was February 14th, Saint Valentine’s Day.

Apparently this is a very big big day in Poland with lots of street entertainment, so many free roses distributed on the pavements that most girls were carrying an overflowing bouquet and bars full to capacity as families and lovers dawdled through the old town streets in the unexpected sunshine.

After completing a circuit of the old town just to get our bearings and to identify some potential restaurants for later we found a bar with a vacant table and ordered our first Polish beers.  The waiter tried to persuade us to eat but we said it was too early.  He was persistent and told us this would be a good time because later everywhere would be full.  In retrospect he clearly knew something that I didn’t.

Kim wondered if we should book a table somewhere but I passed this off as opportunist salesmanship and persuaded her that there was no real need.

This was a decision that I was going to regret later.  Life is like that, sometimes you miss an opportunity that you will never get again, rather like putting £100 on Leicester City to win the Premier League at 5000 to 1.  I didn’t of course.

Warsaw Old Town

So we made our way back to the Polonia Palace Hotel stopping off at a mini-market on the way to get some essential supplies and then we squandered a couple of hours enjoying the room and a glass or two of wine as there was no dining problems ahead at all.

Finally we made our way out at about eight o’clock and the place was heaving with people, the pavements were jammed and there were queues at the burger bars and pubs and that was when I first started to grow concerned.  We tried a restaurant but were turned away because it was fully booked and then a second with the same result.  At a third the waiter told us that everywhere was certain to be fully booked tonight for Valentine’s night and that without a reservation we had almost zero chance of securing a table because every restaurant was sure to be full to capacity with misty eyed lovers exchanging gifts and carried away by the occasion making ill-considered marriage proposals.

Slowly that “I told you so” look started to creep over Kim’s face like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.

We had a debate and Kim decided that there was little point walking all the way to the old town just to suffer multiple rejections and my complete humiliation so we walked back to the hotel in the hope that there would be a spare table there.  My fingers were so firmly crossed that the blood circulation was slowly being cut off.  We passed the Palace of Culture which was bathed in Valentine crimson light and as I glanced across I noticed that Kim’s face was a similar colour, flushed in her case with irritation rather than passion.

Luckily the hotel restaurant could accommodate us for a special Valentine’s Day buffet and we enjoyed a fine, if rather expensive, meal and a glass or two of wine.  The day was saved!

One thing that intrigued me was that although this was Valentine’s Day with a special menu there were a number of people around us who seemed preoccupied with their mobile phones.  A young couple at the next table barely spoke a word to each other as they endlessly scrolled through their digital lives rather than attempt a conversation with each other.  I wondered if they had booked a table for four, him and her and their two tablets.  It seemed like a waste of money to me to pay for an expensive meal and spend so much time on Facebook!

Warsaw Palace of Culture

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Krakow

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.

We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised that Christine wanted to go to Auschwitz because when we had visited Seville the previous year she refused to visit a bull ring because animals had been killed there but she didn’t seem to mind visiting a Nazi concentration camp where over a million and a half people were abused, tortured and murdered.

Auschwitz

After an early breakfast the Auschwitz group set off in their taxi and with an hour to spare before our trip we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, through buildings that were little more than empty shells with rapidly deteriorating structures, through the grounds of a grand church and into the main square that used to be even more important than the market square in Krakow itself.

Without a street map we inevitably became confused and ever so slightly lost and only made it back just in time for our scheduled nine-thirty pick up.

The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

It was called the People’s Car and was so popular and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell, which western critics mocked and suggested was made of cardboard but was in fact a sort of fibreglass/plastic.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle ( for a rather pointless comparison a modern formula one car will achieve 0 to 60 in under two seconds).

There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require a large stroke of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by way of gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.

This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Nowa Huta Krakow Poland

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric carefully negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.

Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary foot brake and Kim admitted later that even though she was in the back seat that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.

It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Review of 2015 – Top Ten Posts

Ireland Inch Beach

As we nail down 2015, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I look back over the last one.  I have ignored the WordPress annual statement to produce my own review.

The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work.  I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither conceited enough or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read.  I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the escape button!

Just to go back a bit, in 2012 the site recorded 170,900 visits and I was optimistic that as I kept posting this number was just going to keep going up but then in February 2013 Google made some devastating changes to its search algorithms and the numbers halved overnight and have never fully recovered. I finished 2013 with 79,470, a decrease of 115%.

I thought it was important to keep going so in 2014 I posted 320 times and the total number of visits recorded was just over 101,000 so there was some significant recovery.  2015 has not seen the same level of improvement but there has been consolidation.  I have posted 311 times and the number of reported visits is 106,600, an increase of just 5.5%.

These are the Top Ten posts of 2015:

No. 1 

Gaudi Casa Batlo Barcelona Catalonia Spain

Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

No change at the top this year and this post has recorded 8,715 visits which is over 3,000 more than last.  I posted this in August 2013 following a week touring Catalonia and pulling in a visit to Barcelona along the way.

I’d like to think that this is because it is a knowledgeable and scholarly assessment of Gaudi’s architectural contribution to the urban World but I think it is more likely because the image attracts visitors as it easily found in a Google search and people seem to like it because it has been copied several times!

No. 2

royal-garden-party

Royal Garden Party

5,870 hits, up from 3,300 and staying in the Top Ten for the sixth successive year which by that measure makes it my most successful post.

In total it has 17,800 visits which makes all time second after my post about  Norway, Haugesund and the Vikings. This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one.

No. 3

Vesuvius Naples Italy

Mount Vesuvius

This one has been around a while as well and with 1,610 hits and a fifth year in the Top Ten is becoming a stubborn stayer.  A bit of a surprise to me really because this is the account of a day trip to Mount Vesuvius whilst on a holiday to Sorrento in 1976 with my dad.  From my memories of the same holiday I posted several blogs about visits to CapriNaplesPompeiiThe Amalfi Drive and Rome but these have only achieved a handful of hits between them.

No. 4

Antoni Gaudi and me

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Antoni Gaudi

A second top ten appearance again this year for the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi  (maybe I am an expert on Gaudi after all).  After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list.  I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way.  I posted this in March 2013 and this year with 1,455 visits it has risen five places to number four.

No. 5

Angry Man Skelligs Viewpoint Kerry Ireland

Ireland, Ring of Kerry and I Temporarily Overcome My Fear of Dogs.

This is the first of this year’s new entries with a surprising 1,325 visits and no convincing explanation why that should be.

I visited Southern Ireland in June 2014 and wrote several posts that I personally would consider more interesting than this encounter with a grumpy street entertainer and a worn out old collie dog.  Once again, and rather disappointingly, I suspect it isn’t the words but the picture that grabs attention.  It was a map of the Ring of Kerry which I noticed displayed on the front of a shop.

No. 6

L'Escala Costa Brava

Catalonia, In Search of Norman Lewis

The second of this year’s new entries and I must confess that I am rather pleased about this one.

There are some posts that I have written that I would like people to read and this is one of few that have achieved that. Before visiting Catalonia in 2014 I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis which is an account of the Costa Brava in the 1940s and the approach of mass tourism.  In this post I attempted some research and some interpretation of the book and the area.  It has recorded 977 visits and in this case I like to think that this is because of the subject rather than the pictures.

No. 7

wieliczka salt mine

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

This post has also been a consistent performer with five years in the top ten but in terms of visits is this year’s biggest loser, down almost 3,200 hits to just 790, dropping four places from last year’s number two and if that slide continues I expect it to be gone next year.  I posted this in April 2010 after returning from a visit to Krakow in Poland.  It was a good trip but I am not sure why so many people would hit on it.  It is not as interesting as my trip to Auschwitz or the Crazy Mike Communist Tour.

No. 8

Benidorm Hotel Terrace c1960 

Every Picture Tells a Story – Benidorm c1960

I posted this in March 2010 and it finally made the top ten last year and I am glad to see it there for a second year. It has stayed in this year with 740 visits.   It is actually one of my personal favourites  and is a story about the Spanish seaside resort of  Benidorm inspired by some photographs that I came across of my grandparents on holiday there in about 1960.

No. 9

Volare Domenigo Modungo Polignano a Mare

Italy and Puglia, Domenico Modungo and the Eurovision Song Contest

The last of the new entries and another one that I am pleased about. This is the story of the Italian singer Domenico Modungo.   Domenico who? I hear you ask.  Well, let me tell you that Domenico is renowned for writing and performing what is claimed to be the most famous, most copied, most successful ever Eurovision Song Contest entry and most lucrative in terms of revenue, Italian popular music songs of all time.  Think about it…have you got it…

“Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”.  With 656 visits it has only just about crept in to the top ten but I am happy to see it there.

No. 10

Tourists The Grand Tour of Europe

Travel Journal

Seventh place with 636 hits and four years in the top ten which demonstrates the importance of an ‘About’ page.

Dropping out of the Top Ten this year are:  Moscow and Lenin’s Mausoleum, The Twelve Treasures of Spain – Seville Cathedral and Weekly Photo Challenge – Signs

If you have read one of these posts or any of the 1,785 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’then thank you very much!  I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”  

On reflection, not a bad year but I still haven’t been Freshly Pressed (Discovered).  Do I care? Well, maybe a little bit!

I’d be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2015 and the possible explanations why?  Comment and let me know.  I’m a sucker for statistics!

home-statistics

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

Palace of Culture Warsaw

Victory of Democracy

At two hundred and thirty-one metres high the Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is one of the most notorious examples of Soviet Realist architecture of the 1950s and you can’t miss it because it is the tallest building in Poland and the eighth highest in the European Union.  It was commissioned by Josef Stalin as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union and was supposed to be symbolic of the victory of communism over capitalism.

Next to it are the gleaming structures of the modern business quarter of Warsaw which represent the victory of democracy over tyranny, of free market over central planning, of capitalism over communism.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

Solidarity Gary Cooper

Victory for Democracy

On a visit to Warsaw I came across this interesting piece of street art – a huge canvas poster of Gary Cooper as Marshall Will Kane in the film High Noon.

I had no idea why until I looked it up later:

In 1989 there were some partially free elections in Poland and this was the official poster of the Solidarity movement and it shows Cooper armed not with a pistol in his right hand but with a folded ballot saying ‘Wybory’ (elections)  while the Solidarity logo is pinned to his vest above the sheriff’s badge. The message at the bottom of the poster reads: “W samo południe: 4 czerwca 1989,” which translates to “High Noon: 4 June 1989.”

Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa  explained it later:

“It was a simple but effective gimmick that at the time was misunderstood by the Communists. They tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the ‘Wild’ West, especially the U.S. But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom. ”

Victory?  In High Noon Will Kane kills the bad guys in a shoot out, in 1953 Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for his part in the film and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries

We now had some time to spare before the others returned from their visit to Auschwitz so we walked into the market square which was now bathed in gentle central European mid March sunshine and found a café with pavement tables and a good vantage point to be able to see what was going on.  As the horse drawn carriages jangled by and the place filled up with tourists I wondered how they were getting on at the concentration camp tour and I began to recollect our own visit there in 2006.

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