Tag Archives: Warsaw

Doors and Windows of 2015

Power to the People!Mellieha Malta BalconyDurham Cathedral Door Knocker001Dol Afon LlanuwchllynDinan Brittany FranceAlghero Sardinia

Postcards of 2015

Warsaw

February 2015 – Warsaw

I had never really thought seriously about going to Warsaw before and I put this down to the fact that when I was younger I always associated it with two things.  Firstly, word association and the town of Walsall, which is a dreary unattractive, industrial town in the Black Country in the United Kingdom which is a place that few people would visit by choice.  Secondly the term Warsaw Pact, which was the name of the Soviet military alliance in Eastern Europe which during my early years seemed to be the sinister organisation responsible for plotting to wipe us of the face of the map in a messy nuclear strike.

Buses of Malta postcard

April 2015 – Malta

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!  A bargain not to be missed.

During the gloomy winter months I continued to try and convince Kim that she was going to really, really enjoy Malta but as the departure date grew closer I began to worry that she might not be so blown away with the place as I had been previously…

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

June 2015 – Northern Ireland

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they cleverly mislead visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

Durham Postcard

August 2015 – Durham

For eight hundred years Durham was the most important city in Northern England with a castle and a cathedral built within the natural defensive position of a loop in the river Wear which gave protection on three sides and the city became the first line of defence against any invasions from Scotland and the North.

Abbotsford House Scotland

August 2015 – Scottish Borders

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

Castell y Bere Wales

August 2015 – Wales

It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle.  It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground.  Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.

Dinard, Brittany, France

September 2015 – Brittany, France

It has been called the Cannes of the north, apparently Joan Collins is a frequent visitor but we didn’t spot here tonight, Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying on the River Rance and it is claimed that Alfred Hitchcock visited Dinard and based the house used in his most famous movie Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse, there is even a statue of the man to endorse the claim.  Long before his adventures Lawrence of Arabia lived in Dinard as a small child and Picasso painted here in the 1920s, Claude Debussy is supposed to have had the idea for “La Mer” during a visit to Saint-Énogat in 1902 and Oscar Wilde also visited the place and mentions it in his De Profundis.

Valle de Luna Sardinia

October 2015 – Sardinia

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.

Postcard Maps of 2015

malta-mapWroclaw Poland PostcardNorthern Ireland Map PostcardScottish Bordersnorth walesBrittany Map PostcardSardinia Postcard Map

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.

Read the full story…

Brittany, St Malo

Dinard Brittany France

Our hotel had a perfect location right on the sea front and the price to be paid reflected that but sadly the breakfast didn’t match up.  Hard bread and selections that disappeared and weren’t replenished left us feeling mugged!  That’s the Hotel de Vallée by the way.

Never mind, the sun was shining, the disappointment was soon left behind and we set off for a walk around a coastal path until we reached a boat trip booking office and we immediately changed our plans – we were on holiday and impromptu decisions are quite acceptable.  So rather than explore the town of Dinard we bought tickets for a fifteen minute boat taxi ride to the city of St Malo instead.

The water taxi negotiated a busy route to avoid the boats bobbing about on the water and the up market yachts streaking across the surface of the sea and brought us closer to the medieval walled city.  Christine wasn’t impressed, she thought it looked like a prison with its imposing grey granite walls rising directly out of the sea but we persuaded her to hold her final judgement and wait until we got inside.

St Malo Brittany

She was glad that she did because St Malo is an absolute gem.  In 1944 it was almost completely destroyed by American bombers and a British naval bombardment and by the time they had finished with it 80% was in ruins.  The French didn’t rush to restore it however and took twelve years from 1948 to 1960 to put the city back together again stone by stone, brick by brick.

And this is an important point – in France war damaged towns and cities were rebuilt in a traditional way with buildings that recreated the spirit of the old communities whereas in England our heritage was swept away by the town planners of the 1960s who approved the destruction of anything of value and replacement with concrete and ugliness which condemns English towns for the next couple of hundred years or so to all look the same whereas in France they have recaptured and preserved their individual identity.

In 2015 this seems to be a feature of our travel destinations – cities that have been bombed and destroyed.  In February we went to Warsaw in Poland, in April to Malta and to Londonderry in Northern Ireland in June all of which, have at some point been virtually destroyed.

We walked through the labyrinth of streets where shops and bars met at the pavement edge and walked straight through to the walls on the other side where restaurants lined the city walls, so many because it is estimated that St Malo has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants in all of Europe with most of them specialising in oysters from nearby Cancale.

Sea Defences St Malo Brittany France

Outside of the walls we walked to the sandy beaches and the rows and rows of timber trunks firmly planted in the sand to provide defence against Winter Atlantic storms that sweep in along this coast and frequently deluge the city under a barrage of high water.  Not today however because the sun was shining and if anything we had to frequently seek shelter of shade to get away from the blistering midday sun.

After walking for an hour or so we rested for a while at a bar in the sunshine and then walked some more just to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything.  First we arrived at the cathedral which was much like any other cathedral but had an interesting plaque outside commemorating a previous citizen of the city, a man called Jacques Cartier.  Now, this is a name that probably won’t mean a lot to most people unless they are Canadian because Jacques Cartier let me tell you is credited with being the explorer who first navigated inland from the North Atlantic Ocean and allegedly gave the country its name.  Lots of people had been to what we know as Canada before Cartier of course but none had ventured so far into the interior before him.

In 2004 the Canadian Broadcasting Company ran a competition to choose the greatest Canadian, when the votes were counted three of the top ten were Scots, Tommy Douglas, John MacDonald and Alexander Graham Bell but despite this achievement the Breton Jacques Cartier did not even make the final fifty.

St Malo was a genuine surprise, I had always thought of it as a ferry port where people arrived from Portsmouth and left the boat blinkered, looked for the green Toutes Directions sign and hammered south, perhaps they do, there weren’t many English tourists here today.

After the lunch stop we walked back to the walls and walked along the western bastions looking out over several island fortifications cut off by the high tide, one containing the tomb of François-René Chateaubriand, politician, diplomat, author and the man who it is popularly supposed that the steak dish is named after.

By late afternoon it was time to take the water taxi back to Dinard and by four o’clock we were back on the seaside promenade.  With the sun still beating down we walked to the beach with the lifeguard championship games and had a drink at the water’s edge before the girls went into town to the shops and to find somewhere for evening meal and I declined the opportunity to join them and had a second beer instead.

If you are from Canada who did you vote for in the ‘Greatest Canadians’ competition?  If you are not from Canada who would you have voted for?

Hotel de La Vallee Dinard Brittany

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol – High Noon and Solidarity

Solidarity Gary Cooper

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. ”

In 1953 Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland.

Read the full story…

Cities of Poland

Krakow – Read the full story…

Wroclaw – Read the full story…

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

Warsaw – Read the full story…

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.

Warsaw, Reflection and Assessment

Palace of Culture Warsaw

After a couple of circuits of the viewing terrace the penetrating chill of the wind forced us back inside but there was nothing else of interest inside the thirtieth floor so we waited for the lift and the yo-yo attendant took us swiftly back to the ground floor.

It was one of those places where I couldn’t help thinking that there must be more to see, but there really isn’t, a couple of souvenir shops and a café and that really is it so we made our way to the exit and left the Palace of Culture and Science and walked along a wide boulevard and back to the Old Town.  We probably wouldn’t have bothered going to the centre for a third time except for the fact that the sun was shining and we wanted to get some blue sky pictures.

We took a different route this time, which suited me just fine because it missed out all of the shops and surprisingly Kim didn’t seem to notice.  Eventually we came to a green park, Saxon Gardens, chilly and empty today but I imagine rather vibrant in the summer with fountains and classical statues lining the walkways.  The route took us past the site of the missing Saski Palace and on into Saxon Square, now renamed Piłsudski Square after one of the heroes of Polish independence in 1918 and where a brooding statue of him looks out over a vast empty concrete square where the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral once stood and which he probably had a say in demolishing!

So we walked to the Old Town which was strangely subdued this morning, the weekend street entertainers and the souvenir market stalls had all gone and the men in costume trying to persuade people to visit their bars and restaurants were having a very hard time of it.

Around the walls we walked and through the Barbican gates and then looked for new streets that we hadn’t discovered but there was no real reason to slow down and although we dawdled as best we could within twenty minutes we were back out of the streets of the pastel coloured Old Town and considering the prospect of a slow walk back towards the business quarter and the hotel.  I liked the Old Town, they have made a very good job of the restoration but for me, I have to say, it seemed to lack heart or soul.

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

Kim had plans to now to visit a coffee/cake shop that she had seen so we wandered along trying to relocate it.  We thought that we had found it but after we had gone in and selected a table she realised that this wasn’t it so we put our coats back on and promptly left.  After a few minutes we again thought that we had found it so we went inside into the warm and sat and chatted and reflected for a while.  As it turned out this wasn’t the one either and we walked past it a few seconds after leaving.

This was our third city visit to Poland and we were keen to make a judgement.  One thing that had surprised us was the size of the place and just how much walking was involved.  We agreed that Warsaw needed more than three days but we were not sure that we needed more than three days of Warsaw, if you know what I mean!

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.

And so rather earlier than planned we made our way back to the Polonia Palace, Kim made a detour to do some shopping and I went straight back to  the room to do some reading.  I have to say that I found Warsaw to be a little bit of a disappointment.

As afternoon turned to early evening we considered our dining options. This didn’t take long.  We just headed straight back to the restaurant that we that enjoyed the previous night, Na Brackiej (which simply means – on Bracka Street).  This is silly I know but once we find somewhere we like we get in the habit of going back even though there are others to choose from.  Once in Barcelona we went to the same place four nights running and I think we had paella every night as well (different varieties of course).  Well, the place didn’t let us down and we had a second excellent meal.

This was our final night, so, although it was cold we walked the streets for a while and then returned to the hotel.  Next morning we had breakfast with a vodka shot and then made our way to the bus stop for the return journey to the airport.  It was a pleasant journey back alongside the west bank of the River Vistula and soon we were at Modlin and waiting for our return flight home!

Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

 

Warsaw, The Palace of Culture and Science

Palace of Culture Warsaw

There was a happy return to glorious sunshine this morning so we took breakfast early and stepped out to complete our sightseeing.  However, although the sun was out there was a stiff breeze and it was quite cool so once outside the door we turned straight round and went back in to get our hats and scarves.

It was the sort of blue sky that you could feel fairly confident that it would be there all day but just in case we went first to the Palace of Culture and Science with a plan to visit the viewing platform almost at the top.

On the ground floor the Museum of Technology wasn’t open and I sensed that Kim wasn’t desperately disappointed by that.  In fact Kim generally likes Monday sightseeing in Europe because as a general rule most of the museums are closed for the day.

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.  What a great gift!

You can’t say that the communists are always inefficient because construction began in 1952 and was completed in 1955 in a total of two years and sixty-six days, although to put that into context the Empire State Building in New York is 65% higher and was completed in less than half that time – one year and forty-five days.  Five thousand Russian builders were moved to Warsaw for the construction project which used forty million bricks and the completed building has almost three thousand, three hundred rooms.  Most of these are offices so visitors are entirely restricted to the ground floor and a maze of marble corridors.

It might have been free to go to the top on Sunday, I’ll never know, but it cost twenty Zlotys each today, that’s about £4, so nothing really to complain about.  We made our way to the lift and waited and soon the doors opened and we stepped inside.  It was gloriously old fashioned and sat on a stool in the corner was the lift operator whose only job was to close the doors and press the button for the thirtieth floor.

This has surely got to be one of the worst jobs in the World, sat in a windowless box and taking people backwards and forwards all day.  I bet it takes some mental preparation in the morning before setting out to work.  We went up in complete silence, it didn’t seem appropriate to attempt conversation, I can’t imagine what you could say that she hadn’t heard a million times before.  She had a severe demeanour which said ‘don’t bother me’  and being stuck in the lift with her if it broke down would have been a hundred times worse than when I was stranded in an elevator with a turtle!

It was a fast lift, it took less than twenty seconds to get to the top so if the attendant is working flat out that is about one hundred and eighty times an hour or one thousand four hundred and forty times for a full eight hour day.  I imagine that when she gets home at night and someone asks how the day went then the only appropriate response is “oh, you know, up and down”.

It was cold on that observation platform I can tell you as we wandered around the edge and looked over the city.  Not a beautiful city I have to say and from this position it was easy to see how the modern city was reconstructed with the long straight boulevards flanked with communist style buildings and structures.  Despite the brutality of the architecture it is however easy to look out and simply admire the post war determination of the people of Poland to rebuild the broken city.

A lot of people in Warsaw don’t especially like Stalin’s gift but it looks set to stay.  This is unlike a previous Russian building gift that was built in the city centre during a previous period of Russian occupation.

Warsaw Alexander Nevsky Cathedral 1

It is said that the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky* Cathedral, completed in 1914, was the grandest building that ever stood in Warsaw.  Constructed of Finnish granite and clad in finest Russian marble it had five gold plated domes, and a seventy metre high bell tower.  By all accounts, inside the cathedral proved even more dazzling and copper and oak doors led to a lavish interior exhibiting oil paintings and icons, mosaic panels decorated the cavernous structure and the entire building was heavily adorned with precious stones.

Despite its grandeur it was not a popular building and when Poland gained temporary independence in 1918 the decision was quickly made to demolish it and in 1922 the tower was dismantled and between 1924 and 1926 fifteen thousand detonations were set off to reduce it to rubble – I suppose it saved the Nazis a job twenty years later!

The Russians built quite a lot of these things as gifts and whilst we clearly unable to visit the lost cathedral here in Warsaw we have previously visited the similarly named Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (there is also one in Sofia) when we visited Tallinn in Estonia but the best was the restored Cathedral in Riga which I imagine may have looked very similar to this one.

Riga Orthodox Church

* Alexander Nevsky was a thirteenth century Russian military and religious hero.

In 2005 the Russia TV Channel ran a poll to identify the Greatest Russian.  The competition was plagued with controversy and not unsurprisingly for a Russian election accusations of vote rigging and irregular block voting but at the end of it Alexander Nevsky emerged as the outright winner.  But it was a very odd result with Pyotr Stolypin ( a staunch monarchist prime minister of the last days of the Romanovs) coming second and Josef Stalin who is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of as many as sixty million people coming third!  At about the same time German TV ran a similar poll but votes for Adolf Hitler were not allowed.