Articles tagged with "poland"

To the East

To the East

We arrived in Lviv in pitch darkness at 4.45am. I hardly remember arriving as I was tired beyond belief, but I know I found my way to a warm waiting room with my two travelling companions, Johan from Sweden and Brianna from the US. We slept in the waiting room for a couple of hours, before heading into the city at about 6.30am. As we walked out of the station the sky was just starting to get light.

We didn’t really know which way town was, but we guessed that it would be in the direction of some huge church spires we could see down the road, and we headed off. Our instincts were right, and after about twenty minutes we found ourselves in the centre of town. I found a hostel and straight away went to bed. I woke up at 2pm, anxious to get out and see the sights. It was a warm afternoon and I headed out to Svoboda, the main street, to check out the atmosphere. Then I walked up to the historic centre, Ploshcha Rynok, and looked around there.

In the evening I met up with Johan and Brianna for a meal. The first place we went to said they were sorry, but they had a power problem and so couldn’t do any hot food right now. So we went to a place a few doors away, but they said the same thing so this part of Lviv seemed to be having a power cut. So we stopped at the second place and had a salad.

After the meal we decided to have a look at Castle Hill. This proved to be quite an expedition as the paths up it were unlit. From the top, though, we got some great views of the town. I took plenty of photos. One long exposure was ruined when a large spider walked across my hand but some others came out OK.


Return to Warsaw

Return to Warsaw

On my way back from China in 2002 I’d stopped for a couple of days in Warsaw. This time, I started here because flights were much cheaper than flights to Kiev, and I thought it would be nice to start somewhere familiar.

I only spent a short time in Warsaw. I bought a ticket to Lviv, departing that evening, so I just went for a tired walk up to the old town. I walked via the Saski Gardens and Castle Square under grey skies, and found the experience a bit like intense déjà vu.

At 6.15pm I got on the train to Kraków, from where I’d pick up a connecting train to Przemyśl and then another to Lviv. I fell asleep almost straight away but woke briefly to see a beautiful sunset as we sped south. On the train from Kraków to Przemyśl I met two other travellers and chatted to them as we headed east. At Przemyśl we changed trains for a sleeper, and I was happy to get a little bit of sleep. This was interrupted only by the border crossing, where my battered passport, already veteran of 24 countries, caused a bit of consternation. “What has happened to your passport?”, demanded the woman checking it, sternly. For the sake of brevity I skipped stories of Patagonian rain and Atacaman sand, and said I had accidentally laundered it. “Only once?”, she asked, with a raised eyebrow and a smile. With that she stamped my passport and I was in Ukraine. It was 2am.


Warsaw

Warsaw

I didn’t really do much in Warsaw. I’d walked miles and miles every day in Moscow, but I couldn’t muster up the same enthusiasm here. The city was like a small village in comparison to Moscow, and once I’d walked around the old town, I felt like I’d seen it all. So I just relaxed, sitting in the Saski gardens reading, and having the odd ice cream on Nowy Swiat when I felt like walking there.

One thing that was great about Poland was that I was totally literate again. The 20 or so characters I’d managed to learn in China hadn’t generally been of much use, and most of the time the written language left me completely baffled. In Russia, I could read cyrillic script, albeit slowly. But here I was back in the world of latin script. Not that this meant I understood a word of Polish, but at least I understood the letters. All the c’s, z’s and y’s were like old friends.

My major sightseeing expedition was to the Palace of Culture and Science. This building, in the classic Stalinist style, is the tallest in Poland and dominates the skyline. I liked it because it was pretty much identical to Moscow’s set of seven skyscrapers which were built after the war at Stalin’s behest. And I also liked it because it had a viewing platform. I went up for an evening view of the city.


Through Belarus

Through Belarus

I’d only meant to spend a couple of days in Moscow at first, but it had held on to me for six days and I really wanted to stay longer. But I was still almost two thousand miles from home and I had to be back at work in just over a week, so I bought a ticket for a train to Warsaw, via Belarus, and reluctantly left Russia.

Compared to the epic crossing of the vastness of Siberia, I thought the journey might seem quite quick, and it did. We left Moscow at 3pm, and it seemed like about five minutes later that we reached Smolensk. The Russian border was somewhere soon after Smolensk, but we didn’t stop. It seemed that Belarus and Russia were only nominally separate countries.

One thing this journey lacked was food. All throughout Siberia there had been home-made food being sold on station platforms, and it was delicious. In western Russia no-one was selling, except for a woman with a box of ice creams on Vyazma station, three hours out of Moscow. One ice cream is not an adequate dinner, and I would have eaten something more filling in the restaurant car, except this train didn’t have a restaurant car. The only other food available was a free croissant in the sleeping cabin.

We entered Belarus at sunset. I was sad not to be seeing any of this enigmatic country, but I only had a transit visa so I couldn’t stop off. I woke up in the middle of the night when we stopped at Minsk station, and got off the train to stretch my legs. I was feeling quite adventurous, being in what is always described as Europe’s last communist dictatorship, and a country with isolationist tendencies of almost North Korean proportions, but this feeling was shattered when I noticed a McDonalds in the station building.

I slept again until the border with Poland, which we reached at dawn. We stopped first at Brest, where everyone piled off the train into duty free and stocked up on booze. Vodka and toblerone were the only things on sale in the station shop. By now I was starving beyond belief, but didn’t fancy toblerone for breakfast, so I stayed hungry until we finally rolled into Warszawa Centralna station at 9.45 in the morning.