Around Poland ....and back to Warsaw

Saturday 12 June Trzebaw
Today I decided to do a little of the sightseeing that I missed the other day, due to my camera problems, and as I was still close to the area it seem like a good idea.

The first location was Raczynski Palace at the village of Rogalin, and village is certainly was a large building that formed the Palace was hidden behind trees, and I was through the village and out the other side before I realised what had happened. Back again and I found the sign to the Palace so went and parked and paid my 4zl.

About five minutes later the building was opened to receive visitors at 10 a.m., first you entered a passageway that was lined with portraits from 1700 something, they were either very, very ugly people back then or the painters should have been shot, (perhaps they were), and around the mid-1800s the paintings started getting better and that people actually looked reasonably attractive. Only some of the rooms were open for inspection, I have a feeling whether the current family is that owns it are living there, it shows 1 or 2 of the rooms, done in period furniture, the owners were great collectors of paintings, and that was one of the reasons I went there because the guidebook shows a rather beautiful one by Claude Monet, but unfortunately that was not on show, or perhaps has been sold.

As for the rest of the paintings let me just say of the several hundred paintings on display I only saw about four that I would bother with.

The next spot before getting totally lost, again, was Kornik Castle, the guidebook describes it as being set on an island, I would describe it as having been built with a moat around it which of course then technically it is on an island. They had extremely beautiful wooden floors and the only way you could go through the Castle was with the felt overshoes which sort of were held on to your feet with elastic. I imagined this whole situation happening in America, because your feet with the felt underneath walking on the polished wood you could very easily slipped and I think the description is injured your back, have a court case and not have to worry about money again.

The Castle was average, the suits of armour were average, there was a beautiful sweeping staircase which I thought I might take a photograph of, but of course that was not permitted.

Then I got lost, realised eventually that I was heading towards somewhere I did not want to go, and as it was around about 1 p.m. I thought I would head back to the hotel I stayed at last night and go into the shops and get one those extra suitcases to see if I can split the load, who either be a good step or a stupid step, watch this space!

I my last visit through some of the Soviets last year I commented on how primitive supermarkets were, and how small the trolleys were, and how little people bought. While this enormous supermarket, selling almost everything, with about 40 checkouts, so large that staff on roller skates, such a large choice of everything you'd be hard pressed to find anything better in the West, people go into the checkouts with the Western size supermarkets trolleys, piled full, just like in the West, lots of people there, it is far enough out-of-town that you need a car to get their, yes as far as shopping is concerned they have left the old Soviet system well behind in the dust, well that is in Poznan which is one of the major cities.

Sunday 13 June Szczecin
First day with the two suitcases, it is not going to work, so after a lot of thought I decided to do give away my new suitcases, pack up my camera suitcase with all my kaki clothes and my boots, toss in the books I bought, give away my two Polish maps to my Polish friends that I will be calling on in the next couple of days, ship the suitcase back to New Zealand by DHL and hopefully that will be the end of my weight problems.

As I was coming into Szczecin I saw a sign to the airport and as most freight forwarding companies have their depots at the airport I thought this is a go! Well that wasn't. So I found out that DHL and UPS had depots in the city so I head back to the city to find the hotel and find the forwarding companies tomorrow morning. So back in the city looking for a hotel, my usual task, and here is a very large billboard giving directions for DHL. As the words on the billboard were all Polish to me I had to find DHL by trial and error and on the third trial I found them quite easily. That sort that out, now to find a hotel was not quite as easy but eventually I tracked the hotel down.

Took all my luggage upto the room, pulled out everything that I did not want to carry with me, got all my kakis and packed up my boots, and the lens that no longer works all in my camera case that I had built a wonderful partitions in, they all came out and will be left in the hotel room, the suitcase was packed absolutely tight, so I hope that it does not burst before get back to New Zealand. Tomorrow morning I take around to DHL and hopefully the cost of sending it is substantially less than the value of its contents.

So for the rest of my trip I will be wearing my Greek waiter's outfit, white shirt black trousers. I was back into this outfit tonight and I must admit it felt a lot better than my kakis and boots.

Earlier today I went to a shopping centre and found quite a good little bag with wheels which I now adapted for my camera case.

Hopefully that will be the last you hear of the suitcase saga. Some may wonder what all saga was about and why I was making such a performance about carrying a suitcase up some stairs, well the suitcase weighed 31 kilo or for those of you that is a foreign weight, that converts to 68 1/2 pounds. I guess 20 years ago that may not have been a problem but I can do without that 31 kilos in more ways than one. I will keep you posted on what the new suitcase weight is once I go through check-in again.

Tonight in a restaurant I was watching a family of four, husband-and-wife and two daughters, daughters probably 10 and 12 years old, the mother and the two daughters were sitting reasonably close and were chatting, the father was almost sitting as far away from his wife as he could get, and gazing out into the middle distance, occasionally returning to answer a direct question that had been put to him in a manner you could never call gracious, occasionally he would return to Earth to scold one of the girls, there was so obvious that there was no connection between the husband-and-wife whatsoever at this stage of their life, and the wife appeared to be bored out of her mind, I just wondered what the future held for them.

Monday 14 June Kolobrzeg
Was a really simple day-to-day, once I got over DHL wanting NZ$800 to send my unwanted clothes and books back to New Zealand. I did a quick costing and if I pulled out the lens and my leather jacket and would have been as cheap to throw the case of away full of what was left. So I still have the small case with me and I will keep you posted

After that nonevent drove through to Swinouiscie, well I should say almost, there was a ferry to take across the Harbour and I could not be bothered doing that to see another town so was back a little way to take the coastal route through to my location tonight.

Thursday, 17 June Siemianice
Well I have done something, unusual for last two days, I've stayed in one spot. I'm visiting my friends who I visited last year and we have been having a great time catching up on events of the last 12 months. They are in the real estate business here in Poland, and like New Zealand it is booming, but of course at a lower dollar value. If you want to buy real estate in Poland now is the time before it gets expensive. I saw two interesting properties, one quite out of the country with about at least 30 rooms spread over four floors, I guess well over a hundred years old, with quite a lot of land and outbuildings for about NZ$1.5 million, it was what the real estate agents in New Zealand would call suitable for the handyman, and boy the handyman would have to be handy, it had suffered years of neglect and would need a tremendous amount of money to bring it up to standard, so you could live in relative isolation in the countryside. No I did not buy it.

Choice two was a large mansion about 10 kilometres away from a popular beach resort, it was in a L shaped building and for some reason only the centre of the L was for sale, the two parts on either side were owned by other people. It was set up as a cheaper hotel for families, but was beautiful on the inside, the ceilings were absolutely incredible, beautiful inlaid wooden floors, beautiful drapes, and did need some very large pictures on the wall, as the ones they have the two small and they look ridiculous, but everything had been done perfectly with the only problem being to me the building was incomplete with out the other two thirds. It was about NZ$250m and only problem with that was the old adage, Location. Again I kept my wallet in my pocket. Incidentally we on to this beach location and there was a cold wind coming directly from the North Pole, or Siberia which ever was colder, there were plenty of people about and we had dinner in this incredible old hotel that originally had been a castle, set right on the ocean, and we watched the sun slowly sink and move on to New Zealand.

So the time we got back to the house and sorted out my hosts computer problems, downloaded the e-mail for the first time in three days, it was well after 1 a.m. and for some reason I was little bit tired.

The after my hosts gave me a monstrous lunch today I was on the road again towards Warsaw, and the first it is to drive towards Gdansk, and found a hotel on the outskirts. If you are ever in Poland and you're driving a car, you'll probably find hotel's want to charge you for the parking, throw your hands up in horror, explain that you've never paid this in your life before, and nine times out of 10 day wipe the charge.

Talking of charges being wiped, I've been very careful as I've been driving the thousands of kilometres around Poland, both with the my speed, and the oncoming traffic. Obviously I wasn't carefully up with my speed the other day as I was pulled over for doing 91 K. in a 50 K. area. Now I've seen no signs, but how to describe that, and tell that to traffic officer that speaks Polish only. The only thing to do is to go with the flow, presented him my international drivers license, he then want to see my passport which I presented, he then want to see the ownership papers of the car, which I presented, he then started talking to me, in Polish of course, and I held my hands up palms in the air like a good Frenchman or Italian, and he looked at the other traffic officer in the other traffic officer looked back, they shrugged their shoulders, and wave me on my way. After that even the Fiat six hundreds were passing me, and horse and cart attempted, but at that point I decided I was being ridiculous.

Driving here to day I saw the result of an overtaking that had gone wrong, on one side of the road was a car with its front flatten back to the windscreen, and on the other side of the road a larger car tipped on its side, going nowhere. Yet a few seconds later people were still ripping past me, in unsafe locations at incredible speed. I guess it cannot happen to them.

Where ever I travel around Poland, they often have either tanks or jet aircraft on display I assume to illustrate their strength. I have seen enough tanks and enough jet aircraft to form a brigade of tanks and a squadron of aircraft. I also seen helicopters and jets, reasonably modern looking jets, in people's backyards, it's an interesting situation when you have so many weapons, that each costing millions to build, that they can end up in private hands, to sit as decoration in a backyard, and one realises the ridiculously low price that they must have been sold for, and also to realise that the technology must have been so outdated that they couldn't even be sold to Africa or the Middle East. This is just obviously what is able to be seen on the surface, goodness knows what other weapons are available for perhaps almost the price of collecting them, and of course all this was paid for by the country which has had the effect of making the country one of the poorest in Europe. Boys and their toys, Generals and their tanks, I guess it is the same.

Saturday 19 June Warsaw
On Friday from the hotel near Gdansk I decided to drive towards Warsaw and stop about a hundred kilometres from Warsaw at reasonably nice hotel. Well again I passed one that was nice but it was far too early and of course that was the last nice hotel I saw. At this stage it was getting late and I was getting desperate so I thought I would head to the airport and get a hotel there. Most countries have signs on all motorways that lead to the airport well I could not find one. In the end I found a sign to hotel that looked nice but no one was at home. Go on a little bit further found another one and fortunately that was it. They were getting ready for a wedding on Saturday, the rooms look reasonable, little bit overpriced, but was on the outskirts of Warsaw, no phone in the room, so no Internet, but I guess beggars cannot be chooses.

Checked in and went out for a drive and found a very large shopping centre close by, I guess if you are her in a country and you are starting from nothing you can design the best, this is got the one of the best shopping centres I've ever been into for space, design of shops and selection of goods. There was the main large grocery, come hardware, come electronics, come everything else shop, and lots of small shops, speciality shops, scattered all around the large shop with lots of space, lots of everything.

I had a bite to eat at one many reasonably fast food shops, that seemed to be done again, a little bit better, back to the hotel for a peaceful night's sleep. Up this morning, the guy that owned the hotel was getting breakfast, could not speak English, gave me some scolding hot tea, and no matter how long I waited it was still hot enough to remove skin from anything. I asked him for ice using every miming method I could think of and finally pulled out my illustrations for everything, pointed to a glass with ice cubes in, I saw the light bulb light in his head and after three large ice cubes it was cool enough to drink.

Then it came time to pay for the room, gave him my credit card, and he did not know what to do, we waited for 15 minutes for one of the staff to arrive, he asked me if I had any money, polish money, I pulled out 130, the account was for 170, he took 130, shook my hand, and wished me bon voyage, I hope that was that, and polish.

Now having found out last night where I was, I looked at a map and it was a simple process of following Highway 8 through the city which would lead me straight on to the access to the airport. Easier said than done, the road signs showed Highway 8 every fourth sign, so you kept on going with blind faith until the fourth sign no longer shows Highway 8, but confirms you are on the wrong road, so you cut across country through fields on fourth -class Highways until you finally come to Highway 8 from the South. You then started driving towards Warsaw again, and eventually see one Airport sign, but you see nothing else and you figure you've gone too far, so you turn around the best way you can which take you five kilometres in around about direction, you go South again and there is one sign, the only one sign, on the only Highway around Warsaw, pointing the way to the airport.

Now my luck is on the roll, I figure I will return the car while I am lucky. I should realise you only get one bit of luck per day, most airports have large signs showing "rental car return", not had Warsaw, and eventually I asked somebody, he directed me to short-term parking 2, I went in there, no sign of any rental return, spoke to somebody else, he said Park it over their, and go to the rental office, which I did, I hope they find it sometime in the next century.

I paid the rental car, 4700 lx or just over NZ$2000, for 21 days and 6500 kilometres. If you're thinking of doing such a trip add about 250 lx a day for food and accommodation, for one person and add about 100 xl for every other person.

Another point to keep at the back of your mind, is that taxis off the taxi rank, are not all equal, I was directed to a particular brand of taxi, by the Avis counter, but I guess if they have the taxi meter you're pretty right. You can bet your bottom dollar, that if you are approached in the airport, or see a special offer on the Internet, of a special price, it will be greater than what you can get off the taxi rank, with a meter.

I booked an apartment in the old town for next week or so, but I was a day early, so I rang to see if I could get in a day earlier, but no, but they had another one I could have for the night, and I thought that was probably easier than finding a airport hotel, then finding a taxi and getting to town the following day.

I got to the pickup point for the apartment, the apartment that I was moving to for the one night, was being cleaned, and no the luggage could not be left there, so we walked on for a block, up a flight of stairs, where I had to repeat the information I had already given them via the Internet, on a different form, I complained about it, saying they had all of the information, and they should move out of Soviet times, and into the 21st century, he said you'll have to tell the Englishman, who owns the company, at that point I knew I was wasting my time.

A little later the guy came into the office to clear his e-mail, I started talking to him, he was a German from Hamburg, who was working for a British bank, and I said, it seems like all British industry, now needs a German to run it, and I was thinking particularly of the car industry, and he nodded his head, and said yes, that is the work of a lot of Germans.

Was good decision to take the apartment and the old town for a little over a week, after the continual moving for the last 54 plus days is good to stay in one spot for a while. I decided to put my camera away for a week and just wander around with my hands on my pockets. I discovered I had sent my guide book back to New Zealand when I did my posting a week or so earlier, so it was a matter of just looking at what I could find.

It was very interesting walking around the old town, a place very much for tourists, absolutely full of eating places, one shop that sells ice cream which every evening has at least a line of 30 people waiting to be served. I wondered what was so good about it so went in one day when there was no line, it was just ordinary ice cream, which several other shops closed by, with no line, sell. Perhaps if you don't have to wait for it, it cannot be as good.

This total area it was devastated during Hitler's war and has been totally rebuilt to make quite a character area. That's one thing I've noticed about the old Soviets, that most times they have done a incredible reconstruction job, often in the original style and I noticed this in many places. The one exception was Dresden, where the cathedral there was still a pile of rubble as it was after the bombing raid, and the eventual firestorm in the forties.

I have wandered through the shopping centre in the centre of the city which is a nice walk from the old town, and was a rather interesting area with incredibly good shops. There was many sightseeing scenarios around the city, lots of cathedrals, museums and other landmarks.

Now is quite a good time to visit Poland before it becomes too expensive and overflowing with tourists. Accommodation in the cities is quite expensive but you get out of the cities it is quite affordable.

I visited the Palace of Culture and Science building which has a large viewing area near the top, on the 32nd floor. From there you can view the city from the four sides and gives you a really good understanding of how big Warsaw is at this particular point in time. I'm seeing a lot of Americans in and around Warsaw, that quite a few tour groups going through, a lot of these staff in the shops speak English, which of course is the result of all the tour groups. There seems to be a large number of Jewish Americans visiting the country and I make the assumption that a lot had family in this country originally.

I have been having a chat to quite a few different people from different countries, met a interesting lady when I was up on the panorama, from the city of Rostov on Don, she was trained as an electrical engineer, and has travel all over Russia supervising and designing the rewiring of lots of the factories during Soviet times, and is now working as an accountant for one of the large companies that have emerged in the new Soviet system. From what I was told the company almost handles everything.

She has a very interesting history, her father is evidently a ex senior officer, I think the term is of flag rank, in the Russian army, her brother has currently the same rank, her uncle is in command of one of the Russian navy ships, so the whole family sounds very interesting and will have seen, no, taken part in a lot of the military activity of the 20th century.

An one of my last spots I must have left my watch sitting on the table because I ended up in Warsaw with only my alarm clock to tell the time with. I wandered around the old town looking at replacement watches, and thought of by an antique pockets watch, and eventually isolated one that looks like an a good buy.

Well it went for three hours, and then stopped, I took it back the following day, they went through all of the reasons why they could not and should not replace the watch, and told me to come back the following day. Well I thought it properly just needs cleaning, and I will return a profit on it and New Zealand, so I won't bother.

Tuesday but in a 29th June

This morning I took a taxi out to the Blue City, a large shopping centre totally enclosed with well over 200 shops, obviously on the outskirts of the town, to me there were not enough people shopping there, nor were there any of the large major stores which often attract customers, almost all of the shops were small shops, with the staff doing nothing, very few people walking about considering the investment in the property and in the shops, hopefully I was there on a bad day. Did a really good walk around on the five floors of shops, had lunched there, and with still no watch had no clue as to the time.

Looked in some of the shops but their watches all started at 300xl, which is not a great deal of money but more often than I care to pay for something I do not wear. Then I remembered seeing them for sale, in the old town, on the sidewalk, all genuine Rolexes and the like of course, so I thought I'll look there.

So back to the old town and the apartment, collected the camera, felt strange using it again after the break, and wandered around the old town taking all the photographs I been observing the last week.

Ended up outside the antique shop where I bought the watch, and I thought I'll go in and see what the doing about the nonworking pocket-watch. As I was trying to find the door, I stepped off the raised footpath to the footpath that was about 6 inches lower, I was not looking, I was not expecting the ground not to be there, and I ended up spread flat on my stomach, skinned two fingers, my camera and my knees. I sprung up quickly, naturally I checked the camera, it appeared to be okay, not much damage, is interesting observing something like that happening to yourself because it seems to happen in slow motion.

So after checking the camera I found the door to the shop and went in and reintroduced myself, again they told me all the reasons why they could do nothing, I told them I thought that they were a reputable company which is why I bought from them, and after a little bit more discussion they said they would give me my money back, honestly I could not believe my ears, so I rushed back to the apartment, collected the watch and the receipt, went back their and got a complete refund of 860xl.

So now was off to find the genuine Rolex, which was one of the many well-known brands he offered me, in the end I selected a simple Japanese watch, (I assume) for 40xl. Altogether in interesting day.

Wednesday was overcast and cold, summer must still be on the way, is waiting for me to move on before it arrives. Just another large walk around the city, getting to know quite well now.

Thursday a fine day-to-day, went for my walk around the very large block in Warsaw city, went to the old stadium which used his seat over 80,000 people, has now been turned into Europe's largest marketplace, must be something like 500 small stalls and there, I would say 98% of the goods on sale were women's clothing in the form of dresses, evening dresses, underwear, shoes, coats, it was an incredible collection of clothing, from the casual glance of a male they all reasonable quality and equal to if not better than the fashions I saw in the street. The "four" men's shops looked reasonable. Imagine having this selection of shops all under one roof, you go in one end in rags and come out dressed the other end dressed to the height of fashion.

Now was a good time to give a comment on my high-heeled shoe survey. 98% of the women I saw in the streets of Warsaw with dressed for comfort both with clothing and shoes. It was the other 2% they would qualify for my son's description of "drop-dead gorgeous". I assume they were dressed up for special occasions which went to show that if they wanted to they could equal the best anywhere.

I enjoyed most stay and drive around Poland, tomorrow morning I fly to Romania, I'm unsure of what the Internet situation will be there, however it is like the rest of the Soviets I've visited the should be no problems. However if I do disappear for next month and is because of the Internet situation in Romania.