A Travellerspoint blog

Warsaw to Berlin

October 4

sunny 25 °C
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Tuesday October 4

Full day on a fast comfortable (but not particularly modern) train from Warszawa Central to Berlin. Short stops at Zachodina, Kutno, Konin (home of the inventor of the latex condom - Julius Fromm), Poznan, Swiedbodzin, across the Oder River and the border at Rzepin into Frankfurt (Oder) and on to Berlin.

Landscape very rural with strip farming of canola, maize, lucerne, some cattle in paddocks. Few fences. Individual houses more evident but soviet style apartments in larger towns. Some attempt to keep house blocks neat and tidy.  

Approaches along the railway line indicates that Berlin is a bit grubby in terms of litter and graffiti. Arrival at our very modern central station confirms that Berliners are not particularly litter conscious. Our hotel, the very modern and flashy, The Ritz Carlton, is centrally located which will make sight-seeing pretty easy.  

The centre of the city where we are is very clean - lots of trees and a very big central park. We had dinner outside just a metre or so from where the Wall was. Hard to believe that just 21 years ago the Wall was taken down.  Before dinner we walked to the Brandenburg Gate and to where Hitler's  bunker was located.  Buildings on the Eastern side of the wall lack the  quality of buildings of the same vintage on the western side. Lots of young people out dinning and many bicycles who have right of way over cars. We also visited an amazing monument to the Jews. It is made of concrete blocks in many different rectangular shapes. No words just 2011 blocks of concrete that people can walk or run through. Lots of children playing through the shapes.

Germany now welcomes the return of Jews to the country - many of those returning are young.

Posted by suengarry 10:45 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin Comments (0)

October 3 - Warsaw

Poland

sunny 18 °C
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Warsaw - October 3

Interesting early history:
From the sixteenth century Poland's kings (11 in total) were elected by the nobility  Candidates were selected from all parts of Europe. Only four of the eleven were Poles. 
Today their president is elected and the prime minister and cabinet is nominated by the president but endorsed by the senate. 

Between them, the Nazis and the Stalinists ensured that most of old Warsaw was razed to the ground. As a result even the old town has been rebuilt in the fifties. Subsequently it is a bit disappointing when compared with the places we have previously visited. 

Nothing remains of the Jewish ghettoes which held over 400,000  Jewish citizens in two areas totalling about 3.4 sq. Km before 254000 were shipped off to the Treblinka extermination camp during two months of the summer in 1942  Warsaw today probably has less than 1000 Jews and many of these do not identify or practise their religion 

Tourists everywhere today but it is all a bit flat and weary looking. More like Moscow. More beggars here. Eye candy poorer in style and quantity. No where near as many short skirts, tights, even tighter jeans and sky-high stilletos. . 

Local tour leader took us to all the important monuments and parks dedicated to Chopin and other musos, Copernicus, Warsaw uprising heroes, Jewish uprising fighters. 

Afternoon run out of the city to Wilanow to visit another summer palace full of art, sculptures and treasures. Surprisingly undamaged during the war despite being used by the Nazis and then the communists as a reception/guest house for visiting dignitaries. Still quite a bit of restoration taking place. We wonder if future generations will take tours through the Packer, Murdoch, Pratt or Crowe "palaces". 

History is ironic as one substantial building in the "new" Warsaw that housed the Communist leaders now houses the Ferrari showroom on the street front. Soviet apartments are more evident here than in the last 3 countries probably because 85% of the city was destroyed between 1943-1945.

Tonight we go to the Warsaw Conservatory Library Hall for a Chopin recital before dinner.  Tomorrow we train to Berlin - about 6 hours. Our cases are going by road to make sure we don't have to worry about finding space on the train which is fully booked. Russell's will appreciate the lack of luggage space on European trains!

Posted by suengarry 23:42 Archived in Poland Tagged palaces Comments (0)

Day 11 - October 2

Vilnius to Warsaw

sunny 18 °C
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Vilnius to Warsaw - Sunday October 2 - Day 11

Full day on the coach today as we cover the 470 km to Warsaw in Poland. Had three stops to meet driver hour requirements. First break in Augustow where we discovered the town square shut down to traffic for the local marathon or ten. Km run. Very warm day which appeared to be testing the stamina of some. Can't imagine running on the cobblestone streets helped their comfort levels. Saw the 'winner' cross the line and happily have someone else take off his shoes. It must be the running season in this art of the world. The centre of St Petersburg was also in carnival mode on our arrival. Tim thought that the Berlin marathon was also run last weekend. 

Roads are in pretty good shape. We have taken some scenic roads to avoid the trucks which like at home ply the highways in large numbers. Also, like at home, we have noticed larger groups of motorcycles out on weekend runs. Some of the cars around our five star hotels have been mouthwatering - Ferrari, Bentley, Maserati - but the run of the mill cars are as in Russia - Toyota, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Skoda, Citroen, Volkswagen, Lexus, Volvo, Audi, Nissan, Mazda, Hyundai and Opel Astra.  

Tim is honing our Polish history knowledge so that we do make any faux pas tomorrow with our local guide. We are not visiting any concentration camps or death camps on this tour but still feel very uncomfortable about the treatment of the Jews and the Poles by the German and the Russians and the complicity of the western powers. 

The countryside is magnificent looking farming land and it is easy to understand why both the Germans and the Russians wished to annex these territories.  Locals can be seen walking through the pine forest and fields looking for wild berries and mushrooms. Also easy to see how blitzkrieg was possible. The country is so flat without any strategic hills to defend and I imagine there have always been substantial open areas between the forested areas to give rapid advance to tanks. Sheer weight of numbers and advanced war machines would have been impossible to resist. 

Posted by suengarry 09:46 Archived in Poland Tagged museum Comments (0)

Vilnius - Oct 1

Lithuania

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Vilnius - Oct 1

Discovered last night why we had this large apartment and sauna ...... Immediately under us is a nightclub which was open all night. Between the shouting, laughing, singing and who knows what else we managed very little sleep until after 5am. On peeking outside at 7am we discovered a couple still snogging in the alley. Guess we would also party as hard as we could knowing that we had months of depressive winter to follow in a week or so. Both also still struggling with our digestion. Boiled rice and dry bread gives us some simpatico with early serfs. Our new room is about one third the size but much much quieter. 

Vilnius is the city of one hundred churches and nearly as many cultural groups. Early German, Swedish,  Polish and Russian influences are apparent in the old town. Restoration is also a major activity here but they do not have many original buildings. Churches rather than palaces dominate the tourist rounds. 

Cathedral Square is just out front of our hotel. It is the original site of old Vilnius and later a royal palace which is being restored and they have incorporated the lines of original battlements in the marble paving in front of the modern cathedral.  Here also is the fabled miracle stone which marks the end point of a "mythical?" continuous line of people between here and Tallinn in Estonia to protest Soviet occupation. The area was another of the states established by German knights returning from the Crusades and was ruled by some duke from 1275 - 1371. From cathedral square you can move in one of two directions - towards the old town or towards modern Vilnius. Pilies Street is a long street running through old Vilnius to Town Hall Square. 

This is the place to buy quality, value for money amber. There is amber everywhere but how you tell the real from plastic is a good question. The locals do not wear amber jewelry. 

This afternoon our guide, Marius, took us about 40 km out of Vilnius to Rakai to visit the Island Castle. Very pretty summer holiday area with five large freshwater lakes. Locals out in force in sail boats, canoes, sailboards  

The castle is of course a museum and has been restored from virtually a pile of rubble. German armour and weapons from the 13C, coins of German, Polish, Russian and local origins found buried in amphora in the fields outside the castle, tapestries etc provide an insight into the local history.

Unemployment in Lithuania running around 15 - 18%. Professionals and young moving away to seek employment. Future not looking good. 

Posted by suengarry 08:47 Archived in Lithuania Tagged baltic states Comments (0)

Riga to Vilnius - Sep 30

Rundale Palace

sunny 19 °C
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Riga - Rundale - Saulai - Vilnius (Day 10: Sep 30)

We continue our journey "souss". Very foggy day unfortunately as we travelled past many Kodak opportunities with well tended farmlands and man-made structures.

Bauska - confluence of Musa and Nenumelis Rivers was an important defensive point for the early German rulers. 

Rundale Palace  - constructed in the 1730s to a design by Bartolomeo Rastrelli as a summer residence of Ernst Johann von Biron, the Duke of Courland. Following Biron's fall from grace, the palace stood empty until the 1760s, when Rastrelli returned to complete its interior decoration. Italian baroque style designed by the same architect who designed the summer palace in St Petersburg. Based on the French rules of court, the master bedroom is at the centre of the palace. Most important people were received in the master bedroom which in this case looked out over beautiful gardens at the rear of the palace.   Many of these bedrooms were not slept in prior to the time of Louis.V. Wives or concubines bedrooms were much more comfortable! Being beautifully restored - although not seriously structurally damaged during the revolutions and wars, it was used and vandalized to some extent. Hospital for German soldiers. School Basketball in the great hall in 19th C etc. Spectacular pine and oak timber floors, doors and stairs. 

Continued "souss" and "wess" through beautiful countryside. Fog cleared to a warm autumn day. Well kept farmland and livestock including our first paddock of about 200 reindeer. Stopped for a picnic lunch at the Hill of Crosses near Sauli - Yes, at last a hill but it was really a mound covered in thousands of crosses. Has existed for over 100 years but after WW II it became a symbol of national resistance  the Soviets fenced it off and bulldozed the crosses constantly but they just kept reappearing. 

Arrived at Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. More evidence of Russian occupation with the many dated apartments but the rest is quite beautiful with cobbled streets and lots of alfresco dining where we feel certain that our neighbors at home would really enjoy!   Today was like a midsummers day for locals  Had short walk around the 2 main squares before coming back to our business class room with our own sauna which sadly these Aussie barbarians used as a laundry drying room. 

Posted by suengarry 12:00 Archived in Lithuania Tagged architecture baroque Comments (0)

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