Held captive on a Polish train...

Trip Start Jul 07, 2009
Trip End Jul 29, 2009

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Flag of Poland  , Central Poland,
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Having not booked any accommodation for Warsaw, we followed Rob to the Oki Doki Hostel – some 15 minutes walk from Warszawa Centralna. Here we were fortunate to find lodgings and were housed in the gazetka dorm, so named because the entire dormitory was lined with old Polish newspaper cuttings.

After a quick change we headed out in search of drink (common theme emerging). After an expensive drink al fresco styles just off Nowy Swiat (The Royal Road that runs parallel to the Vistula river for 4km to the Royal Palace), we headed off the beaten track and ended up drinking in a number of small local bars. We both made the observation that the pubs looked much like they had been set up in disused workshops, but also commented that we had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We lost Rob on the way home and feared the worst having heard about tourist safety in Poland.

After a particularly slow start to the next day, we caught up with Rob (who it turns out had merely legged it in search of a kebab) and headed out to explore Warsaw proper. We traipsed the Royal Road taking in the various sights (the Presidential Palace, the old town and market square) before turning westward in search of a new museum John had read about in the Lonely Planet.

Arguably, Poland fared worst at the hands of Nazi's during WWII and the Warsaw cityscape reflects this troubled history. We found Warsaw to be a stark contrast to all of the cities we had visited to date, and barring a small old-town, the city environs consists almost entirely of post-WWII architecture and reflected the strong soviet influence that existed during that period.

Occupied and subjugated in 1939, the people of Warsaw courageously staged an uprising in August of 1944 and reclaimed many strategically important parts of the city. Under-equipped, vastly outnumbered and with only periodic allied airdrops, the Underground Home Army (the AK) and their civilian supporters stoically held their positions for 63 days before being forced to capitulate. Once German control of Warsaw was regained the AK and civilians supporting them deported to POW camps in Germany, all remaining residents expelled and the city was razed to the ground. Polish deaths over this period are estimated to be a staggering 150,000 to 200,000.

This history is recorded and displayed in a new museum, the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. The exhibitions have managed to capture and preserve in graphic detail the experiences of Warsaw’s residents during WWII and also the heroic efforts of the AK in 1944. This is a must see for any visit to Warsaw. Lest we forget.

That night we took the train to Prague, a 10-hour overnight journey. We shared our 6-bed sleeper cabin with a Belarusian student moving to the Czech Rep. and an elderly Polish woman. Our Belarusian roommate acted as our translator throughout the journey, but even he did not understand a joke that the old woman told. She chuckled away for hours at her own little joke and kept tapping Chlo on the leg in the hope that she had somehow magically acquired an understanding of the Polish language… she had not.  Shame we couldn’t understand because it must’ve been bloody funny.

If you’ve travelled on a Polish sleeper train, you’ll understand that you can double lock your cabin door.  Clearly, having lived through much more tumultuous and dangerous times, the elderly woman did not feel secure with just two locks between herself and any would-be intruders.  She quickly produced a big f*ck-off chain that she wound around every possible attachment point.  It was clear that she had done it many times before and by the end of the exercise no one was getting in… or out! We all slept soundly.
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