A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

Poland: Urban Fervour

Observations of Poland

Having come to Poland from Germany one of the more noticeable differences between the two countries is the train system. Obviously we all know the Germans are super freaks but it is a breeze arriving at a pre-announced train station with multiple well-signed platforms, electronic display boards and escalators compared to rolling in to a concrete platform (ie. slab between two tracks) that has a rusty sign with the station name. You have to push your nose against the window and look for the sign to see if it’s your stop.

The smaller stations are old concrete blocks, graffitied, dirty and smell like a hobo has marked his territory. You need to watch your step as you disembark so as to not trip in a pothole and roll back under the moving train. The area around the station generally seems like a great place to be murdered so you move through quickly and towards the old town.
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Poland has not quite got the tourism thing down. I have done my part, I know the Polish words for old, town, town square and centre all I need is a sign to point me to it. I get out at the train station hoping for an info point, a map or a sign saying “old town thatta way” instead nothing but urban fervour and I just stand there like a schmuck, weighed down with my bags looking into the sky for oldness and churchy steeples and then I just follow my nose, “Now if I was a Stary Rynek where would I be?”.

One thing I love about Europe is they keep their old cities and build their shopping malls, high rises and H&Ms in a new area they ultimately call new town. We come from a culture of tearing down and rebuilding, Australians love a good renovation project and I hate to think what would have become of these cities if they had to money and some funky young amateur DIYers to turn them into cosmopolitan warehouse apartments.
The centre of life back in the day was around the market square, nearly every Polish town has one. The square is 'ensquared' by beautiful often colourful buildings with a town hall and a market hall in the centre. These building have their origins as early as the 13th century in some places. Many had to be painstakingly restored after WW2. The Old Town Square in Warsaw, like much of the capital itself was completely flattened and rebuilt exactly the same as it once was.

Once you leave the old town for the new town you start to see the Poland on the grow the influence of consumerism, massive shopping malls, a coffee shop chain selling a frappe for the price of a whole meal. This is a country that had nothing in the stores 20 odd years ago, no food bar an odd potato. Now the young generation are lunching in cafes and texting on their phones. It must blow the minds of the older generation and not the old generation, literally those only 10 years older than these ‘fall of communism’ babies.

I love how in Europe people literally live in the city centre. People live in these beautiful old buildings that open onto the street. Behind a great old door is a flight of stairs with dozens of apartments hidden from the street view. People who were not lucky enough to own these old inner city apartments or outgrew them move outside the old town. Here you can tell that the money hasn’t been poured into restore the residential areas and while you get some beautiful old street front buildings that just need a bit of replastering and a new paint job you also get the old relics of communist era, the apartment block. Ugly square boxes row after row. It is amazing to see the contrast of the postcard town square and the urban high-risers with their satellite dishes and washing hanging from the windows only a few blocks away.

Poland is one of the only countries that you can still see how life was in the East. While the cities have grown and western corporations have moved in to take advantage of cheap land and labour there is a lot of Poland still unspoilt. You can still find the old kiosks to eat in. You have the big old buildings and the town square, painstakingly restored.

It’s different and that’s the appeal. Of course you can get McDonalds and Coke but they have traditional food. It is a place where English is only still establishing itself, one of the only places left in Europe where you still have an evident language barrier.
While Kraków was the first to explode on the map, the huge Polish expat community in the UK has meant an opening up of the whole country into the Low Cost Carrier flight network which is bring stag nights and all sorts of western horror into this quiet country.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 06:19 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Poland: People from Poland are Poles not Pollacks

Observations from Poland

One of my daily travel activities is to people watch and guess nationalities. An Australian male under the age of 30 will most likely be wearing thongs and board shorts regardless of the climate or terrain for instance. Germans usually look like they are about to go hiking, often looking like poster children for Hitler’s Germany with Aryan good looks, tanned skin, blonde hair and usually being sporty like riding a bike. Americans always seem to be lost and are looking at a subway map and saying “Bob, are you sure this is right? Is this the yellow line because this train is red. Bob? I don't think we are going the right way. Look at that Bob, oh that’s really neat”.

What about the Poles?
At times Poland seems to be in a bit of a time warp, not stuck in terms of ploughing fields by hand though they probably still do in parts but it’s like some people are perpetually stuck in 1989, the momentous time of the fall of the Communism and the USSR which restored their independence. It is like some people are scared that if they get out of their acid wash jeans it all might have been a dream.
The Slavic men you can spot a mile. They nearly always have a conscription-style buzz cut a grandfather would be proud of. They still rock the jeans and a sports jacket look and for some reason still use a duffel bag to carry their change of clothes and the two beers needed for the two-hour morning train journey. Now correct me if I am wrong but the only people who use a duffel in this day and age are the ones carrying a sawn-off shot gun in it but it’s the bag size and style of choice in Poland. You still see the occasional mullet, parachute jacket and a lot of denim. Polish men are pissed 90 per cent of the day which is why they think they think it’s still 1989 and think they can get away with denim on denim. I am sure alcoholism contributes to most of this nation’s woes.

The Slavic women are steps ahead of their male counterparts. Oft fashionable, tall and modelesque, all the models these days are Ukrainian or Russian. There is however a segment of female society that seems to favour white jeans (after Labour Day) and denim jackets and I have spotted several scrunchies. The more press studs and diamontes the better, especially on the back pocket of your white jeans or the denim jacket. Also as a massive generalisation, also seem to play good tennis. The younger generations are 100% dressed from the racks of European chain stores like H&M so sadly I think it is a dying trend.

One thing that I always loved about Eastern Europe is the old men who will still wear a hat when the leave the house and a nice jacket. They look classy. The old ladies in Poland are always dressed nicely, with their hair combed back and wearing a nice pressed blouse. They are also partial to a red hair rinse which I cannot deny them; it takes years off ones look. I have been looked up and down so many times by Polish women. I think they think I am homeless. I think if I put my hat out I would pick up a Złoty or two.

The Polish people are coming out of their shell after all these years being ruled by arguably the two most unaffectionate, stern and reserved nations.
Now they are in the EU and EasyJet connects a stag party from Liverpool with the beautiful, quiet cobbled streets of a Polish city, Poland is on its way to losing every bit of the secluded, quiet life they once knew and eventually they will lose all their little quirks and just wear H&M and drink coffee at Starbucks like the rest of Europe.
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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 03:05 Archived in Poland Tagged people poland fashion style slavic Comments (0)

Poland: Back in the Habit

Observations of Poland

One thing you notice in Poland is that the Poles are mad for a bit of God. It is handy for getting around the town on Sundays because most people are in Church. But super, dooper Catholic. And not just at Christmas and Easter.
Pope John Paul II, everybody’s favourite Pope was Polish. He is my favourite Pope because he is the only one I know. I call him JP2 mostly because it makes him sound like a robot. I find great pleasure in finding JP2 statues and also any streets, squares, universities, libraries all named after the honorable JP. This can become difficult for navigation. I would not at all be surprised if Kraków passed a decree to retitle itself Jana Pawel Town. He was a great ambassador and a sign of great hope in Poland during their rough times so it is understandble adoration.

On this visit I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of nuns. In Kraków you cannot walk for tripping on a rosary bead. I had seen four my whole trip before I arrived in Wrocław. One was wearing a hoodie over her habit so I was somewhat satisfied but wondered why there were nun nones.

I love nuns. Being as I am, a firm believer…that Sister Act was one of the best movies of the early 90s, I just get a kick out of seeing nuns. It’s not that we don’t have them at home I am sure we do but they aren’t just kicking about, catching trams, wearing sneakers, listening to iPods or under the age of 70. Do you thing they just have like a pair of Adidas tracksuit pants underneath? How does their hat veil stay on? Bobby pins? Are they in a Motown choir? I have a lot of questions. Especially when I see a young one.

On my city walk I had made my way to an area where there were a few cathedrals but more importantly a park which I wanted to sit down in and low and behold nuns. Nuns aplenty. Every few minutes I would spot one and try to casually take a photo meaning I basically spent the better part of an hour stalking nuns. I am not sure if that’s allowed. But if they weren’t dressed like penguin people I would have to chase them with my camera.

Finally satisfied I had seen what I’d come to Poland for, pretty buildings, nuns and cheap vodka I was set to depart from Wrocław to Dresden. I had caught a bus to the station at 6:30am and this is not an hour I happily see in a day. As I was waiting for my train there it was, the highlight of my whole trip. Standing by the platform stairs was an older, slightly rotund nun carrying a rucksack. The bag was pulling her hat/veil thing back and she had it buckled around her waist over the rope belt-thing they wear. I didn’t know where to look; I didn’t know whether I wanted to give her a hug for amusing me so or topple her because she looked so back heavy to amuse me further.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good snap and be discreet. So I pretended to take a photo of the completely under construction, nothing to see train station, obviously a ploy and typically all I got was this one blurry one. Ah the things you do to get a photo of a nun going hiking.

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One of my photos from my afternoon stalking nuns.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 12:25 Archived in Poland Tagged religion poland nuns catholic wroclaw Comments (1)

Cleanliness is Next to Slovenliness?

Living the Clean Dream

When you travel your general appearance seems to takes a down turn, or should I say, when I travel it takes a down turn because I think it is maybe not the case if you are spending a week in Paris and staying at the Metropole. I do see people look lovely all the time and I’m not sure how they do it but it clearly does not involve any of the following; late nights, early mornings, vegetable deficiency, meat deficiency, walking blocks with a backpack on, unclean clothes and exposure to the elements.

As what you might call “a backpacker” my appearance at times can get a little shaky. I tend to wear whatever is clean or on the top of my bag with little regard for fashion or generally not looking homeless or like a nutcase.

I might look like a freak who fell through a clothesline but at least my random selection of clothes are clean. Well. Cleanish. On the travelling trail I usually have to hand wash my clothes and have them hanging from bunk bed railings to achieve this but you can only do this when you have enough free time in a city to waste washing and enough time to wait for drying. So it is not always possible.
I usually find it easier when I am travelling with another person and there is a universal ‘keeping an eye on’ the state of our mutual cleanliness. Alone I just keep reaching in for clean clothes and finding the cupboard bare.

So what do I do when my clothes are all dirty? More than once I have just gone out and bought something new but most of the time it involves reassessing your standards and prioritising your clothes, ie. “that’s dirty at maybe a stage 3, I can wear it again” and “I’ll just quickly handwash some underwear and dry it with a hair dryer” and that’s a new days clothes. Reinforcing here the lowering of standards.
Obviously though there are times when things just quite plainly, get grim. This is usually when your bathers become underwear and your pyjamas become clothing.

Earlier this year I went to South East Asia for about 2 months. To say I looked like a scrubba the majority of the time is a fair statement. Humidity was unkind to me to the point where it was best not to be in photos because I just looked hot, sweaty, frizzy and plain exhausted.
In Asia you can get your clothing laundered – washed and dry – and they practically pay you for the honour it’s that cheap, yet both my friend and I were both out of respectably clean clothes more than once. ie. Not a single thing was suitable to be put back on (again).

One such time in Vietnam we had exhausted our options, even worn our ‘nice’ going out clothes during the day. It had to be done so we upended our packs and took all our things to a lady across from our hotel and we felt good about ourselves and how proactive we had been. That afternoon our laundry was still not ready as it had been a miserably wet afternoon so she said come back the next day. Ok I suppose we can. We walked away and realised that while our day had been spent on a boat and in our bathers that evening we were to dine out and sample the thriving (knife wielding) nightlife of Nha Trang.

I cannot remember what I found to wear but I think I was lucky enough to have a moderately clean dress (only about 2-3 wears) which I wore over my bathers. My friend fashioned a top from a sarong and a few safety pins. This is what happens when you leave washing to the last minute.
The next day we still didn’t have our clothes she needed more time. I was starting to think she had done a runner with my Target wardrobe, selling my stuff on eBay.

Out to breakfast in our bathers and luckily our plan for the day was to go to a mud bath. The mud baths came and went. We were still suitably unclothed. It had literally been 48 hours without clothing, I think by that afternoon we had given up on life and of ever being reunited with a bra and just had a nap in our muddy bathers.

Later that day we got our clothes back and we were quite elated. We kept them folded in their bags so as to not spoil them with bag grot. That night we left Nha Trang feeling awesomely clean, and at last supported.
You know it’s been a bit tragic when all you can do is remark on how amazing you smell because you have a faint lavender woft from actually being clean.

Having clean clothes changes your attitude. I stole a comb from that hotel, I still have it, it was part of my attempt to look a little better in Asia. It didn’t last. I would have washed my hair the next morning and sweated it into an afro by breakfast and cursed a reclining cave Buddha.

So that’s the story of the time I wore bathers for two days. I apologise for telling it. I hope your opinion of me has dropped slightly, deservedly so. It’s just so hot there ok.

Did I learn my lesson? Of course not. I have been out of clothes for the most part all week. I just went and bought new socks so I had clean ones. And new hat to instead distract people from looking at my dirty clothes. *click, click, up here, look a pom pom*

Dire. Lucky I travel alone. I am getting some sympathetic looks from Polish mammas, from a combination of looking unkempt and wearing clothes from the foreign Far East. I think they want to spit on a hankie and wipe the dirt off my face and pop me in a nice frock and run a comb through my hair.
Feel awesome in my new socks though just the same.

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L;Our clothes drying and mocking us from above. R; Both an example of my ridiculous attire and a look at my new, clean socks.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 11:47 Archived in Vietnam Tagged clothes backpacking handwashing laundry Comments (0)

Caution: Training in Progress

Hamburg to Bremen via Uelzen

Germans love their trains like they love their 1500 different types of würst (sausage). Being what I would deem technologically minded, they have über nifty trains that snake across the land like long and skinny alien worms at speeds of up to 300kmph getting you from a to b very efficiently. Their least desirable service, the slow intercity trains are equivalent to our V-line High Velocity trains. To say we are behind Germany train wise is a fair call. Don’t get down we are better at food, humour and having a casual attitude.

The Hauptbahnhof’s (Train stations) have rows and rows of platforms at differing levels underground servicing the massive German rail network as well as the city’s S Bahn and U Bahn services. Finding your platform can be a little overwhelming.

See I have spent enough time in Germany to know that they like order and efficiency therefore I know that the 11:51 train service will leave at 11:51. For some reason on this fateful September morning, I just didn’t listen to myself.

There was no 11:51 service to Bremen there was an 11:56. See at home that’s the same train because there is window of opportunity before you can say the train is late. Like ‘87 % of Connex trains ran on time in March’, then in small print ‘on time is within 15 minutes of scheduled time’.

Not in Germany. The three minutes passed the hour train leaves at three minutes passed the hour.

So when I decided that the one on my platform the 11:56 service to Hannover via Uelzen was my train. I should have known.
Grumpy Hans on the service desk repeated in English what he had told me in German that my train was on Platform 13B.

It didn’t say Bremen but it said Hannover and if I was a train I would think you could go to Hannover by going out west and south. No. Bremen wasn’t on the sign not because it was not a major stop but because this train wasn’t going to Bremen.

There was no one around to ask and as I jumped on the train as it pulled away I had a feeling I may just not quite be right about this one.

An hour and a half later when the ticket lady finally came around I looked at her with feinted hope and said, “right train”?

She ignored me and looked at the ticket for a few minutes and started looking a bit concerned.

She looked at me, no smile on her big-German-woman face and said matter-of-factly.
“Bremen? No! Uelzen. Uelzen. No Bremen“

We looked at each other a second wondering how to overcome the language barrier.

Thankfully I sensed she felt sorry me, the foreign fool who cannot read that the train clearly said Uelzen.

She wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it so she fumbled around her ticket-lady fannypack and pulled out a timetable and flicked through its Tolstoyesque amount of pages. She talks to herself in German while I just look on like a dead shit. I consider just going back to my book and leaving her to it. She eventually found what she was looking for and begins tapping her pen on the 12:06 service from Uelzen to Bremen. Tapping as in, look, this, here. You are going to have to get on this train you stupid white girl.

My dumb look resulted in her taking my ticket and writing the train number down and the time and said, “Uelzen. New ticket”.

Righto, a little off course, no drama. I’m not in a hurry. We were coming in to the last stop as it was. The train pulls in to Uelzen, a charming little train station that has gone with a bit of a Spanish fiesta theme to it, and there doesn’t appear to be a great deal else around.

I go to the service desk and hand over my Hamburg to Bremen ticket with Brun Hilda’s handwriting and the lady clicks a few buttons and eventually comes up with the €22.50 fee and a new ticket. Personally I feel they could have just swapped the tickets because I wasn’t taking advantage and trying to sneakily get to Uelzen but I get the feeling Germany is not the sort of place that rewards stupidity. Rightly so. I think really she was supposed to fine me.

I went to the new platform clutching my new ticket. The Hauptbahnhof in Uelzen is decidedly smaller and I felt comfortable in my skills to get myself to the outbound platform given there was only three to choose from and not 18.

And so I got on the Bremen-bound train, stopping to admire the train map inside the carriage door which showed, me in Uelzen in a sort of south-east position and Bremen in a due west position. Definitely not even vaguely the right way.

It could have been worse. Perhaps in a way it served as a friendly reminder to next time pay an extra few euros and take the most direct route.
I arrived in Bremen just an hour and a half behind schedule and €22 out of pocket. All in a day’s work.

The upside is I have totally been to Uelzen, have marked in on my TripAdvisor ‘Where I have Been’ map. I should have bought myself a postcard.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 11:49 Archived in Germany Tagged trains germany rail hamburg bremen mistakes inter-rail uelzen bahn Comments (0)

A Half-Pint of Cider and a Packet of Pork Scratchings

My London and Me

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The time had finally come, after a lot of waiting, to be reunited with my old beau jolly ole England. Sadly it had taken longer than my forecast 3 weeks to get back here (It took a year and a half – I was perhaps slightly optimistic that I could make a quick turnaround and raise a few thousand dollars in a few days).

This time I was officially on the guest list. Permitted to not only reside but to work. So I packed my entire life into a mere 16kg proving once again that I have no assets and boarded my flight to the other side of the world to start the new phase in my life. Phase UK Working Holiday but I have a lot on my plate so I have pencilled in ‘find a job’ for somewhere around mid-November.

I was granted entry to my Queens land without any tears or abuse from either side, just a simple stamp and an ‘on your way love, cuppa tea and a bikkie shine ya shoes gov’nur’. There was no demanding to see my bank account, no quizzing me on the details of my British friends nor calling me a liar, none of that. I felt powerful. So I punched a child in the face.

London was the first city I ever went to outside Australia and every time I get back I have that same feeling of excitement and anxiety. Remembering that feeling of being 100 per cent alone on the other side of the world but at the same time smiling ear to ear to be where I wanted to be. My first 4 days in the capital back then were spent pounding the pavement and seeing everything I had ever heard of or read about. I did and saw everything, everything that was free that is. I arrived then just weeks after the London bombings in 2005. I had solemnly sworn to my mother not to use public transport so I clocked up some kilometres and wore through my Dunlop Volleys. Standing on a bridge on the Thames for the first time, looking up at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as red buses pass by and then to turn around and see the London Eye, St Pauls cathedral and Tower Bridge really was a surreal moment then and I still get a kick out of it now.

I said goodbye to the UK in 2006 in the harsh January weather and stupid life as a pauper got in the way and it was 2009 before I returned. I arrived in the height of the swine flu epidemic via Russia and Scandinavia to the British summer. It was a heatwave even by Australian standards and there was pale flesh everywhere as I showed my mum and aunties around this fair city.

After enduring the coldest winter on record in 2010, when there was a satellite photo of the entire UK white with snow, as the snow began to melt I ran out of money and was again on my way back to Australia.
Fast forward to 2011 and I arrived four days after the London riots tore the capital apart. Just as the fires fizzled out and an army of people with brooms swept in to parts of East London to clean up the mess caused by the nation’s worst riots in a decade I touched down in to London Heathrow.
Armed with a baseball bat and knuckle dusters just in case I played it safe and stayed out of the London hoods. I walked off my jet lag on the pavements of the city. My soft, supple moccasin feet began to rub against my shoes and my leg muscles began screaming out I pain as I walked after giving them months of couch rest.

London town and I have a love hate relationship. I cannot help but love it and I often think this is the greatest place on earth, why don’t I live here? Every now and then I have the pull to move there (usually after I have eaten food I want to live close to), to be one in the Aussie masses in London who hang out with other Aussies and drink at the She Bu Walkie. Then other times I just want to slap its stupid face for raining on me day after day, being grey as far as you can see, a merging of sky into concrete and charging me $15 for to use the train for the day.

It is a great city and it is always nice to be back for a visit. You can always find something new to do because there are so many possibilities. I love to see this great city again, the city that begun for me a great love of travelling and seeing new cities.

Rock on LDN town. The adventure begins.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 14:01 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london england Comments (1)

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