Days spent – 10 days (7 August 2016 to 17 August 2016)
Places visited – Krakow, Warsaw, Gdansk, Olsztyn
Books read – The Divine Comedy (unfinished – and will probably remain so, it’s too hard going for me), Gone Girl (unfinished – I succumb to a thriller)
Things done – Auschwitz, Mongolian visa application, Bury Tomorrow and Parkway Drive, Warsaw Uprising Museum, Museum of Matyrdom and Suffering, Wolf’s Lair
Highlight(s) – Girls(!), Parkway Drive
Lowlight(s) – Weather
Cost – £314.08 (£31.41 per day)
Warning – this blog contains paragraphs and images that some readers may find distressing.
Warning II – this blog contains words my Mum would deem inappropriate!
Crikey, what do they put in the water here?! All the women are literally stunning, all of them! After my gig (more on that to follow), I go to, ahem, a certain fast food establishment beginning with K… There I am served by the eighty third beautiful girl I’ve seen that day. I go and sit down and the eighty fourth walks in. In England the type of girl that walks into KFC is one that really shouldn’t be in there and is wearing leggings but really shouldn’t be wearing them! By the time I’ve eaten I’m up to eighty eight and by the time I’ve got ‘home’ I’m up to ninety two. I’m kind of disappointed not to get to a hundred. When British ‘lads’ say ‘Oh, all the Spanish girls are so beautiful!’, I guaratee they haven’t been to Poland.
The first place I go is Krakow and quite close to that is this place you may have heard of called Auschwitz. I hope I don’t have to fill anyone in on the history here but what really strikes me is the scale of the place. I clock up several miles walking around. The other thing that really hits home is the hair, the tonnes of hair, all still there. In the museum there is a book which collates all known details of all known victims. It’s about one metre high, two metres wide and six metres deep. The building where Mengele operated (if you can call it that) is marked but I can’t bring myself to go there, the horrors that unfolded there. Second to not much in terms of all the bad things to happen on this planet. It’s interesting to see the part the Nazis destroyed to try to cover their tracks. What I can never really understand, the scale of it, the amount of people involved, yet these killing machines went on and on and on. My thoughts of this place are summed up quite nicely of this plaque…
Staying on the morbid theme, Warsaw has some great museums on World War II. After all, did any country suffer more than Poland? The Warsaw Uprising museum is probably the best I’ve ever been to. The Museum of Martyrdom and Struggle is also excellent but quite small. In the Uprising Museum, there’s a 3D film which shows the ruins of Warsaw after the war. It’s called City of Ruins, which is an apt title. The ghetto: there is nothing left standing. There is also a video of an old SS officer describing tales of what actually happened. The worst one was when he told of about five hundred primary school children who were taken out of school. The order was then given: “Save ammunition, use your rifle butts.” None survived.
Anyway, that’s enough of that. Let’s talk about something more cheerful. In Germany I get my ticket to see Parkway Drive supported by Bury Tomorrow. Parkway are probably my second favourite band at the moment. I wonder how many people I’ve recently met are thinking ‘Wow, he really listens to this!’. Bury Tomorrow open the show and are brilliant as usual (fourth time I’ve seen them now I think). Sadly, as they’re the opening act they don’t get a long set and so my two favourite songs of theirs don’t get played. But my third favourite, Lionheart, does. The Polish crowd is awesome. Never before have I seen crowdsurfing to the music played in between acts (Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody of all songs!).
It’s now time for Parkway (in a moment I’m lost, dying from the inside, her eyes take me away, tear me apart from the inside out…). I’m second row, but during the second song I manage to get to the front row. Which is great as the venue is small so I’m really close. I’m so close I can see the set list duct-taped to the stage and I can read it. They played a great set although not as long as I’d like as they didn’t play Swing. Unfortunately, because I was so close the quality of my videos isn’t that good so you’ll have to settle for a photo of Mike playing the intro for Wild Eyes. Lyrically, this band is pretty good, they have several that mean a lot to me. The main ones being “You can win the rat race, but you’re still nothing but a fucking rat.” and “If home is where the heart is, why do I feel so fucking heartless?” I thought it was a good question…
So Polish, what a language! I hear nastepny prsztanek about forty six times before that sinks in. I wonder if in the Polish version of Scrabble they start with twelve Zs and one E! If not, they should. With the crazy accents I have no idea now to pronounce things. They have this ‘l’ with a line through it ‘ł’, when I went to school that was a ‘t’. Because I’m waiting for my Mongolian visa I have to stay in Poland and return to Warsaw but that isn’t too bad as I’ve always wanted to go to Wolf’s Lair. In German it’s Wolfschanze. In Polish I don’t know, but it probably has another Z in it.
Wolf’s Lair is a bit of a trek from Gdansk, four separate trains with two of the switchovers being less than five minutes. Somehow, it all goes smoothly getting there. The last train (from Ketrzyn to Gierloz) is ‘new’ for 2016. I’ve put new in inverted commas because it isn’t, it’s old. It’s an old train that some eccentric Polish guys have restored to run on the tracks the Germans used. It’s six zloty (about one pound and twenty pence) there and the same back, worth every penny. As I approach Wolf’s Lair, the landscape change, the forest gets swampy, I get the feeling of something sinister up ahead but maybe that’s because I know there is. Adolf Hitler spent about eight hundred days of World War II here. The Nazi war machine protected by nine metres of camouflaged, reinforced concrete. They tried to destroy it as they fled the Soviet advance but it isn’t that easy to destroy! The walls toppled and the roofs collapsed but that’s all they achieved and some bunkers remain intact and abandoned. After four trains there it’s time for three to Warsaw for seven in the day. I get back to Ketrzyn but no sign of my train which means I’ll miss my connection to Warsaw. This is especially annoying as I had already made a logistical mess of things and booked a night in Bialystok that I wasn’t using. I now stay in Olsztyn, meaning I have three beds for the night. I later learn that the delays were caused by someone committing suicide on the tracks. Perspective Strawbridge, perspective.
Strawbs – written 1 September 2016, published 7 September 2016
Palace in Krakow
Probably the most famous (definitely the tallest) building in Poland which is kind of sad because it looks identical to others in Russia
There aren’t words to describe how much I disagree with the translation of this…
Cool palace in an island in Warsaw
View from our hostel ‘beach’, ok river, campfire beer drinking session
The German translation of the Auschwitz plaque, look at the stones, there’s hope.