Pegontheroad in eastern Europe

Old Jul 21st, 2015, 11:54 AM
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Tough guys! I wonder if we have these kinds of competitions in the States.>>

I don't know the answer to that, but I can say that we saw french and german fire teams doing a joint exercise on our visit to Germany last year and it confirmed all our stereotypes - the germans had all the new equipment and very heavy uniforms and gear; the french had a lot more "bling" but seemed a lot quicker.

Or perhaps it was just in the eye of the beholder!
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Old Jul 21st, 2015, 02:41 PM
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I am so enjoying your trip report, Peg. You make me want to get out and do something half as interesting as what you do.

You were wondering about firemen/women in the U.S. having competitions like you saw. I don't know about that exactly, but I do know that there are competitions between fire departments like the Scott Firefighters Stair Climb in Seattle where they race to the top of one of the 50 or 60 story buildings in full firefighting gear. They get pledges for their teams and the proceeds benefit leukemia and lymphoma research and patients.

Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.
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Old Jul 21st, 2015, 06:12 PM
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PEG, God love ya! What an adventure in these exotic climes...
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Old Jul 21st, 2015, 07:16 PM
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Nice to see anyone who gets beyond Britain, France & Italy. I did a trip last year that included Krakow, Warsaw, Brest (Belarus), Minsk (Belarus), Istanbul & Stockholm. The whole trip was based on home exchanges. I had been to Stockholm once before and did the trip to Riga (I stayed overnight one or two nights). I also home exchanged in Finland once and did a day trip to Tallin. St. Petersburg was "done" on a two week tour with Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). We had a week in St. Petersburg and we were in the theater every night. Then we went to Moscow also for a week. I really enjoyed The Hermitage and Russian Museum in Petersburg on that one.

So I am familiar with many of your destinations. Eastern Europe is very interesting but people tend not to get there until they are well traveled in Western Europe. The reason I went to Belarus was to see the villages where my maternal family hailed from. Very moving although there is not much left from pre World War I when they left (or even pre World War II).

So nice to see your trip report. I would love to return to Poland one day. I ran out of time in Warsaw. I would love to see the new Jewish History Museum that has now opened there.

Thanks for taking the time to post.

My trips are always blogged on my website. It's altecockertravels.weebly.com if you want to take a look (or if you don't).

Happy travels.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 05:26 AM
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Lauren: One of the major disappointments was not seeing the Jewish History Museum. Unfortunately, I left it till my last full day--you guessed it!--a Monday. I got to the museum, only to find that it was closed.

There were a few people standing around when I read the closed sign. I said, "No!No!No!" Somebody said, "Come back tomorrow," but I had to leave at 4:30 a.m. the next day.

But more about that after I have some coffee.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 06:53 AM
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When I was at the bus stop for the bus to Warsaw, I was a bit confused. I tried to get on the bus that arrived at my gate at 10:20, and the driver didn't want to let me on. I asked if anyone spoke English. No. Did anyone speak German? A man came up, and told me that I was at the right gate but my bus didn't come for five minutes. His German had some accent, but then so does mine. Anyway, I appreciated his help.

I really am an architecture nerd, so I noticed the apartment buildings away from the center. They were big and plain in shape, but they were painted in 2 or 3 colors, with one color perhaps starting on the ground floor with a sort of step effect, with a different color on the top part. Or with a big stripe of a different color from top to bottom. Hard to explain, but human-looking. The buildings didn't have that Stalinist-Soviet architecture look.

In Warsaw, I stayed at the Polonia Palace hotel, which I later discovered had been the Wehrmacht hotel after the German invasion, as it was one of the few buildings still standing. After the war, Eisenhower apparently stayed here too. Nice hotel.

About a block away was the Telephone Exchange, which someone told me had also survived the war, apparently after a battle for the building. I was reading a book by Alan Furst called "The Polish Officer," and was surprised to see mention of the battle for the Telephone Ezchange on the first page of the novel.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 08:24 AM
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The hotel has of course been renovated and is comfortable and rather elegant.

When I pulled back the sheer curtains in my room, what did I see but that glorious example of Stalinist architecture, the Palace of Culture and Science! It was a "gift of friendship" from the Soviet Union to Warsaw. It reminded me of when my friends and I would find the ugliest possible gifts to give to each other. We called them "uglies." This horrible palace qualifies as an "ugly." It looks especially incongruous because it is surrounded by modern high rise buildings

I remember talking to someone about the building. When she smilingly told me that it was a gift from Stalin, I said, "Lucky you!" The Poles make jokes about it, of course. They call it "the elephant in lacy underwear," and they say that has the best view in Warsaw because it's the only one that doesn't include the "palace" itself. However, for what it's worth, I was told that there was a vote to decide whether it should be removed or not, and the vote was no.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 10:21 AM
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no-one can accuse the poles of lacking a sense of humour, Peg.

Warsaw is not a place we've yet made it to but you are moving it further up my list.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 11:25 AM
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In New England where I live many of the volunteer fire departments have competitions of various sorts.

I remember when I was in Warsaw, some Pole told me that the Palace of Culture was called Stalin's erection.

I loved the anecdote about the little girl who asked "Who won?"!

I can just picture those boys around the fountain and at the souvenir stand! I spent most of my teaching career with kids in the 8-11 year range. Loved them--well at least most of the time!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 11:27 AM
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Sorry! I forgot to say thank you, Peg, for sharing your adventure with us!

Thanks!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 05:09 PM
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I got into the Jewish Museum but only to see the preopening mini exhibition. This was summer 2014. There in the corner was this candlestick. Oh my. Only one? Those candlesticks are supposed to be a pair--like the pair I have at home. They were for religious Jews to bless candles on the sabbath. Yes, my two are identical. They are not particularly valuable but it was something to see one in a museum. I am not religious and mine are stashed in a cabinet.

This summer it's a more conventional trip: Paris and then a home exchange in Spain. Nothing like the complicated logistics of last summer. Nothing like buying a Polish bus ticket to go to Belarus in Polish. Google translate was very helpful and I managed to do it.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 10:29 AM
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Lauren: I did see candlesticks such as you mention in the Center for Tolerance in Vilnius. Also seder plates and other things which I can't remember.

Where do you live that you can find Europeans to exchange homes with you?

I tried to send an email in St.Petersburg. Hopeless. I couldn't even see the location of "send."
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 11:13 AM
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Okay, back to the TR. I did look up the Warsaw Rising on Wikipedia and saw mention of the battle for the Telephone Exchange, so I guess Alan Furst's recreating of the Warsaw Rising was accurate.

But I digress. Standing on the skyline not far from the Palace of Culture is a building with a curved side. It reminds me a little of the building in Prague nicknamed "Fred and Ginger," though it's a bit less showy.

After I checked in at the palatial Polonia Palace, I went hunting for some food. The hotel is located on Jerozolimskie Street, not a particularly elegant street, just rather ordinary. That was okay because I wasn't looking for elegant food. I'd had elegant victuals in Vilnius and Gdansk and wasn't impressed. I stopped at a restaurant that claimed to be Argentinian or South American of some sort and had a nice steak.

As I was sitting there, the street was filled with the roar of motorcycles--what looked like hundreds of them--with a police escort. I briefly wondered if they had anything to do with the "Night Wolves," Putin's buddies who had wanted to go through Poland to Berlin so that they could celebrate the Soviet Union's triumph over the Nazis in 1945.

However, I knew that Poland had refused to let them enter Poland, so these gentlemen could not be the "Night Wolves." To tell the truth, I was kind of disappointed that they were unable to get through to Berlin. I was curious what would happen when a gang of Russian thugs met up with a gang of German thugs.

The hotel was not very expensive, considering its elegance--about $120 per night--but its breakfast was outrageous at about $28. My theory is that they make up for the low room rate by charging a small fortune for breakfast. I did have breakfast there the first morning, and it was excellent, but I decided to check out the neighborhood to find a cafe where I could get something cheaper.

I went to Mass at a church not far from the hotel, and on the way back I saw several little cafes, one of them, the Radio cafe, had a sign out advertising a cheap breakfast. I wanted to sit inside, and when I came in, the owner greeted me and bought me a coffee. He was an interesting guy, a journalist who'd lived and worked all over the world.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 01:13 PM
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We had a wide-ranging discussion over the next couple of hours, including a comment he made which amazed me. He mentioned that he had a friend in Paris, Jim Haynes, who invited anybody and everybody over for dinner on Sunday evening, and he gave me Jim's telephone number.

I said, "Didn't he die?" but he thought Jim Haynes was/is still alive. Still, I was amazed at another one of those small world things I've experience on this trip.

I also asked him about changes in Poland since it was able to break away from the control of the Communists and the Soviet Union. He told me that when he opened his cafe, which was on a pleasant side street a few blocks from my hotel, it was the only cafe in the area, and that now there are 14 cafes in the area. He said the reason Warsaw and Poland have been able to change so much is because of self-determination.

He told of one time when he returned to Warsaw and wanted to build something--I don't recall what--and he couldn't find nails. Anywhere. They just weren't available. He returned two months (I think he said) after Poland regained its independence and suddenly there were plenty of nails, including nails he'd never seen before, such as copper-topped nails.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 02:05 PM
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nice story about your chat with the cafe owner, Peg - travel is full of such co-incidences, I find, but that doesn't stop them being great when they happen to you.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 02:11 PM
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following quietly
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 02:43 PM
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Thanks for your latest "slice of Life" adventure!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 05:28 PM
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Hi again PEG,

"When I pulled back the sheer curtains in my room, what did I see but that glorious example of Stalinist architecture, the Palace of Culture and Science! It was a "gift of friendship" from the Soviet Union to Warsaw."

So interesting. Today's Boston GLOBE had a piece about that same building. I guess the Poles have grown more used to it now. Small world.

When the dust settles from your trip, I would recommend reading THE LAST MAZURKA: A FAMILY'S TALE OF WAR, PASSION, AND LOSS by Andrew Tarnowski. It is a poignant but charming account of an aristocratic Polish family driven from their ancestral home by the Nazis then later by the Russians. The book gives a personal perspective on the sufferings of the Poles in mid 20th century. Geography is everything I guess...
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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 11:42 AM
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Thanks, Lateday. Amazon owes me a credit and it's burning a hole in my metaphorical pocket. I'll get the book.

I've been interested in WWII for many years, but I really had no idea of a great deal that went on with regard to geography.

I knew that part of Poland, Gdansk, for instance, had once been part of Germany--what they called East Prussia. But I had no idea that Poland lost territory in the west and gained some in the east.

I am fascinated by the book about Poland that PatrickLondon recommended, but I switch to other books when events in Poland become to depressing.
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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 03:31 PM
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I live in the Washington, DC, area. I will be off to Europe tomorrow for this year's home exchange south of Barcelona about an hour by train. I will do a lot of side trips when I get there. First I go to Paris to visit a friend. At the end I have a few days in a hotel in Barcelona.

Everything is booked at this point.
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