Tag Archives: Not Gardening.

The “Actually, Do Mention the War” Tour Continues. (Not about gardening.)

(Written this morning)

Oh, hey, I’m in Paris now. Two hours in and I’m sitting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower having just finished a religieuse. Mentioned to the woman at the bakery that I hadn’t had one in about 19 years. She smiled at me in a ‘don’t engage with the lunatic’ kind of way. As Orson Welles would say, “Aaaah, the French…”

Of course, yes, I probably do look like a lunatic. I just got in from Berlin on an overnight train and haven’t showered yet (hotel room’s not ready). On top of that, I have Scabface – I have blown my nose so much that the skin around it is raw and coming off in chunks. I also have a confusing accent and far-from-perfect-grammar. I wouldn’t have engaged me in conversation either.

By the way, the first notable thing I did in Paris wasn’t getting lost, but getting stuck in a turnstile in the Métro. Getting lost was the second thing.

I didn’t write about Berlin yet because I was exhausted, sick, and overwhelmed for much of it. I did rent a bike, which is BY FAR the best way to get around. Especially as cyclists fucking rule the roads, sidewalks, and every other horizontal surface in the city. It was great. Of course, on Monday, I walked and lived in fear of the cyclists instead. Fuck, they’re bastards, but it was fun to be one of them for a while.

Spent much of Sundays in museums and Monday meandering around Mitte. Here are some photos:

Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz. One of the ugly-yet-admirable icons.

Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz. One of the ugly-yet-admirable icons.

This is my sweet ride and the sweet bike rack I locked her to outside the DDR Museum.

This is my sweet ride and the sweet bike rack I locked her to outside the DDR Museum.

No, I didnt just see the stereotypical tourist stuff...

No, I didn't just see the stereotypical tourist stuff... (Brandenburg Gate)

...just mostly them. (Checkpoint Charlie)

...just mostly them. (Checkpoint Charlie)

Tried to take a sneaky pic inside the lobby of this tiny cinema. Not so successful.

Tried to take a sneaky pic inside the lobby of this tiny cinema (Kino Central). Not so successful.

Did watch a movie in the adjacent courtyard. Das Leben die Anderen. (I had seen it once before, but still!)

Did watch a movie in the adjacent courtyard. Das Leben die Anderen. (I had seen it once before, but still!)

Only a bit of The Wall remains (about 1.3km worth). This bit’s known as the East Side Gallery. The artwork was updated last year.

The Understanding of Ignorance

"The Understanding of Ignorance"

I apologise for the lousy quality of some of these. I was so smugly pleased to have remembered to charge my camera battery that I forgot to put it back in my camera before leaving the hotel. Brilliant.

It’s hard to write or think about Berlin without resorting to being trite or thinking in clichés about ‘massive change’ and ‘coming to terms with its past’. It’s an amazing place. You should go.

A note for anyone visiting: If you ask “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” of hotel, restaurant, or shop staff and they reply ‘a little’, chances are that they speak it better than you do. Just sayin’.

“Espresso doppio, proszę.” “Yes, anything else?”

(Written in the Old Town this afternoon, between rainstorms)

I kinda feel like I’m on that school trip to Quebec City in grade 7; even when I try to use a word in the local language, I get a reply in English.

Sitting in a café (my second of the day) listening to seemingly the only accordion-playing busker who isn’t a) a 14-year-old girl, b) sour-faced, and c) in possession of a tiny, apparently dead (but actually just exhausted) puppy.

After a couple of days spent primarily sitting on patios, enjoying local brews (although, I did make it to the EXCELLENT Solidarity Museum yesterday), I decided to make use of my Karta Turysty and hit up some more educational haunts, which, it turns out, is quite tricky. The archaeology museum was great, but several exhibits/displays offered no English descriptions at all. (This is fine, really. I am not so arrogant as to be think that there should be English everywhere, but, yeah, bewilderment was at maximum a few times when facing endless pots of who-knows-what origin.)

Ditto at the Maritime Museum (though English descriptions were more available there), which had the additional complication of being one way only. So, despite being exhausted (have I mentioned the sinus-y, mucous situation I have going on in my head?) and wanting to head out early, I had to go through ALL of the exhibitions since I got shouted at in Polish by little old ladies if I tried to turn around. Everything on the third floor and above got pretty cursory glances, I’m afraid. Apologies to 20th century shipbuilders.
As I can’t drink vodka, my souvenirs so far are the nearly-as-stereotypical mead (which is more like wine than liqueur here) and amber.

I am really digging Poland. I hope I can make it back before Piotr and Chelsea leave (Euro 2012, maybe?). Tomorrow, I embark on my journey West to Berlin, then on to Paris. It will be sweet relief to have at least a primary school reading level (in Germany). Still haven’t made a single decision on what to see there yet, though. The dream of renting a bike and exploring has been quashed by five days of torrential rain in the forecast. Ack. Must buy an umbrella. OK, jetzt habe ich einen Plan für Berlin.

(Photos of Gdansk will be posted here am Morgen, or maybe the day after.)

Sopot. (Also not about gardening.)

So I didn’t write about London. Here are a few words:

1. Annelouise, Joe, the other Jo, Alan, and Mark Watson are great.

2. Paul Merton touched my leg when making his way through the Comedy Store with a tray of drinks. This is slightly better than making an arse of myself by babbling in his face in Edinburgh a couple of years ago.

3. Greenwich is lovely and highly recommended, but don’t have a giant lunch before climbing that hill.

4. Churchill’s War Rooms are definitely worth a visit, but do not count as one of the free museums for some reason.

5. Curly Wurly was unfindable. This is terribly upsetting.

As for Sopot, we went there yesterday and met up with Piotr’s de facto aunt (one of those older relatives who you know you have some kind of DNA relationship too, but aren’t 100% sure how), her partner, and her mother. The three people we met live in/around Ottawa too and it turns out Teresa delivered my friend’s kids (she’s a midwife). Ottawa: A Small Town of a Million People.

In actuality, we spent the afternoon drinking and eating and wandering (a bit). Here are some photos:

Sopot lunch. Sturgeon with mushroom sauce, potatoes, and salad.

Sopot lunch. Sturgeon with mushroom sauce, potatoes, and salad. Oh, and beer. So good.

Sitting, chatting, drinking near the sea.

Sitting, chatting, drinking near the sea.

This is quite near the station and the church where Piotrs parents got married.

This is quite near the station and the church where Piotr's parents got married.

This is where Chelsea, and later Piotr, lived when they first moved to Poland. This is a pretty swanky area of the Tri-Cities, but ultimately too loud and too expensive.

This is where Chelsea, and later Piotr, lived when they first moved to Poland. This is a pretty swanky area of the Tri-Cities, but ultimately too loud and too expensive. (Western European prices have invaded, mostly on stuff like clothing, electronics, and real estate.)

Manscaping and being mahogony-coloured are all the rage on the Baltic coast.

Manscaping and being mahogony-coloured are all the rage on the Baltic coast.

You can rent this stilts on the beach. We did not.

You can rent these stilts on the beach. We did not.

It was a grand day out.  Today, I’m going to learn something, though. We’re going to the old city of Gdańsk (which, of course, was mostly razed in the Second World War since, y’know, the conflict started here and all) and going to the Solidarity Museum. Will report back soon.

Polská. (Not about gardening.)

Poland so far.

I’m in Poland. Here’s some stuff I wrote yesterday in my French school notebook:

—-

So, Poland. A land that makes fools of us all. At least of me, anyway.

The last  few weeks of work have made me extremely stupid and deeply unprepared for this much-needed holiday. A key thing that I should have done, for example, is learn some Polish.

Instead, I have thus far been a near-mute asshole, saying ‘Cześć’ and ‘Dziękuję’ once in a while, but generally just standing there like a fool, pointing at things on menus (in touristy places in Kraków, these are bilingual even when the staff aren’t, though), and hoping that I’m pronouncing Okocim correctly.

Unfortunately, aside from my tendency to gap at ancient churches and taking photos of graffiti I enjoy, I don’t look like a typical tourist. How do I know this? I get asked for directions frequently. Three people had stopped me to ask me for advice before I even got on a train to Kraków Główny from the airport. I have a Polish face (or a British one or an Icelandic one) or an air that I know what the fuck I’m doing. I don’t, I assure you. I’m generally, if possible, more lost than you are. Do not trust this face.

Anyway, here’s a list of some of the things that I did and saw in Kraków:

1. Watched a really keen (is there any other kind?) British trainspotter who took dozens of photos and extensive notes on the airport shuttle, then inserting his papers into a book on “Key Phrases for European Rail Travel” (or similar).

2. Saw/heard the bugler of Kościół Mariacki in the town square (more than once).

3. Ate pierogi ruskie (yeah, I don’t know either).

4. Went to a chamber music concert in an ancient (well, to Canadian standards) church. The first violinist looked like Burton Cummings and was clearly fighting off the flu or something. Still brilliant, though.

5. Went to bed early-ish (10:30) and was awoken an hour later by a shouting couple in the street, then by several more people over the course of the night.

6. Queued for almost an hour for a ticket to Wawel Castle. Then said ticket blew away (I think – it vanished, anyway) while I was eating lunch. As a result, no state rooms for me, but I did see the archaeological bits and the Dragon’s Den (no investors there, though).

7. Found out that Kraków Głowny makes Birmingham New Street look like the Taj Mahal.

8. Visited the Galicia Holocaust Museum (no, didn’t make it to Auschwitz this time), which was excellent, and walked around Kazimierz (the old Jewish Quarter) for ages.

9. Forgot to take a photo of the Bonerowski Hotel (sorry, Jovana).

As I write this, I’m on my very long train journey to Gdansk to stay with Piotr and Chelsea. I’m hoping to have a lazy few days with them (ed. note – day one a total success) and let my finances recover after the money-sucking, yet lovely, stay in the UK before heading on to Germany on Saturday morning.

Do widzenia!