Peace & War

9 Aug

Set off for Karma Coffee, a place recommended by a tourist map that I’d picked up yesterday.  Bit pricey, if 4 euros is a lot for a jam croissant and a special honey and cinnamon latte.  Hip little place full of students.  From here it wasn’t far to the Royal Gardens, a choice I’d made to see as I didn’t have much else on for the day.  Very glad I did see it though!  The tourist map had said it was one of the most popular tourist destinations in Warsaw, but it hadn’t jumped out at me from any other source.  The gardens sprawled out for many hectares, with low branched trees cutting off most sunlight, it was a steamy green forest of bushes and flowers.  Every here and there a royal building would pop up – I wasn’t sure if they were reconstructions though (probably).  What stretched a smile across my face was the legions of squirrels and peacocks!  Seriously cool squirrels.  They bound up, stand on their hind legs, bury acorns.  Amazing.  Now I know what it feels like to gawk at a kangaroo!  I spent a good two hours here, minimally worried about my eye in this polleny environment.

Lunch was at a Vietnamese place.  1% of Warsaws population is Viet – fun fact.  The girl smiled when I said xin chow to her.  Told Tony I’d said hi to his Polish relatives.  Really good meal, and cheap.  I changed another 200E for 792zl which is the best rate I’d seen.  Felt a little dicey carrying around all this cash, but I also had my camera, iPod, passport -so if I was going to get got, I’d get got good!

Turned out to be a bit of a walk to the Polish Uprising War Museum.  I’d timed visiting this museum both well and badly – it is the only museum open today, so it was good I went elsewhere yesterday, but it meant that everyone was here today.  Queued for an hour to get in.  Only 5zl, with student discount.  Cool, interactive museum.  A cross between a theme park and a memorial, because it had loud sound effects of bombing planes and explosions, flashing lights, a full size plane, a sewer tunnel to walk through (darker than cu chi), rubber black flaps to as doorways between sections.  Again, glad I went.  The uprising itself is about how the Poles fought the Nazis who had occupied their city.  They lasted 63 days.  Only regret about the museum was a queue inside that took well over an hour.  What it was for I didn’t know, but presumed it must be good.  Turned out to just be a 5 minute 3D film showing an aerial view of Warsaw after it had been levelled.  Interesting, but definitely not worth it.  The Warsaw people do love their reconstructions!

Took a walk through the mall.  Shops are the same everywhere!  Checked out some prices and I have to do some buying when I return.  Checked out the neighbouring train station and had no idea what to do for tomorrow’s trip to Krakow.  The most I could make out was that there are plenty of trips.  I went back to the hostel, took a longheld wee, then the staff helped with my ticket.  Online, he chose me a cheap (40zl instead of 110zl!) ticket at 10:30 with inter-regio.  Trains with different standards work the lines, and obviously I wanted the povvest. I went to the last restaurant I had picked out to try in Warsaw – Green Point.  Compared to other places, it didn’t look fancy and I felt more comfortable eating alone here.  Good, big meal too.  Pretty hippy/vegetarian styled.  I had Indian kofta and it came with buckwheat rice covered in a delicious sauce, and three different salad piles – carrot, coleslaw and a purple cabbage with sultanas.  With a banana smoothie – great.  Afterwards I searched around for a nice joint for a beer, but didn’t find anywhere to my liking so just bought a man can and drank it at the hostel.  Would’ve been a perfect day – technically it was, but I didn’t have a good night.  I had a robocop Russian in the top bunk who couldn’t get settled, and my mind wouldn’t turn off.

Fuck I’m Polish!

8 Aug

First thing to do was find a kantor – money exchanger.  I’d sussed one Western Union place yesterday and visited them, only to discover the displayed rates were what they were selling euros for, not buying.  I wanted as close to 4 as possible and these guys were 3.6 – I’d hunt around some more.  Lucky I did because I found a half asleep guy selling for 3.96 – perfect!  And no commission charged, so I will be back.  I was up fairly early, it’s about nineish on a Sunday and places don’t open til 10.  I wandered about, finally buying some pastries from a supermarket.  Walked past the Chopin museum – these guys love him.  Found a river and walked up it in the direction of Old Town.  Walked by Neptuna, a statue whose importance I only realised later.  She’s a mermaid with a sword, the symbol of the city.  See, murderers, I told you.

Old Town was what I’d been looking for – a pulse in the otherwise grimy, boring city.  OK, so its been labelled a tourist Disneyland, but at least its something.  I came across a hub of people and statues.  Very bizarrely there was a mock Polish war house set up with little kids and adults in uniforms, giving away newspapers and postcards.  At first I thought it was a distasteful tourist stall, where can send your kid in and let them get dressed up then take pictures.  But after I read a few placards I learnt a historical group were acting out scenes of the Polish Uprising throughout Old Town – complete with guns, tanks and discipline.  And the majority of tourists seemed to be Poles themselves.  I joined the river of people and did the circuit.  The whole town is a reconstruction of the former town (before it got levelled in WW2), so it’s only 50 years old but meant to look older.  They’d done a fine job.  I snacked on a giant warm waffle with cream – everyone was doing it!  For lunch I found a little market area under a church, some nice stained glass there Mum.  Again I did what everyone else was doing – bought a microbrewed brown beer (it was after midday) and 2 poriego, which are like momos, fried flour wrapped over cabbage.  Felt like a fucking Pole!  I also realsed why I was having so much trouble assimilating to the prices – it is my first cheap white country, in Europe no less.  After the brown beer I had to lash out 2zl for a loo.

I kept walking – everything was in walking distance, though I’m sure not many people do it.  Saw a government building with a protest crowd out the front demanding answers about the plane crash that killed the President earler in the year.  More walking.  I decided that for a late lunch I’d visit a traditional Polish place – a milk bar.  This is very reminiscient of communist Poland.  I wouldn’t call it a restaurant, more a place to get filled up.  It was cafeteria style – walk in, giant menu with 100 things listed, all in Polish.  No pictures.  I knew zupy meant soup and saw a page that looked like it was a set menu.  I really don’t know how I got ordered, I went to the server and said ‘zestaw’ (the set menu) and smiled.  The lady, surly as anything, shook her head and muttered some Polish.  I made out ‘chicken’ and nodded, ‘potatoes’, nodded, ‘salad’, nodded.  16zl.  She gave me a reciept and I lined up, tray in hand.  There were four things billed on the reciept, and when the server, very professional in her plastic bag apron, gave me a bowl of purple beetroot soup and a plate of chicken, potatoes and salad, I figured that was it.  The interior of the milk bar was a drab brown, the middle aged waitresses wearing a dull yellow.  No pictures inside, just sit down and eat!  I was proud with myself and the food was really good.  Beetroot soup was surprisingly good, though I decided I wouldn’t get it again.

Went back to the hostel at 5, when it reopened.  Tired from walking and had run out of things to do.  Read and chilled out til 8:30ish, which was a mistake, because the place I’d planned on eating at was closed.  It was pretty late on a Sunday.  I had to relent and, disgusted with myself, went to KFC.  It was either that or a kebab.

Sausage Fingers

7 Aug

Ipod alarm set me off at 7:30. Wanted to give myself plenty of time for errors in getting trains and buses, also I still needed to print off my plane ticket. Posted a 21st birthday card to Lisa and hence got ‘Lisa it’s your birthday’ off the Simspons stuck in my head (now it’s stuck again). Train ticket to Eindhoven costs E$14 – I’m learning train transport isn’t cheap. I’m foreseeing a bike tour of Holland. Got to Eindhoven alright, sought out the tourist centre and they pointed me in the direction of a printing shop. Cost 2 euro to print 2 pages! Unsure whether I’d been scammed because I asked for the price afterwards. Not too much in Eindhoven, or at least around the terminal. Shops, similar to Arnhem. Thought I saw a shop called Byron Bay, but on closer inspection it was just Bjorn Boy or something much more European! The bus to the airport had a ticket machine on board that didn’t accept notes. I asked the drvier and he pretty much told me to risk it. Happily I accepted his advice, keen to blame him if I get fined over it!

Rookie mistake at the airport – left my water bottle in my pack and had it binned by the surly female inspector. First time travelling without onboard luggage! Felt weird and light. My backpack weighed only 6.5kg by the way: travelling LIGHT! Except I felt like a bit of a dill when, in Warsaw, I wandered over to the baggage carousel. Force of habit! Surprisingly, though I’m getting used to it, no visa check whatsoever. Straight through to Poland and taxi touts. Being the clever tourist, I changed only $10 into zlotys at a rate of 3.3. Should’ve changed only $5. Like a local I went and bought a ticket from a kiosk and found the bus terminal, straight to Central Warsaw. A note with place names here – the words are so unfamiliar to me that I don’t even register with the correct spelling and skip to just getting a gist. Hoping that no places sounding the same are at a crossroads.

My hostel, the Green Maziova, was thankfully only on the street parallel to the one I got dropped off at, so no hassles there. The hostel is in the same building as a sex shop, as advertised outside! It was really dreary and smelt like stale piss in the building, but inside the hostels floor it was quite nice. Free internet, kitchen and locker for $10, so no complaints. And into Warsaw! Starving by now as I hadn’t eaten since my mid morning rice crackers I’d thoughtfully put in. Was a bit overwhelmed by the different cafes and prices – it was hard assimilating to 4zl being 1 euro, so 16zl meals weren’t bad. I settled on a kebab (they are everywhere here) which dripped down my front (great, 12 days with only 2 pairs of pants) and had a half litre beer in a summer setting (outdoor tables). Got screwed with the price, thought a sign had said 5zl, but it was for a different place, and it was actually 8zl. And then when I handed over a tenner nobody came back to give me a 2! Not recommending this joint.

Being a Saturday night the place was jumping with people. The women all looked like prostitutes, just couldn’t shake that thought from my head. Worse, the men all looked like thugs who’d murdered someone. And not impersonally – I mean throttled their victims until they saw the lights in their eyes fade out. Tried to give them all a wide birth but I still got approached by some speaking Polish. I said ‘I don’t understand’ and kept walking. A strange request is ‘can I have some money for beer’, not asked by the standard bums but by fairly ordinary looking people. I found a massive throng of people walking along a street and I joined in. Street was lined with summer settings and (paradoxically) newly constructed old buildings. I was coming to the last of my zlotys and decided to spend the final six on a soft serve cone, which seemed to be the thing to do. I’d gotten myself pretty well orientated already, which I was pleased with. Seemed to only be a couple of interesting streets, and those were only really interesting because of the Western focus (eg shops, KFC). Things were very cheap, which I’d miss from Asia. But I’d started having concerns whether the 3 nights I’d booked in for were too many, especially considering my flight left Warsaw there. Ah well, can’t worry about that too much! The dorm was well behaved, only bad thing to happen was that I’d lost my earphone piece earlier so will have to buy a new set. Lucky I’m in the right country to do some shopping!

Thames or Tems?

7 Jul

The upside of passing out really early is that I woke up at 5am.  Braving the scorn of my fellow backpackers, I got my stuff together and went downstairs for breakfast.  They provided toast, cereal and coffee which was decent of them.  The White Ferry is very recommendable.  With no real idea of what I planned to accomplish today, I ventured out to the Thames and walked up it.  All the while thinking, is it Thames or Tems?  I was preparing myself for an encounter with another traveller and didn’t want to come out of it like a dumbass tourist!  It was dreary English weather, just on the brink of raining down I reckon.  When I needed to go to the loo I happened to find a free one at a train station!  Hoorah!  Paying to piss is beyond my principles and I vowed to hold out.

As I walked I did some noticing.  I noticed that there are a lot of coppers walking about in their funny helmets, even in sections where it’s very quiet.  Security seems to be a big issue here, proven further by the masses of CCTV cameras lurking at every corner.  It is beyond a joke!  I also noticed that the English walk very damn fast, maybe its just me on my tourist stroll but it seems that everyone was passing me today.  But I had good reason to stroll: on the opposite bank were the Houses of Parliament (not sure whether they deserve capitals) and Big Ben (he does).  Most impressive, and I even sat down and waited for the hour to strike so I could set my watch to it.  Further along is the more artsy suburb of town where theatres and street art ruled.  The London Eye, that big ferris wheel, was here and there were already queues for it.  It only does one slow loop and is fairly expensive, so I won’t be ticking it off this time round!  I was satisfied with my walk so far, I’d come a lot further than I thought I would have managed.  I decided my turn around point would be just past the Globe theatre, at the tower bridge.

The Globe theatre – definitely a place for me to visit after my namesake.  The historical Globe was placed in between some ordinary-looking buildings and would be hard to find without the sign posts.  I stickybeaked in the souvenir shop and was overwhelmed by all the Shakespeareness, it seems they’ve gotten any old tea towel and printed some quotes on it.  The plays themselves weren’t too expensive, only 5 quid to view at groundling level (which is a must, I wouldn’t sit in the stands!) however the only thing playing was one of the Henry IV parts and would be incomprehensible for me.  Next time.  Before I crossed the Thames (Tems I decided) I visited the Modern Tate art gallery, and only because its free.  The good thing about London is that everything is free to get into!  Inside I waltzed around, bothered by the point that there’s no price tags on the works to be astounded by.  Saw Monets waterlillies (tick) and a Salvador Dali piece with a reflective river (tick).  Both were cool but I couldn’t help thinking – there is nothing between me and this near-priceless work!  I kept wondering what the fine would be…

From here I came across the Tower bridge and was shocked – the bridge is blue!  Not all of it, the railings are, but enough to give a surreal view.  Is it just me or has it always been blue?  Not sure.  Equally as shocking, but far more expected, was the Londoner wearing his socks and sandles.  Sneaked a few photos.  One of the highlights of the day has to be when I was crossing the bridge and just as I was stepping onto the other side an alarm went off.  Made me jump a little, and then I realised that the bridge was going up!  And I had front row seats!  Too good.  Didn’t even plan it.  On the other side of the bridge is Londons most preserved tower, complete with dungeons and tour guides dressed up in ye olde English clothes.  It looked pretty interesting and was recommended by the Lonely Planet as one of the places to pay for.    Unfortunately I didn’t get to make it here, so its the first priority on my next visit.

It was getting late in the day and I’d started earlier than most.  More collossal old buildings and cathedrals around every corner too!  I started heading back towards the hostel, but through the main part of the city.  It was here that I realised just how close everything is to each other.  The houses of Parliament were basically on the same stretch as Buckingham palace, so I really wasn’t far off having landmarks for all of central London.  At the front of parliament was like a tent embassy, though more for hippies protesting the war.  Seemed a bit disrespectful to be camping around statues of Churchill and Mandela though.  Also came across the theatre with a giant Billy Elliott out the front of it, and a similar one for the We Will Rock You show.  Very busy around these parts!

Back in the hostel I couldn’t believe it but I was starting to come down with something.  My nose was a tap and my head was spinning but I committed myself to having a pint and watching the football final between Germany and Spain.  Felt like a real man drinking from a pint glass – why did Australia choose to ditch these?  Made it to the end of the game, but I wasn’t in a good state and quickly retired to bed.

London – Tuesday

6 Jul

It was hard to fathom that it really was 5 or so in the morning, as the sky already had that mid morning grey tint on it.  Passed through customs with no dramas, we in Australia are obviously far more concerned about letting foreign items into our country than the Europeans.  I did have to tell the man my reasons for coming to Europe but he seemed more interested in what I was studying than in inspecting me further.  And then I was in England!  Someone from the plane was already downing a half litre can of beer in the terminal.  I got stung at the currency converter, 45 pounds for $100 isn’t good at all!  But the Bureau de change agency has a monopoly in the airport and I had no other choice.  From there it was relatively easy to find my prebooked bus, sorry, coach to take me to Victoria Station.  The London-Stansted airport for low cost carriers was definitely inconveniently located because it took nearly 90 minutes to get into town.  Not that I had any worries with that, because my hostel didn’t let you check in til the afternoon.  The first changes I noticed about the countryside was the different road signs and the shapes of the cars.  Very European, and as I know will become a constant feature of my diary, reminded me of several British films.

Got dropped off at the side of the road on a busy street.  Where the hell am I?!  Felt too much of a tourist to whip the Lonely Planet out right then and there, so I ducked around the corner and tried to get my bearings.  This was a bit difficult as Victoria Station is an oddly shaped building with many roads running in and out of it.  Took several gambles until I pretty much accidentally came across the right roads and before I knew it the White Ferry Inn was on the corner!  Made me very happy.  The guy behind the counter told me I could ditch my pack beneath the stairwell until I could check in, so I had a bit of time to explore London.

My first place I went into was, for better or for worse, a Texaco express.  Like a mini supermarket.  It was good to see what they had on offer and I also picked up an almond croissant, raspberry muffin and a bag of apples for breakfast.  Five quid, $10!  Blimey.  Almond croissant was worth it though.  From here I ventured down Buckingham street and, lo and behold, there was Buckingham Palace in all its boring glory.  Very unimpressive, a large creme building with little architectural interest, although the big-hatted guards out the front were cool.  And as it was some incredibly stupid hour in the morning, I was the sole tourist.  The grounds in front of the palace were better too, there were three large arches depicting Canada, South Africa and Australia.  A fountain in the middle held some massive bronze sculptures donated by New Zealand.  Nice to know we’re all thought of!  Green Park was over the road and I went in.  This park is quite big and really makes you think you’re out of the bustle of London.  Through this I discovered a war memorial to the ANZAC troops which had the various Australian suburbs on it.  Spotted Towradgi.  Past this memorial was Hyde Park, and if I thought that Green Park was a prime piece of real estate then I was wrong: Hyde Park is quadruply as big.  In the North Eastern corner was the fabled ‘Speakers Corner’, where our soap box idea in Campus East came from.  I walked many kilometres, sorry miles, to get there, expecting to see crazy bearded men ranting about society to a crowd of onlookers.  But no, nothing!  I even had to look at a map to make sure I was in the right place.  Apart from a kiosk with ‘Speakers Corner’ written on it, there was no activity at all.  And I’d come all this way.  Now I had to hot foot it back to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard.

It wasn’t my fault, I got there exactly when the festivities are supposed to start.  It was the crowds that I hadn’t been expecting.  People were swarmed up to the gates, with police directing traffic and pedestrians.  Amongst this marched a group of red-uniformed soldiers with either guns or instruments as they went about changing the guards over.  Apart from a few stretched out photos by myself I didn’t see too much and retreated back to the shade to watch what I could of the proceedings.  I should mention that by now the jet lag had well and truly settled in, and I was becoming sickly on a mix of lethargy and adrenalin for the exploration.  I went back to the White Ferry and checked in.  The dorm room was huge, but definitely seemed far smaller with the 7 triple bunk beds thrown in.  I had managed top bunk, which turned out to be ok as I could go to sleep without a) being disturbed by others and b) being seen as the party pooper going to bed at 4pm in the afternoon!  I had planned to wake up around 7 for the Holland versus Uruguay semi final.  That didn’t happen – I was out for the entire night.

Same same, nothing different

5 Jul

Daz was at work, so I was left to my own.  I had an argumentative call to a taxi company (they wanted me to leave a phone number?!) but finally got through to them and got dropped off at the Peronis towers.  Huge!  Walked around like the lost tourist that I was (had no map) and pretty much walked up and down streets.  Found a mall food court to eat at (realised I’d missed cheap Asian food very much) and did the whole wandering of air conditioned malls and such.  Nothing too new for me, but better than being inside a condo all day.  Saw a Croc shop – disgusting. 

Ate a Portugese tart to piss off Dad!  Got a taxi back home and showered off the days sweat.  Packed my gear up until Daz came home and drove me to the bus terminal.  Got to the airport with no hassles except I had to wait in line for dinner for ages, which made me scared of missing my boarding time!  But no worries, I got on fine, in between two smallish women so it wasn’t all terrible.  Didn’t have to think about getting a movie player as I was engrossed in ‘Shutter Island’ (book) and slept for 12 of the 14 hour flight.  Barely used my iPod! 

Kuala Lumpur

4 Jul

Dazza and meHad a very smug look on my face as the baggage carousel spat out my bag with all of its Asian flags stitched onto it.  Experienced traveller right here!  Smoothly found a currency converter that had the best rates – didn’t go to the first one I saw like most people.  Swapped $50 Australian into ringgits, think it was paying 4 to the dollar.  Got on a bus that took an hour to get into KL Sentral, where I found a pay phone and called Dazza up.  I stood out the front waiting for an Asian in a black car…I think a thousand passed before the right one showed up!  He was excited to see me and we went to eat some roti’s and coffee while we caught up.
“What TV shows do you guys watch in Australia?  I really don’t know what to watch without you guys.  Glee’s pretty good though.”  Darrel Lim, 2010.
Relaxed in his condo for the first half of the day, which I was happy to do because I was a bit buggered from the flight and I used his internet to find a place to stay in London.  Out side his window, monkeys played in the trees, so it wasn’t entirely dull!  In the afternoon he said he needed to go buy a washing basket from Ikea, so I tagged along.  Never in my life have I seen such a busy shop!  It was my first time at Ikea and it was impressive, but what won me over was that Daz travelled an hour in traffic and queued behind hundreds of people to walk the entire Ikea store just to get a simple washing bag that cost like 12 ringgits.  Fascinating.
Daz had to work the next day so we didn’t have a big one, instead we went to a market type area (Bintang Bukkit) and ate some food and shared a beer.  Nothing new to me – this Asian scene is all the same to me now.  Crashed in bed.

Saw the Swans – Saturday

3 Jul

Left after a deliciously satisfying Indian meal in an indie hipster cafe. Had a crappy check in with Qantas – we had checked in online but the counter I was waiting for was doing a group booking, without letting me know. Said goodbye to Mum and Dad and Chris, who got to enjoy me getting beeped by the security sensors. Made it with no dramas to Melbourne airport, where I sat on a hard metal seat for a couple of hours. Saw the Sydney Swans arrive. Boarded my plane to Kuala Lumpur with no hassles at 10pm. Slept for most of the journey.