Sun, 03 Aug 2008
I'm aware that summer in central Europe is warm in the abstract but on the few occasions I'm there it's still surprising. The train apparently has air conditioning. At least that's what we gather is the reason the man from the Polish railway company insists that the window is closed, but it's not of the cooling variety. The heat does seem appropriate to the lazy way the train trundles through the endless flatness of western Poland where only the collections of soviet industrialism to break the agricultural tranquillity.
And then Wroclaw and the three days it takes to work out how to pronounce the name -- vrochwav is the best approximation I can manage -- and more heat. And churches. Like the Greeks the Polish don't believe in being underchurched. The nations differ in that the Poles seem to think that many and large is the solution to the church problem removing the element of surprise of the Greek very many and small model. In fact as the churches of Wroclaw mostly seem to group together the chances of coming across them unexpectedly are pretty slim. The element of surprise is the astonishingly disturbing motorised diorama created from toy dolls contained in a side room of one of them. The purpose is unclear and it's too discomforting to spend time looking in the hope of revelation.
The other diorama available is the Panorama Raclawicka. The fifteen minutes it takes the audio guide to give a brief overview of the events contained within gives some notion of the scale of the work. That it has a building dedicated to it an idea of it's place in the Polish mindset. That I spend a chunk of the time there thinking it was quite cool that the audio guide was implemented as custom software on a PDA says too much about me.
Another gentle train journey takes us to Krakow. And more churches. But also a great many synagogues which are unassuming and discrete. And small if the one we go into is representative. They are also largely unused.
Unexpectedly, the best thing we see in Krakow is the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art which at the time is showing a great exhibition of 18th Century Japanese Woodcut prints. As even I fail to write down the details of the most appealing ones so I'm left hopelessly googling for "Japanese woodblock print skeleton 18th century" at a later date. There's also a museum with a Da Vinci, a Rembrandt and American youth looking at nothing but those.
From Krakow we go south. As we're heading into the countryside we abandon the train for a hire car. This doesn't much increase our speed as all roads in Poland appear to be under construction. The upside of this is the ample opportunity provided to study the many billboards for fur and leather goods. PETA do not appear to have a strong presence. Nor does vegetarianism. One of the stables of Polish cuisine are pierogi which are ravioli like and mostly contain meat. Russian pierogi contain only vegetables and, in theory, should be the vegetarian's best friend in rural Poland. Theory and practice diverge in the liberal garnish of tiny pieces of bacon.
The ruralness of rural Poland is exemplified by an evening of watching half a dozen people in a field gathering in hay of some sort by hand. No mechanisation is involved. It would be positively bucolic were we not sitting on the balcony of a health spa come hotel.
Zakopane is not rural. It's Poland's main ski resort and comes with all the commercialisation that entails. The setting, at the edge of the Tatras, overcomes the fast food and street mimes but it's not an advert for the positive effects of tourism. As it's summer the skiers have been supplanted with hikers and the rather direct path to the summit we choose has a steady trickle of Poles. And a Nun at the summit: the church is inescapable in Poland. On the way down we meet the most nonchalant deer who seem slightly put out to have their grazing disturbed but eventually deign to wander off the path.
posted at: 22:37 #