Tuesday, February 08, 2005

On the road again

There's never any paperAfter 7 weeks or so of lounging about in the UK (thanks to Wardy, Hig, Easto, The Brooksies, Trish and Sandra & Pino for putting us up) we are back on the road again.

Our first stop was Warsaw where we stayed with Sandra's sister Beata and her husband Jerzy in their new place outside town. It was a nice way to ease ourselves back into the travelling with a lift from the airport and more home cooked food (all delicious apart from the Stomach Soup...) than you could shake a stick at. On Wednesday Sandra's Mum and Dad showed us round a snowy Warsaw from the Palace of Culture and Science (Stalin Building) to the Royal Castle. The Stalin Bulding is a gift from the Soviet era and towers above the centre of the city. It is now a multiplex cinema among other things so it seems as if it has been afforded the proper degree of respect. The Royal Castle has been completely rebuilt since the war when it, like 90% of central Warsaw, was destroyed.

From Warsaw we headed north to Gdansk, a very pretty and historic seaside town, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement in 1980. The 'Roads To Freedom' exhibition at the site of the shipyard where Solidarity started is a very moving and brilliantly informative depiction of the events which started the collapse of Communism in Poland, and wider Europe for that matter.

From Gdansk we headed to Malbork to see the famous castle. We had visited it a couple of years earlier but illness had prevented us from doing more than photographing the outside and buying a postcard. This time we were not to be denied and left our backpacks at the station and tramped the mile or so to the huge redbrick build. The interior of the castle was fantastically empty - there was only one other person there on a chilly Monday in February - so we had the place to ourselves. Heaven knows how long you'd have to queue to get your photo taken on the olde-worlde latrine in summer but we were straight in and out although, to be honest, it was hardly the weather for retiring in there with the Guardian crossword. As castle lovers we were in our element as we explored the walkways, courtyards, cloisters and stairwells until the cold finally drove us into a nearby restaurant.

Malbork was just a daytime stopover on our way back to Warsaw and then Vilnius in Lithuania. Once again the railway schedulers arranged things so the border guards come and visit at 4am and an unexpected 1 hour time difference had us scrambling off the train with coats flapping. If Poland was coolish then Lithuania is positively chilly (I am saving the big hitters of the low temperature descriptive world for Siberia) but our multiple layers of clothes are holding up well despite our Polish hosts' derision of our shoes.

We have a couple of days in Lithuania before heading off to Latvia at the end of the week. Tomorrow is a big day for the Bansey barnet as a barber has been located next to the hostel and all that remains is to learn how to say 'short back and sides' in Lithuanian.