At 5.15 am we get up. Another time you can admire the hospitality of our friends for Anna as well as Georg are with us at breakfast. At last we embrace and wave good bye - it was such a nice time here. One minute later we stand freezing at the platform of the railway station. For we have tickets for the first class there is much room for us and the bikes in the train.
The next two hours we enjoy the Mazurian landscape, I compare the names of the stations to the map on my knees. We are sad not to do this way by bike but you cannot have everything.
At Bialystock we must change the train and feel like at the last end of the world. The frontier to Russia is not far from here. The train to Warschau now goes west again and leads through agricultural sites, areas like parks or jungle like shores at the rivers. As we cross the river Bug we are not far from Warschau and soon see the skyline of high buildings. "One of those will be the hotel" I suppose (and later I will be right).
Soon after the bridge of the Weichsel the train vanishes underground for the central station lies deep beneath the surface above. We have to climb up some stairs and carry the heavy loaded bikes. Finally we reach the daylight. The first huge thing you see is the Palace of Culture at the largest place of European towns (I cannot prove this).
We look for the Hotel FORUM where we have booked as a wind gust rushes around the corner and at the same time a shower of broken glass comes down. But we are some distance away from this and nothing happens to us. But we watch someone running behind his cap...
If you steadily look at the ground may be you oversee Hotel FORUM. You must look upwards then you detect the 30 storeys of the building in yellow-orange colour. But first we should master another subway passing the streets named Jerozolimskie und Marszalkowska. But we find a traffic light some streets ahead and can walk to the other shore of this traffic flow. We enter the hall of the hotel with the loaded bikes and at once we seem to be the center of common interest. May be we are the first bikers in here.
I go to the reception and pick the papers and passports out of my rucksack or the chest pocket and they look amused. Meanwhile near the entrance dramatic scenes occur. Heidi has to defend herself and the bikes not to be thrown out by some body guards. But as I appear with the reservation bill they calm down and finally push the bikes with a clang of the bell to the baggage room. But we are not willing to spend any bakschisch this time.
Now we own a valuable key to a room at the 14 th floor, this seems to be above the clouds. We had thought the price for it of DM 200.- was for two nights but it is for one night only and so we have choosen a somewhat luxurious category of accomodation this time(for our conditions). But let it be - life is short...
And there it is, the panorama of northern Warschau. In our room we have an air condition, a refrigarator (which is empty), a television, a bathroom and a desk with postcards, notepaper, a sewing kit and a bible (later at home I find the sewing kit among the laundry clothes). Of course we have a bath first and then start into the crowds and traffic of the Polish capital.
At the underground crossing that we missed before there are traders, beggars and people selling bread or cigarettes. Some sell Western plastic bags as we use them in every shopping center at home, but here they seem to be a symbol of luxury. We enter the huge Cultural Palace. Here you find brand new ateliers and studios for clothes, shoes or cosmetics and other articles which no one needs for a simple life.
At the place in front of the building there are stands of lower price level offering vegetables, cigarettes, chains of amber, tableclothes, sportswear and so on. It seems that the Poles prefer to buy things instead to wait for the inflation of their money. At one of the main streets, the Marszalkowska you then find the worldwide symbol of progress and modernity: the Mac Donald restaurant. It is well frequented and there are even traffic signs leading the way to this place.
Now something for your ears: you often hear cars sounding their horns at the car-parks. This is because they have a alarm system and if someone comes too near they honk around. And the ground floors of the buildings are protected by high lattice fences...
We stroll towards the Stare Miastro, that is the historic part of the town though reconstructed after the war. At the end of a park we see two soldiers who keep guard at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. We are just in time to watch the changing celebration. Three soldiers approach with stoned faces and performing goose steps. As they stand in front of their two motionless collegues they suddenly present the gun, turn to one side and then to another and finally the two soldiers with the soft knees march back and the new ones stand motionless with stoned faces as the others before. Cloth your mouth now, it's over and the soft-kneed soldiers just fall from their goose step to a strolling style to get back to their barracks.
Furtheron we pass one church after another, look inside and forget their interior soon. Then you stand at the place before the castle. At the top of a column there stands a warrior named Sigismund III Wasa, and this is to be read from the guide which we bought meanwhile.
Everything around here is rebuilt after the war. The Stare Miastro is surrounded by an old city wall, you pass a gate to come inside. Narrow streets and picturesque houses, the entrance of the churches wide open, but there you find them again murmuring "No one pays a pension..." in various languages. At the market place the artists sell paintings, mostly motifs from Warschau.
Monument of Kopernikus
We have seen enough for today and find a Pizza restaurant at the Krakowskie Przedmiescie (try to speak it and than think about learning Polish again...). To end the day we sit at the hall of the hotel and observe what's going there. We can watch American and Japanese tourists with their cameras and camcorders hanging from their neck. Someone carries a sign: "Please gather for the Chopin Evening". Chopin seems to be the most famous citizen of Warschau for you meet him erverywhere (souvernirs, pictures, records, CDs, etc.). Nearby there sit some ladies and peer around and assess all male persons especially business men. May be we are right in what we guess.
We end with television at our chamber.
Today we can explore Warschau systematically. But first we have our breakfast and wonder about the quality according to the high charge for this accomodation. We have scrambled eggs with bacon and this is normal standard. We talk to some businessmen at our table. They trade in garden log cabins and try to make a contract with an appropriate company. One of them is a lawyer to control things, it seems to be somewhat difficult. We have a discussion of the situation of today and of former times and end with the Jews and the Ghetto...
We start at the central station to find out how to bring the bikes back home. But this is hopeless for they do not understand us and we do not understand them though they stick together again. We decide to bring the bikes tomorrow and send them as cargo. Near the central station there is the Holiday Inn and as we think to be hotel controllers we ask for the price of a room. They start at 185 $ and this is absolutely not our usual category.
Now we find ourselves at the back side of the Cultural Palace and decide to find the way up to the panorama platform. We use the first entrance to be found and seem to be near the congress hall. But as we look around and hesitate an officer closed in livery appears and leads us to the elevator. But this will cost some charge again and we resign for we have a nice view out of our hotel anyway. So we visit a immense bookstore hall where the books in Polish are very cheap, but those in English or German are as expensive as usual.
Now we walk at the Nowy Swiat prolonging the Krakowskie Przedmiescie (be sure that I do hard to write those names, not to say how to pronounce them...). There is a better name for us and this is King's Way, as to be read in the guide. There are numerous attractions at this way: monuments, palaces and churches. Heidi does not realize that she reads the guide map in the wrong direction, so may be that we admire this or that attraction though it's quite another one (this makes the fun of all our efforts).
But back at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier we know this location and now a parade takes place. There is a elegant limousine and two gentlemen march along the straight row of soldiers. But it is too far away to recognize the president (Walesa) or somewhat like this. We can only watch the soldiers to return to their barracks again.
At the Kozia Lane, the smallest of the town, we enter a artist's cafe and unexpectedly pay a lot for a cup of coffee. At the place before the castle with this Zygmunt on his pillar there is another action goeing on. At first many police vans arrive, then three VOLVO limousines follow and some elegant dressed gentlemen and ladies with an even more elegant behaviour get off. Moreover there is a convoy of younger gentlemen, may be they have to do different tasks as accompanying the ladies. Now this company enters the castle though it was just our own intention to do the same.
But there is no problem, we can buy a ticket and start the sight-seeing tour. We pass the first control at the ticket-office. At the first floorboard the next control occurs, then we have to deposit our bags to prevent that we carry away parts of the interieur. We go down to a cellar where we get soft slippers to prevent a damage of the parquet floors. I only can find slippers of different size and so one of those drags a span behind the foot. Now up to the floorboard again and we are offered to share a charged guide tour. But we decide to do it by our own. So they lead us to the start of the round tour signed by arrows.
It is obligatory to know that this castle was completely destroyed during the war. And so it is hard to imagine how they have managed to rebuild all this luxury. Lots and lots of money have been spent for this project. And they did it well: golden plated walls, ceilings and mirrors, the valuable parquets below our slippers, old paintings and portraits at the walls, ceilings of stucco and so on and so on (read about it in a guide or make a visit yourself). We have not as much experience to explain the history of all this and sometimes we stroll near a guided group to catch some secrets.
But now we have our sensation: we find ourselves to share a hall with this gang of noble persons we observed before. And this is the scandal: they are so much noble that they are freed from those slippers. We argue about that all, who are those prominents but do not dare to ask. So we find a story for our own and invent a phantasy name: Princess of Schönaich-Brozulat. "Impoverished aristocracy" Heidi adds. One of those gentlemen seems to hear this and looks at us with disapproval. I murmur something of class differences proved by the obligations to wear those feltslippers - or to be freed of them....
So we finish this tour with much laughter. After we got rid of our slippers we watch the Schönaich-Brozulats as they assemble at the courtyard of the castle and pay homage to each other.
We continue to walk around as yesterday without to visit the churches this time. There are many policemen around obsessing the strategical points. My task is to pull Heidi out of various antique shops where she admires the different silver epochs. At a street near the market some photograpers shoot at a sweet model and now it's up to Heidi to pull me and my bag pack away from this sensation. "May be you are annoyed not to be this model yourself" I grumble.
The Old Town
Back at the castle the Schönaich-Brozulats just start for a walk. Therefore all these policemen have to control all and everything. Do not think that this is the end of our story, for Heidi now finds out that she has lost her etui with the spectacles. And there it is: 10 meters from us at the ground. And just now someone of the noble gentlemen bends down and puts the etui into his pocket. I have not the time to realize the danger of this situation, for I run to the gentleman to explain the affair. I get the etui back and have now the time to figure out the possibility, that the policemen had judged this to be an assassination, may be they had shot at me...?
Let us end with this day, may be it was enough to talk (and laugh) about.
Thursday: We Send the Bikes, Buy Antiques and Return
We want to go home by the Warschau - Hoek van Holland Expreß from Warschau to Braunschweig without (!) a change. The train leaves at 3.30 pm. There is something to arrange before. After breakfast we check out at the hotel, get the bikes and deposit the baggage.
Now the next adventure follows as we start the procedure to send the bikes per cargo. At the baggage office of the central station there are two clerks, one of them just talks on the phone, the other says she is not responsible. As the phone call has finished it's up to us and we show our tickets and the bikes. The lady has hard to work now: look in various brochures, write this and that at a paper, fill out several forms and we observe this all with prolonged necks. But we read "Kehl at the Rhine" and 1 Million Zl. until we realize that this is not our project.
But then the same procedure follows and at last we get two forms which have to be stamped by the customs. We have to find out where the customs office may be and after some time we find it. There you meet all your friends of the baggage office - waiting. The atmosphere is relaxed for the officers have their lunch and from time to time someone with a piece of bread or a cup of coffee passes the room. Heidi goes out for a smoke, as she returns I leave for a smoke. As I return Heidi has exploded meanwhile, they are at work and we have to present our passports. Now they have our bikes, the tickets and the passports and we stand there waiting. Finally we get everything back - stamped. Now back to the baggage office.
Our lady talks to the phone again and doesn't take note of us. But Heidi is at full speed though I murmur something like "We should behave like guests here" she waves the stamped forms and starts to ride an atack. The lady bravely stops her call for a moment and gives us the tickets back to continue her phone call immediately.
This was all and we have spent 90 minutes of valuable vacancy time. If it would not be such a nice story it would have been lost time but so I could tell you this tale. You want to hear the next? OK let's go on.
Back at the daylight we discover the 5 star-hotel MARRIOT which is built of glass and marble. We enter the hotel at a back entrance, pass some corridors and reach the entrance hall. Marble, mirros and crystal lights around and we sit in deep leather armchairs to watch the business. At the entrance the portier wears a cap like the guards of Buckingham Palace (bear-skin). Now a fat Mercedes arrives and an older grey haired gentleman and a younger blond lady get off. Are they prominent? But we do not know them as they come into the hall. We can only hear one sentence spoken by the lady: "So my Darling, this is my story". And then the grey- and the fair-haired persons fly up with the elevator. The rest of this novel you must invent for yourself.
We have some more hours for Warschau and stroll at the Marszalkowska. At the place Konstytuci we have a coffee. At the place Zbawiciela we first find an antique shop then a church. At the shop Heidi finds two cigarette etuis of silver stamped to stem from Moscow, 1890, the other one from 1918. I look stupid for I am not experienced at this territory. We have no Zloties yet, we should change a traveller cheque to pay for the etuis. Heidi is enthusiastic to get the etuis, so we must go to look for a bank, a hotel or ORBIS bureau. There is nothing until we walk back to our hotel. We are known there meanwhile and stored in the computer so we can change our cheque. Back to the antique shop where they are glad to see us again. Heidi tries to drop the price but without success. I look as stupid as before but finally are the right one to pull out the banknotes.
The etuis in the back pack we now walk along the Marszalkowska the fourth time. I think it over and imagine to have found an old Comptometer or so - things would have gone the same way. But our time has gone, we can get the luggage at the hotel and carry all this stuff to the central station. We enter our platform and wait for our train. There is one doubt again: the number at the time table, is it the number of the platform or the number of the rail? This is why we change the platform once more and come to a crowded place where just a train to Moscow is at work. The people are extremely hectical to bring all their stuff inside the train, they even open the windows and press the bags and knotted bed sheets through the narrow gap. As the train is ready to depart they find out that someone is missing. Two scouts are sent in different directions and rush up and down the escalators. We cannot find out the result, as the train leaves off one person waves farewell - so we hope everything will be alright.
We enjoy to enter our train and to sit at the reserved seats, we share the compartment with a Dutch man and his daughter. At a kiosk Heidi has bought a journal and some time later we find an article of a noble young lady named Princess of Schleswig Holstein, who is just at a visit in Poland to establish cultural events and contacts. We argue about this, is there a context to our Schönaich-Brozulat affair?
Now for a long time we have no story as usual during a train trip. We have passed Posen already as the Dutch tells his story. His wife is from Poland near the Russian border. As their grandmother died they came to the funeral. His wife got ill then and had to be operated. But the wound became inflamed and further operations were necessary. Now this poor man commutes between Utrecht and the Russian border to support his wife. They hope to bring her back in 6 weeks by plane. We are very happy to be healthy after all.
At the border control a problem comes up. The daughter of the Dutch has the name of her Polish mother and the officers argue this to be a classical case of kidnapping. The girl gets frightened and we try to calm her down. After the officers have read in their various crime books they resign.
Back in Germany we feel well and fall asleep. Would you expect that the worst experience of our long voyage now happens at the last stage between Berlin and Magdeburg? There comes a coloured well dressed man into our compartment. He is drunken and swings a full can with beer in his hand. At his ear speakers he listens to Madonna as he declares. But he doesn't speak to us he only fixes his attantion to the blond girl. "I love Madonna, you look like Madonna!" an the beer pours to the floor out of the can. We sit as if nailed to the seat. "Berlin - Hannover and back, all the time, this is my job" he continues. We argue him to be a drug courier but cannot prove. If this was true he would be an amateur to behave in this striking manner.
Near Magdeburg the conductor approaches. "The boss comes" the Madonna-fan says and leaves our compartment. Everything smells from the spilled beer and one of his ear speakers rolls on the floor. We have a short discussion about the foreigners problem. If guys behave like this one they spoil the reputation of all the well-mannered others.
We arrive Braunschweig at 4 pm, a summer morning comes up, a taxi brings us home.
During the next time they all ask what we have seen all the time and we do not know where to start or where to end. So it is written and we are able to remember one after another.
And I must tell you that my family the next day missed to keep a watch on me and the bottle with this liquid as we both sit at the garden terrace. I finally had to crawl upstairs to get rid of my intoxication...
And I must tell you, that some months later at noon of a Sunday the
phone rings and it is Georg who just stays at Braunschweig. I put him into
my car and we have a dinner at our home. Some other months later we got a
postcard, that Georg owns a small hotel at Lötzen meanwhile...