Icy charm

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
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Trip End Mar 09, 2008


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Flag of Poland  ,
Friday, November 16, 2007

Heading generally south in an attempt to avoid the worst of the weather I chose to stop in Wroclaw, a student town and a place widely regarded as one of Poland's most livable towns.

Every minute here, the cold dominates my thoughts. At 8a.m. on the second day it was -10 degrees. By lunchtime it was snowing densely. By late afternoon it was a world of grey mush. But each day I pushed on, determined to be smitten, even if I got frostbite in the process.

The city definitely has its charms, and shows amazingly little sign of its World War II rebuilding programme. Interestingly, this had been part of Germany until the Soviets adjusted a few borders to make a lot of eastern Poland into the Ukraine and Belarus. In return, they stretched Poland about as close to Berlin as you can with a straight face. As a result, in the post war era this is a place where a lot of German citizens were deported west in order to Polify it. A very mixed pedigree results.

What has surprised me is how stark the contrasts are - something I hope one of the photos will show up. There is no gradual transition between the rich centre and an abandoned zone: a beautiful 13th century town square abuts a 1960s attempt at same that is astoundingly decayingly awful (and earned me a few well earned glares for taking a photo of it). You are left wondering how people could complete the modern version and not have some sense that they had erected a travesty.

Walking around town is best done briskly. I spend a lot of time noting how few of the locals are wearing gloves or hats (of which I have two on), and those with English cheerily note that its not that cold yet. (Yet? Whats this yet about?) I stop having any real sense of feeling in my fingers and toes pretty soon after being outside. I plan numerous little pitstops at retailers and fast food establishments so I can partially defrost every 45 minutes or so. In a final indignty yesterday as the snow fell in its thickest dollops yet, I noticed  its propensity to start to pile up on my head, shoulders and backpack as I walked: meaning I was transporting extra coldness with me as well. Critically, I also had noticable ice on the tip of my nose. I can't pretend this doesn't start to impinge on your desire to explore the town further.

Wroclaw (pronounced Vrocwahf by others, though I still struggle, and train ticket sellers remain confused even when I think I am just repeating what they said) houses a 110m long circular 'Panorama' painting - a style that is apparently a minor phenomenon across Europe as evidenced by all the partner panorama locations they advertise in Germany, France, Moscow etc. I don't really understand the appeal, but the backstory of this one was at least quite elegant. Originally displayed in Lvov (now part of Ukraine courtesy of the border reshuffle mentioned above), it was dutifully moved as a part of keeping Polish items with Polish people. It was then noted that the theme of the work - with the Poles seeing off  the Russians back in the 1700's - could make it severely career limiting for a good Party official to be seen to have helped display. So it sat boxed up until around the time Polish confidence was growing and the Solidarity people were coming together. As a piece of art its fairly skippable though, although it is another fairly good respite from the cold.

Yes, back on that topic. It is all consuming. Every dog I pass  I wonder how cold its  paws must be.  I wonder how motorists deal with coming back to their car to find 15cm of snow on everything. But mostly I wonder about the ducks. I don't care what your principles of insulation may be - having your arse in that river all afternoon just can't be fun.

Onwards to Prague, a further couple of hundred kilometres to the warmer south and west. And I have already checked - there are cheap flights to Cairo if the need for warmth continues to rise as a priority.
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