Thursday, August 20, 2009

Berlin or Bust

It is proving very difficult to find some affordable accommodation in Berlin.
Not only are the World championship Athletics being held there this week, but it also coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - so now I am really determined to find something. Kind of bittersweet for me - Dad was in Berlin at the fall of the wall, and 20 years later, here are we.

Gosia from Fancy House here in Poznań is being a true friend. She has offered us our room in the apartment for another night - free, as her gift to us. Now, how lovely is that! Just goes to show the kind of people we are meeting. Thank you Gosia, we really love it here and another night is just what we need! There is still so much to see.

The weather today took a turn for the less comfortable. Yesterday was just delightful - a top of about 23°C and lovely and sunny. Today on the other hand, is lovely and sunny and 32°C! What a difference the juxtaposition of those two numbers makes! We begin the day by stubbonly refusing to believe that we can't get reasonably priced accommodation in Berlin - and guess what - it pays off. Well, it's still more than we really want to pay and slightly over our budget, but it is doable at least! So we have booked Berlin and hope to get there before it is dark tomorrow night.

Then it is off to the Old Town Square again to have some lunch and do that Military museum (lol). Lunch first as we don't want to miss out. We sit down at the Fenix as they at least are doing meals (quite a few of them are glorified bars) and after checking out a very international menu (it seems everything except Polish), we settle on:
Trout from the Grill (Michael) and Chicken Shoama (Maria). Both are served with Mcfries and grated beetroot, grated carrot and grated cabbage salad. Quick and tasty, but not one for the recipe books!

Lunch over we walk over to the Wielkopolska Military Museum housed in the back of that building that I think was once the market hall. It documents the history of the Polish military from the 11th century. Not my cup of tea, but Michael's cup floweth over! And I am sure that Antony would have found it interesting as well. This is a relatively new collection as the original was all but decimated in WWII and they had to seek items to replace those lost. Yep, its a bloke thing, I'm sure.

But the main aim of today was to see the Cathedral. Situated on Ostrów Tumski, an island in the Odra River. Today the land has been reclaimed. The first church on the site was a timber one built in the 10th century and the Cathedral as it is now seen dates back to 1241 - yes in brick, a la Roman style! When we first try to enter, there is a priest tying the doors shut, from the inside! We assume that there is a service on that he doesn't want distrubed, but it turns out that he is just trying to fit a new locking arm!

Once we are inside, we have to let our eyes become accustomed to the dark. There is not a single light on and with stained glass windows, there isn't too much natural light either. But as dark as it is, it's not at all gloomy. This is a very elegant building - beautifully proportioned, long and narrow and with a very high nave. Its much simpler than the baroque Parish Church too, being constructed primarily of red brick with the occasional alternation with a black brick.

And there are many beautiful artworks and artifacts in this church. The pick though must be polytech that adorns the high altar depicting Mary surrounded by female saints and the 'Golden Chapel' in the presbytery behind the altar which was designed as the mausoleum of the first Polish monarchs. At its base is a stunning mosaic floor while the dome high above is similar to many others we have seen in the more extravagant offerings of the baroque churches. Of more interest to me is their collection of brass grave plates that have been erected on the reverse of the columns - oh for some wax paper and a crayon - they would have made the most wonderful rubbings!

And now for something totally different. Chris and Gosia again have given us a huge tip - it's wonderful to have local knowledge that is not just restricted to the tourist office whose employees assume you just want to see the highlights. But for us, being so long on the road, it is the places special to the locals that draws our interest just as much. About 25 kms outside of Poznań there is the Palace of Rogalin. Once the home of the ruling class, this is now one element of the Polish National Museum housing artworks and interiors. But it has been closed for renovation for the past two years.

But we have not come here to look at the Palace, stunning as it is. The biggest cluster of old oak trees in the whole of Europe is in Rogalin. Rogalin Park and its surroundings are well known because of the old oak trees – about 950 trees. The oldest ones are about 600 years old. The most well known of the trees have been named Lech (trunk circumference: 9.3 m), Czech (8.1 m) and Rus (6.7 m). While we only see a small percentage of the trees, they are majestic and beautiful. With their strong, straight trunks and shady arbour they are a joy to be within on a hot summer afternoon. And it even looks like the Australian Aborigines might have visited at some time! One of them has a distinct scar similar to that created in our mighty gum trees when bark was cut for canoes!

After our little promenade we stop in at the dwa pokoje z kuchnią in the grounds of the Palace for a refreshment. Coffee and sparkling mineral water with lemon slices and fresh spearmint go down a treat. As does the Pierogi ruskie (serwowane z kwaśną śmietaną) – Russian-style dumplings with sour cream (Michael) and Naleśniki z musem jabłkowym I cynamonem (Pancakes with apple mousse and cinnamon) for me! Needless to say, neither of us want any dinner tonight!!

On our way to Rogalin we drive out through a very rural area with a number of small villages. Then you enter the forest drive and there are lots of tracks headed into parking areas for walking tracks (we presume). And at the head of one of these tracks we see a young girl - just standing there. Didn't think all that much of it, until we see a few more - all at the head of another track. Can you believe this - the ladies of the afternoon (read night there) are out plying their trade! Can't possily imagine who would travel that far!!!! I mean, the local population might support one, but we saw seven or eight! And none of them appeared to have a vehicle - maybe they are bussed out! I'll bet that none of them made any money today.

Driving back we follow another route - I mean, why go over the same territory? Along this road there are village after village after village - no sooner are you out of one when you are in the next. So much so that if you missed the town names, you could be forgiven for mistakenly believing this was part of a city stretching out. And the most noticeable thing? There is not ONE street paved other than the long main road snaking between them. Not one. You can understand therefore that some members of the local community feel jaded enough to use empty fences for messages!

So tonight we are re-packing and trying to organise all the brochures and booklets we have collected lately to post home. And wrap a babushka doll for a special little girl so we can post it home to her also. I'm sure it will fascinate her at an age when they start to want to discover more and more. Next message from Berlin. We will spend much of the day travelling but hope to get to see some more of the wooden churches that this part of Poland is known for. Auf Wiedersehen.

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