I returned from a four week ‘vacation’ in Russia and Poland some five weeks ago.
I use the word ‘vacation’ advisedly – it was pretty hectic in places and I suffered from jet-lag, loss of the adrenaline I generated to keep going, and then had to acclimatise to the freezing weather here in Brissie.
So why did I choose these destinations?
Mostly, my urge to travel to specific places comes from my childhood: books and incidents. Russia was my intended destination and Poland was chosen simply because the beginning of the tour began just after I finished Russia. It’s a long way to go for a few weeks! I wanted to see more of the Baltic States – but nothing fitted in. Another time, perhaps.
I learnt a lot – and that is always a ‘Good Thing’ for me… I couldn’t abide sitting on a beach, soaking up the sun, drinking and doing nothing else. Not that I want to freeze (and I didn’t!) nor am I averse to trying out the local beverages … I couldn’t drink the coffee in either country – but there were, needless to say, other options!
So my main impressions?
I spent 3 days in the middle of Moscow – London could learn a lesson or two – it was so clean (I didn’t see one dog-end or other rubbish) and the pavements were wide enough for me (and many others) to walk comfortably! In many places cars had to make do with rather narrow roads. Our Moscow guide told us that pedestrians were prioritised at the expense of vehicles – sounded like a great idea to me.
Everyone should see the Moscow Metro: one gets on a pretty normal escalator and lands in a marble hall… every station is magnificently different. Stained glass images and mosaics. One ‘Revolution’ display had a plaque in the floor saying: ‘Best Place for Photos’ Clearly designed for for those who wanted to take selfies!
After Moscow I sailed up the Volga, and through lakes and other rivers to St Petersburg. What a contrast to sailing from Budapest to Amsterdam last year. Mile upon mile upon mile of forest bereft of any signs of human habitation. It certainly emphasised just how vast and empty so much of that land is.
We stopped at various settlements along the way. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere there. Best comment by a resident of one of the islands? ‘It’s better in winter when the river freezes, we can drive over the ice to get where we want to go’.
Then, four days in the middle of St Petersburg – not quite so clean or pedestrian friendly. No doubt there are areas not so pristine – but the centre was amazingly clean.
What I especially appreciated were the ‘lectures’ on the boat by a Russian professor, who talked about the bad, along with the good, things about the vast changes that have occurred in her country. She doesn’t vote for Putin.
It certainly brought me, and a lot of other people, up short when she said that we had to remember that, despite a thousand years of history, modern Russia is only 29 years old. It emerged from the Middle Ages in about 1917 and returned to autocratic rule almost immediately.
The ‘generation gap’ between the old, who were born and lived in the Soviet era, and the young (under 29) was greater than we could ever imagine.
I talked to people who were delighted with the new Russia – and others who were not. No one minded me asking – and for those of you who think that Russians do not smile – they most certainly do! And (unlike Japan) many speak English. One guy said “Why should we expect you to learn Russian – it isn’t a really important language’.
Mind you, I would suggest that anyone going there should learn the Cyrillic alphabet.
I was amazed by the opulence of the palaces – especially when we were told that many had been restored in the Soviet era. I don’t very often disagree with my Grandmother’s opinions – she was a very wise woman. But she was quite wrong when she condemned the 1917 Revolution… I walked around Palaces that stunned with their grandeur and remembered they were built on serfdom… and I was even more appalled (I think that’s the right word) to learn that they were restored to their former glory after WW2 in the Communist era when so many people were struggling to buy the basics of life.
Nonetheless, I would very much like to visit other places – and am looking at a trip on the trans Siberian railway…
This trip was far more frenetic – along the lines on it’s Gdansk so it must be Wednesday! I really should have done this the other way around… Poland first – followed by Russia.
Nonetheless, as a truly ‘intrepid traveller’ I managed the 6.00 am ‘bags ready for collection’ followed by brekkie, a quick phone call to Bearsy, and off to the next city! Miles and miles of corn fields.
So what did I learn in Poland? First and foremost – just how strong the Polish sense of identity is – and, I think, why they are happy with the EU.
I had no idea just how many times Poland had been ‘carved up’ and even wiped off the map. Being part of the EU will ensure their borders and their identity – no longer facing the prospect of being Germanised or Russianised.
I went from Krakow to Warsaw and a lot of places in between. Many, most especially Warsaw, had been totally demolished in WW2 and had rebuilt their cities to look exactly the same as they had been before being destroyed. Nonetheless, I got the impression that they hated Russia more than Germany.
Of all the places, I liked Krakow best – but that is probably because I had a few days on my own and wandered where I wanted rather than being rushed through. I won’t go on such an ‘organised’ trip again.
Needless to say, the visit to Auschwitz was the least enjoyable.
I have a mass of photos and videos, all super-high quality – I make videos of all my trips and throw out at least 2/3rds of them. I wouldn’t dare put them here in their present format – Bearsy would definitely complain! But if anyone is interested I’ll reformat some and post them.
Now it’s time to get ready for my next trip – India here I come!!!