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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Poland

Winter in Poland
Marianne de Nazareth

If you come from a warm country, Poland is hardly inviting in the depths of December. The blast of cold air when I got out of the Poznan airport and into a taxi brought me up short, to the freezing conditions I was going to have to handle for a week. But, I was in Poland for the UNFCCC Climate Change Conference, something desperately close to my heart, so the cold was not going to dampen my spirits.

However, as the taxi sped into the suburbs to the Hotel Max in Lubon, I looked out at the grey leafless trees and the sullen clouded skies and was grateful for the fact that I came from Bangalore, India, with much warmer climes.

Hotel Max was clean and comfortable and the cabbie charged me 15 Euros from the airport to the hotel. We found Euros are acceptable only by cab drivers and they will give you change only in Zlyoties. The Hotel was clean and comfortable with free internet access thrown in which was a boon for us journalists. Breakfast was on the house, so we made a huge meal of it saving the yogurt and fruit for later. Buses were thrown in for free for us delegates and after wandering around looking at sights in Lubon or shopping at the Bedroinka supermarket for toiletries initially and then later economical gifts to take home, we left for the conference by 9:20am.

One morning while chatting with other journalists and waiting for the arrival of the bus, I noticed what was called the 'Museum of Martyrology', on the other side of the road. It just had the word 'Muzeum' starkly emblazoned on a front wall. Michael the helpful manager of Hotel Max explained that it had been a penal and investigative camp. It had been established in 1943 where 2000 people had been held before being sent to concentration camps.People were questioned there by the Gestapo and if sentenced to death, were killed there during the rule of terror. Michael explained that the place was called "the camp of bloody revenge" where 22,000 people were held over time but final numbers are unknown.He took me to the top of the hotel where through the conference room window I was able to get a photo of the place. From 1939 to 1946 Poland suffered great repression by the Soviet occupation and one can see dregs of that era even on the streets with police presence very visible.

Poland is a catholic country and this is what makes Poland different from the rest of Europe. In1978 Polish Cardinal Karol Wojty a was elected as Pope John Paul the II and that strengthened this trait with the pontiff making several visits to his motherland. Visiting the St Barbra church in Lubon one morning made me realise that Poland's churches are not as ornate and grand as the German ones are. However the churches are fairly full with the faithfull, even on a week day which is not the same with the richer areas of western Europe.

Check out the cuisine in Poland. It is a melange of the many national groups that have lived in the country over the centuries.Poland is known for its smoked meats and pate. The kie-basa sausage is famous around the world, smoked over juniper twigs. There was a huge variety of breads on sale which is eaten with soup . One of the most popular soups we tried was the barszcz made from beetroot.I enjoyed the roasted meats served with gravies, mustard, horse-radish, pickled mushrooms and cucumbers.From my student days in Wales I remembered the superb dumplings made by Zhannah, a Ukranian classmate called pierogi. So eating some pierogi was mandatory and delicious.We found that a glass of beer cost the same as a cup of coffee, but many of the group preferred sampling Polish vodka shots, which they said revved up the warmth in their bodies, in the freezing cold.

Warsaw was different from Poznan and of course I gravitated towards the older city with its heritage buildings and churches. The newer areas near the airport are just a dull concrete Soviet era housing jungle. Apparently much of Warsaw's historic centre has been painstakingly recreated after World War II and is now a UNESCO heritage site.We decided to walk all over to see the place rather than take a bus which was definitely a smarter option. That way we could hop in and out of the numerous book shops along the way, as we were hunting for one of the best-known 20th century Polish poets Zbigniew Herbert's (1924-1998) book of collected poems, in English. Since the Poles do not speak English as a rule it was a hard search, before we unearthed a copy in one of the last shops we trooped into. A huge Christmas tree had been erected in the town square but we did not spend too much time there as the cold just drove us towards the nearest pub to warm up.

We were lucky to find inexpensive and clean lodgings in The New World St. Hostel which is in the heart of the city. For just 50 Polish Zloyties we got top of the line bunker beds, perfectly clean shared baths and toilets and a towel for which a refundable deposit of 10 Zloyties was collected. Breakfast cooked by the host was thrown in for 10 Zloyties and we enjoyed freshly whipped up pancakes with piping hot coffee and cold meats. The only drawback is one has to climb four flights of stairs to get to the place and if you are lugging heavy baggage that is a killer, as there are no lifts!

Warsaw like the rest of Europe was dressed for Christmas and the streets were a fairyland of lights which we enjoyed while we browsed through the Christmas open air bazaar for Amber trinkets and hand embroidered shawls to take home for the family.

© Marianne de Nazareth January 2009
mde.nazareth at

Wind Flower Welcome
Marianne de Nazareth

The Wind Flower Spa and resort, is nestled in the arms of the majestic, tree covered, Chamundi Hills in Mysore, just 140km from Bangalore.

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