Misc

Spices of the East

You will think I’m crazy – two entries in a week?!? But this one will be short and not on the subject (and what is the subject somebody might ask). I do not know if the inspiration came from the Heart of Darkness which I’m reading now again or from Shantaram which I want to read again as the second part is on the shelf getting dusty. Or perhaps I have always had a weakness for anything “exotic”. Continue reading

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General Sikorski’s traces in London

A short post today. Recently we had a 73rd anniversary of Gibraltar aircrash. Three years ago I attended at the Polish Embassy in London a ceremony celebrating 70th anniversary of the catastrophe. Continue reading

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Polish submarine seamen in Sweden

Flag Day, May 3rd Constitution Day are a very good reason to write something. Today’s topic is not new, a doctoral dissertation has been written on the subject. Let me tell you then a few words about my short but eventful visit to Sweden.

I started my first visit to my girlfriend’s country in her hometown, Mariefred. Seemingly normal, sleepy town on the shores of Lake Mälaren but surprisingly with many Polish traces. Continue reading

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Swedish Christmas

Christmas is over… In order to keep the Christmas spirit for a little longer I’ll describe my holidays in Sweden. It was my first non-Polish Christmas and I have to admit I liked it.

Before you ask let me just say that there was no snow. It started to snow on the way to the airport and covered everything very quickly. My girlfriend comes from Mariefred, a small town 30 mins by train from Stockholm so it is in the south and apparently snow does not fall until beginning of year. But I guess it’s time to start the post. Continue reading

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70th anniversary of Gibraltar aircrash

I have such a backlog that I guess I’ll have to take a few days off to catch up. I’ll say a few words today about the banquet at the Embassy on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the death of General Sikorski (04/07/1943). I had a little dilemma, what to wear, especially that due to the impending departure I wanted to wear out my clothes and decided not to buy new, but I had to look presentable so I bought new shoes and a suit jacket 🙂

The event consisted of several parts, including a series of lectures, of which the one from Mr Andrew Suchcitz’s I found the most interesting. It was about the documents which have been extracted from the wreckage after the crash of Gibraltar. These documents can be seen on the temporary exhibition at the Museum of Sikorski. I am inviting you because they are not available for the viewing on a daily basis. Below you’ll find a few photos taken a couple of weeks ago at the Museum.

In addition to the lectures I had the pleasure to listen to a concert performed by Simon Komasa (baritone) and Julia Samojło (piano). The program included songs from the repertoire of Paderewski, Karłowicz, Chopin and Moniuszko. At the end an extra-curricular performance of Red Poppies on Monte Cassino  touched many of the participants, including the writer’s humble person.

There were a few people present from the Sikorski Museum, including two young (read at my age) guides, who come only on Saturdays, so I did not have the pleasure to meet them before. In addition, a group of veterans was present, including some veterans of the Polish 2nd Corps.

Next, it was time for something for the body – good food and a glass of wine. I had a good time during a very interesting talk with Mr. Waclaw, head of the guides, who, using a “conspiracy” whisper explained to me what the most important persons are with a related gossip 🙂

Overall, I felt very honored to be invited and I felt that I am doing something good by volunteering at the museum and writing this blog. I hope you, my dear readers take pleasure in reading this blog. I’m going to write some entries from Lithuania pretty soon, because something about Morocco would have to be written as well, and in September I’m going to Poland, where it is always a lot going on 🙂

Exposition

Exposition

The lid of the coffin used to transport General's body from Gibraltar to England; the Polish Naval Ensign used to cover the coffin and Polish National flag that covered the coffin during the funeral.

The lid of the coffin used to transport General’s body from Gibraltar to England; the Polish Naval Ensign used to cover the coffin during its transport and Polish National flag that covered the coffin during the funeral.

A silver cigarette case with General Sikorski's signature

A silver cigarette case with General Sikorski’s signature

Objects extracted from the wreck, including General's shoe and blank Virtuti Militari certificates

Objects extracted from the wreck, including General’s shoe and blank Virtuti Militari certificates

Hotel bill from Egypt

Hotel bill from Egypt

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About cats…

Time for first impressions of Lithuania. I’m in Kaunas at my Couchsurfing host’s and slowly getting ready for a Friday night 🙂 Today I’ll slightly go a little off the blog’s topic and say a few words of the local fauna. During a visit at Mrs. Halina Jotkiałło’s house in Vilnius (description of the visit coming soon) I met her four flatmates. Vilnius cats that understand only Polish (because they come from a very good Polish home 🙂 )

I do not know whether you have among your friends people who do photograph every cat they see on the street? I was never one of those people, but somehow, I was captivated by these cats. They very quickly got familiar with me, which means, according to Ms Halina, I’m a good man 🙂 Oh, one more thing, Ms Halina is not an old maid (which the number of cats would indicate 🙂 )

When I read those words before publication, I can not refrain from pronouncing them with Vilnius accent 😀

Here is a collection of Vilnius cats (all cats sheltered by Ms Halina):

Agata - very sociable, and within five minutes she was sitting on my knees

Agata – very sociable, and within five minutes she was sitting on my knees

13 years old Elza - she was embarrassed because she happened to pee at home :)

13 years old Elza – she was embarrassed because she happened to pee at home 🙂

Seweryn - every now and then disappeared somewhere - Ms Halina thought he was having naps somewhere but I think he was seeing a girl :)

Seweryn – every now and then disappeared somewhere – Ms Halina thought he was having naps somewhere but I think he was seeing a girl 🙂

Kasia - very timid and does not have a tail but stump. That's how she was found - people are asking what kind of race is that with such a short tail :)

Kasia – very timid and does not have a tail but stump. That’s how she was found – people are asking what kind of race is that with such a short tail 🙂

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Great City of Amsterdam

As promised, here it is – post about Amsterdam. Last time I briefly described the whole journey so now it’s time for some details.

The first stage was Megabus from London to Amsterdam. It’s a really good way of going to Amsterdam if you don’t mind coaches. It was £15 one way, much cheaper than flying. Up until Brussels I was sitting alone, so I actually got a good few hours of sleep. Only a few as we had to take a ferry across the English Channel. Our coach was one of the last vehicles to get onboard and as a result there was no place to sit – people lying everywhere. Fortunately I found a place on the floor. It’s an amazing experience to stand in the middle of the night on the top deck of a ferry leaving the port. You’re leaving all the lights behind you and you enter the darkness – it was kind of fascinating and scary at the same time, so I quickly left the top deck 🙂

The second thing disrupting my sleep were two American girls sitting behind me. As they couldn’t sleep they’d decided to chat, not caring about the rest of us. Thank you God for MP3 players 🙂

We arrived in Amsterdam around 9am. There’s a direct tram to city centre from the car park where Megabus finishes. Luckily I had some change so I could buy a ticket. I was surprised to see on the tram a small booth with a guy selling tickets. Maybe that’s how Dutch deal with unemployment? Because anywhere else there’s only a ticket machine.

Museum and "Amsterdam"

Museum and “Amsterdam”

East Indiaman "Amsterdam"

East Indiaman “Amsterdam”

For €5.95 you can leave your bag at the Central Station in one of the lockers for 24 hours. You can pay with your card. After leaving the bag I walked to the National Maritime Museum (15-20 minute walk) where after buying the ticket (€15) I had a quick breakfast.

Before getting to the Museum first thing you see from the distance is the replica of East Indiaman “Amsterdam”, a vessel that sank in 1749 in English Channel during its maiden voyage to Batavia (today’s Jakarta) and the Museum building (the main land store of the Amsterdam Admiralty dating from 1656).

The Museum is very spacious, modern and… disappointing. Maybe I spend too much time at the Sikorski Museum in London, which is a bit cluttered, but in Amsterdam there’s just too much unused space. I mean, we’re talking about the museum dedicated to the Dutch Navy, the most powerful navy in 17th century and most of the rooms at the museum were half empty (or half full) at best. There are a few really good rooms. I spent more than 30 minutes admiring globes from 15th and 16th century. I even found Poland on couple of them, unfortunately it was too dark to take a good picture. The Ship Decorations and Navigational Instruments were also pretty good. The ship was the best, you can easily spend an hour looking into every corner. After reading so many travel reports and Conrad’s books my imagination almost teleported me into 16th century 🙂 But if I compared this museum to the Maritime Museum in Madrid, Madrid would take the first place, no doubts. I was a bit disappointed with the Museum and I wouldn’t recommend going to Amsterdam only to see that. But the city itself has a lot to offer 🙂 But I definitely had fun traveling to Poland for 40 hours instead of two.

Globes

Globes

The ship decorations

The ship decorations

Hand-held measuring probe

Hand-held measuring probe

After the museum I still had time for some sightseeing, a pint of Heineken and a nice chat with two Norwegian guys in one of the bars. At 7pm I boarded the Jan Kiepura train and had begun another overnight part of my journey, to Poznan, where I arrived in the morning and found everything under snow. I quickly grabbed some breakfast and took the train to my beloved Wroclaw.

Krzysztof Arciszewski

Krzysztof Arciszewski

So it’s time for Polish trace 🙂 I’m going to tell about first Polish cartographer and ethnographer in South America. Krzysztof (Christopher) Arciszewski, of Prawdzic Coat of Arms, was born on 9th December 1592 in Rogalin, near Poznan. After studying in Arian schools he served under Krzysztof Radziwill. He would’ve probably stayed in Poland but he was condemned to infamy and exile after killing Kacper Brzeznicki, a lawyer who allegedly illegally took over Arciszewskis’ lands. He left in 1623 and went to Holland, where with support of Krzysztof Radziwill he studied artillery, military engineering and navigation. He took part in the Thirty Years’ War fighting inter alia in France in Cardinal Richelieu’s army. In 1629 he joined Dutch West India Company and was sent to Brazil to fight the Spanish and Portuguese. If you ever wondered why people speak Portuguese only in Brazil, I’m here to give you an explanation 🙂 It’s all because of the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1494 and dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. The lands to the east would belonged to Portugal and the lands to the west to Spain. As you may know Brazil was discovered by Pedro Cabral in 1500. Et voila, mystery solved 🙂 I mentioned before the Maritime Museum in Madrid – this is the place to see the front page of the Treaty of Tordesillas!

Arciszewski returned to Brazil two more times, he became vice governor of Brazil, chief commander of Dutch army and navy in Brazil. Unfortunately quarrels with governor Count de Nassau forced Arciszewski to resign. Despite being very busy while commanding the Dutch forces, he found time to draw one of the first maps in Brazil. He also collected artefacts and stories of Indians Tupi. He always treated Indians well even those who were forced by Portuguese to fight against Dutch. Arciszewski was going to publish the notes taken in Brazil, but he didn’t unfortunately. He was first of many Poles discovering South America.

In 1646 he returned to Poland where he accepted from king Wladyslaw IV the position of General of the Royal Artillery. He fought with Cossacks and Tartars. He was defending Lviv and was in charge of Royal Artillery during the relief of Zbarazh. He’s mentioned in With Fire and Sword, the first part of Trilogy by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

He resigned in 1650 and on 7th April 1656 died and was buried in Leszno.

A wee update regarding this year’s holiday plans which have developed a bit. I’m going to Lithuania in June and Morocco in July. I also bought ticket to Cancun, Mexico, and am flying on New Year’s Day! That will be beginning of the Journey. Cheerio!

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Changes, changes, changes…

I know it’s been a while since my last post but it’s not because I’m lazy. A lot of changes in my private life and as the consequence the trip has been postponed until January. Six months’ delay means I need to change the route as it’s all about the weather. Traveling to Ukraine during the winter sounds… suicidal 🙂 So, I’m going to start from Mexico. I’m afraid States and Canada will have to wait as I don’t want to start my trip from these expensive countries. Latin America is cheaper and I won’t need visas there as I can stay up to 90 days in each of the countries. I’m very tempted to see Central America in detail. The plan was to fly from Mexico to Panama but maybe I should just use chicken buses instead and see how people live there. I just have to remember to avoid Brazil during the World Cup as it’s going to be crazy. I’m sure they will invest a lot before World Cup so visiting after seems to be a good idea. Unless Polish National Team qualifies and they will need my support 🙂 (doubt that). With new route Australia and New Zealand will be the only expensive countries. When I get to Asia I should be an expert in cheap traveling.

Bieszczady Mountains

Bieszczady Mountains

So, with a whole year in the UK, I have to plan my holidays somehow. I’ll keep discovering Polish traces in London but that’s not proper holiday. The other option is Poland as I need to save money. I always wanted to see Bieszczady Mountains. On the way I could pop in to the Regional Museum in Tarnow to see the Sanguszko collection. I mentioned it here. But I still have a few months to plan.

Regional Museum in Tarnow

Regional Museum in Tarnow

Time flies (when you’re having fun :)), we’ve just had Easter. It was good to spend Easter in Poland, although I can’t remember ever having snow for Easter. Oh well, instead of white Christmas we had white Easter… When planning Easter in Poland I decided it would be too easy to just fly there. So I took Megabus to Amsterdam, spent a day there (the Maritime Museum was the main reason, but I managed to enjoy Amsterdam as well 😉 ) After a day in Amsterdam I took a night train (Jan Kiepura train) to Poznan, from where, after buying a couple of delicious Polish sweet buns, I took a train to my Wroclaw. I spent a few pounds more than on a “cheap” airline’s ticket, but I really had fun. Post about Amsterdam is being written.

National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam

National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam

Jan Kiepura's route

Jan Kiepura’s route

I promise to post on regular basis and I don’t mean every quarter 🙂 And Winter, let the Spring come!

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We remember

I’ve been planning to visit the Gunnersbury Cemetery for a long time and finally I did it. The funniest thing is I used to work in Chiswick, 15 minutes walk from the cemetery but never could find time. It was a rainy Thursday afternoon when I got there and I guess that was the reason for only a few visitors apart from me. The main purpose of my visit was Katyn Memorial at the centre of the cemetery. The Memorial is thought to be the first one to be erected in Western Europe (unveiled on 18 September 1976) but the first place to commemorate the Katyn Massacre was the Church of Divine Mercy in Manchester where in 1964 an urn with soil from Katyn and a cross made of a monastery’s wall in Kozielsk appeared. Three years later a plaque was unveiled at St Andrew Bobola Church in London and on 16 November 1975 a Katyn Memorial was unveiled in Stockholm.

The idea of Katyn Memorial faced a lot of opposition in the UK. Moscow and Warsaw were protesting and there was no support from the British Government but despite all that Polish Government-in-exile secured the support of a few British politicians like Winston Churchill, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. Around 8000 people attended the ceremony on 18 September 1976, including delegations from few embassies. However there was no Western European delegation, the British PM also failed to show up. Who would’ve thought that even 30 years after the WWII Brits would have no balls to oppose the Soviets (a New Year’s resolution – I’ll try to choose words more carefully 🙂 ).

Katyn Memorial

Katyn Memorial

DSCN1957

DSCN1958

Walking towards the Memorial I started noticing a lot of Polish names. I slowed down and started reading the names. I guess at least 20% of people resting there were Polish. Suddenly I realized almost every tombstone had an emblem of Polish Eagle or Poland Fights On. Sometimes it would only say: “Born in Lviv”.

Zygmunt Witymir Bienkowski - 303 Squadron Commander (01.12.1942-04.07.1943)

Zygmunt Witymir Bienkowski – 303 Squadron Commander (01.12.1942-04.07.1943)

General Malinowski fought in Polish Legions and then under Gen Haller.

General Malinowski fought in Polish Legions and then under Gen Haller

Zbigniew Stypulkowski - one of the defendants in the Trial of the Sixteen

Zbigniew Stypulkowski – one of the defendants in the Trial of the Sixteen

Kamil Bogumil Czarnecki - one of General Maczek's officers

Kamil Bogumil Czarnecki – one of General Maczek’s officers

Poland Fights On

Poland Fights On

At the Memorial I had a chat with a Polish woman who belonged to Solidarity and arrived in the UK more than 30 years ago. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that post-war and new wave of Polish immigrants are not very well connected. Well, there’s a similar situation when it’s about post-Solidarity immigration. I didn’t want to listen to the accusations against the post-war immigration so I quickly asked her to show me the way to some graves. It really takes a war for us, Poles to stop barking at each other… But thanks to her I got a name of a Polish priest who’s involved in taking care of Polish graves in London. She also saved me some time by showing me graves of the second to last Polish President in Exile Kazimierz (Casimir) Sabbat and general Józef (Joseph) Haller who in 1920 seized Pomerania and performed a symbolic “wedding ceremony” of Poland and the Baltic Sea (as the woman described him – “the one who married the sea” 😀 ). She failed to show me the grave of general Bór-Komorowski, the Home Army’s commander – a coincidence? I hope so 🙂

Kazimierz (Casimir) Sabbat - the second to last Polish President in Exile

Kazimierz (Casimir) Sabbat – the second to last Polish President in Exile

General Jozef (Joseph) Haller von Hallenburg (“the one who married the sea” ). I think it was the best looking tombstone at the cemetery

General Jozef (Joseph) Haller von Hallenburg (“the one who married the sea” ). I think it was the best maintained tombstone at the cemetery

General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, cavalryman, Olympian, Home Army's Commander, Warsaw Uprising Commander, Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister

General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, cavalryman, Olympian, Home Army’s Commander, Warsaw Uprising Commander, Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister

Oh, by the way, only 161 days left 🙂

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My first time

Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about my sexual experiences. Yesterday was my first time as a volunteer at the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. I was a bit stressed about it, because I thought I’d have to deal with visitors, but fortunately it was only a “first impression” meeting.

I met with Waclaw (I feel strange using first name of someone whom I’ve just met and who is much older than me, but sometimes English is so… simple), a gentleman who’s “in charge” of volunteers at the Institute. I’ll just mention that majority of them are veterans of WWII and I might be the youngest one there 🙂 Of course we started our meeting with… a cup of tea. There were a few other people sitting there, having tea or a glass of red wine, as it was Waclaw’s brother’s name day – a great start!

After tea, Waclaw gave me another tour, telling new stories about exhibits and Poles. We spent a good few minutes talking about Polish cadets in Middle East, as Waclaw was a cadet in Palestine. He was 10, when his family was forced by Soviets to move from western Ukraine to Kazakhstan. From there, together with General Anders’ Army he arrived in Palestine. He had to lie about his age in order to be accepted – he added himself 3 years. It was in Palestine where Waclaw saw General Sikorski, when he visited the cadets’ camp. Waclaw’s brother was sent on that day to scrub the pots, so he missed the whole show. After the war Waclaw arrived in England where he joined Polish Resettlement Corps, thanks to which he graduated from University and became a civil engineer. He spent 30 years in Africa building roads.

General Sikorski visiting cadets in Middle East

One of the volunteers is Irena (again much older than me, but Madame Irena sounds strange in English, doesn’t it?) who was sent with her family to Siberia. I don’t have to tell you that her journey was a totally different experience from today’s transsiberian railway tours. But she survived and later on served with 2nd Corps in Italy, where she met Woytek the Bear. She told a few funny stories about Woytek. He was bought as a cub, so he grew up hearing Polish all the time. Apparently he could understand when soldiers were swearing and he was showing his discontent by purring. Setting Woytek free was a good idea if soldiers wanted to have a beach just for themselves 🙂 He loved beer and cigarettes which he was eating. In Edinburgh’s zoo he was a kind of celebrity, he had a few veterinaries and an accommodation with heating just for himself 🙂 Irena was asked to tell about Woytek in a few documentaries made for Polish and English TV.

Woytek the Bear

Father of Mr Barbarski – current Chairman of the Institute, was serving under General Maczek (1st Polish Armoured Division) and was present at the capitulation of the entire garrison of Wilhelmshaven in 1945. He also took a part in the patrol sent to liberate the Oberlagen camp, where almost 2000 Polish women, including Home Army soldiers from Warsaw Uprising, were kept. Later on Mr Barbarski’s father married one of the women from that camp. It almost sounds like a movie screenplay, doesn’t it?

Oberlagen liberation

I spent a few hours at the museum listening to stories like these. I can’t wait to go back next week to find out even more!

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