Viva Mexico Cabrones!

I have a small delay, but do not worry not much was happening 🙂 I had to take a break from traveling and rest on the beach – I went, among others, to the island of Holbox, but this time I had the sun all week. Probably I’ll go back again. But to the point, considering it has been 10 days I was in the States, it’s time to catch up.

In Merida we stayed with Cristina from CouchSurfing. We only had a moment to take a look at the city layout, which is duplicated in many Mexican cities and towns that were founded by the Spaniards. In the center there is always a large square, on one side of which is the church and on the other usually a public administration building. From the square, streets, intersecting at right angles and dividing adjacent to the square area into equal squares. Cities founded by Spaniards are very easy to navigate. Cancun, which was built over the past 30-40 years is very chaotic. Often along the square were houses of the Spanish nobility, in the case of Merida it was a family Montejo, which representative, Francisco de Montejo y León (“El Mozo”) founded Merida in 1542 on the site of T’Hó – a Mayan city. We visited the Casa de Montejo which was inhabited by the Montejo family up to the 70s of the last century. You can judge yourselves on what level lived descendants of the conquistadors.

Catedral de San Ildefonso, first in the continental Americas

Catedral de San Ildefonso, first in the continental Americas

Casa de Montejo (built in 1549)

Casa de Montejo (built in 1549)

Bedroom

Bedroom

Patio

Patio

In the evening we went to the Santiago square, where we had panuchos (deep fried tortilla with various toppings) and later we went for a ride along passage de Montejo, admiring beautiful residences, mostly occupied now by the banks.

On the second day Cristina had dropped us off at the bus station, where we took a bus to Uxmal (Ushmal), Mayan Ruins probably founded in the sixth century, built in the Puuc style. We arrived in the morning and before noon the bus tours began to arrive, so we could walk pretty much unmolested. Uxmal means “built three times”, although the main temple consists of… five different temples. The main attraction is the Temple of the Magician, 38 metres tall with characteristically rounded sides. This is the main building of the complex, but you can not climb it. Further buildings are also very impressive – Governor’s Palace (these names were given by the Spaniards), ballgame court (pelote – again, Spanish) and a square complex, with function unknown – could be a temple or military academy. I also had the opportunity to play the Indiana Jones when we went into unfrequented part of the complex and found an unrestored temple – of course I had to climb it ( ie to discover and conquer it 🙂 ). On most of the buildings, you can often see the masks of Chaac (god of rain) and Kukulcan (god of wind). It was a very successful day – finally I could see with my own eyes what I just read about…

This building houses the Museum of Anthropology

This building houses the Museum of Anthropology

Temple of Magician - standing and clapping in front of you can hear an echo - of course everyone clapped :)

Temple of the Magician – standing and clapping in front of you can hear an echo – of course everyone clapped 🙂

Idols' masks

Idols’ masks

The Governor's Palace, with the longest façades in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

The Governor’s (Royal) Palace, with the longest façades in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

Quadrangle - part of the building, as already mentioned, with unknown function. In the background, on the left the Royal Palace

Quadrangle – part of the building, as already mentioned, with unknown function. In the background, on the left the Royal Palace

The ball was played throughout Mesoamerica. Losers often paid with their heads... Maybe our football players would play better if threatened with that? :)

The ball was played throughout Mesoamerica. Losers often paid with their heads… Maybe our football players would play better if threatened with that? 🙂

And now we all hum the theme from Indiana Jones (apparently I looked very happy)

And now we all hum the theme from Indiana Jones (apparently I looked very happy)

View of the temple from the Governor's Palace side

View of the temple from the Governor’s Palace side

The day ended with the consumption of mezcal (vodka made of agave), dancing (I only looked) to the accompaniment of songs originating in Russia 😦

Mezcaleria

Mezcaleria

The next day, Cristina again had dropped us off at the bus station, and we went to Valladolid, where Tony was waiting for us – our next CS host. But more about that in the next episode.

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First steps in Mexico

Time for the first entry of the trip (finally!). The first twelve days I spent with Maria, a friend I met in London. For her it was a holiday, for me, a beginning of the journey into… unknown? Certainly, past experience has shown that you can not plan everything. This is not just another continent, everything else is so different from what we know from Europe. Starting from simple things like weather, through food, music, and the people most of all.

We landed on New Year’s Day in Cancun and were greeted by a heat. At the airport, a lot of people whose sole mission is to help tourists, they all speak English – it doesn’t happen very often in Mexico. Most of the newcomers were heading to the Hotel Zone, which looks like a typical resort. A number of hotels , shopping malls and a lot of European and American tourists. We had booked a hostel in downtown (for just $ 6 per night) and a very good thing that was. On the square near the hostel (Parque Las Palapas) we enjoyed fiesta, people danced (really good), ate, the children were running around – mostly Mexicans. Lots of booths with food (tacos for 15 pesos). After an advice we tried Chicharrones (pig skin fried in deep fat) with cabbage, tomatoes, cheese and plenty of free spicy salsa. Moments later we met Leticia, a Mexican who lives there, who gave us plenty of advices on places to visit and places in Cancun where you can eat well (some of the places we visited). The people of Yucatan are very friendly and always smiley, wished us a Happy New Year and interestingly, we haven’t seen any alcohol.

Kids had fun :) I must admit Christmas decorations look funny in this climate

Kids had fun 🙂
I must admit Christmas decorations look funny in this climate

Nativity scene - it's a must!

Nativity scene – it’s a must!

There’s not much to see in Cancun, the city mainly serves to many as a first stop in the Yucatan Peninsula (3 million people a year land in Cancun). After visiting the Mercado 28, a large market with lots of gift stalls (where because of my white skin I received from one of the vendors nickname Mr. Clean 🙂 ) we took the local bus (old and rickety) to the Hotel Zone, because there are the only ruins in Cancun (El Rey) and Mayan Museum. First disappointment – according to great Lonely Planet museum should be in a different place… Ruins are tiny, but there was not a lot of people, and the small forest, in which the ruins are located is very atmospheric. Modern museum, but only part of the descriptions were in English. In the evening we met for a pint with a pair of Poles we met at the airport, Maya and Szymek (Simon). They have very interesting ideas for articles that they want to write and sell to newspapers in Poland – good luck and maybe see you somewhere in the world!

Local fire station

Local fire station

Ruins are not very big, but it was just a warm-up :)

Ruins are not very big, but it was just a warm-up 🙂

Museum is well worth a visit

Museum is well worth a visit

DSCN3322

Hmm, what would Däniken say? :)

Hmm, what would Däniken say? 🙂

Next morning, bored of Cancun we boarded a bus to Tulum, the first major ruins. Communication in Mexico takes place mainly by coaches. There are different classes thereof. A second class, favoured by Mexicans is less expensive, but still very comfortable (more legroom than in many “cheap” airlines in Europe), however, there is a small ” but “. These buses pass by all the smallest towns, for it is often the only means of transport between towns and villages. But you can at least see how people live in rural areas. First class coaches are more expensive (to Tulum 40 pesos more), but you stop only in bigger cities. There are also luxury buses, the “business class”. If someone has a lot of money and have to travel for several hours, it makes sense. You should, however, check the domestic flights. A ticket from Cancun to Mexico City costs more or less the same as for a coach, and you save around 22 hours.

The entrance to the ruins costs 59 pesos and the views are spectacular. Ruins are picturesquely situated, surrounded from three sides by walls (Tulum means wall in Mayan, Mayans, however, called the city Zama – Dawn), with the fourth side adjacent to the Caribbean Sea. Near the shore there’s a coral reef, which makes the whole coast a paradise for divers. In front of one of the buildings (called El Castillo) is the isthmus, where you could get past the reef and get to the city. On the tower of El Castillo Mayans were burning fires, which indicated the boats the way. These are not very large ruins, not as nice as Chichen Itza, but because of the location, highly recommendable. They are also not very old, were inhabited from about the thirteenth century to the first half of the sixteenth. There were a lot of visitors, Americans and Russians dominated (one of American tourists thought iguana basking in the sun is not real…), but you could easily see everything. At the end of the visit it started to rain, so we had to end the visit. The lady selling bus tickets quite effectively ignored me, serving the Mexicans before, until the intervention of others in the queue and my murderous glances forced her to sell me the tickets. In Mexico, you must be patient, customer service is a bit like the one in Poland before 1989, but we, the Poles, are prepared 🙂

Quite picturesque, isn't it?

Quite picturesque, isn’t it?

DSCN3371

A postcard from paradise

A postcard from paradise

DSCN3384DSCN3409The next day we said goodbye to Cancun and boarded the bus to Chiquila, where we took a ferry to the island of Holbox (ohlbosh). Beautiful island, where you can rest properly. Sunbathe, swim, walk on the beach, watch the stars at night, eat well or try kite boarding. All that is provided if the weather is nice … During the four days we spent there, it rained for three. The wind was so strong that Maria could forget about the kite boarding. What can you do when it rains? Sleep, read, sit on the internet, eat, drink the stuff brought from Poland, take a bath in mud, talk with other people, take part in activities organized at the hostel (acro-yoga, pub quiz, watching movies), talk to a Polish girl working at the hostel and pray to the Kukulcan (god of wind) to  clear the sky. The only consolation is that apparently when it rains a lot in the winter, the risk of hurricanes in the summer is much smaller. And looking at the materials used to build most of the houses, after passing a large hurricane island probably can be settled again. Luckily got one hot day and when the weather is nice, Holbox is a real paradise.

Mud and puddles - caution, you may lose your flip-flops

Mud and puddles – caution, you may lose your flip-flops

Sun! :)

Sun! 🙂

No sun... :(

No sun… 😦

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the image can be seen in many homes in Mexico

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the image can be seen in many homes in Mexico

Well, everything what’s “good” comes to an end, so hopefully looking at the sky, we got on the bus going to Merida, where we had booked a couch at Cristina’s. But I’ll write about our exploits there in the next post 🙂

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Polish cemeteries in Vilnius

The day after my wanderings in Vilnius, I decided to go to the Rasos cemetery, where is buried the urn containing the heart of the Marshal Pilsudski (Marshal’s tomb is located on Wawel Hill, about which I wrote here). I walked so slow that pensioners were overtaking me, but I gritted my teeth and at the snail’s pace got to the cemetery. The urn is buried in a common grave with Marshal’s mother, Mary née Billevich Piłsudska. On the grave it’s written only MOTHER AND SON’S HEART and two quotations from Slovacki. The mausoleum  is placed in the middle of a small Polish military cemetery, where are buried the soldiers killed in the 1919, 1920, 1939 and 1944. Marshal ‘s wish was that his heart was buried among his soldiers. Military Cemetery is well presented, although on some tombstones names were barely legible. Some of the tombstones are damaged by bullets, but I could not figure out whether this occurred in the course of Operation ” Ostra Brama ” in July 1944 ( the liberation of Vilnius by the Home Army and according to plan “Tempest”, welcoming Russians as the host ).

Mausoleum with heart of Marshal Pilsudski

Mausoleum with heart of Marshal Pilsudski

Soldiers' graves. One can clearly see damaged gravestones

Soldiers’ graves. One can clearly see damaged gravestones

The Rasos cemetery looks a little worse, a lot of tombstones is neglected and one has to blaze a new path to reach them, but do not forget that this is a very old cemetery, it was founded in 1769. And walking through the cemeteries is my little “thing”, I like to read the names on the tombstones, find out how many years they lived, what they were doing. Of the most famous characters in the cemetery lie, inter alia, Joachim Lelewel (historian, Adam Mickiewicz’s teacher), Rafał Radziwiłłowicz (doctor, psychiatrist, brother of Stefan Zeromski and prototype of Dr. Judym from “Homeless people”), Adam Pilsudski (Marshal’s brother, Senator, Vice President of Vilnius ), Anthony Wiwulski (architect, sculptor, author of the Grunwald Monument in Kraków and the Three Crosses in Vilnius), Maria Piłsudska (the first wife of the Marshal), Eusebius Slovacki ( Julius Slovacki’s father) and many professors and lecturers of the Stefan Batory University (founded in 1579) and other prominent Poles and Lithuanians.

"Dr Judym's" gravestone

“Dr Judym’s” gravestone

Adam Pilsudski's gravestone

Adam Pilsudski’s gravestone

Joachim Lelewel's gravestone

Joachim Lelewel’s gravestone

Black Angel from Rasos cemetery

Black Angel from Rasos cemetery

After returning from Kaunas (post coming soon), I went to the Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius. This cemetery looks much better than Rasos and mostly thanks to the late Andrew Przewoźnik, who was the Secretary General of the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom. More than 150 gravestones have been restored by the Council.

Plaque at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery

Plaque at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery

This cemetery is not as old as Rasos, it was founded in 1810. Many outstanding Polish and Lithuanian scientists and artists rest there, you can also find the graves of insurgents from 1863 and soldiers from 1919. It was a really strange feeling, strolling among the Polish graves in a city that is not Polish anymore. But don’t worry, I will not call to get Vilnius back 🙂

Soldiers' graves from 1919

Soldiers’ graves from 1919

Tomb of insurgent from the January Uprising

Tomb of insurgent from the January Uprising

After a visit to the cemetery, I decided to complete the list of monuments and walked to the Cathedral of Vilnius (dedicated to Saints Stanislaus and Ladislaus), the burial place of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Polish kings at the same time. The cathedral makes a beautiful impression from the outside, but inside it seemed a little harsh, but that’s my opinion. The first temple on the site was probably built in the second half of the thirteenth century.

The cathedral

The cathedral

Cathedral's interior

Cathedral’s interior

After the cathedral I went to the Polish church (Holy Ghost’s) for a second. From the outside, the church seems to be squeezed between the buildings, but inside it looks really nice. But the assessment of both churches I leave to you, my dear readers.

Inside the Holy Ghost's church

Inside the Holy Ghost’s church

One of the plaques hanging in the church commemorating Home Army's soldiers

One of the plaques hanging in the church commemorating Home Army’s soldiers

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Vilnius stories – Part II

Time  to continue wandering around Vilnius. During my “marathon” on the first day I managed to see quite a lot. Although a non-believer, always with great pleasure I visit churches, what attracts and captivates me is the peace and tranquility prevailing inside. The first sight was the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul in Antakalnis (Vilnius district). The first wooden church on the site was built during the reign of Wladyslaw Jagiello, was burned at the end of the sixteenth century and later rebuilt lasted only until 1655 when it was again destroyed, this time by the Russians. The building in its present form was started in 1668 and completed in 1684, and was founded by Lithuanian hetman Michał Kazimierz Pac. The curiosities worth mentioning are the crystal chandelier in the shape of a boat (a reminder of the sinking of the transport of the main altar with the crystal columns ordered by Pac in Italy) and placed somewhere close to the entrance a large Lithuanian drum (litaur) brought by hetman Pac after the battle of Chocim in 1673 (unfortunately I did not see this as I did not know during my visit about it and I certainly would find a way to see it). The interior is really impressive but I also recommend a walk around the basilica, because there are plenty of Polish traces out there (as in entire Vilnius). In the years 1951-1989 the church served as an art gallery, but it is often encountered situation in Lithuania, that the churches in the communist era were used for other purposes e.g. warehouses.

St. Peter and St. Paul's Church

St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church

The interior of the basilica with the boat-shaped chandelier

The interior of the basilica with the boat-shaped chandelier

Polish trace on the church's wall

Polish trace on the church’s wall

The next stop was the Adam Mickiewicz Museum, located in the house where our poet lived and worked. I was able to get to the museum in front of a large Polish tour, with which I then “raced” to next sights 🙂  Further proof that you can organize everything yourself and see exactly the same things as on organized trip, without having to be rushed from place to place. But everyone explores how he/she wants.

Plaque above the entrance to the Museum

Plaque above the entrance to the Museum

Gentlemen at the Museum (with a lovely Vilnius accent) asked me if I’m alone (I think groups are more common), to which I replied, yes, but that I do not lose hope 🙂 and then they warned me that if I chose Lithuanian girl, I have to take a skinny one, because, according to the Lithuanian custom, the bride must be carried across the bridge (as indeed I saw near the castle in Kaunas). While visiting museum at the same time as Polish trip, I was listening to their guide, telling various tidbits of life of our poet (in this very house he wrote “Grazyna”). I highly recommend the museum, because admission is not expensive, and you can learn something new. Museum is not very big, so you won’t be bored.

Adam Mickiewicz's death mask

Adam Mickiewicz’s death mask

At this desk Mickiewicz created in Vilnius

At this desk Mickiewicz created in Vilnius

A museum board from the beginning of twentieth century

A museum board from the beginning of twentieth century

On the way to the image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn I visited beautiful St. Anna’s Church. Napoleon liked this church so much that he wished he could move it to Paris. Founded by Alexander Jagiellonczyk in the late fifteenth century as the Bernardine monastery chapel, the church was rebuilt several times after fires. Beautiful interior stopped me for a while (until the appearance of the Polish tour). Right next to the church is a monument of Adam Mickiewicz.

St. Anne's church (left) and behind the St. Francis and St. Bernard's church.

St. Anne’s Church (left) and behind the St. Francis and St. Bernard’s Church.

St. Anne's church inside

St. Anne’s Church inside

St. Francis and St. Bernard's church inside

St. Francis and St. Bernard’s Church inside

Adam Mickiewicz monument

Adam Mickiewicz monument

Finally it was time for the Gate of Dawn. Madame Wala from Sikorski Museum keeps saying that she prays only to the Virgin of Gate of Dawn and I had a strange feeling that Lady of the Gate of Dawn is closer to the people than the one from Czestochowa. There are no wild crowds like in Czestochowa, people passing by kneel and make the sign of the cross. You can approach the image at a very close distance, I felt a little intimidated standing next to it, but the moment of reflection was ruined by another tour wearing sandals and socks…

The Gate of Dawn

The Gate of Dawn

Painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn

Image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn

A short walk away from the Gate of Dawn is St’ Casimir’s Church. Wonderfully restored facade and rich interior meant that I was distracted for a moment and thought about the power of the old Polish Republic, when the aristocracy had the money and the willingness to fund such masterpieces. The church was built in the first half of the seventeenth century, burned down during the Russian invasion in 1655. The fire destroyed the church twice. Napoleon’s army used it as a granary, and from 1839 until 1917, the church was converted to the Orthodox. Since 1963, there was… a Museum of Atheism (an example of Soviet sense of humor). In 1991 large crypt from the early seventeenth century was discovered under the main altar. You can view the interesting black and dark-blue drawing, forming the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and praying monks. Drawings are accompanied by similarly made ​​subtitles in Latin.

St. Casimir's church

St. Casimir’s Church

The interior

The interior

One of the drawings in the crypt

One of the drawings in the crypt

That was the end of my tour, I had to run to meet my CS host. Renata took me to a delicious Lithuanian dinner, mushroom soup served in bread and zeppelins – dumplings filled with meat stuffing with bacon (the name comes from the similarity in appearance to the Zeppelin airships). At the end of the day, after a delicious unpasteurized beer, Renata showed me the Presidential Palace, from a less popular among tourists side.

Presidential Palace from the back

Presidential Palace from the back

It was a very intense day, I did 25 kilometers on foot and legs almost refused to work at the end. Another episode of Vilnius escapades soon.

Bibliography:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Anne’s_Church,_Vilnius

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter_and_St._Paul’s_Church,_Vilnius

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Vilnius stories – part 1

Today, the first entry from Vilnius – I say first, because it will be more 🙂

I stayed at Renata’s from Couchsurfing. She picked me up in the evening from the airport (in neighbourhood of which located is Gypsy camp – apparently the local place to buy various narcotic substances 🙂 ) and went to her apartment. Walking through the backyards I realized that I smile and I came to the conclusion that the backyards look very familiar – they are surrounded by ugly blocks – gems of Soviet architecture. Probably our architects were given projects from Russia at the time 🙂 There is, however, one major difference between the blocks in Poland and Lithuania – Polish ones are insulated, painted, very nicely presented in a word, and Lithuanian? Almost ruins – have not seen any older block (built more than 20 years ago) in Vilnius and Kaunas, which would not be shabby, with balconies threatening to fall down and bury passers-by under.

A small sample of the Lithuanian construction

A small sample of the Lithuanian construction

My main goal was to contact Ms Halina Jotkiałło (starts out as a story of espionage) as I had something for her from Ms Wala (with whom I do Fridays at the Sikorski Museum). The two ladies met in London when Ms Halina and her group came from Vilnius with shows. Ms Halina lives at some distance from the centre, so I decided to walk along the Vilnia River as I wanted to see that mysterious Vilnius with my own eyes (that day I did some 25km on foot, I do not need to tell you my legs hurt “a little bit” the next day 🙂 ).

And another one...

And another one…

I hope that the level of music education in Lithuania looks better than the building of the Academy of Music...

I hope that the level of music education in Lithuania looks better than the building of the Academy of Music…

I already described above my aesthetic experience (or lack of them) at the sight of residential buildings in Lithuania, so I will not repeat myself. I heard before leaving from a few people, that Vilnius is beautiful and yes, the old town is beautiful, but go outside the old town and it’s different world. One can see it’s a poor country.

A Polish trace ;)

A Polish trace 😉

In the foreground is the former employer of Ms Halina, but she also wrote for other newspapers

In the foreground is the former employer of Ms Halina, but she also wrote for other newspapers

But back to Ms Halina – she is a retired Polish journalist (among other things she worked for “Courier Vilnius”, previously called “Red Flag”) who spent her entire life in Vilnius. Her husband, George (Jerzy) Surwiło was a very respected journalist, writer and activist for the Polish culture. Her occupation and functions performed by her husband meant that Ms Halina was sometimes invited to various events where she met many celebrities and politicians. They were among others Richard (Ryszard) Kaczorowki (the last President of Poland in Exile), President Kaczynski and his wife and George (Jerzy) Waldorf. There’s an interesting story regarding President Kaczyński. In 2005, during his visit President Kwasniewski and President Valdas Adamkus unveiled at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius a plaque advising that the work is carried out under the aegis of the Foundation of Adam Mickiewicz, under the patronage of the Presidents of Lithuania and Poland (though apparently Lithuanians didn’t give too much). Well, in the course of his presidency, when President Kaczynski visited Vilnius, he said that if the plaque is not removed he won’t visit the cemetery and will withdraw all financial support. The result is a new plaque, picture of which you can admire below. And no, it is not my goal to denigrate the late President Kaczynski, I quoted the story, because we spent a lot of time talking about the cemetery (Ms Halina also met the late Andrew (Andrzej) Przewoźnik, the then secretary of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom, who is largely responsible for the restoration of the Bernardine Cemetery and many others).

The new plaque at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery

The new plaque at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery

The afternoon passed pleasantly and quickly, with wine and conversation. I picked up a few words in Polish spoken in Vilnius which is totally different from Polish I speak. Listening to Ms Halina’s stories of the olden times and Poles, it felt as if I was there, transferred in time. I have to admit that the life of Poles in Lithuania is a totally different story. They’re Polish too but they had lived in the Soviet Union. Ms Halina talked about how the books were smuggled from Poland, because one could not get anything in Lithuania. Smuggled books were later read in turn by the intelligentsia. So maybe life was not so hard in communistic Poland – certainly Poles in Lithuania struggled more to remain Polish. The beautiful thing is that Ms Halina still feels Polish, loves Poland and is interested in all aspects, including the rising Polish tennis stars. You can meet Ms Halina and other ladies from Vilnius on 1st and 2nd November at the Powązki cemetery collecting money to keep Polish cemeteries in Vilnius. Dear Varsovians – be generous!

Let me finish with something pretty - cathedral with the statue of Gediminas

Let me finish with something pretty – cathedral with the statue of Gediminas

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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 🙂

Categories: Misc, RTW trip | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

“George”

It often amazes me,  how long live people who went through the hell of the Second World War, seems like the horrors they had seen during the war, gave them the will to live. I met at the Sikorski Institute several 90-year-olds, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski lived 91 years, General Maczek 102 years, and Jan Karski “only” 86 years 🙂 Probably of great importance is the fact that they grew up in a much healthier environment. The air was cleaner, healthier food – not many of us will reach 90, I’m afraid.

The hero of today’s post lived 78 years, but it seems to me that he had a very successful life. But from the beginning…

Richard Białous - "George"

Richard Białous – “George”

Richard Mieczyslaw Białous (“George”, “Ram”) was born on April 4, 1914 in Warsaw (still in the Russian Empire). From the age of ten belonged to the Gen. Henryk Dabrowski’s Sixth Scout Team, where he went through all the stages from a youngster and from 1936 he served as commander of Troop “Powiśle”. He graduated from St. Stanislaus’s grammar school where he earned a matriculation certificate in 1932. He entered the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Warsaw and a year later he moved on Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology. In 1936 he obtained with good results an engineering degree. A year later he interrupted his studies and was appointed to the Engineers Training Centre in Modlin and in 1938 finished in second place the School Reserve Officers Engineers, with the rank of platoon sergeant of engineers. He went back to school, but already in March 1939 was called to active duty as an engineer in 8th Infantry Division in Modlin. In June he resigned at his own request, to obtain a discharge from the Warsaw Polytechnic and marry Christine Błońska. It wasn’t given to him to enjoy his wife for a long time, because on 1st August he returned to the 8th Infantry Division as an engineers platoon commander. In September 1939 using delaying action arrived with his unit in Warsaw, where he took part in the defense of Warsaw. On 19th September was wounded in both legs.

After recovering, he was involved in underground activities with Union of Retaliation (Zwiazek Odwetu), a separate body of Union of Armed Struggle (Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej). In the autumn of 1942 after Shock Troops and Kedyw (“Directorate for Subversion”) were created he became commander of a 300-people strong Special Unit “George”. His deputy was Tadeusz “Sophy” (Zoska) Zawadzki, commander of “Attack” group in Operation Arsenal, who was killed later on in the attack on the Grenzschutz’s watchtower and in his honor the battalion was called “Sophy” (01/09/1943).

"Sophy" Battalion Badge

“Sophy” Battalion Badge

During the Warsaw Uprising Battalion “Sophy” as part of the Sabotage Brigade “Beard 53” has passed the toughest trail of fighting in the Wola district, Old Town and Czerniaków. After Czerniaków’s fall “Sophy’s” soldiers (“zośkowcy”) infiltrated channels to Mokotów, and after the surrender of the district – to the city center.” George” with a small group of soldiers moved terrestrially to the Downtown South. The battalion lost about 350 soldiers during the Uprising. For his actions “George” was awarded three times the Cross of Valour and the War Order of Virtuti Militari fifth class.

Richard Białous in 1st Independent Parachute Brigade

Richard Białous in 1st Independent Parachute Brigade

After the Uprising he was sent to prison camps in the Bergen-Belsen, Gross-Born and Sandbostel. After his release he became the commander of the First Care Platoon at the Independent Parachute Brigade, he organized  Officer’s Club and a school for soldiers. He decided to stay in the West, after hearing how the Russians treat Home Army soldiers. He returned to Poland in 1946 together with the gifts’ transport and with the same convoy he exported from the country his wife and children and several comrades in arms. In 1947 he lived in London, but he was annoyed by the exalted British attitude towards Poles. At the urging of a friend he decided to move to Argentina.

Registration Card

Registration Card

On 9th July 1948 he landed in Buenos Aires, which under General Peron was the scene of strikes and street fighting. This was the reason for the move with his family to the west, to the town of Quillen in the province of Neuquen. Together with a friend from the Independent Parachute Brigade he had launched a house factory, which soon went bust. Undeterred by the failure he had used his knowledge and experience in the construction of roads and bridges. He designed and supervised the construction of the airport in Quillen. In 1961 they moved to the town Zapala to allow their children access to education. Two years later he got the government contract to design and build a resort in Caviahue, near the border with Chile. He was technical director of the Board of Tourism and Resorts, then Director of the Hydrological Service and Electricity. He was completely responsible for water supply, production and distribution of electricity. In the years 1966-1969 he was the director of projects on behalf of province of Neuquen’s Ministry of Construction. As the director of “Adelphia” over the next two years he built an electricity transmission line, the road in the mountains, the pipeline. Since 1976 he also was appointed director of the thermal spas. He was active in the Union of Poles in Argentina and in veterans’ organizations. In Patagonia he founded the first in Argentina biathlon club. He was an active skier and mountaineer. He climbed in the Andes, capturing several virgin peaks. He visited Poland only once for the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the Uprising. During this visit he visited his family, places where battalion “Sophy” fought and the graves of friends.

A resort in Caviahue

A resort in Caviahue

He died on 24th March 1992 and was buried in the cemetery in Neuquen. I will try to find his grave when I’m in Argentina. Although he wasn’t exiled as Bronislaw Pilsudski but Richard Białous also turned to anthropology (beautiful continuation of nineteenth-century Polish academic traditions). He moved with his family on land belonging to the tribe of Araucanians (they call themselves Mapuche – People of the Earth). Białous was the founder of the Araucanian Society. He studied their customs, language, and traditions and had become an expert on Mapuche culture and had a large collection of artifacts. I think he was impressed by the fact that the Mapuche were not conquered neither by the Incas nor by the Spanish and only Chilean troops managed to do that. Maybe their resilience reminded him of citizens of Warsaw?

The Mapuche tribe

The Mapuche tribe

Bibliography:

Davies, Norman. Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw, London, Macmillan, 2003.

Utracka, Katarzyna. Poległym chwała, wolność żywym. Oddziały Walczącej Warszawy, Warszawa 2005

http://www.1944.pl/historia/powstancze-biogramy/Ryszard_Bialous

http://histmag.org/Ryszard-Bialous-ps.-Jerzy-2851

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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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