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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

379: An iron curtain has descended.....

The Polish language is rich in what to us are unusual consonant combinations. Take the place where I am at the moment for example – Szczecin. Sz is pronounced 'sh' and cz is pronounced 'ch'. So shchechin. I'm reminded, obliquely, of the old schweppes 'shh.. you know who' series of adverts that graced our television screens back in the sixties.

When that nice Mr Churchill made his famous speech about an iron curtain descending, from Stettin in the North to Trieste in the South, in the Spring of 1946 he wasn't quite right as by that time it was part of Poland and he should have said Szczecin but instead he said Stettin (from when it was part of Germany) which is much easier to pronounce.

I arrived here on Saturday after a 55 minute flight from Warsaw in a propeller-driven Dash 8Q owned by LOT the Polish national carrier. Once in the air there was just time for them to dish out a chocolate biscuit and a cup of water before we were starting our descent. 

The city itself is quite large (the 7th largest in Poland) and is a major port despite being more than 50 miles from the Baltic. There is the obligatory 'old town' to visit and a few more cultural jewels besides.

The brewery where I went for dinner last night, where else, had its restaurant in the cellar – don't they all – and the tables were clustered around a large dance floor. It soon became evident that this was some kind of dance club or school. Experts male and female were giving instruction to their partners and they had different partners for each dance. I thought, for an instant, that I had stumbled onto the set of 'Strictly come dancing'. How would I know, I've never watched Strictly and probably wouldn't admit to it if I had. 

On Monday I headed off to the Baltic coast. I took a minibus to a place called Świnoejscie (another tongue twister) which apparently means a place of exit for pigs! (or, more likely, it is the place where the river Świno flows into the Baltic). Not too many kilometres to the East, past Gdynia and Gdansk, is the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the headquarters of their Baltic fleet. But that's another story for another day.

On the way North the bus stopped briefly at a place called Wolin. Hereabouts there is a large nature reserve where wild bison roam free. And here's me thinking that a bison was where hofficers washed their hands. Boom-boom.

The minibus finally stopped at a ferry terminus and once I had collected myself and glanced at the large map that was there I realized that the major part of the town was on the other side of the river. There is a free ferry that joins the two parts of the town. There are two boats and they cross mid-stream.
There are no rules for pedestrians but between the hours of 0400 and 2200 only local vehicles with ZSW registration can cross. Anybody else wanting to cross with a car must wait until the middle of the night! 5 minutes or so on the ferry and I had landed on the other side and disembarked.

From there a bit of a trek to the Baltic itself to gaze at the vast expanse of water and from there an even longer trek along a wide promenade and then footpath/cycle path to reach the border between Poland and Germany. It was a beautiful bright sunny day and along the promenade there were dozens if not hundreds of benches and most of them occupied with (mostly elderly) Poles and Germans relaxing in the sun. There were also hundreds of cyclists. On the Polish side there is a large Radisson hotel being put up almost on the beach (with perhaps not the same regard for 'elf and safety as we have as you can see a worker on the outside of the third floor).

Standing on the border between Poland and Germany brought back memories of the 70s and 80s when I was able to stand at, but not on, the border between West and East Germany and look across to see how the other half lived (existed).

It's Tuesday and I'm on the train back to Warsaw. I love train travel, especially on modern European Inter-City trains. Nicer than ours in so many respects. Off the top of my head I can think of: cheaper, faster, free and reliable wi-fi on board, more comfortable with more leg-room and,usually, more punctual. Still, we as a nation voted for Brexit! No trolls please.
Too long for a blog. Congratulations if you have made it this far!
A musical video clip to finish - it has to be "trains and boats and planes" since I've been on all three since Saturday.

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