Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Travel makes me feel so very, very small.

Flying over and driving through countries and villages, it becomes so obvious that there are so many little lives like mine going on. Of course, I always knew that, but flying halfway across the globe and seeing the comings and goings of people in Asia and Europe, I finally realise how enormous, how unfathomable the number of people living on this planet really is.

Something else I find unfathomable is the suffering this part of Europe has endured, the delusion and destruction people have forced upon each other and themselves. I picked up a copy of Berlin: The Downfall 1945 the other day. Predictably, it covers the downfall of the Third Reich in Berlin in 1945. It was interesting to read about history in the places it happened - reading about the enormous and inadequate bomb shelters beneath Friedrichstrasse station as I waited at Friedrichstrasse station for my connection, for example - but within three pages, I couldn't conceive the suffering of Berliners in the second World War. And then, they lived through Soviet rule and yet, twenty years after the Wall fell, Berlin has somehow transformed itself into a beautiful, vibrant city.

Warszawa is similar, in that it's bounced back from near total annihilation. Its coping mechanism is a little different, and it seems more aggressive in its modernisation: there are skyscrapers and large hotels here, the kind of which I haven't yet encountered in Europe. I'm not quite sure what I think about it yet. I feel a little uneasy here, but at the same time, it reminds me a lot of Sydney. (In fact, the room I'm staying in is called Sydney - others are Barcelona, Rome et cetera - and the bunk bed opposite mine actually has a photo of my street above it, with a tiny corner of my apartment building visible.) There's great wealth and culture here, but also great poverty. I arrived at Warszawa Centralna station and immediately wanted to turn around and go back to Berlin: it's an ugly, concrete, cavernous place. The angry shopkeepers and the pitiful Gypsies, it was all rather unpleasant. But I'm staying on a beautiful street, and I enjoyed walking around tonight. The Warszawa Uprising Museum was fascinating (it also features in the book I'm reading), so I look forward to exploring the Old Town (rebuilt in the last few decades - ha ha) and Praga tomorrow.

I'm in Hell trying to figure out transport the next few places I go to. Because Poland has crept out from behind the Iron Curtain so recently, it isn't a very Westernised nation - not many people (well, middle-aged people, the kind who work in shops and train stations) speak English and a lot of websites don't have English options. Plus, I don't want to catch a seven hour train after my last ordeal. Waaah. I wanna fly to Prague.

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