Archive for the travel Category

Warsaw: From the Stare Miasto to the Pałac Kultury i Nauki

Posted in culture, history, travel, warsaw with tags , on July 20, 2008 by Philonous

The lover of mind has landed in Warsaw. This city is extraordinarily beautiful, green and without blemish. From the old town which was rebuilt after having been destroyed during the second world war, to the grandiose 43 storey stamp of the Pałac Kultury i Nauki, one can’t help but be impressed by it all. I’m staying in a very lovely hotel just south of the city centre next to a grand park and all of the various embassies. From there i was advised (by folk in the know) to go to the old town (Stare Miasto) to have a look at all of the lovely old (new) Polish buildings. During the second world war, Warsaw was essentially gutted. Most of the historic buildings were completely destroyed and the old town centre was rebuilt from scratch.

Wandering around European cities, one becomes accustomed to the sight of buildings which if not exactly crumbling, show all of their three hundred or so years. Here everything comes across a little bit Disney. The entire old town is so incredibly pristine that rather than being 300 years old, most buildings look as if they have travelled through time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole Stare Miasto was injection moulded in one piece from fadeproof plastic in a Detroit factory and shipped over as part of some covert Marshall plan. It’s a great shame that so much of this great city was destroyed in the carnage of 1939-45.

Still imposing upon the skyline is Stalin’s great stamp of authority, the Pałac Kultury i Nauki-a full blown propaganda factory mass producing and distributing Soviet pronouncements in the form of films, books, plays and exhibitions. Now though, the huge tower is somewhat eclipsed by the skyscraping testaments to Poland’s new legacy. Viewed from one side, the Stalinist face of hard nosed totalitarianism is still there to be seen. Viewed from the others, the huge Carlsberg parasols, the brightly coloured advertisments and the various other skyscrapers peer over Stalin’s long-dead message. Perhaps even more ironically, underneath one face is a massive skate park full of teenagers humming Green Day and periodically rescuing their trousers from the ever present clutches of gravity. If you look carefully at the right hand photo, you might just be able to see on the left the massive cuboid of the Intercontinental along with various other skyscrapers belonging to foreign banks. The man of steel would turn is his grave.
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London: a trip to the metropolis

Posted in politics, travel with tags on June 26, 2008 by Philonous


So here I am. Trafalgar square. Monument to imperialism, war and the triumph of Graeco-Roman educated northern European stiff upper lip over a small beligerent Frenchman. Le Fox of course, being one of our kir-swilling crepe-eating brethren from the-other-side-of-le-manche isn’t with here with me, taking Nelson’s column as a direct insult to the French red, white and blue. Ok, i made that up, but being avian-averse, she wouldn’t have a particularly good time anyway.

I’ve just walked here from Buckingham Palace along Whitehall, the seat of British power. The palace’s environs are full of well-to-do houses, old world clubs and stretches of green, all ceremonially guarded by soldier in funny hats on funny horses. From these treelined streets, Whitehall seemed most clinical. Security guards and tourists everywhere-imposing white buldings from which one fifth of humanity was once governed. It seemed rather apt that the side entrance to Buckingham palace (through which the scones and crumpets pass, never to return) was relatively deserted with a traffic cone blocking the part of the opening not covered by the automatic barrier.

In comparison, Downing street seemed like a fortified bunker with successive lines of huge railings complicated entry systems and stern looking flak-jacketed police. Is the Prime Minister so unpopular? How sad the Queen must feel, no longer inspiring enough hatred in her subjects to warrant greater protection.

BM est. 1759

Posted in culture, history, travel with tags , on June 23, 2008 by Philonous

Finally, since I am in London after all, I thought it only right that I visit the British Museum. The first time i walked into this building, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The huge classical colonade gives way at the entrance to a dark foyer flanked by the giftshop and a couple of galleries. I remember thinking that it would be full of very stuffy old men looking at very stuffy old exhibitions which would be nothing more than the trophy cabinets of dead merchant soldiers.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Walking through, the dark recess suddenly opens into a huge marble space. In the centre is the cylindrical reading room, famous perhaps more for Marx choosing it as his study while writing the communist manifesto than for its books. Now it is simply an architectural curiosity, the constant stream of tourists making constructive thought rather difficult. I suppose that originally, this part was open to the elemts before it was roofed over in the 90s with a perspective warping glass triangulation.
This time my attention was drawn by a 1st century AD statue of a cheeky chappy on horseback, featured to the right. The thing that caught me more than anything else was that he was naked in all the ‘important’ areas, and yet sports a pair of sandals and a lovely oversized handkercheif. Either that or he just hasn’t quite mastered the art of wearing a toga.