The Polish train trundles through the suburbs of old East Berlin past the ten-story Soviet-era apartment blocks on it's way home to its native country. The cityscape in these parts has a kind of utopian feel about it; residential blocks set in parkland with plenty of trees and green space, wide avenues, and localities selling this and that; people relaxing under the shade of a tree; kids playing in a play park. At least that's how it looks through the window of the train as we go by; I have no idea what it's like to live here, but from our experience staying in an Airbnb in one of these areas, I feel that life here might be alright.
Day three in Berlin and we're leaving for Poland, making our way across Europe to Moscow. Our second day here was spent on bicycle, which we hired from a place near to our Airbnb. Communication was a slight issue again and the guy kept trying to get us to hire them for 2 days, even though I kept saying "ein tag" and putting a single finger up to indicate. Eventually we convinced him that we really did only need them for one day and after him taking a copy of my passport and some form signing, off we rode.
Firstly we cycled down to Kollwitz Platz where there was a market selling mostly food and other stuff like bags and the like. Someone was mixing up what looked like a spirulina smoothie; I avoided that stall. After buying nothing we set off again in search of the Computer Spiele Museum, which I'd seen a leaflet for the previous day. We followed the route of the tram so as not to get too lost (still no map) stopping on the way at a chemist and then a Humana, which is a chain of second-hand clothes stores you find on the Continent, but not in the UK (perhaps we already have enough and the competition is too high). Then we got distracted again by a shopping mall, where we bought a widget to upload the camera's photos, and a Starbucks, where you can get team with soya milk.
Cycling down Karl-Marx Allee was a great experience as it was a great, wide avenue flanked by more DDR-era tenement buildings, some with stunning façades, and all in that kind of utilitarian design they were so found of. The avenue has the tower at Alexander Platz at one end and half-way down the impressive towers of Frankfurts Tor (Frankfurt Gate). Finally we arrived at the Museum and had a look around. It was a bijou but excellent display with lots of information and mostly interactive games for people to play. Highlights for me (nerd warning here) were the Wall of Hardware, which had gaming consoles and home computers through the ages; the video of the game of Space War, which was the World's first video game and was created on a DEC PDP-11 by some members of the campus model railway enthusiasts group at MIT; the enormous human-sized joystick; and the display about computers created in the DDR, which is something we in the West hear little about. Of course there was a shop, but we limited ourselves to a t-shirt each and went on our way in search of food.
We found food at a place calls Chum and Friends in a trendy part of town not far from the museum. It was a kind of Vietnamese-European fusion place, and so Alex was able to have the seitan special and me the burger with taro chips: the taro chips were a bit weird I have to say and could have done with some mayonnaise to cheer them up. After that we cycled back home and chilled out for the evening.
The next day we caught the aforementioned train to Poznan. This was a bit of a palaver. We were all on the platform at the designated time with the train mentioned on the board, when suddenly the sign changed to let a through-train through, then changed again with an announcement to say the train was going to be 90 minutes late due to a technical problem. So we waited another 90 minutes and all returned to the platform. Just as it was about 90 minutes from the original time, the train changed to another platform. We didn't really understand what was going on as there was only an announcement in German, but noticing that our co-travellers suddenly started moving en masse somewhere else, we followed them sheep-like in the hope that they hadn't all decided just to give up for the day and go home.
Finally we go on the train. It was fine, basic and old, but a very nice Polish train. The funny thing about it was that up until we crossed the Polish border there were no announcements, no ticket checking, no nothing; it was a bit like a ghost train. Suddenly we were in Poland and it sprung into life, announcing stations, apologising for the late running, the lights came on, and buffet service appeared. Along the way we were offered free drinks or bottles of water and then towards the end got a free chocolate wafer snack and another bottle of water each.
Poznan is a beautiful looking city. Both the old town (Stary Miasto) and the new developments, including the new train station. Alex and I came here about eight years ago, for Ania's wedding and remembered the station well and when we arrived it was completely different. They've built a whole new international-style train staying and shopping centre; all quite stylishly done.
Our Aibnb was in the old town near to Stary Rynek (old market) square. The Airbnb was advertised as a flat, but it was more like a 'pod' with the kitchen and the bathroom hidden away in wardrobes - literally. It was a bit small and Alex says it felt like a Swedish prison (seems pretty okay to be in prison in Sweden). The bed had a single duvet, which was odd, but apart from that the place was done up to a very high standard and had lots of facilities, including washing machine.
Stary Rynek - the Old Market square - is certainly the most stunningly beautiful square that I've seen so far in my life. At night there's raised terraces with people dining and drinking and with the low lights and the many colours of the buildings, it has quite a fairy tale feel about it.
So we hung out in Poznan for the day, getting the tram here and there - yes, again another place where they didn't rip out the trams to favour automobiles; and it's all the better for it - and a liberal bit of wandering about and circling Stary Rynek. We also visited the Parish Church of Saint Stanislav, which was stunning both outside and in.
Now we're hurtling towards Warsaw on the Warsaw express Intercity train (free water again; am hoping for another wafer in a while) where we'll catch another train early evening for Smolensk, which is just over the Belarusian border into Russia. This'll be our first more exciting train, as it's an overnight sleeper, although the first border crossing (Poland-Belarus) is around midnight, and the second (Belarus-Russia) is around 8am. Sleep may not be that easy.
I watch the Polish countryside whizz past. It looks very much like Britain; except that the houses are ever so slightly different in some difficult to describe way, and there are less hedges or other types of field divisions. It's beautiful and green beneath a blue sky with a few jolly clouds drifting here and there and wind turbines liberally sprinkled over the landscape and rotating majestically neath a gentle May Sun. Poland is very much less populated than Southern England is, and it shows in the greater feeling of openness and space that I get from my train window.