Sunday, April 30, 2000

TR Poland

4/21 –5/1/00

I had intended this report to only describe Poland but there were some events in the UK leading up to this trip that adversely affected the Poland trip so thought it would be best to include those also.

And you probably thought that I was just sitting around on my hands after I had waved goodbye to my team of ex-virgins from the BBR at the end of the London Marathon.
Wrong! Four days later my baby brother Doug and his wife Darleen arrived from Richardson, Texas. I made them stay up that first day as I toured them around Cambridge in the rain. From experience we have determined that it is best to stay awake till your normal bedtime and then crash and sleep for as long as you need. When you finally do get up most of the jet lag is behind you! The next day (Friday) was the start of a long weekend so all four of us took off (in the rain again) on a worldwind tour of England and Scotland.

We drove up through the Lake District and stayed in the Lake Windermere area. The following day we toured through some of the back roads in the Lake District as we made our way north to Lanark, Scotland. We stopped in Lanark for lunch and a short walking tour to discover more facts about Sir William Wallace –Braveheart. This is where he did indeed marry 18 year old Marion Braidfute in 1296. And she was later killed by the mean old English sheriff of Lanark called Haselrigg whom William killed for revenge by splitting his skull with his huge broadsword. But contrary to the movie version, William and Marion did have a daughter before she was murdered.
We traveled on through the city of Perth to Stirling where we stayed overnight and Doug was able to complete his pilgrimage to the Wallace Monument. Stirling is the location where William Wallace reached his historical peak with a magnificent victory over an overwhelming English army on September 11, 1297. In 1298 he was appointed as ‘Guardian of Scotland’ and in 1305 he was betrayed by Sir John Montieth. On August 23, 1305 in Smithfield, he was hanged, disemboweled whilst still conscious and his entrails burned. His head was displayed on London Bridge and the four quarters of his body sent for exhibition at Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. And you thought this was a PG-report!
It is fitting that the Wallace National Monument was built on top of Abbey Craig, Stirling – a 330-foot volcanic plug from which Wallace mounted the attack. The Monument was completed in 1869 and the top of the 220 feet high tower is reached by climbing 246 steps. Three chambers house various Wallace artifacts including Wallace’s famous double-handed broadsword. I always told my kids that if they could raise the sword above their head that they could lay claim as chieftain of the Wallace Clan!
The movie ‘Braveheart’ did provide a lot of positive exposure to Wallace and Scotland but I think that they might have gone too far in their appreciation when they built a new statue of Wallace or ‘Braveheart’ at the base of the Monument – in the image of Mel Gibson!

But now it was time to move north to Loch Ness and like everyone else who is captivated with the legend of the monster - look for ‘Nessie’. I told my baby brother that since he was the youngest and therefore more agile and quicker that it would only be fair that I hold the fishing pole and he swim out into the Loch with the line and bobber. He was to splash and act like a big fish and call “Here Nessie, here Nessie”! After we checked into a local hotel/B&B in Drumnadrochit we met a local Scotsman called Willie in the bar. We asked him where to look for Nessie. He told us that the only chance we had to see Nessie was to buy a large bottle of local Scotch Whiskey and the more we drank the better the better our chances would get! We had a delightful evening talking with Willie. And how smart he was!
For the next morning we went directly to the ‘Loch Ness 2000 – the new exhibition’. It is a high-tech, multi-media exhibition and presentation on the history of Loch Ness and Nessie. It covers everything from sightings over a hundred years ago to recent scientific studies and explorations including the last one a few years ago where an armada of sonar boats scanned ever square inch of the Loch. The conclusion was damnable frank! There is no Nessie and the Loch cannot ecologically support a monster or mammal of that size! Well- Burst our Bubbles! The next thing you know some scientific jerk will tell us there is no Santa Claus! And then none of us will get any more Christmas presents from Santa!
We were so flabbergasted and shocked that we just left and traveled on to St Andrews through the rain and intermittent sun. At least I knew that we would find great golf courses, some castle and church ruins there!

Everyone enjoyed St Andrews as it is a very pretty and picturesque town with a lot of history. We even managed to buy some Wallace tartans and momentos there since they were impossible to find in Stirling- I guess everyone believes that they become an honorary member of the Clan if they visit the Monument?
But now my own misery was about to begin. Did I mention rain a few times? Did I mention that this past April has been the wettest April on record in the UK? Well of course I had been running in this wonderful liquid sunshine all month including each day of the trip. Now I don’t know if weather is the reason but as each day of the trip progressed I seemed to feel worse and worse with a cold or flu. That final morning in St Andrews I got up early to run along the ‘West Sands Beach” where they filmed ‘Chariots of Fire’. It was so cold, rainy and windy as I ran along the beach that I quit after two miles. By the time we started the drive to Edinburgh I was feeling very poorly. But I wanted to show Doug and Dee the city of Edinburgh since it is a pretty city with a lot of history. It was raining so hard that we had to take a city bus tour and stay on the bus. Finally we left the city after lunch and started the 8-hour drive home. It rained all the way but thankfully my kind wife took pity on me and drove for two hours through torrential rain while I grabbed a nap. By the time we arrived home my cold or flu was in full bloom –and I was schedule to leave for Poland in two days!

Not only did I feel sick for the next few days but I felt badly that I could not accompany Doug and Dee into London to explore the city during those days. But they managed fine without me as I stayed in bed trying to kill off the flu bug that was unfortunately winning. Finally on Friday it was time to leave for Poland. If I had not prepaid the nonrefundable tickets and booked the hotel, etc I would have stayed at home. But the marathon was on Sunday and I still had hopes for a recovery in the next few days? So off I went! What a long miserable journey as I flew from Heathrow to Warsaw and then connected with a commuter flight on to Wroclaw. I had done a fair amount of research on Poland before leaving and was to find out that 75% of what I read or learned was wrong - at least when applied to Wroclaw.

Wroclaw, the city of 100 Bridges, is the fourth largest city in Poland with a population of 700,000. It is situated in the southwest province of Silesia. The city is celebrating its 1000th anniversary this year and has had a tumultuous history. For centuries the city was known as Breslau when it was part of Prussia. At the end of WWII, the city was confiscated from Germany and the German population forced to leave. Polish citizens from the city of Lwow in Ukraine were then forced to leave that city and occupy Breslau which reverted back to its Polish name of Wroclaw. Most of the city was destroyed in 1945. Wroclaw’s city center or ‘Old Town’ is delineated by the River Odra to the north and the original defensive moats to the south. The town square, called Rynek is the heart of the city and is the largest in Poland. It reminds me very much of the town squares in Tallinn, Estonia and Prague, CZR. The center-piece of Rynek Square is the Ratusz or town hall which was built in stages between 1290 and 1504. It has a large astronomical clock like Prague and much of its interior is well preserved and contains many original furnishings and paintings. The rest of Rynek Square has been reconstructed since 1945 to resemble the buildings of the 15th century. They have done an excellent job and the square is very colorful and artistic. But in Prague and Tallinn the old town squares contain the original buildings that have been restored and you really can tell the difference! And this is one of the first major errors I found in the guidebooks. They claimed that the cities were dirty and crime-ridden – I found just the opposite. Wroclaw is clean and most of the buildings in Old Town have been rebuilt or refurbished and new office buildings and hotels are being built. There are no signs of crime; e.g. bars or security screens on windows and storefronts. People walk around at all hours of the day and except for a few beggars there is no hassle or threats. The people are very friendly and strangely unfamiliar with tourists because tourism has yet to be discovered. It is a very pleasant city to visit. The only drawback is language. The guidebooks stated that most Poles speak English. Wrong! The only person I found to speak English in the whole city was the desk clerk at the hotel. Surprisingly even the young people could not speak English!

There are many other tourist attractions in the city. If you are into old churches then Wroclaw is your place. It could easily be called the ‘City of 100 Churches’. Most of the churches were built in the 14 and 15th Centuries and have been fully restored. But I have been ‘churched out’ and only viewed them from the exterior. But I did enjoy Wroclaw’s best-loved sight –‘The Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice’. This gigantic painting/mural, 360 feet long and 45 feet high, was commissioned in 1894 to celebrate the centenary of the defeat of the Russian army by the Poles near the village of Raclawice. It is housed in a specially designed rotunda that includes soil and props from the actual region and is so well done that it is difficult to tell where the props end and the mural begins. It is accompanied by a half-hour presentation to describe the battle scenes depicted in the mural. It had lain damaged and in storage for years until Poland escaped the communist cloak and is now Poland’s most visited site!
All these wonderful sites and attractions I was able to visit in only a few days while still feeling like a piece of warmed-up crap! Fortunately the weather was sunny and hot –very hot - which seemed to help me. Or maybe it was the scantily clad Polish women enjoying the first heat wave of the year as they walked around Old Town. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many young Polish women have unbelievable Barbie-Doll type figures –ultra slim bodies with large wonderful boobs! Forgive my male hormones – but the truth is -it was wonderful! Again a major drawback was that none of them spoke English.

The language issue did cause a few problems during my visit. When I finally found the race HQ to pick up my entry, etc. not one race volunteer spoke English. Since I have been through this routine a few times I was able to sort my own way through the process until it came time to pay. The entry fee was a whole 30 Zloty (zl) or $7.50 which included a T-shirt, goody package and finisher’s medal ( vs the norm of about $50). When I tried to pay they just kept saying “Nie” ( No). They refused to take my money? The only reason I can guess that they comp’d me is that I was the only American entered in the race and maybe they figured I spent enough just getting there? Another problem was that all the race instructions were in Polish and I couldn’t figure out what the last minute instructions were. But I did figure out where the race started so I just made sure to show up early so I could follow the crowd.
And lastly I had a difficult time with the menus. Piwo (beer) and woda (water) were easy to learn but most of the other important food groups were not as easy. But its amazing how quickly you can adapt to survive.

Finally Sunday or M-day arrived. When I woke up I felt about 60% which is the best I had felt all week. So I figured “shit, I’m here, I’ve nothing else to do and if I run real easy there is a good chance I may not die”! So off to the start you lazy bugger! It was a 9 am start which was probably OK in a normal year but the temperature had already climbed above 70 degrees F. This already had the signs of getting real ugly! Things actually went fairly smoothly for the first 20 miles but then my prediction started coming true. My body was still running a fever with the flu and by 20 miles the temperatures were exceeding 80 degrees and I just couldn’t cool down fast enough. And the race only had woda every 5 K which was not enough in that heat. But to make a long agonizing and painful story short, I finished (3:57:57) and I survived to do it again another day and another race!

Now for the reward! Lots of cold piwo while sitting under a cool umbrella at an outdoor café on the Square while watching all those wonderful Barbie Dolls parade by in their mini skirts, shorts and halter-tops. Ah! Life doesn’t get much better!

But I would probably trade at least a few minutes of that glorious R &R to get rid of this damn cold that is still plaguing me even after my return. I have now resolved to rest and back off running until I beat this thing completely. Fortunately I have a few weeks before my next running adventure. Stay tuned!

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