Monday, 28 February 2011

Charlie's Holiday in Poland (9) - Krakow Practicalities

If there is one place in Poland everyone has heard of, it is Krakow. And yes, Krakow is one very beautiful town. Luckily, the city remained physically unscathed during the Second World War and the communists left much of the historic city alone. However, like much of Poland, Krakow also bears the same marks as the rest of the country. Astonishing amounts of brutality mixed with a shocking amount of history. Surrounding Krakow are spome wonderful sights including the Wieliczka Salt Mines (unique), Watowice (home of the Late John Paul II) both of which I visited. Nearby is also Auschwitch, a symbol of the brutality of the 20th Century. I did not have time to get here, but you can see that just from this small list there is a lot to see and do around Krakow.

But back to Krakow. Today I will briefly flirt with the historic town itself. You could spend ages here, just wandering through the cities ancient streets, mostly pedestrianised. But avoid in the evenings in summer. Oh yes, the British have found another cheap new EU city to get pissed in. And do not think that any of these holidays are tasteful. However in Winter, the number of Brits in the city are few and far between, plus Krakow is big enough to avoid the mass of larger louts from ruining the city.

Enough about the British! I am here about Poland! And more importantly Krakow. Here's another pic, this one of the main cathedral:

Yeah, churches. Like temples are to India, churches are to Poland. There are a lot of them, part of the fabric of society, and inevitably, your visit will be to one, if not many of these places of worship. I have never been such a god Catholic as my time in Poland. I think I went to a church or a Cathedral on all but two of the days I was in the country. Yes, I was a good Catholic.

My advice to you is this. If you find yourself in Krakow, then take your time. The city is not big, but the amount to see and do means that you need at least a week to see everything, and even then it will not be a relaxing trip. A perfect city break, there is a lot more to the city then my own descriptions, and it has been done so many times before on the internet. My advice to you is this Take some time out, wander round, and enter every building that is possible. When eating out however, stay away from the old town and head to Kazimirez, but more on that fun place tomorrow!


Getting there and away and other practicalities:

Krakow has its own airport, served by the usual budget and not-so-budget airlines from across Europe.

Terminal 1 is used for all flights not originating in Poland.

You can go by train from the airport to the main station in the city (runs irregularly, check timetable, cost PLN10 - just over GBP2).

Local buses also run to the main rail station in the town centre and more importantly, run (again, at irregular intervals) throughout the night.

The airport train station is a three minute walk from Terminal 1, or you can get a free shuttle bus. Note that there are no ticket machines for the train on the platform. Either buy one in the airport building or on the train itself.

Krakow is compact enough to walk round, but you can hop on one of the city's many trams or buses if your feet get tired. However, unlike other cities in Poland you cannot get a paper travelcard that is valid for 24, 48, 72 hours. Instead you have to buy a smartcard or rely on lots of single tickets. If using either, do not forget to validate when boarding the tram or bus.

Trams do not run all night. The city has a limited night bus service, but be aware of this when heading out.

There are also plenty of buses (both city/state run and privately operated) running to the outlying areas of Krakow including the Salt Mines, Watowice and Auschwitz. The limited commuter train network also serves these areas and if you manage to time it right, is far more comfortable to use. Plenty of tourist information booths are located in the city and they are used to idiotic foreigners turning up confused.

This is one place to change money. Rates are best in the city centre, but do shop around if you are not in a hurry to get any cash as rates do differ. Like the rest of Europe, cards are readily accepted at many of the outlets.

Krakow is not the friendliest of cities however, so keep your wits about you. Generally the area around the train station sees enough street brawls so be aware when wandering past late at night. This was Polish vs Polish, but it can involve anyone.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

London Diary 41

It is hard to say good bye. Even harder when you really hate her. Coffee, cafe, crying. The three symbols of a modern break up. A couple of used tissues lie on the table. It is one of those old cafes, not the fancy coffee bars. They serve real food like egg and chips not stale pre-packed sandwiches. And instead of coffee, I just have a mug of tea, now cold as we sit cross the table from each other.


She said what she had to say, I said what I had to say.

We knew it was coming. Inevitable. The charade we created, it was beautiful, fun, lustful. But ultimately temporary. Maybe that is why we clicked, because we expected nothing from each other. Just fleeting moments spent together. All right, those moments were great. We laughed, we danced, we tickled, we kissed, we fucked. I look back and smile, in more ways than you could imagine. In more ways than she could ever imagine. In more ways than I ever expected.

Different lives. Can they ever be reconciled. Maybe we are too different. Or maybe we let too many little things become one big issue. Or maybe we wanted some fantasy Bollywood script, where everything falls into place and the couple lives happily ever after in some mansion attended to by servants. But the reality is that deep down, neither of us wanted each other. We had expectations, of something better. We both were looking for a greater goal. In my mind she looked like X, did Y and fucked like Z. In her mind, I felt like A, talked like B and provided like C. In the end what we were was something far better. Two people, happy. Unexpectedly so. I use that term over and over again. No expectations, but something beautiful came from the both of us.

Our love was not unique. It was not fulfilling, not even remotely. It was temporary, stabbing, quick and painful. Fleeting in our encounters. But it worked, on some strange level. Maybe it is what we both deserved. We did not deserve something beautiful and trusting, our personalities would not have handled such a thing. Instead, what we needed was something abusive, manipulative and powerful. For both of us. Wretched, just like our doomed souls.

She gets up, her handbag slipping down her arm as she quickly walks out of the cafe. I do not turn around to see her walk out onto the street. Instead, all I can do is look at the vacant space opposite me. The warmth from that chair will soon fade. I am hypnotised rooted to the spot. Part of me is aware of the other eyes in the cafe that glance my way, wondering what it is that has gone on between us. Blaming me for making her upset. They may well be right. But we both knew what was coming.

I pick up the now dry tissues and pop them onto the empty plate. I could only eat a little piece of the pudding, my mind was not really on food. My mobile phone is still on the table. I pick it up. He rnumber is stil stored in my phone book. I look at the 11 digits for a moment, then I hit the delete button. Finished.

I head to the counter, pay up and leave. As I walk onto the street, I scan the nearby bus stop, but she is nowhere to be seen. Wherever she is now, she is out of my life forever. For better or for worse, she is gone. But not forgotten...

Friday, 25 February 2011

Middle East Revolution 2011 - A blogger's veiw


One of the most politically repulsive places in the world is unraveling before us. Tunisia and Egypt seem on their way to some form of better governance, Bahrain is in the negotiating phase. There are terrible events in Libya here things are in the balance, but the people are bravely fighting for something better. First, let me say how much I admire these brave people. They are standing up for something they believe in. A better future for themselves and their children. For too long the Middle East and North Africa has been ruled by despots backed up by the west for their own economic convenience.

How far back do you have to go to see western manipulation in the region. Probably as far back as the declining years of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th Century. Since then, the region has seen one global power after another spread its mucky hands within it. Two world Wars, the Suez Crisis, the Cold War, the more recent Gulf Wars. At first it was communications, and now more importantly, oil, the fifth pillar of the world economy.

Compared to the fall of communism in 1989-90, the response from us, the morally high western governments has been relatively poor. But back then, we really did have a higher moral ground. Now, with a weakened economy, a shift in the balance of power to Asia, it is clear that the influence of the USA (and by extension, us in Europe) is on the wane. Our governments are not really looking forward to a fall in the Middle East. After all, the despots of this region may be bastards, but they are our bastards, to paraphrase.

Speaking to a friend yesterday, he said that all the recessions suffered by the west since the Second World War was as a result of oil shocks either directly or indirectly. The economy of the Western world is in the shits, and the last thing we need is a bout of freedom in the Middle East instead of pliable leaders who will sell oil at reasonable levels to us. Yes, the price of oil is what, $120 at the moment, but try thinking of $500 per barrel. Trust me, we would have no choice but to keep buying the stuff, we are completely dependent on it. And that is what is keeping a lot of western leaders awake at night. Not the effects on people in the Middle East, but what will happen to their own constituents if this revolution really gets lit up.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Guru - Episode 1

I am taking a brief break from my Polish escapade. A very brief one. Instead, here is a new web series is out today. The Guru. And in this, episode 1, we see why the bankers are being paid such large bonuses. Enjoy!

Watch The Guru here!

And if you think I am kidding, here is the article about Royal Bank of Scotland's bonus pool. And remember, this is now the state owned bank that once made the biggest loss in UK corporate history.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Charlie's Holiday in Poland (8) - Opole

Opole (pronounced, well, A-Po-Le, not Opal) is a small town situated roughly halfway (very roughly) between Wroclaw and beautiful Krakow. Unlike my other great stop off during this holiday, Opole is actually not a bad town. Small but perfectly contained it has all the usual amenities of a Polish town. The railway station, an overpriced hotel and a concert hall...

I will give the Polish one thing in their favour. They are cultural...maybe it is due to my Metropolitan location, but do provincial British towns have convert halls? With performances every night of the week?

This is also a very British town. You see, there are red phone boxes on the streets:

and British music clubs:

But in the case of the latter, what is the point? You see, there are no young people in Opole.

I went out on the town on a Saturday night. And not a single person was there to be found. The town was dominated by folks in their forties and fifties. And there were few families out and about. In fact, if you wanted night life, then head to cream parlour. Yeah. In this cold country, what everyone wanted to do was to eat cold food. Yeah...

But if you looked around there were plenty of advertising hoardings. Advertising work opportunities. In Holland. Anywhere but Poland. Welcome to South West Poland 2011, welcome to the EU and there is a good chance that if you know a Polish person in the UK, they always say they are from near Krakow. Try near Katowice or near Opole. And you want to know why there are so few young, working age people here in Opole.

But enough on the socio, politico and economico commentary. Let us head back to Opole town. It is a pretty place. With the usual cathedral, dinky bridges, a pretty pedestrianised centre and lots of public art dotted around. It is a fine town to stop over in, but do not expect any sparks of night life. A useful place to break up the journey, a pretty enough town to while away a day en route to somewhere else, but not a destination in itself...


Getting there and away:

Opole lies on the main railway line between Wroclaw and Katowice/Krakow. Easy to get to, several trains head there everyday, but watch out on a Sunday, as the trains often change their timings.

And really, there are plenty of ice cream bars, so this is not the place for diabetics!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Charlie's Holiday to Poland (7) - The Gnomes of Wroclaw

When you are wandering the streets of Wroclaw, look high at the great buildings, but also look low, towards the ground. Look for the gnomes!

There is a history behind them, and they have to do with Poland's anti-Soviet reisitence in the 1980's. Basically, this guy, Waldemar Fydrych dressed up as a gnome to protest against the Soviet regime. The Soviets realised that it would look really dumb to shoot a man dressed in a long cap and so they left him to be. As he handed out sanitary towels (hard to get at the time in Soviet era Poland), and pretended to be a Major to get out of military service. Brilliant or barmy, he had a lot of balls to stand up to one of the more terrifying regimes that existed in the latter part of the 20th century.

This blog explains the history behind the gnomes a lot better than I do. And they are cute. Cute to look at, cute to find, and especially cute to give a rub to. Florianek (below) is meant to be especially lucky. Well, I did have a very lucky time in Wroclaw. I got guided round locked churches, managed to swindle sweet opera seats and had my best meal in the country, here, in Wroclaw. Really, I was very impressed with the city, and I have to thank, my sweet little gnome for helping me...

How many gnomes are there? Well, the internet states anything from 15 to 50. I saw a pitiful four. Yeah. Pitiful.

But hey, they were a fun task to find, and I am sure one day, just like Zelda, there will be an online guide to find each and every statuette in Wroclaw. Until then, if you are visiting Wroclaw, see if you can spot a few of these little munchkins!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Charlie's Holiday to Poland (6) - The Love Bridge, Wroclaw

Ah Valentine's Day, the most romantic day of the year. So much flowers and happiness and unexpected trips to New York or Paris where thousands was spent on wedding proposals, oh, the stuff of magic. Yeah, and that was a week ago. Remember it so clearly now. You can see why I am so cynical about the whole event. A lot can happen in a week. Arguments, beatings, affairs, the whole caboodle. After all, a Valentine is not for life, just for the evening...


In Poland they do it slightly differently. Yeah, they have the flowers and all that junk, but they are far more likely to buy them spontaneously (as is evident by all the flower shops dotted around their cities). But they also decide to wander over a river...

This is the Ostrow Tumski Bridge in Wroclaw, straddling a loop the Oder river, you can see Wroclaw Cathedral in the background. It was built in 1861, replacing a crossing that dated back to the 11th Century. Now from this angle it may not seem like much, but that is because you are not with your Valentine. You need to wander over to the bridge, which is where the magic begins...

Little padlocks are slung onto any available part of the crossing. Now, it is fairly obvious to the reader why this is so. But of course, I was one of the foolish strollers in this part of Wroclaw. The locals knew what they were doing. No one knows how the tradition started, but this crossing point in Wroclaw is the original love bridge. Other cities may have copied these lovers by tying their padlocks and throwing the key into the river, but it was here where the tradition first began.

Martelka & Karol, 'Chas and Dave', I ♥ MILF - the inscriptions mean many things to many people. The lovers come from, near and far, they hold hands, lock their love onto the bridge and toss away the key into the river below. Many return year after year, creating a chain. Surprisingly, the authorities have decided to allow this to happen. Well, they are Polish, not British. For them, public property is just that...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Charlie's on Holiday to Poland (5) - Opera, Movies and Hang Suites...

It was not all bars and clubbing for me while I was in Poland. Oh no, I also got to taste a little bit of culture while I was there. Polish culture.

You can see from my tone of this set of blogs that I am bemused by Poland, and this extends to its nightlife. Really, I do not think you get it. Hell, even I do not get it. Poland was fun, but it was really unexpected. Any Polish folks reading this blog, you guys have got to get some marketing guys along. You have one hell of a great country, but nobody knows about it.

Look, Poland has many stereo types, not many of them good. People do not see the Polish people as artistic, funny or cool. But that is exactly what I discovered while I was in Poland. A rich history (more to come on that), a very funny people (really, these guys have a great sense of humour) and cool hang suites!

Okay, let us get artistic. Fancy Opera for a few quid. Well, that is exactly what Wroclaw had in store for me. That's what you can do by just turning up on the day and seeing if the performance is a non-premiere. You get the best seats in the house, and you if it is a non-premiere, you do not even have to dress up - jeans and a thick sweater (this is Poland) will do just fine - yey! Check it out, the Wroclaw Opera House...

(Inside Wroclaw Opera House)

Or how about an evening out. Normally in Britain that means getting shitfaced in a pub with loud music and a lot of tax going to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs every time you buy some liquor. But in Poland, you do not have to drink. I know, the and which gave us the word Vodka is also home to quiet bars where yes, you can have a cup of tea at midnight and not be seen as some freak. You can dance and part if you want, or if you want to have a quiet word after church, then you could always head to one of these great little bars, always dotted around town...

(Another chilled out bar in Kazimierz, Krakow)

But this is the blog of El Director. And no visit to another country would be complete without checking out the cinema. And yes, I saw a Polish comedy - they do exist, I promise (really, any Poles reading this, please market your country better!). I went to see Och Karol 2 - which roughly translates as 'Oh Charles!' A story about a womaniser called Karol (or Charles) who during the course of the film beds 6 sweet, sweet laskis. Yeah, you can see why I like this film. This guy is my hero, plus he is called Charles! Oh, if only I had as much luck as my namesake...

Now there are no English subtitles, so basically I watched this film without understanding anything but the basic premise. But I cracked up during the film. Really, this was one hell of a funny movie. No subtitles were needed. Please, you have only one language that you need to muster here...haha!

Go on enjoy the trailer:

The last line in that trailer roughly translates as: Here's a timetable for the sex - really, what a great film - one of the funniest I have seen in ages! So there you have it. A little dash of Polish culture. Unexpectedly good. Poland is one hell of a fun country to just hang out in. And there is more to come...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Charlie's on Holiday to Poland (4) - Wroclaw

Wroclaw, pronounced Vroswav (don't ask) is one hell of a hidden gem! You know what, honestly, before Wroclaw I was a bit sceptical of Polamd. Nice country, cute ladies, but, well, I really did not have much hope for the place. Then came along Wroclaw, and my view on the country changed instantly. You see, the problem with Poland is that they do not market themselves very well. Instead, they pin their hopes on Krakow (quite rightly so) but seem to give up on the rest of the place. And that is their undoing.

You see, in all of Poland, Wroclaw was probably my favourite place. Not because of the hotel (awful) not because it is particularly spectacular, but because it was unexpected. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect to find such a wonderfully placed and sized city. Easy to get to, easy to wander round and easy to enjoy. The amount of English spoken is shocking, considering we are so close to Germany. But that is what happens when you get cheap flights from Stansted or Luton everyday. Sometime sooner or later, some crazy Brit is going to go on that random European trip that they always wanted to do...and a lot of them do, judging by the amount of English signs all over the place.

There is a hell of a lot to do in Wroclaw (remember, pronounced Vroswav). Beautiful cathederals, great museums, and stunning architecture, especially in the centre. The city is easy to get round, just hop on a tram and away you go!

Situated on the Oder, this is one great town. It was a bit nippy when I was there, yes, that is snow in the picture. But hey, it was easy to get out of the cold. It is fairly compact and as long as you know where the river is, you can never get lost! Interestingly, the town has changed hands some nine times between different European nationalities. Before seceding to Poland after WWII it was the German city of Breslau. There is a lot of history here, reflected in the building styles of the city.


Getting there and away:

At the moment the main railway station is getting rebuilt. It is a pain, but there is a temporary booking hall and waiting area by the main inter-city bus stand.

There is also an airport with flights to London (yey!) and other European destinations. Easily accessed fro, the city centre by bus.

Getting around town is easy. Get a travelcard for the time you want to stay (24, 48 and 72 hour versions available), validate on the first tram, and away you go!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Charlie's on Holiday to Poland (3) - Pociąg!

I like the pociąg. Or in English, the train. It is just so, bouncy. Up and down the train goes on the tracks, wiggle, wibble, wobble as the Polsih countryside slowly goes past. It is cheap, and cheerful. Well, maybe cheerful is a bit much, but it is cheap!

The tickets are tricky. Sometimes you have to validate the train using a machine on board (usually on the commuter trains). Sometimes the conductor comes round and asks for the bilet and validates it for you (usually on the long distance babies). The staff are, well, state employed. There are way too many people doing very little. And unlike Indian Railways whereby the people are wonderful and really put up with shit from foreign idiots like me, the staff of the PKP are, in the jobs. A bit like TfL workers ;)

But you know what I like most about train travel. Like anywhere else in the world, you meet some fascinating people on the rails. Sometimes they are a little slow, uncomfortable and often delayed. But you know, there is a fascinating bunch of guys on the train. Often a kinky bunch, but then anyone who likes trains as much as me, well, you can figure out the rest, they must be screwy in the head. Up and down the train goes on the track. Who knows what goes on board. Romance, adventure, even...murder! Mwa-hahaha!

Plus one last thing, some beautiful architecture. Say what you want about the Communists, they did want the proletariat to travel in style!

So there you have it. A brief, snippet into the way to travel Poland. By train. Unlike many other places in Europe, it is a really cheap way to go. Not too cheerful, but full of great socialist customer service. Plus, one thing I like about these babies, a healthy disregard for that all important Health and Safety. A mix of the old life and the new lawyer influenced world we now find ourselves in, I do like rumbling about on the Polish trains.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Charlie's on holiday to Poland (2) - Zielona Gora

I landed in Berlin. That will be another blog post soon. Berlin, for those who have not been, is a great city, really beautiful, with a profound sense of history. But I headed by train to the town of Zielona Gora. A stop off on the way to Wroclaw, and it would be my first night in Poland.

All right, I am going to be blunt. There is not much in Zielona Gora. Really, it is a bit of a backwater, and in winter this is not the world's prettiest town. I should have come here in the summer, but such is the way of the world that I was in Poland in the winter. However, it makes a useful pit-stop if en route to the bigger towns in Western Poland and is a relatively painless place.

But, for all the things you could say about Poland, I have to admit that ZG is probably not my favourite place in the world, and certainly not a highlight when stopping off. A lot of it comes from history. A formerly German town that was given to Poland after WWII, bombed to smithereens during that conflict then reconstructed by the communists. While there is a lot of culture (in the summer) this is not a place to settle in the winter.

But to see a less visited side of Poland, this is probably it. Interestingly, there are no hordes of German kids coming to take advantage of cheap booze across the border, like the British would do if Poland was located next door to it. Or like the Americans to Mexico. In fact, there are very few tourists from Germany coming to this part of Poland at all.

ZG has its quirks however. The Polish, as I mentioned yesterday, do have a sense of humour. The wineries which surround the town and give the area its summer character has inspired odd bits and bobs throughout the town.

(The gnomes. You will see a lot more of these later on...)

But, I am not going to spend too much on this town. It is, what it is to the casual tourist. A quick stop off to the bigger attractions later on. And there are a couple. It breaks the journey well, and has all the facilities that a small Polish city (or a large European town) should have. Funky little eateries, an oversized shopping mall, and some great countryside that can be enjoyed in the summer!


Getting there and away:

In effect, this was one of the more tricky destinations to get to. From Berlin, there are no direct trains to Western Poland. You have to change in Rzepin and take another train towards Wroclaw, Krakow etc. Zielona Gora is the first big town after changing in Rzepin. A good break in the longer journey towards Wroclaw from Berlin.

But if you are going to come here, head over in summer. A Wine Fest (useless for the lightweight in me), Film Festivals and even a Music Fest dot the calender. Great countryside as well, and very importantly, not that many tourists...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Charlie's on holiday to Poland (1) - Introducing the Country

Poland. Hmmm. An interesting destination. All right, I will be blunt, a destination that really holds no great alluring attractions to the casual observer. For a European country, it is big (the sixth largest in the European Union both in population and area) but it has no obvious draw like Spain's Cordoba, Italy's Pisa or even France's Nice. Comparing it to other countries from the former Communist Block (we Brits have lumped the area together with great inaccuracy) Poland does not have a beautiful capital like Czech Republic or Hungary, nor does its countryside stand out like the Transylvania region of Romania and it does it have a beautiful coastline like Slovenia's Adriatic. So a good question to ask is why I bothered to travel there.

(Rzepin station in Poland - my first view of the country. Ugh)


Well, it was cheap. I needed to use my holiday time up. And quite simply I needed a holiday.

Plus, it is not the first country that comes to people's minds when going on holiday It is relatively unexplored. None of the friends I have grown up with have ever ventured there.


All right. Let us start. If you want to understand a country, then a little research is necessary. A little research into Poland reveals a lot of history, much of it turbulent.

(Wroclaw after WWII)

I will be blunt, Poland should not even be on the map today. It lost a fifth of its population in WWII (think about it - 1, 2, 3, 4 dead, 1, 2, 3, 4 dead - you get the message pretty f-ed up). Its borders have been changed so many times during its turbulent history, hemmed in between Russia, Germany and the old Austro-Hungarian empires, with the nearby fun of the Turkish to boot.

Oh, and they had communism, which pretty much stripped a soul out of the place. No other European country got dicked over more in the past 200 years. And really only since 1989 has the country risen from the ashes to reconstruct itself.

The evidence is all around you when looking at Poland today. It is surprisingly devoid of people. For its size, Poland is not crowded unlike other European nations - a legacy of the brutality it suffered during WWII and a result of the massive border changes that took place afterwords. It does not have a big city even by Central/Eastern European standards (Bucharest and Budapest are far bigger than Warsaw). And despite the size of the population, it is not a big cultural exporter of anything - a legacy of the Communist era. Compare this to Italy, a country of comparable size, that has managed to export its food, films and fashion worldwide over the past fifty years, despite also being ravaged during WWII.

(The empty Polish Countryside)

So, my one big hint for visiting Poland, is to show a little sensitivity. There are big taboo subjects in the country. The whole of the Second World War, including the horrors of the Holocaust left a deep scar on the country. The Soviet regime was also unpleasant, and Poland (quite rightly) sees itself betrayed by the allies after WWII as it was sent into the Communist sphere of influence, despite having the fourth biggest allied force in the conflict.

Be polite. Unfortunately, the many Brits who have visited Poland have left a poor impression on its people. Welcome to the infamous stag do. The poor people of Krakow...


But enough doom and gloom. 1989 came and Poland has not looked back. A savvy and resourceful people, they have displayed a new confidence and they have a very international outlook. As I have mentioned previously (and more frivolously) people my age do speak a lot of English, and are well travelled. Due to their joining of the EU, the Polish can be found all over Europe, and many people in the UK will know through work at least one Polish person (and I know quite a few).

There is also a lot of charm, as Poland retains a lot of its old self as well. It is surprisingly civilised (compare a Friday night in a Polish town to a Friday night in a British one) and you will meet a lot of great people with one hell of a wicked sense of humor. Yes, that's right, the Polish do have a sense of humour. You see, the anti-communist propaganda was pretty good at telling us many things about the former Eastern block...

Poland is going through a Renaissance, almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. Poland is one hell of a fun place to go, its restored towns providing a breath of fresh air compared to the crowded (and overpriced) streets of other New EU cities. The art and history on display provides a fascinating insight into a people who have been repressed for a very long time. The energy found in the country has spread and on arriving there, you will find a country which, yes, does have deep scars. But you will also find a country moving forward, despite the massive baggage of history that it carries. Join me this week as I take you on a little journey, through the Polish countryside, and on my latest holiday, an adventure through country number 33!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

On the Pull (1) - Go to Church in Poland!

Click here to find out what us Brits mean by Pulling

Oh, and if you are offended by an idiots ramblings, then do not read further ;)

The serious blogging about Poland and Berlin begins tomorrow...


Ah, what a better way to start my blogging about my recent travels in Europe, then to talk about the absolutely beautiful Laski that reside there...I went to a stunning country, lady wise.

Let me explain.

Poland, a complete unknown to us Brits until that golden year, 2004 when suddenly there were loads, and loads of really beautiful women coming to seek work in London. One of the Blair government's greatest decisions for single guys like me was to allow the new EU countries unfettered access to our labour markets. Yeah see, before 2004, previous EU expansions included places such as Austria. Mmm, a country not really renowned for their beauty.

But Poland (along with other beautiful countries such as Malta, Estonia and Cyprus to name a few) joined the fun of the European Union and suddenly it was hey hey.

This is the stunning Krakow Cathedral, at the bottom of the street.

Try the 6.30pm mass. As a bad Catholic, I decided to go to confess my sins...all of them...lots of them...I have been a very bad boy...

Anyway, so I went to church and sat down and prayed. Then I began to look around and notice. OMG!

Loads of women. Really, I mean it. This is not like in the UK where most of the attendees of churches are the elderly or young pushy parents who want to get their kid into the local (good) Catholic school. No, we are talking about (beautiful) women, around my age, unaccompanied by men, or parents and not wearing any wedding or engagement rings. In other words, outwardly looking single women.

Yeah baby.

Oh, and the numbers are in our favour guys. My unscientific observation saw that around 75% were women and a third of them were most definitely eligible babes.

Sorry, I was at church. Then comes the Sign of Peace - the moment to make eye contact.

All right, this blog post is about how to pull (and considering I was in Poland) how to pull in Poland. Here is my advice:

1) Go to mass.

You've got the time, 6.30pm on a Sunday evening. It does not matter about the language, just go. Arrive five minutes early. It gives you a chance to find a place to sit down. On a pew where there are many other devout looking ladies looking really pretty, I mean, devout.

2) Sit through the service.

Hard at anytime, but in a language you do not understand. Just grin and bear it. Look around and admire the pretty girls, I mean, architecture of the building.

3) The sign of peace.

The point in the Catholic service where you shake hands with the parishioners surrounding you. Complete strangers, but this moment is key. Shake hands with every available girl you can meet. The Polish are quite reserved (some may say cold hearted Ice Queens) so this is a great time to show that you are a buffoon of a foreigner by yanking everyone's hand off, while maintaining that all important bit of eye contact.

4) Pray

You have been naughty. Pray.

5) The mass has ended. Go in peace...

...and conquer! Once outside, wrap up warm, look lost, then find the lady who you impressed with your hand shaking skills and charming piece of eye contact. Act the fool, and pretend you are really lost. Be nice, and respectful, this is Poland, not England. These ladies are feisty, in a painful way. And ask the question:

I am awfully sorry, but do you know how to get to the Pope's window?

You hope she speaks English, but a Polish girl between 25-35 should have some knowledge of our uncouth tongue.

Now this is the vital bit. I hope you chose wisely. More importantly, the girl would have chosen you well beforehand, and hoped that you were going to ask her something. She may react something like this.

Oh, it is just a five minute walk away.

And proceed to give you instructions. Play the fool. Look confused, but charming. She will then give up and either walk away from you, or, be kind enough to show you.

6) You've got this far...

...well done. She must really like you. Or feel really sorry for you. The Pope's Window is a few minutes walk from Krakow Cathedral and so if she decides to show you, then you have five minutes where you can try to impress her. You can start by reading about the Pope's Window. It looks something like this.

Anyway, you have a five minute walk where you can chat and well, see if you have really impressed her. And then, well, I hope you have a long stay in Krakow. Polish women are hard work!



1 - Charlie is lousy at pulling.
2 - You go to church to pray, damn you, not to check out women!
3 - The advice here borders on harassment. In many jurisdictions, you can get arrested for this stuff.
4 - Do you really want to listen to Charlie's advice? Think about it.
5 - Polish Women are beautiful and not cold hearted. They are just the words of a bitter blogger who is no good at pulling.
6 - Fact: Polish Girls really do look good. All the more surprising when you find out what they eat...
7 - Like any other nation you get your ladies who like to have a good time and those who do not. But guys, the Brits have a really bad reputation in Poland as drunken f**kwits who harass the local women. We are swimming against the tide here...
8 - So behave when you are around them. BEHAVE!
9 - I swear the number of women in church sooo outnumbered the guys. Why bother competing in a club, when all it takes is a small offering during the collection to say 'hi'?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Happy Love Day!

Have you done it yet? Yes you, you pathetic, dumb idiot. How do you expect to retain your woman if you are not ready? Your Valentine is waiting. For the flowers, the chocolate, the card. The overpriced restaurant booking, the romantic getaway to Paris, the engagement ring on top of the Eiffel Tower, the fireworks in the background.

She is waiting for all that. And the mortgage, the house, the two cars, the 1.96 kids, the husband with the successful career.

She is waiting for that and more. The affairs, the lies, the beatings, the drunken nights to remember a lost youth, the younger mistress you will keep on the side, the chance meeting with your ex-girlfriend, the pain, the sadness, the deformity of the body as age creeps up, the bitterness as realisation sinks in that you are not a knight in shining armour but a toaster on a white steed.

She is waiting for retirement and divorce, a chance to start a new life, new and more interesting venereal diseases as encounters with other people once again becomes a possibility. She is waiting to see grandchildren, but will actually say in public that the kids are her nieces and nephews. She is waiting for botox, self-lifting underwear and really good foundation creams.

She is waiting for death, an empty existence in an old people's home. Supported by the state as the kids have fled to a better country. Looking back on a life where mistakes where made. Until she realises that Valentine's day was not so important. The events that swayed her life on that magical night where a result of adrenaline and good marketing rather than anything more deeper and meaningful. She regrets the fact that she believed in the glitz and glamour of flash clothes, sexy dinners and the flashy ring. The money that was spent, the time given, that was all a waste. And in the end, the final question, was it really worth it?

Happy Valentine's everyone!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

My Uncle Joseph

This is my Uncle on the left. Or should I say, this was my Uncle. He died in Sri Lanka while I was away for on holiday. So it was weird returning to the UK. Well, I will be blunt, it was awful. This I might add could be one of the last photos of him alive, taken as he left his holiday in the UK to go back home in November.

Let me go back to the beginning. The first time I went to Sri Lanka was in 1989. My dad wanted to take my mum, my sister and myself to see his homeland. It would be his first return there in twenty years and a lot had passed since then. When he left for England, he was bright eyed, cocky and young. Of course, I never knew this side of him, after all, he was my father and was a loving man who I would not dare to mess with! Interestingly, now looking back, it was my mother who was the disciplinarian in the household, but for some reason, it was my dad who I had the awe and respect for, while I always tried (and still do) to push my mum's temper.

Anyway, let me get back to the story. My dad had taken us to see his homeland in 1989. Back then Sri Lanka was in a pretty bad state. Curfews, road blocks and random security checks. We were lucky, we were staying in a nice hotel, we were not Sri Lankan as far as our passports were concerned and he had organised a tour of the island, so we could see the temples, the tea estates and wonderful countryside. He had also arranged it so that we could meet his family.

My dad was rebellious, and he did not keep contact with his family for much of those twenty years. A lot had happened in the intervening years, but he was not going to let that stand in the way and introduced us to virtually all of his family in Sri Lanka. Most importantly, I got to meet his brothers and sisters. My dad was the baby in the family, so they all made a point to come and visit us in the capital. All but one had to cross the war zones to see us, but I got to meet the all surviving siblings of my dad. My Uncle Victor (who died the following year in 1990), my Aunt Grace (passed away in 2005), my Aunt Agnes (who passed away in 2008) and my Uncle Joseph (who died on February 1st).

It was this first trip to Sri Lanka that began the relationship I have with all my cousins, nephews and nieces from my dad's side of the family. It also began the relationship that I had with my dad's siblings. My dad took us back again in 1991 and 1994. He then passed away in 1997, a huge shock to us. But my mother kept in contact with her In-Laws and in 2000, armed with her airmails, I headed back to Sri Lanka to see the island myself. At this time I was young, fresh faced and cocky. Similar to my dad in temperament, more fearless than I am now and completely clueless about the ways of travelling. My knowledge of Sri Lanka's geography was utterly awful, and I did not do an ounce of research into the island. Compare this to the amount of reading I did for going to Poland this month, and this was an astounding amount of arrogance on my part. Still, the main reason for me to go there was to see my family, in particular my dad's (surviving) sisters and brother. It was also to be my first visit to Jaffna, my father's hometown, something that was bittersweet as it broke my dad's heart that he was never able to take us there to see his old home when he was alive.

Now, being the kind of guy I was, I decided to surprise my family, and told my mum not to tell them I was going to Sri Lanka. I wanted to establish a relationship with them on my own terms, as their nephew, not as the son of my dad. Plus, I liked the fact that I was going to surprise them! And this was a pain in the butt. The year 2000 was crap in Sri Lanka. Guns, more war and the fact that I no longer had an in-built guide in he guise of my dad meant that I could not have picked a more difficult time to head to this country. But, go I did, and I got to see all my family. There were many tears, a lot of shocks and a hell of a lot of fun. I was able to chat with my family, tell them about my life and what had happened in the past six years since I had saw them last. It was emotional seeing them all after that time. For me, they were a direct link to my dad, for them, I was a direct link to the little brother who they had grown up with. I remember my Aunt Agnes insisting that I come into her house and eat even though it was late at night when I knocked on her door. I remember my Aunt Grace showing me the spot where my dad was born, an event she witnessed. And I remember my Uncle Joseph rushing back from work on the farms when the gossip spread through Mannar that his nephew had arrived to look for him.

I remember seeing how he wept when he saw me sitting in his house, saying that I reminded him of his brother. We chatted, we laughed, we ate. He took me to see his in-laws and his friends in Mannar. It surprised them all that I (a Westerner) had made the journey to this small island off the shore of Sri Lanka, but it surprised them even more that I had made that journey to see my Uncle. To them, British people lived a life of glitz and glamour but had little time for family But they had underestimated the influence of my parents' decision to take me to Sri Lanka as a child. Those experiences influenced me far more decisively than even I could imagine.

My Uncle Joseph was affectionately known as J-Uncle. He was unable to have children, so he was the grand patriarch of my dad's side of the family. As the last of the elders, he always dispensed his advise with a sense of humour and strictness. He was a pillar of wisdom, a quiet man who disliked conflict and always found a middle ground. He had to negotiate war and pestilence (telling me how he lived off stagnant water during the dark times of the civil war) as well as ill health. Having a heart bypass in his fifties, he was not given long to live. But he transformed his life, carefully regulating his food, he stopped drinking and began to exercise more. The fact that he lived for nearly twenty years after the operation (in a country not known for great health care) shows that it is never too late to turn around your life.

My Uncle Joseph was a remarkable man. He was inspirational in so many ways. I appreciated him for his company, and even though I was never a great talker on the phone, I always stuck like glue next to him whenever I visited him. And, based on a promise I made to him in 2006, I brought him to the UK for a holiday in November last year. No one thought I would do it, but never underestimate my tenacity for stupid ideas. Originally I wanted to bring him in 2009, but in that year I was in no financial state to do it. But better late than never and so I managed it a few months ago. It was the first time my Uncle had left Sri Lanka and it took me the best part of a year to organise and fund. I managed to jump the hoops of UK immigration (thank you Oli!), his flying phobia and it was the primary reason for my visit to Sri Lanka in 2010, to pick him up and introduce him to the UK.

It was not long enough that he spent here. My Aunt's sickness meant that he had to accompany her back to Sri Lanka far earlier than planned (they were meant to spend Xmas here). But he saw a lot of the family based in the UK, got to hold my nephew in his arms and got to see the life that his brother, my father had built for himself and his family. He was the last survivor of that branch of the family, something that he keenly felt when he saw my dad's grave. But he was happy to have been here. He told me that even his own children (had he been able to father them) would not have treated him as well as I did. But he does not realise how much more he did for me.

As a child he spoilt me. My Uncle fussed with me and also looked through disapproving eyes when I was naughty. As an adult Uncle Joseph sheltered me in an unfamiliar land, protected me in a war zone and revealed to me a history of my father that I barely knew. I discovered a hidden island off the Sri Lankan mainland, was able to converse with great people due to him, saw the harsher side of life, a life that I was lucky not to have ended up in. We heard the bombs go off together and sweated in the heat while riding bicycles in the desert. My Uncle was a fun man to be with, and despite his age, also had a mischievous edge to him.

I am really going to miss my Uncle Joseph, like I miss the rest of my Aunts. Under their gaze I grew up from an imbecilic child to an even more idiotic adult. But despite the distance, the love was always there. Family is a strange thing to behold. Sometimes you have many similarities, often nothing in common. But it is an amalgamation of individuals. Depending on these individuals, family can be great, or they can be sour. I was lucky and blessed to have such a great family on my dad's side. I was privileged to have known as well as I could, despite distance, linguistic and cultural barriers. The relationship I had with my Aunts and with my Uncle Joseph shows that love really does know no bounds. It is with tears in my eye that I look back on the time I knew them, especially in the last decade when I as a man was able to know them on my own terms.

At the best of times, I am an unemotional man. So my family will never know the influence they had on my life. It was probably a lot more that they will ever realise. My Uncle, like my Aunts, I am going to miss. I am saddened that my children (should I ever have any) will never get to know him. It will only be through the stories that I will tell, will they know who he was. They will not feel the same connection that I had with him. But despite all of that, I am glad about many things, and I am grateful that I was able to fulfill his dream of bringing him to the UK for a holiday. And he had a good death. In the morning he was cycling as normal to market, went tutoring the kids, as was his job in Mannar. My Uncle was no slob! Only in the evening did he complain of chest pains. He was taken to the hospital and refused for anyone to hold him or help him. Less than three hours after admission, he was dead. It was a good way to go, and a blessing for such a remarkable man. A man who I will truly miss, as my life continues along its unknown path...

Joseph Alfred Sellathurai. Born March 11th 1939, Jaffna. Died February 1st 2011, Mannar. May God Bless you and grant you eternal life. RIP.