Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Saw Warsaw - Part Trzy

See parts one and two if you missed them.

I began day two bright and early. I was up by 5:00 a.m., but breakfast wasn't going to be available till 6:30 a.m., so I spent that very dark part of the morning getting online and researching what I would do with my day.

After breakfast, I headed out northward to the tourist information center located at the Palace of Culture and Science. I'd read that there is a "Warsaw Tourist Card" that provides an all-day pass for all the forms of public transit plus access to all sorts of museums and the hoho.

Turns out that it was a three day pass for something like 50-60 zł. Even though it is a surprisingly good deal (approx. $15 - $20 for three days) I started losing interest because I only had one day left in Warsaw. But the kicker was that the card didn't include access to public transit.

I asked the tourist info lady if I could buy a all-day, all-modes transit pass from her. Unfortunately she said no. She explained I could get a transit pass at lots of newsstands.

I mentally prepared myself for a long day of walking. It was all too likely that either I was going to spend a lot of time walking from one newsstand to another looking to find someone who spoke English or I was going to just give up and spend the day walking.

Eventually I did get the all-day pass, but I walked to the Warsaw Uprising Museum first. On the way to the museum, I encountered the building-sized mural shown in these two photos.

Don't know if you can see it, but the puppet-stringed soldiers in the mural are wearing helmets with a derivative of the Soviet hammer and sickle on it. Instead of a hammer, there are two lines which turn the sickle into a Euro symbol. Someone isn't on board with the EU, methinks.

The Warsaw Uprising Museum is far from a happy place, but it is definitely worth experiencing. Here are a few photos from outside the museum. FYI... They fail to capture the experience awaiting inside the museum itself.

It's getting close to time to board my WAW > MUC Lufthansa flight, and I'm tired, so I'll spare you a lengthy history lesson.

Let me just give a few key take-aways...

I knew about the invasion of Poland during WWII. I knew that Germany invaded Poland. I remember the Soviet Union absorbed (a grossly inadequate euphemism) Poland after WWII, but I didn't recall that the Soviets had initially signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany just before Germany's invasion in which they essentially divvied up Poland between them. The Soviets insisted that their action was in reaction to the Germans' invasion. Yeah right.

Another key take-away was the massive loss of life that took place in Warsaw.

But the lasting impression I was left with is the massive scale of the destruction Warsaw was subjected to. If I recall the numbers correctly, 1.3 millions people lived in Warsaw before the invasion. After the war, only 1,000 had homes.

After the museum, I started heading back towards where I'd seen a tram stop. I knew that the 1, 8, 22, and 27 were heading the direction I wanted to travel next, but there was still the matter of a ticket to take care of.

As I headed to the tram stop, I noticed a ticketing machine. Note to self: All of the ticketing machines that I saw in the vicinity of tram stops are surprisingly far from the tram stops themselves. Go figure.

I hopped the 1 and headed north. It was packed, so I couldn't see how far the tram had gone. In desperation, I hopped off the 1 to re-orient myself. Turns out I'd gotten off too soon.

I sat for a few minutes at the tram stop and then hopped on the 22. This tram was less lightly loaded, so I was able to tell when to exit the tram.

I stopped off at the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery.

This cemetery is massive and it is packed with graves. Stopping at the Jewish cemetery right after the museum was quite poignant.

The cemetery was mostly deserted. Cemeteries can be quiet peaceful places. Under the gloomy overcast sky and with stories from the museum fresh in my mind, this cemetery was unnerving.

I've got to go catch my WAW > MUC flight, so I'll wrap this up for now. There's more to come in part cztery.

I Saw Warsaw - Part Dwa

In case you missed the first part of this blog post, I'll catch you up quickly. I was standing on the inside of the the Barbican and was about to walk out through its gate. It was 4:00 a.m. (i.e. The time I was writing, not the time I was standing at the gate), and I needed to get some sleep before my flight home today.

I didn't get to bed for another thirty minutes, and I awoke - reluctantly - at 6:00 this morning. Ugh. I could have slept in - my flight isn't till 1:00 p.m. - but I wanted to get to the airport to talk face-to-face with Lufthansa about letting me use my system upgrade. There's more to the story than that, but I'll spare you the details.

So here I am in the lounge returning to this blog post but operating on a piddly two-ish hours of sleep. Cross your fingers that I can be coherent.

I continued walking southwest outside the wall. After a while, I came upon a statue I'd seen during my Internet reconnaissance before I departed the U.S.

The statue is Mały Powstaniec (a.k.a. The Little Insurgent).

I'm embarrassed to admit that my first reaction when I saw a photo of the statue online was to think, "Aw, how cute." I saw this statue of this cute little kid wearing a comically over-sized helmet, and it looks like a kid wearing a funny hat. Then I noticed that he's holding a rather large gun. Ha ha funny juxtaposition.

But the subject matter of the statue isn't funny. The statue is a monument to the child soldiers who fought in the Warsaw Uprising (not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising). While I was back in the U.S. doing my research, I quickly realized my initial reaction to the statue was wrong. Seeing the statue in person and learning what I learned about Warsaw's history during WWII further reinforced my understanding of the statue.

I continued on my meandrous route through the old town.

I ended up on ulica Świętojańska. There, side-by-side stand Kościól Jezuitów (the Jesuit Church) and Bazylika archikatedralna św. Jana Chrzciciela (St. John's Archcathedral).

I have seen photos of both that were taken during daylight hours, but I have to say that the lighting at dusk combined with the lights on the outside of the churches makes for much more interesting looking photos.

One thing that struck me about these two churches is how very different they are architecturally even though they stand side-by-side.

As I walked back towards Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square), I came upon the following view of St. Martin's Church:

I love the lonesome solitude of that photo.

When I returned to Plac Zamkowy, they had the full light show on.

The tree and the gift wrapped boxes below it were still lit up. But now the light show included snowflakes (click on the photo to see it larger if you can't see them) cascading down the walls of the west wing of the Royal Castle.


Once again, here's the same photo all bling'ed out, compliments of Google Auto-Awesome.

It was a beautiful sight, and people were standing around mesmerized by the sight.

Off in the distance I could hear caroling. I headed off that direction, and that's how I ended up getting the video of the caroling. If you're interested, I wrote a brief blog post about the video.

From Plac Zamkowy, I zig-zagged my way to Plac Piłsudskiego (Pilsudski Square). I crossed the square to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Standing guard at its eternal flame were two members of  the Representative Battalion of the Polish Army.

By this point, what little sunlight I'd seen during the overcast day was a distant memory. As I continued zig-zagging back towards my hotel, I used my internal compass (a dubious plan in the winding streets of Europe) supplemented by sighting a landmark to navigate.

I came upon Kościól pw Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints' Church) located at Plac Grzybowski 3. The church was dimly lit.

What little light there was was shining on a bronze statue of (whoops I forget who).

While I love the convenience of having a fairly decent camera in my pocket at all times (i.e. my iPhone), low level lighting situations like this one are not where the iPhone shines.

I knew that the lighting conditions were suboptimal, but I loved the lighting and wanted to try to capture the scene.

As you can see from the photo above, it turned out better than expected. I hadn't anticipated being able to pick up the vibrant colors of the offerings placed before the statue.

But as pleased as I was with the photo above, I was even more surprised by the photo to the right.

I instinctively knew that if I took the photo from in front of and below the statue, it would create a different sort of feel because the statue would be towering above me.

And with my naked eye I could see that the columns were going to add an interesting perspective to the photo.

What I completely failed to intuit or perceive at the time is the shadow that the statue was casting. Even though it was right there before my eyes the whole time, I didn't see the ominous shadow.

That's sort of a metaphor for life. How many times have I completely missed something that was right before my eyes? Countless times, no doubt. Fortunately they're usually not ominous.

The landmark that I was using to navigate which I mentioned earlier is the Palace of Culture and Science. Completed in 1955, it remains the tallest building in Warsaw.

Provided the cloud level doesn't drop too low, this big, imposing building makes a great landmark because it is visible from far away.

I composed this photo to emphasize the details of the building and to focus on the colorful lighting. My photo, however, doesn't capture the building's sheer massiveness. See the previous link for a photo that will give you a better feeling for the size and architecture of the building.

I don't know how tall the other "tall" buildings were at the time the Palace of Culture and Science was built. It was completed only a decade after the end of WWII, and given the state of ruins that Warsaw was left in, I suspect this building must have seemed even more massive to the Poles then than it does today.

 I capped off my day with a stop in Złote Tarasy (the Golden Terraces). My eye was drawn to it earlier in the day because of its unusual roof. See the previous link for a photo.

Once I stepped inside, however, it quickly became apparent that Złote Tarasy is actually Polish for "inexplicably mobbed mall on a Thursday night".

I popped off some shots of the glass ceiling from inside, but the most memorable photo I took was of what I shall henceforth refer to as the Escheralator. There is something distinctly Relativity-esque about it.

I count at least five levels, each askew from the others.

That brings me to the conclusion of day one of my two-day miles run to Warsaw.

In the next blog entry, I'll show you the sights from day two.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I Saw Warsaw

A few days ago, I embarked upon a new adventure: SFO > IAD > BRU > WAW.

I was surprised to awaken about fifteen minutes before landing in Brussels. I must have gotten a decent amount of sleep.

Perhaps I have United to thank for that. It would seem that they did a not so subtle editing job on World War Z.

One moment - SPOILER ALERT - zombies are voraciously working their way from the back of the jet to the front... Clearly this is a situation that can't end well. The situation is getting out of control. The pilots are donning their oxygen masks. The camera switches back to Brad Pitt... Then the screen fades to black.

"Huh?" I wondered aloud. "That's weird." For a few moments I couldn't figure out the reason for the fade out. Next thing I know Brad and Segen regain consciousness in a field in Cardiff, Wales.

"Oh, I get it," I exclaimed. United edited out the plane crash. How very considerate of them. Remind me not to bother watching Flight aboard a United flight.

Hmmmm... I seem to recall that I sat down to write about Warsaw. Let me get back on track.

So I wake up in Brussels, crash in the club during my layover, then hop my final leg to WAW.

I landed there sometime afternoon. BTW... If I don't seem terribly clear on the exact chronology of my itinerary, that's intentional. One of my strategies for overseas travel is to fight jetlag through pure ignorance. I keep track of when I need to board each flight, and when I'm about to land I note what time my next departure is, but once I've landed in a destination, I try to purge any recollection of what the exact timing was. If I don't know the exact timing, I won't know whether or not to be tired. And if I can remain oblivious to the time back home, then I guess there's no good reason to be tired.

This trip came about fairly quickly because I have fallen short of 100,000 miles this year, and I needed to make a miles run. What little time that I had before departing for this trip was a hectic, frenzied mess, so I didn't have much time to prepare - let alone learn to speak Polish.

Imagine if you will, flying thousands away from home into a far flung city whose inhabitants speak a language you don't understand. Sounds like a stupid thing to subject oneself to, right?

Actually one of the reasons that I love to travel is that it immerses me into a situation I'm not familiar with. The language is different, the food is different, the music is different, the public transit is different. Landing in a city like Warsaw is like a challenging game for me. I've got to either figure things out on my own or - Egads! - seek help from others.

I have no experience with any language even close to Polish, so I knew that the language barrier was going to make things tough. This time, however, I had a big advantage that I didn't have twenty years ago when I started this crazy life of travelling. I leveraged resources on the Internet. I used Google Maps to survey the city layout. I used YouTube to find videos about what's what in Warsaw.

One video was particularly useful. The guy narrating the video explained and showed how to get the train to Warsaw Centrum.

I finally got around to watching that video about an hour before I landed in Warsaw. The key thing I learned is the word for train: pociąg.

I bought my ticket and found my way to the train station.

The train was modern, fast, convenience, and insanely cheap. The twenty minute ride was a  whopping 4,40 zł (approx. $1.50). I was anticipating ten times that much... easily.

One of the things that I enjoy about riding on trains is the colorful graffiti that train routes inevitably attract.  

One of my on-going photography projects involves graffiti and street art from all over the world.

Trains are a great place to see extensive amounts of graffiti, but trains tend to be a terrible platform from which to photograph it.

Take this bench for example. When trying to take photos from a train, I don't have the luxury of contemplating whether a particular item is worth photographing. I just have to shoot and find out later whether any of the photos are worthwhile. Ignoring the subject matter of this bench artwork, notice that the photo is messed up by the reflection in the window.

If I had my 30D, I could pop my polarizing lens on and get rid of that reflection. But I left the 30D home. I'm travelling very light this trip, so my only camera is my iPhone.

Tangent (as if all this graffiti discussion isn't a tangent already)... One of the things I'm pleased about this trip is that I've left all my luggage behind. While I ordinarily only bring carry on and my computer backpack, this trip I only have the latter. I'm travelling internationally with a single backpack - a very small one at that.

Travelling with so little reminds me of travelling around the world with just a backpack. One of the things I experienced travelling around the world with just a backpack is the freedom of having all of one's belongings in a single bag on one's back.

Okay, back to photographing from trains... 

Another challenge with photographing from a train is that unless your camera supports a high shutter speed - the iPhone does not - you know that you're going to get blurred photos. No surprise, I got blurred photos. But I like the following one:

More times than not, if I take a blurry photo, the photo is ruined. But this one works (for me any way).

A short twenty minutes after leaving the airport, I arrived at Warszawa Centralna. From there I made my way to my hotel, got checked in, relaxed for a short while, and then plunged out into the city. I only have two days (pretty luxurious compared to the miles runs other folks make), so I don't have a lot of time to sit around relaxing.

I headed east on Aleje Jerozolimskie towards Nowy Świat. Along the way, I noticed a mosaic on a building.

Maybe it's all those years reading left to right, but the first thing that I noticed was the grenade. Clearly the artist has a point of view to express.

I have no one to ask, so I just have to make crude guesses what the intent is behind much of the things - not just art - that I encounter. I don't know the story behind this particular mosaic, but it seems pretty clear to me that it's about armed struggle.

I think that the mosaic, got me into the right frame of mind to begin to understand Warsaw. It's easy enough to plop myself into a city and just do the touristy stuff. I confess that my destination on this particular walk was the old town. I knew that it was going to be touristy.

This mosaic reminded me to look beyond the fluffy touristy stuff. So I started thinking about the little I know about Poland and Warsaw in particular.

Much of what I learned in history is history in my mind. I don't mean that in a good way. I remember general impressions about different periods of time, but if you were to quiz me on dates or dig into any details about the portions of history that I learned long, long ago... I wouldn't come up completely blank, but I don't think I'd be impressing anyone.

As I'm walking along, I'm dredging through my brain for what I learned about Warsaw. The main historical event that jumped out at me was the invasion of Poland by Germany in World War II.

I turned north onto Nowy Świat. As I walked towards the old town, I could see that the street was decorated for Christmas. It was still light out - though that wouldn't last long - so the Christmas lights weren't lit yet. But the street was nicely decked out for the holiday.

My walk took me past Kościół Św.Krzyża (
Church of the Holy Cross), Tyszkiewicz Palace, and a bunch of other beautiful buildings that I knew nothing about and didn't have the time or language skills to figure out. But by employing modern technology after the fact, I've figured out what these places are.

Churches tend to be easier places to figure out. Once you figure out certain key words like "Kościól", you can piece the rest together. Take Kościól pw. Opieki św Józefa Oblubieńca (Church of St. Joseph) for example.

It is clearly a church. So you go look for a sign that says
"Kościól blah blah blah". Find the "blah blah blah" part and you've got it.

Brief photography tangent... Compare my photo above to the photo on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia photo is shot under better lighting conditions. It's got a bit of that golden light thing going on. It's got shadows which gives it depth. It's got an interesting sky in the background. But the composition is unimaginative. One of the things I enjoy about photography is composition. I'm no expert, but I enjoy trying. I find it a fun challenge to take a mediocre camera, under less-than-ideal lighting conditions, with visually distracting items in the scene (you can't see what's behind the statue, can you?), and to use composition to make a good picture out of a bad situation.

I continued northward on Nowy Świat which turned into Krakowskie Przedmieście. At the end of Krakowskie Przedmieście I walked into Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square).

The Square gets its name from the Royal Castle, the largest building in the square. You can see one of its five wings in this photograph.

Another thing you'll notice in the photo is the presence of a very tall, elaborately decorated Christmas tree. One thing that can be frustrating at times about still photography is that you're only capturing a very brief moment in time. For instance, this photo is unable to convey the simple fact that the lights on the tree are blinking. The tree is pretty enough in this photo, but the photo fails to convey the scene in its entirety.


I could have switched the iPhone into video mode (I did so late on in the evening), but video takes up more space, it slows down my editing phase, blah blah blah.

I wanted to do the tree justice, so I zoomed in to better capture its details.
Pairing the tree with the castle in the background made for a more interesting photo.
The photo still didn't capture the pretty blinking lights, but at least in this photo you can make out the details such as the candies, and lollypops, and candy canes, plus the intricately criss-crossed lattice work of lights.

Those of you who know me know that I travel a lot. And you know that I take a lot of photos.

While I would take photos just for my own enjoyment, I do enjoy sharing them with others.

What I don't enjoy is the time that it takes to pull the photos together for public consumption. The process of selecting, editing, and otherwise prepping the photos is enjoyable, but I so often lack the time to do so.

One of the annoyances that I encounter when it comes to readying my photos is the inherent annoyances in Google has a knack for doing amazing things, but rarely is one of those things good user interface design. I fight to do some of the simplest things.

And Google doesn't know when to leave well enough alone. When I finally figured out how to work around all of Picasa's quirks, they messed with it to integrate it with Google+.

I'm not a fan of Google's user interface designs for the most part. But I'll give them their due when they manage to surprise me. Tonight was one of those nights.

As I was slowly working my way through the photos tonight, I put in several hours of editing, another hour to upload and caption the photos in Picasa, and a good deal of frustration. Once I had the photos all done, I decided to sit back and watch a slideshow of the photos.

But of course, it couldn't be that simple. The stupid slideshow feature wasn't working. It showed the first photo just fine, but after fifteen or so minutes waiting for the next photo, it was clear that something wasn't working.

"Come on, Google," I whinged. "It's just a slideshow. I'm not asking you to put a man on the moon."

I started arrowing my way through the slideshow. As I did so, I got to the preceding photo. I looked at the photo and I was satisfied with it.

Then something magical happened. I arrowed to the next photo and this is what I saw.

Blinking lights!

I was genuinely perplexed. Somehow someone else's photo got mixed into my photos.

I simultaneously silently applauded the mystery someone and grumbled that Google has clearly fubar'ed things and mixed someone else's photo into my album. Idiots.

I continued gazing at the blinking lights, smiling inwardly if not outwardly.

"Hey wait a second," I thought. How is it possible that someone else happened to compose their photo exactly like mine.

I arrowed back and forth between my photo and the blinking photo.

The compositions weren't just similar, they were identical. But his (hers?) photo had blinking lights.

"What's going on here?" I wondered.

To make a long story short, turns out Google introduced a feature called Auto-Awesome earlier this year.

I have to say that I'm genuinely awed - both from an aesthetic perspective and from a technical perspective. Please allow me to offer a hearty "congratulations", Google. I'm impressed.

Perhaps auto-awesome will get old and tiresome some day, maybe I'll think it is too gimmicky, but for right now, staring at the blinking Christmas tree above is giving me flashbacks to staring in awe at a decorated Christmas tree like I'm only five or six years old.

Well done, Google.

Back to Warsaw.

I'm torn between the two following photos.

Both are of an alley that leads to the Jesuit Church.

In this first photo, I like that the stairs lead you into the photo. I like the interesting mix of colors. I like the lamps. I like a lot of things about this photo.

I also like this second photo.

It's the same alley, I'm just further into the alley.

I'm not thrilled about the spray-painted "hostel" sign.

No big deal. I can Photoshop that out.

And I don't like the cartoon head scribbled onto the archway.

But again, no big deal. I can fix those things right up.

But even if I do so, the alley scene looks kind of flat. Not sure what I can do about that.

But even with the thinks that I don't like about the second photo, there is something that I love. The church tower. I love how it's positioned. And I love its colors in this photo.

Maybe I'll take some time on the plane right home tomorrow and "cheat". Errrrr I mean "composite". I'd love to stitch these two photos together.

But not tonight. I've got a blog entry to write.

I wandered through the Old Town Market Place (a photo of that is coming up) to the Barbican. It was built circa 1540.

It wasn't until I walked through its gate that it dawned on me that the old town was a walled city.

Armed with that new-found knowledge, I began to explore the remains of the wall.

The light was starting to fade. It has been getting dark - and I mean dark - around 4:00 p.m. I know that it's right around the winter solstice, and I know that Warsaw is at a higher latitude than back home, but dang it gets dark early here.

I'm looking forward to flying above the clouds that have been hiding the sun the whole time I've been here!

Hmmmmm... I just looked at the clock. It's 4:00 a.m. I knew that I was working for a long time on this, but yikes! I've got to get some sleep so that I can catch my flight tomorrow.

At least staying up this late will help me to get back onto California time.

I have more photos, but you'll have till the next blog entry.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I landed in Brussels early this morning. I don't know exactly when because I'm purposely ignoring the time. If I don't mentally acknowledge the time difference, then there isn't a time difference, right?

From Brussels, I flew to Warsaw. Strangely enough, my trip - the whole trip not just the Warsaw part - is already half way over. I'm doing a miles run (you're welcome, United), and I only have two full days in Warsaw.

I spent the day wandering through the old town. I - surprise surprise - managed to take a photo or two. I'll see about posting some soon. Till then, here's a brief video of the Royal Castle. Anyone know what the carol is? I assume it's in Polish. Anyone?