Thursday, January 31, 2013

Europe Trip - January 2013

A few observations made during my January 2013 trip to Warsaw, Paris, and Amsterdam.


Let me start with the timing. Winter is not the best time of the year to visit cities of Europe. The only good thing about it is that there are fewer tourists. The bad things are: days are short, cold, and often overcast. If there is snow and the city must work, then usually sand and salt are applied to streets and sidewalks. If the temperature fluctuates between above freezing (zero degrees Celsius) and below freezing, as it often does in Warsaw, the result is a mess. A mixture of melted snow, salt and sand gets on your boots, on cars, buses, sidewalks, building facades, inside buses and trams... look at these pictures from Warsaw:

Melted snow, sand, and salt on sidewalks and streets.

Melted snow, sand, and salt inside a tram.

A view through a dirty bus window.
Cities that are below zero or above zero for most of winter don't have that problem. 
Unfortunately, living in Australia and travelling with school-age children forces me to go on longer trips during Australian summer breaks, that is, in December and January.

Smoke Stacks

I am not sure about Paris and Amsterdam, but in Warsaw central heating in winter is often achieved by heating water in a coal power plant and then distributing that hot water to buildings and flats.


Street Art

The more the better. 
Paris - Montmartre
Warsaw - Tamka
This one is big - can you find windows?
Warsaw - Praga

Blocks of Flats

Despite the obvious differences, there are many similarities in European cities, customs, and even words in languages from different families: Polish is Slavic, French is Romance, and Dutch is Germanic. 

Pedestrian traffic lights, for example, work in a very similar way in Warsaw and Paris: they are quiet (no sound for green), have fixed cycles (no button to push), and similar green and red stick figures. 

Blocks of flats seem to be a common heritage as well. I saw those in Canada too. Unlike in the U.S., in Europe these are not necessarily inferior to other kinds of dwellings.


Science Centres

Paris - La Cité des enfants.
A rare moment when there is no out of control school group around.
Warsaw - Kopernik - a very new and very clever science centre.
Possibly the best science centre I visited, and I visited quite a few.

The French Are Not Rude

I don't know who came up with that myth, but the French that we met in Paris during 7 days of travelling by metro and train, sightseeing, shopping in normal shops, and walking normal streets were always very polite. Much more polite than Polish or Dutch. Not that the Polish or Dutch were impolite. It is just that only in Paris I experienced people saying 'pardon' to get around me, 'bonjour' when entering a shop, 'au revoir' when leaving a shop, making room or vacating a seat on the metro when seeing an adult with a small child, and generally trying to help a lost tourist. Merci!

Paris - various

Musée des Arts et Métiers - the first steam car by Cugnot
Two Concorde planes in the Air and Space Museum in Paris.
The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. does a much better job of showing aviation and space history.

Paris metro station - ceiling repairs on the cheap.
First and smallest of the three arches in Paris.
They are aligned, and in good weather maybe you can see all three.
Boulevard Diderot
Louvre - main entrance
Louvre - inside 
Eiffel Tower

Paris CDG

Inside Terminal 1 - palm trees covered by snow.
Shuttle train
Terminal 1 - the flying saucer

Paris - Montmartre

Painters' square
Basilica of the sacred heart
Tomek with a mime artist who happened to talk a lot... in Polish
A view.
Another view - can you see the Eiffel tower?

Salvador Dali Museum in Paris

There is a small Salvador Dali museum in Montmartre. It is unusual, because it focuses on Dali's sculptures, not paintings. Here are my favourites:
Alice in Wonderland
Winged snail

Paris - Versailles 

I like trains, so let me start with a train that took us to Versailles from Paris. By the way, the French version of the double decker carriage is much more comfortable than the Dutch one. In the Dutch version there are glass doors that separate compartments from the exits. The doors are narrow, and they don't open easily. When you add to this the need to use the stairs to go up or down, and narrow corridors, and lack of storage space, then you will understand that getting in and out with luggage is a major undertaking in the Dutch double-decker train. In the French one it's just the stairs that are an obstacle.
Double-decker train to Versailles
Versailles - Front.
The entrance to Versailles is a place of work for a group of young men, originally from Africa, selling little Eiffel towers. How do they know, just by looking at us, that we are Polish? :-) First words to me:  "Kolega, pięć za jeden" - "Mate, five (little Eiffel towers) for one (Euro)". A good deal by the way, a pity that we bought two for one earlier at a shop in Montmartre. This little guy uses them as rockets when playing. :-)
The view from the castle towards the gardens.
It reminds me of the Washington D.C. mall design.
Same architect or just a copy?
Versailles - Back

Versailles - inside. A portait of Luis the XIV.
There is something peculiar about this portrait. Can you see the chipped tile on the left? A few other tiles had cracks. The question is: was the floor in bad shape and the artist was true or did the artist want to send us a message, maybe that the king looked good, but the foundations of his rule were weak?

Way back - an English village replica in the Versailles gardens.

Warsaw - various

Nowy Świat
Old Town Square
Polish Military Museum - a Suchoj plane 
Polish Military Museum - T-34
Royal Castle by day
Royal Castle by night
University Library from aside
Royal Tract
Inside a new PESA tram
These trams show on a screen the time to travel to remaining stops.
This information is important if you use a 20, 40, or 60 minute ticket.
Same tram from outside
Old and new - Praga
A beautiful day on the outskirts of Warsaw
Skiing in Warsaw - Szczęśliwice.
Warsaw is generally flat and this hill is artificial. It used to be a rubbish tip.

Amsterdam - various 

I liked the scale of Amsterdam much better than that of Paris. Paris feels like it was designed for cars and big military parades. Paris feels heavy. Old buildings are usually 6 or 7 stories high. 
Amsterdam in comparison feels light. Most of the city centre is designed for trams and pedestrians. Old buildings are 4 or 5 stories high.

Leaning houses of Amsterdam.
Henri Polaklaan 
Rembrandt Square

Amsterdam Resistance Museum

This is a very interesting little museum worth a separate blog article. I will post just a few pictures here.
Nazi propaganda poster.

Nazi propaganda poster - recruiting to work in Germany
Dutch SS volunteers going to the eastern front.
Over 22 thousand Dutch joined the SS.  
A queue of Dutch citizens signing up to join a legal alternative
to the Dutch Nazi party.
Jewish survivors returning after liberation.
Notice the sign in the background:
"This is Holland. Remember, the Dutch are our allies."

Dutch Over-engineering

It may be just me, but I keep noticing Dutch engineers designing things that seem unnecessarily big or strong, or just made for fun. 
A ram-train

Nothing will stop this door opening mechanism. 

A handle bar not to mess with.
Extra wide metro carriages. At least a metre wider than the Paris version.
A building in a shape of a fast train.
A building that looks like a chocolate covered ice-cream bar?
A giant drawer chest on the right? I like them both.
A piece of beautiful engineering:
showing the mechanism of the escalator at a metro station.

No comments:

Post a Comment