I was hungry and shivering in the cold, damp rain of Prague. Looking at the bus timetable I had to make a decision on my next destination. Since I had already paid for my Slovakia visa there was the option of travelling to the other half of what used to be Czechoslovakia.
But as I was standing in the cold, damp rain of Prague adding another country to my itinerary did not appear the least bit enticing. Especially a country I had only recently been told existed. Instead I decided to keep to the vague travel plan I had conceived in London and head direct to Warsaw in Poland.
A slight setback to my plan was there would be no direct overland transport from Prague to Warsaw within the next couple of days. This appeared strange considering the Czech Republic bordered Poland with both Prague and Warsaw major cities of their respective countries. However strange it may seem there was not much I could do about it. I could complain to myself and curse East European inefficiency but that was not going to get me any closer to Warsaw. Catching the overnight bus directly north to Berlin did not appear to be the smartest idea either but I was told from there I could catch a train directly east to Warsaw.
I had not started my overland expedition off on the best possible foot. I'd been away from London less than a week. In this time I'd faced angry customs guards and hunger strikes. I was now standing in the cold, damp rain of Prague faced with a detour which would add at least another 10 hours to my travel time. I'd been away from London less than a week and I was already wondering what this travelling lark was all about. It felt like history repeating itself.
I boarded the night bus for Berlin, Germany. The bus was somehow going to take me closer to Warsaw, Poland. My vague knowledge of Poland revolved around a history of been continually over-run by its neighbours. Perhaps this was why there was no direct transport from Prague. Perhaps they were afraid of inciting an invasion. But then again it was Germany which invaded Poland in the lead up to World War II and in the after-math of that catastrophe it was the Russian communists who controlled the country up to the later part of the 20th century.
Transferring from the night bus to an early morning train heading to Warsaw I took note of Poland's terrain. It was incredibly flat, offering no natural protection from its predators. Perhaps this is why it had been so easily invaded?
Arriving into the centre of Warsaw my original impression of the city's architecture was like the weather, bleak. Rectangular, grey dull, characterless structures stood about the streets. The buildings could only have been designed by an accountant. An accountant hit by a creative phase; either that or a communist.
I researched this matter further and discovered 85% of Warsaw's buildings had been destroyed by the destructive events of World War II. The current characterless buildings had therefore been built during the era of communist control.
I had been right in my assumption. It felt good. Things were improving.
Feeling better, I found a hostel near the tourist part of town, settled in for the night and went for a walk to the Old Town the next day. Centre of this Old Town was the Plac Zamkowy or Market Square. It felt different from the other European squares I had visited. It was low level and understated.
Perhaps this feeling was because it was still early in the morning and the middle of an Eastern European winter. Besides me, the only other people outdoors were the cafe and restaurant staff preparing their premises for the oncoming business day. Wiping tables and unwrapping sun umbrellas they appeared a fairly optimistic bunch. It was as if they had much to look forward to, as if the sun could still shine through the grey thick cloud which hung overhead.
Personally I did not feel like been such an optimist. It was against my worst nature. But what did I know?
The square was surrounded on three sides by skinny buildings of medium height and various shades of neutral colour. On the fourth side sat a Royal Castle.
The setting felt peaceful. It felt as though it had been there such a long time it could not be more content with its surroundings. However I discovered the Market Square was relatively new. Razed during World War II it had subsequently been rebuilt from the rubble into a copy of its original form.
It showed the strength of a people; a people who had been invaded so often during their history, yet they still held onto their past. Perhaps this was a reason for their optimism about the weather.
I continued my sight seeing journey towards a park, the Palac Lazienkowski. It had a large pond as its centrepiece. I saw my reflection and wondered if I was turning into the person I wanted to be. Where were my previous dreams of swimming in a pool of money? Were my current travels going to be a beneficial experience in my future life? Should I have visited more museums?
There were so many questions. To answer them all I suppose one can only wait for the pages of personal history to be turned over with the passing of time.