Poles apart

The city of Warsaw has a reputation for being a beautiful place, and indeed it is, but the part of town I am staying in seems stern and forbidding. Some of the architecture is a stark remnant of the Soviet era, and the ghost of Uncle Joe seems to leer at you from the solid buildings, and from across the vast, open squares (Yeah, I know, hit the link for Uncle Joe - and it's one big joke...I just couldn't resist). I hate to think what it's like here when the bitter cold north winds bite down from the Baltic in the winter. Warsaw has more than its fair share of large, square edifices which glower down at you like stone sentinels, and I can imagine them during communist times daring you to mutter a word against your totalitarian masters. It must have been bleak here during the Cold War, and even now, with Poland a recent addition to the European Union family, there are parts that still feel a little cold.

I have to walk past the American and Canadian embassies twice each day, and the queues of hopeful locals waiting to secure visas, attests to the fact that some people want to get out. I am staying in student accommodation and the entire place looks very tired and worn-out. It’s very similar to my experiences staying in Czech accommodation. Touch something and it either comes off in your hand or just doesn’t work. The bedside lamp doesn’t come on. The TV is on the fritz. The curtains hang away from the rails. I suppose I am spoiled. Last week’s Lisbon hotel (The Holiday Inn Continental) was absolutely superb, and the staff fell over themselves to make you feel at home.

The people are very friendly here when you get to know them though, and I have enjoyed talking to folk over lunch and dinner about their research into electronic delivery. There are also a large selection of bistros, cafes and bars to hang out in if you care to walk a little distance down toward the old town (Stare Miasto) and into the chic boulevards such as Novy Swiat where you can enjoy a coffee and talk to the locals.

Stare Miasto (picture of the old town square left) is another matter altogether. It is poles apart from where my lodgings are, and is charming, mysterious and magical all at one time. The pictures accompanying this post give you a sample of some of the wonderful buildings in that 'old part' of Warsaw. Interestingly many of them were rebuilt faithfully in the 1950s from old photographs, because unfortunately, the whole place was bombed flat during the war. Streuth, but they did a good job. You can hardly see the joins and the scotch tape is well hidden.

There is currently an outdoor exhibition of 136 huge United Buddy Bears – glass fibre 3-D canvases in the shape of bears, one representing each of the countries recognised by the United Nations. (How do you recognise a country...? Oh, there’s Germany over there. I can see the sausages hanging out). They are on a world tour in the cause of world peace and have so far raised over 1.2 million dollars for the UNESCO Save the Children fund.

I have met one or two familiar faces at this conference.... Anna Grabowska (University of Gdansk), whom I met up with and blogged at last week’s EDEN conference is here. So also is Kzrysztof Amborski (Warsaw Polytechnic), who I had the pleasure of working with in Ireland in February. He and I have roles in the Atlantis University project which is organised by Fachhochschule Darmstadt, to be research mentors for Masters and PhD students in computer science and e-learning. I'm home in a few days, and onto my next engagement speaking at Bath University. I will actually return to Poland, but not until next June for the next EDEN conference which will be held in Gdansk.


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