Day 4 - Warsaw to Gizycko
We woke up on Monday morning feeling less than enthusiastic about the prospect of driving directly to Palanga on the Baltic coat of Lithuania; firstly we wanted to stop at Wolfsschanze in north Poland on the way, and I also realised that when I had pencilled in some way points using google maps before we left home, the shortest route to Palanga went through Kaliningrad. Being part of Russia, and having only a single entry visa in our passports, we had to go around, turning an 8 hour journey into a 10 hour one.
So we decided to take an extra day and stay the night close to Wolfsschanze in a high end resort town called Gizycko in the Manzurian lake district. After an excellent all you can eat buffet breakfast at the hostel, we made a few sandwiches for lunch and hit the road.
The journey out of Warsaw was quite uneventful, though we did wonder what a particularly strange road sign meant. It was a white circle with a red border, similar to those showing the speed limit, but in the middle of the circle was the silhouette of a
car from the end on, and behind it was what looked like a large cartoon style explosion. I've tried to depict it in one of the images with this post. There were two of them just before we descended into a long road tunnel. Unless anyone can tell us otherwise, we're sticking with our theory that exploding cars are forbidden from driving in tunnels in Warsaw.
As I mentioned yesterday, another fuse went on the cigarette lighter. We had several theories, as no fuse had ever blown in the 3 years that I've owned the car. The one that seems to be mkst likely is that the new multi device charger that I bought for the trip is responsible. We've gone back since to using the old single device charger, and so far so good. We still bought a stock of 12 fuses however at the next garage, just in case.
We have a European road atlas of course, but the scale is not very useful. I had also downloaded map packs for every country we travel through on the sat nav app on my smartphone. It works perfectly offline and in flight mode so is potentially all
we'll need, as long as we can keep some juice in the phone. Bit of a 1st world problem that, I know.
Once out of Warsaw, the roads were mostly single lane, and, being a right hand drive car in countries which drive on the right, we had our first taste of the "I said 'no', NOT 'go' you muppet!" game of how much you trust your co driver to tell you when it's safe to overtake. We have refined the instructions to ban phrases like "yeah, you could probably make it".
The serious consequences of making a mistake were shown all too clearly when we came upon a recently occurred accident in the green, rolling countryside that had the police, ambulance service and a fire engine in attendence, and had totally blocked traffic in both directions. Being men of resource however, we pulled off immediately into a country lane and, using only our native cunning, innate sense of direction and fearlessness in the face of the unknown, we used the satnav to make a neat semicircle around, and carried on our merry way.
We arrived at Wolfsschanze at around 4pm. Also known as the Wolf's Lair,
it is the ruins of a bunker complex near the Polish town of Ketrzyn that served as one of the Third Reich's main command centres during WWII. Being chosen because of it's camouflaged location in a thick forest and the protection offered by the surrounding lakes from land based attacks, it held dedicated bunkers for Hitler and Goering, and was in fact Hitler's most frequently used command centre outside of Berlin. He spent around 800 days there during the war.
It was also the location of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg's failed assassination attempt, as Hitler survived the blast of a briefcase bomb during a meeting with only minor injuries. One of the attached images gives the timeline of that day. The film 'Valkyrie' retells this event.
Now overgrown with moss and young trees, the structures remain, though most of the bunkers themselves appear to have been destroyed with explosives. Some of the walls, despite being over 4 metres of steel-reinforced concrete, lean outwards at 45 degrees, with some or all of the enormous rooves having collapsed in. The sheer bulk of the structures makes it hard to imagine just how much explosive material was needed to do such
damage. We assume that it was packed in manually by the fleeing German troops themselves as Russian forces advanced towards the end of the war.
Most of the bunkers, despite having warning signs, could be entered and clambered over. We were even able to climb a steel ladder onto the roof of Goering's bunker to see the huge anti aircraft gun placements. There are many other functional buildings dotted around, but all were helpfuly numbered to correspond with a legend on an information board. We stood on the exact spot where Von Stauffenberg's bomb detonated and went into Hitler's bunker as far as we could go, but we all found it impossible to visualise the events and people of the past around us. For me, the site was so overgrown and peaceful, that despite the foreboding dark mass of the structures, I just couldn't reconcile the past with the scene around me.
We discussed this very thing several times in the hours before bed, and came to a loose conclusion that it was because the site itself was removed from the horrors that had taken place at other vestiges of tyranny. Between us we have visited Auschwitz, the
killing fields and S21 of Cambodia, and 60 Andrassy ut in Hungary, all of which were utterly harrowing in a way that Wolfsschanze could not be.
Our accommodation for the night in Gizycko was close, and for once we arrived in daylight. We had an immaculate groundfloor apartment to ourselves with washing machine, so we made use. The town itself seemed to have amenities for many visitors, but at this time of year it was quiet. We had a wander by the lake then found a restaurant for dinner. Following our joint policy of always trying to eat local food and the weirdest thing on the menu, we had a Polish mixed grill and chicken casserole, and I had a pint of chilli beer. It used a sweet syrup for the chilli flavour, rather than the tabasco I was expecting, and despite giving me hot lips for the evening, was delicious. My advice if you ever see chilli syrup in a store, is to buy it and chuck it in your beer.
Incidentally, it has become apparent that Dave F has a talent for booking great and cheap accommodation (that apartment was £40 all in), whilst John has
a talent for spotting said accommodation as we roll into town, together with the go-to eatery. I have a talent for bringing useful things in the boot. We will definitely play that 'Zombies!' board game at some point.
We decided who got the double bed by tossing cards at a saucepan whilst watching horrific europop on cable. You'd think that the others would know better than to play against a former casino dealer, and you'd also think it would take us less than 4 decks of cards to get one in.
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