On my very first trip to Poland I met a German cyclist at a railway station. I’d arrived in Warsaw five days earlier and spent three full days in Warsaw, immersing myself as much as I could in things Polish but the real object of my visit was about 190 km west in the town of Konin. I was going to a concert by a Swiss band called Clepsydra; a band not on my musical radar, I’d never heard of them before I was invited to go and see them. So why did I go? Some explanation can be found if you follow the link to “Why Poland?”
Trainspotting in Warsaw.
On my fourth morning in Warsaw I packed my bag, left my 29th floor perch in the Novotel Centrum Hotel and made the short journey on foot to Warszawa Centralna railway station. I like railway stations, I like railways, and here was a station and railway that were new and mysterious to me. I’d been to Warszawa Centralna the previous day, just to mooch around and see how things were done. But now I was on the platform waiting for a train. I’d arrived stupidly early of course, as I always do, just to watch trains coming and going but inexorably the hands of the clock swept to the appointed positions and the light of an approaching train appeared from the darkness at the end of the platform. I was nervous, I will freely admit, I’d never done this before, not in Poland. Again I checked the ticket that I had in my hand, Train No. 18101, Coach 14, Seat 66. With a squeal of brakes the train came to a stand, I walked along the platform to find coach 14.
The trains in Poland are by and large like the trains were in the UK forty years or so ago. I don’t mean that they are old-fashioned, well, maybe a little bit but that can be good, from a passenger’s point of view. The train was a rake of coaches hauled by a locomotive, not a multiple unit affair but an honest to goodness loco hauled train. There was something vaguely familiar about the locomotive; it reminded me of a British Railways Class 86. I later found out that they were somewhat inspired by the Class 86.
My coach found, I boarded. How joyous, a corridor coach with compartments, this was more and more like British Railways of some years past. Today’s trains in the UK favour open vestibule design, even so-called “airline” style seating, all squashed together with no regard for where the windows are. One of the major selling points of rail travel is sitting back and gazing out of the window – or am I the only one to think that? No, surely not, but it seems that modern train operating companies have forgotten this little point.
Seat 66, I had found the compartment with my seat, I was it seemed the only occupant. I looked around, wide seats, 3 on one side, 3 on the other side, a high ceiling and capacious luggage racks. I put my bags up onto the rack above my seat and sat down. The large window, I had specifically booked a window seat, afforded a splendid view of a concrete pillar. A few minutes later we were off on our way, out of the station into the darkness of the tunnel that runs under central Warsaw and then out into the open air.
The window was big and what’s more it had an opening section, the top half of the window slid down enabling you to well and truly put your head out of the window, not that I did, straight away.
Above the window was a rather small sign informing you that putting your head out of the window probably wasn’t a good idea, but it was a small sign, and the window was big. I’m liking this already. None of your namby-pamby, “Do not open beyond the arrows.” here. I settled in for the journey.
Konin was reached a little over two hours later. After battling with the carriage door, they do need a firm hand the manual doors, I stepped down onto the platform and was immediately impressed by the size of the station, no, that’s the wrong thing to say, Konin isn’t a big station, not like Birmingham New Street, not like Warszawa Centralna, for a start there are only three platforms but it was the length of the platforms that amazed me, they seemed to go on for ever. I had noticed this at the few stops that we had made en route, the platforms had all seemed rather long I thought but now that I was standing on one I could see that the platforms were indeed rather lengthy. I wanted to stay and explore, although I could see that there wasn’t really much to explore. No big station building, no buildings of any sort to speak of. No, this would have to wait. I set off up the road to find my hotel.
I’d done my research, I knew where the hotel was and so I confidently walked off to find it. I confidently walked off in the wrong direction. I realised this after a couple of hundred yards, and turned back to the roundabout just outside the station and went off in the right direction.
The concert was at 19:00 so I had a few hours to explore a little bit of Konin. First I went to find the concert venue; this was literally a five minute walk down the road from the hotel then I just struck-off in whatever direction I was facing to see what I could see. After a while I got the feeling that I was walking out of town but I had come to a small monument to the Solidarity movement so there was a little Polish history to see.
I about-faced and went into a small park that I had passed a short while earlier and bearing slightly to the right as I went. I eventually came to a small public park which was just a stone’s throw from my hotel. It was a warn evening and the sun was still shining, in the centre of the park was an ornamental fountain surmounted by a figure of a horse. People, families were sitting on the benches ranged around the fountain and throughout the park. Children were playing around the fountain; there was a sense of, community, something that I think we have lost in certain part of the UK. I stopped a while just to drink it all in.
Returning to my hotel room I changed into my concert attire, just a change of t-shirt really but one likes to dress for the occasion. If you have read my earlier post, “Why Poland?” you’ll know how and why I was invited to be in Poland, in Konin. This was it; I was going to meet a group of people who up until now I had only “known” through Facebook. I sat in my room for a while as butterflies gathered and swarmed in my stomach. Up until now I had been quite happy being a lone tourist but now I was going to have to mingle with a group of people who I “knew” but didn’t know. Time to go, I left my room and walked back out onto the street.
The Missing Spark.
Reaching the concert venue once more I turned a corner and saw a group of people milling around the entrance so walked towards them looking for a familiar face. Somebody spotted me first, I heard my name being called and then there were people greeting me, shaking my hand, hugging me. It was as if I was a friend of old who hadn’t been around for a while but now was back. The number of people who I was introduced to made my head spin; I kept hearing names that I knew and seeing faces that I recognised from Facebook profiles. I knew that I’d never remember who was who but I kept smiling and shaking hands and hugging back.
Introductions over we made our way into the auditorium, I was shown to a seat and I sat down, after a while the lights began to dim, the chatter subsided and Clepsydra walked onto the stage. Without any fuss they took-up their instruments and played, launching into a piece called “The Missing Spark”.
Before I was invited to attend this concert I had not heard of Clepsydra but after accepting the invitation I began to seek them out on YouTube, just so that I knew what I was going to be in for. Then, ahead of their tour which included this gig in Konin, they released a 4 CD box-set of their four studio album releases, which I bought, so when Clepsydra began to play, I knew the piece.
The auditorium was a multi-purpose venue for theatre, cinema and concerts. When the band started to play the clarity of the sound took me by surprise; I will state here and now that up until then it was the best sounding concert that I’d ever been to. Not because of what was being played, although it was good stuff but the quality of the sound system was fantastic. I’ve been to a few gigs in the UK in my time and after a while you come to know what you’re in for. The persistent buzz, the over-driven speakers, the bad sound mix, OK, not every time I’ll grant you but in my experience, more often than not. In Poland though they seemed to have got it right and this is something that has delighted me time and again at different venues that I have visited in the country.
As ever, it was over all too soon.