/ Euro 2012

Stephen Alkin's view of Warsaw

Updated: Monday, 18 Jun 2012 12:23 | Comments

The National Stadium, Warsaw
The National Stadium, Warsaw

This is day 12 of 18 on this whistle stop tour of Poland.

As the trip continues, the days seem to fly by. One day gone is one less to go.

Sometimes I wish that it could go on for ever – on the other hand, it will be good to get back to normality.

Warsaw is a magnificent city. To be honest, I knew nothing about it before I came. I’m not one of those travellers that does all his Googling in advance.

Indeed, I don’t Google much at all. Google, there’s a word that has become synonymous with research in this changing digital world. Be that as it may, Warsaw is more than worth a visit.

Who knows what it would be like of a wet Tuesday in November, with a biting north wind blowing down its wide streets. What I can say is that it has a certain style and grace, having walked in it for the past two days.

On Friday night, Liam Nolan, my producer, and his good wife Aga, took me on a walk through the heart of the city to the old town – and what an education it was in the history of the Polish capital.

I can’t remember all of the facts that they told me, but suffice to say this is a city that has been invaded from the east and west on many occasions. Now it is very much the heart of the modern Poland, and has symbols of so many bygone times to show off to the visitor.

The statue of Charles de Gaulle for example: it was news to me that he led a French mission in Poland just after the First World War in 1919 and 1920. On practically every street corner there is a memory invoked.

Charles de Gaulle

There is a picture near the old town square of General Dwight D Eisenhower walking through the rubble of Warsaw, completely destroyed after the Second World War, in 1945.

Dwight D Eisenhower

Whatever plans were hatched at that time that led to Poland becoming a Soviet satellite state, the fact remains that under Stalin’s rule this city was completely rebuilt, brick by brick, house by house, street by street, as closely as possible to the way that it was before the mayhem and destruction of the German Reich.

Aga is an architect. She lived in Dublin for many years. Now she and Liam call this place home. There was so much pride in their telling of the way things changed post war.

There was no unemployment here for years. Every pair of hands was needed to recreate from the rubble what is now the modern version of a very old and historic place.

Those of you that have been watching the football on ITV will have seen their studio with the magnificent view across the Vistula to the National Stadium, symbol of a new Poland, brash and modern, an independent state forging its own path in these modern times.

This is the studio that has become the pulpit for Roy Keane speak, a man that pulls no punches when talking about the beautiful game.

We passed the ITV studio on our way to the town’s Old Square.

Perched ten feet high, on the side of a big public space, were pictures of Roy Hodgson and the England players projected on a tower about 30 metres away, a surreal vision to see walking through this stately city on a balmy Friday in June.

The Old Square itself is a wonder. You look at the photo of the allied leaders walking through the ruins and then take in the place as it is now.

It took over twenty years for the Polish people to get it back from the misery of that wanton destruction by the Third Reich.

How proud they must feel at their achievement. It is truly a cultural heritage sight and twelve million visitors a year marvel at its current state.

As Liam said the other night: “It’s like walking in a giant doll’s house.” The Old Square is a must see place if you are ever in these parts.

We passed the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus, one of the great mathematicians and astronomers, the man who first posited the theory that the sun was at the centre of our world and that the planets and our moon moved around it. Can you imagine how mad people must have thought he was? He changed our view of the universe forever.

Nicolaus Copernicus

We passed the small museum to Marie Curie, whose Polish name was Skwodowska, born in 1867 and died in 1934.

She was a physicist and chemist, best remembered for her pioneering research into radioactivity. Another famous Polish person that I always thought was French, but that was the nationality of her husband Pierre.

So many wonderful sights, so many stimulating facts, another visit to Warsaw is a must after this brief introduction.

Ronnie Whelan joined us yesterday for the game between Greece and Russia.

The outcome in Group A was the first big shock of the tournament.
However, I was in receipt of an email from John – I am so sorry that I can’t remember his family name, it may have been O’Donnell – that told me about the continuous, eighteen-month season that the Russian league has been going through so that their season can switch from March-November to the more normal August-May.

This has meant that most of the Russian players – and they all play in the Russian league, bar a couple – have come to this tournament without a break for two years.

They started brightly against the Czech Republic with an elderly team, lost their momentum in their second outing against Poland, and hit the proverbial wall against Greece.

After the game, Liam, Ronnie and I walked the six kilometres into the city, across the Vistula going west, up the hill and trough the throngs of people that had just left the fan fest beside the Palace of Culture and Science, a Soviet-style building from the 1950s that was a gift from Stalin to the people of Warsaw and Poland.

The Palace of Culture and Science (right) stands illuminated behind the Holy Trinity Church of the Augsburg Confession

There were many calls in recent times for its demolition. However, it is as much a part of the fabric of this city as any other building and it’s good that it will stand as a reminder to the dark days of Soviet rule here.

Our mission was to make it to the Marriott Hotel, itself a symbol of western culture, a very American building in this city that has always looked more to the west than the east.

In the hotel there is a sports bar called Champions. We hoped to watch the third round of the US Open golf from the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the bar was closed.

But just around the corner was a small English bar. And they had Sky Sports.

Graham and his staff were very hospitable and we stayed for a few bevies and watched Tiger, Graeme McDowell and the rest toil against the vagaries of a course set up by the USPGA to make the players suffer!

There is such fun for the ordinary amateur player in seeing the greatest players on the planet struggle.

It brought me back to that night two years ago when Colm Magee and I watched McDowell triumph while covering the World Cup in South Africa. Who knows, maybe McDowell can do it again in the wee small hours tonight.

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