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Phespirit goes to Poland
Katowice     January 2013

A return to cold countries in the deep of mid-winter. That was the plan. In the week prior to its execution, however, a significant snowfall across the UK resulted in flight cancellations at many airports. Phespirit feared a repeat of his troubles returning from Fuerteventura in December last year, but fate saw that most of it cleared in the two days immediately prior to his departure. A late afternoon flight also allowed more time for runways and planes to be de-iced. So Phespirit got away as intended and touched down in a much bleaker, colder snowscape than the one he'd left behind.

The rest of his plan was as follows: a day wandering around Katowice and out to the fringes of Chorzów; a day heading south by train across the border to Ostrava in the Czech Republic; a day out west by train visiting Gliwice and Zabrze; and finally a day relaxing at Termy Rzymskie in Czeladź, just a short bus ride to the north. From Hotel Katowice, his base in the city centre, all these things were fairly straightforward.

The sights of Katowice, such as they are, can be picked off in little more than half a day: a clutch of churches, some novel buildings and a couple of museums. The Katowice History Museum opened especially for Phespirit, but this statement doesn't do fair justice to the quality of its exhibits. The Silesian Museum was doing a brisker trade and included some commendable works by Polish artists such as Aleksander Gierymski and Jacek Waltoś.

Farther afield, in Gliwice Phespirit visited a couple of churches, the modest Piast's "castle" (another museum that opened its rooms especially for Phespirit) and Gliwice Radio Tower. The latter - a 118m working telecommunications tower - has the distinction of being the tallest man-made wooden structure in the world, and the notoriety of being the site where Nazis faked a massacre as a pretext for invading Poland the day before they crossed the border, thereby effectively kicking-off World War II.

This whole area of modern-day Poland - Silesia - has changed hands more than any other territory in Europe. It became particularly desirable when vast deposits of natural resources were discovered beneath its surface. Phespirit saw this first-hand on a two-and-a-half hour tour of the Guido coal mine in Zabrze. And, of course, while in town he also visited a couple of churches. They're all different in character and still have admirable Christmas nativity tableaux inside, so its not as monotonous as it may seem. Well, not quite.

Phespirit got through all his plans despite being firmly in the teeth of the Polish winter. A few trains were running late, the pavements were icy, but the country remained mobile and so did Phespirit. The cold only really got through to him between leaving the Guido coal mine a bit after 8pm, and catching his train back to Katowice a bit after 9pm. That hour, with temperatures around -15°C, was hard. Not even a hot chocolate from a machine at the station could bring his extremities above freezing. Discomfort wasn't the plan but it was all part of the experience.

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