On the train (Tågskryt!) from Berlin into Warsaw I sat next to Simon. He lived in Berlin and was not a DJ. Proof that not everyone in Berlin is a DJ. (See previous post or if you’re brand new and want to read about planning this trip, here’s Part I ) He was editing music on his laptop, working on songs to play with his new band, the Soft Boyz, chill electro-jazz, so watch out for them in the future. Simon comes from Warsaw and loves to spend time with his family – he speaks to his mother EVERY DAY. He is saving up to travel through South America next year. He told me the best things to do in Warsaw are to visit the Polin Museum and to take a walk through Praga (no, not the city, silly) the artist’s side of Warsaw.
Kind Simon actually walked me out of the underground maze and pointed me in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to get familiar with a place but those initial first few minutes … Do you remember those 3D hidden picture puzzles? That’s how I feel when I stare at a map of a new city until it comes into focus. Takes a day, normally. I was very grateful to the first citizen of Warsaw, Simon. I hope his travels in South America find him many kind and helpful people in return.
When I asked my Airbnb host, Alicja, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t go to Praga, it’s dirty and violent.’ So I didn’t. (Actually I ran out of time!)
But, Alicja could name three vegan restaurants within five minutes walking. Cake for dinner!
The next morning I trekked in to the Central station to see if I could catch my Moscow train from there rather than out in the suburbs.
Beautiful aromatic walk through a block and a half of flower stalls next to the market.
As I marched up to the station a man appeared at my elbow and said, ‘Passport?’ He kept saying ‘Passport? Passport?’ and then added, ‘Australian?’ and I said ‘Yes’, but even as I pulled my passport wallet out to show him (regular readers will know I’m not holding an Australian passport but I am a citizen) he indicated I should follow him and I did because he also added, ‘Police’. I would follow this man to the end of the earth. This is Warsaw. Round the station and out the back and into a twisty office section and he flung open the door and announced to the ladies inside, ‘Passport! Australian!’ One of the ladies rose to her feet with a sympathetic and worried look. She found a small handbag, fished out a passport, opened it to reveal a wad of cash, and the police officer grabbed it and thrust it towards me. I felt, one, relief, I wasn’t in trouble and two, tremendous pity for the poor woman who had lost her passport. I spent the rest of the day looking for her. My friend Nadine lost her passport in Canada. When she reported to the police, they opened a drawer full of other passports, so it must be common. Keep a hold of your identity, people.
High on this feeling of relief, I went to Information and, with minimal mime and clowning, managed to extract the information my train could be easily caught from platform two the following day.
On to the next thing, a walking tour, a mere short walk away. Only, the map of Warsaw is a bit bigger than it looks! The walk went through parks and streets and took a long time.
Just made it to the Palace and the Sigismund memorial to hear that Warsaw had been obliterated by Nazi bombing, particularly the centre, up to 84% of the city was laid waste. Poland was invaded from two sides. The Allies refused to help Poland. They were on their own and after the Warsaw Uprising the Nazis stamped on them hard for trying to resist. But the citizens of Warsaw were determined to rebuild and the old town in the centre is now finished. With such an devastating history, Warsaw is filled with monuments.
No sign of Extinction Rebellion. Regular debates and free speakers gather outside the White House to express their thoughts. This is where they would be. Should be.
Behind the square you can just see the Opera House – the third biggest stage in the world after Moscow and Beijing.
Warsaw citizens still debate what to do with the site of the Saxony Palace. Many wish it to be left open, with the Tomb a sombre reminder of the waste of war. Some, including a local lady in our group, suggested that it could be rebuilt and used to house the Polish National Museum. It turned out almost half of our group, with that opinionated lady, was from a business that supports International Workers arriving in Poland with their visas and guide them through the myriad legal requirements. They were out for a team building exercise which was fun for them but meant our guide was often tested and gently reminded of her facts. Sometimes they offered the punchline of her story without waiting for her build up. She remained admirably calm in the face of this intense scrutiny from the senior female cohort and they had a good time, looking at their city from a different perspective. Sometimes.
The building in the photo at the top of this post and here, the Palace of Culture and Science was given to the people of Warsaw by Stalin. It is a copy of one of his Seven Sisters of Moscow. Apparently most older people in Warsaw hate it. They wish it had been destroyed along with other Russian edifices in the ’90s. But the younger generation are more practical. They believe as it’s made its mark on the city, it’s iconic and there’s a couple of cool bars inside.
And the walking tour finished directly opposite a cool vegan restaurant, Nancy Lee! Truly delicious soup.
Finding strength for more exploration I went in search of the Museum of Modern Art’s Architectual Exhibition at the Zodiac Gallery. It was called Pomnikomania – Monumentomania – Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. There was a lot of art-speak but as Warsaw contains so many monuments the young artists’ responses varied from absurd to offensive. I liked a video piece I didn’t understand but it was a ritual performed next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The next day dawned bright and early. After washing and organisation, Alicja let me leave my luggage for the day. I would seek the Copernicus museum down at the river’s edge. It’s right by the Modern Art Museum. Glorious day. Off I marched once more to discover that map really is too small. I walked FOR AGES to get to the river.
When I passed the underground I relaxed, I’d certainly be able to get back in time for Alicja. Continued to walk under the bridge, passing enterprising stallholders displaying freshly picked mushrooms, great grey platters of sunflower seedheads, homemade pickles and jams. Finally reached the shores of the great Vistula. Across the river is the enormous sports arena.
I was reminded of my visit to Merida, in Spain, and the remains of Roman civilisation visible there. What will citizens of the future find here?
Amazing how fast I calmed down as I walked by the river, looking out at the wilderness preserved opposite. This side is for smooth paths, museums and cafes. The other is the famed and ‘dangerous’ arty Praha. There are bicycle paths that run through wild areas left for animals and even eagles have been spotted there. Our guide lived there and spoke rapturously of her interesting environment. Alicja, you have to make a visit. In the daytime, you’ll be safe. Certainly, the Warsaw I visited so very briefly was clean and under development. It is a modern city like most, however, it is in Poland!
I couldn’t find a good vantage point to photograph either the Copernicus or Modern Art buildings so I turned away and found this lookout. Oooooh.
It’s not easy to work out, two innocent bystanders pointing up, over and around things for me, and finally I walked through a gate and then up into a wonderfully peaceful garden over the roof of the University. Given the proximity of Copernicus and Modern Art, this garden is surely worth a visit should you have a day to spare in Warsaw. Leave time, though. It’s all a lot closer on the map!
The metro from Kopernicus was clean, fast and easy to work out. Once I’d worked it out. I had minutes to spare before my Airbnb deadline so I raced back through the supermarket, bought some mandarins and a bread roll for the trip. Back at Alicja’s, made sandwich from leftover dinner, left most of the fruit for weight, got act together and went to one of her recommendations, Cafe Miasto, for lunch. So busy! But, as I waited, I saw the library of exchange books and decided to ditch the one I’d been carrying around recently. Sped through last three chapters and plonked it on the shelf. This made up for the newly added weight of mini shampoo and biodegradeable baby wipes. Had to speed through my meal as well but it was extremely tasty.
That was it. I jumped on the tram straight down the line back to the station. I was ready for the big train journey ahead. My first overnight experience. What would it be like? How would I cope? Locked in a compartment for nineteen hours with three others? On to Mother Russia!