Pros: interesting places, largest
market in Eastern Europe-held in a stadium ground, Krasinski Gardens-beautiful,most
touristic-Stare Miastro & Old Town, amazing Polish food
Sunday, Jun 02, 2002 07:59
One of these days I will learn to begin a journey without a blinding
hangover and/or serious lack of sleep. In this case, again it was
both. Having arranged to rendezvous with Mike in Prague, I hopped
a flight to Warsaw.
Warsaw being the first stop on this adventure and also the Mojsiewicz
family home, I was a little anxious. The airport also has an international
reputation for charming mafioso taxi drivers who like to ensure
you don't make it to the capital. I adopted my best Dervla Murphy-style
expression of unswerving determination at the prospect of finding
a bus into the city. Upon exiting the baggage claim I was surprised
to see a tall guy standing at the front of the arrivals hall bearing
a sign "Catherine Mojsiewicz". I thought I had avoided
the KGB. I looked around to check if anyone else was going towards
him, then realised he was waiting for me. Not KGB, but family. Without
my knowledge they had turned up to greet me and escort me away from
the lure of the taxi mafia. In another moment of total daftness
I promptly burst into tears. Nothing like a scene in a foreign airport.
Can I wax lyrical about Warsaw? Dare I counter the claims that it
is an ugly capital with nothing going for it? I present my case.
Certainly there is a plethora of Soviet style concrete buildings,
but this is Eastern Europe. Warsaw will never win the award for
the most attractive architecture, but it may very well win the award
for most pragmatic. However, given that the city was razed to the
ground during WWII and fifty percent of its population perished,
I think it has rebuilt itself rather well. I like it, though sunshine
would be a bonus for the city.
I'm sure Stalin himself would have agreed with my sentiments if
he had ever bothered to visit. That's another bonus for Warsaw:
no statues of Stalin ever built or requiring dismantling with the
fall of communism. One of its amusing idisyncracies is the Former
Communist headquarters that is now the Polish Stock Exchange. From
Communism to Capitalism with one swift change of name.
Warsaw is divided by the Vistula River and in the rain the river
appeared murky and ominous - no swimming allowed. More exciting
though, the largest market in Eastern Europe is held in a stadium
ground on the "other" side of the river. Not only does
it sell the usual clothes, fruit and veg, but apparently a pretty
good deal on Kalashinkovs can be made. But for the price they was
asking, I had to tell them - he's dreaming......
In the centre of Warsaw (on the right side of the river) stands
The Palace of Culture. My uncle, Andrezj, remembers coming to the
grounds below the Palace to watch military parades when he was a
child. The photos show crowds of people and stern soldiers marching
past. Now it has a less militaristic purpose as a viewing tower
over the city and currently has a display of Polish motoring. Fabulous
old cars and motorbikes, though it seems that some young men still
think larging it in the Lada down the main streets is cool. Aussie
boys in their Monaros and English boys in their Escorts have nothing
on these lads.
One of the main parks, Krasinski Gardens, is beautiful. Stepping
inside the grounds, away from the lawns, it could pass for a forest.
Though, as my uncle explained, a forest carefully planned to look
natural - aaah, those Russians! There is a huge bed of roses in
one section of the garden. Benches are placed between the rows and
in summer there are concerts held here. The musicians must compete
with the sqwaking peacocks and fat pigeons that roam the garden
and vie for attention.
Perhaps the most intriguing area of Warsaw and certainly the most
touristic is Stare Miastro, the Old Town, overlooking the Vistula.
It has been rebuilt with incredible attention to detail. There is
little to dispute the impression that these buildings are not centuries
old. The colours of Old Town are fantastic - peach, sandstone, beige,
asparagus-green coloured buildings with red roofs.
In the evening light the Royal Castle glows a deep pink-terracotta
colour and the gold of the minarets shine. Not as brightly as the
interior of St Anne's church, though. I have never seen so much
gold and glitz crowded into a room. It was overwhelming. I think
it is to blind churchgoers into belief. Even with my eyes closed
- thinking not snoozing - I could feel the golden light boring through
my eyelids. Very impressive.
Polish food, Polish food, Polish food. Aunty Maria is a wonderful
cook. "Zupy" - beetroot broth - and according to my thirteen
year old cousin, Tomek, "Pigeon" - meat, rice and spices
wrapped in cabbage and stewed in a tomato broth. I was assured that
the dish was something less exotic than pigeon. After an evening
meal cooked by Maria, I think Bavaria should stand aside in the
dessert stakes - Polish cheescake is exquisite. Consuming my way
through Eastern Europe.
So there to the critics. Warsaw is wonderful. A pragmatic, concrete
capital with lots of hidden treasures, incredible history and overt
tourist attractions. Speaking of tourism, onward to Krakow and more