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Last updated : Nov 2009
Warsaw, Poland
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
Cons: none

Warsaw, Poland

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 cheesecake.....