Saturday, September 9, 2017

FIRST THOUGHTS ABOUT WARSAW

Strains of a Chopin ├ętude accompanied my lunch in the hotel's courtyard delighting me in a quiet green oasis. No sounds of the bustling city of Warsaw intruded as I sipped my Polish beer. I can spell the name of the beer but cannot pronounce it. My server tried to teach me but it was beyond me — ZYWIEC....

I was mulling over what I had seen on the half-day tour that I always take first in any new city. With only two days to explore Warsaw, I found it tricky to decide.

Poles are very proud of their country that has endured much because it is sandwiched between Germany (once Prussia) and Russia. They have suffered much cruelty as regimes have invaded, occupied, and decimated it and its population often. Now Poland is independent and grateful after years of communist rule. All ages know what happened to the 320,000 Polish Jews who were herded to Treblinka in WW2 to be murdered in the gas chambers. They commemorate the Ghetto in several ways.

I've spoken to several young people today and discover they are well informed about their history and don't like the current party in power that is right-wing and undoing much that Lech Walesa and his Solidarity party instituted a couple of decades ago. Immigration and refugees is the main issue here, as it is in many countries.

Warsaw is an odd mix of Communist greyness — some dull buildings remain — surrounded by glass skyscrapers that are ultra-modern.

Frederic Chopin's statue
Parks abound and are well-used. I was especially enchanted by the Park Belwederski that has a wonderful statue of Chopin, a native son. On Mondays talented musicians give free live concerts of his wonderful music. Royal palaces from the 1700s are dotted around the park too, and many canals and lakes beautify them. I didn't get inside as I was on a half-day city tour that did not include entrance to the museums and art galleries.

Most Poles in Warsaw appear to speak English, which is an asset, as I cannot begin to speak Polish. It's a tongue-twisting language that bears no relation to any language I've ever heard before. But they use the Latin alphabet which means I can at least decipher the signs that are the same as on my map.

The Jewish museum that stands where the old ghetto was located in WW2, was tantalizing and I shall return tomorrow.

So was the Old Town. That I shall save for my last day and it will probably take all day too. This has been rebuilt following WW2 when most of it was flattened by the Russians as they poured across the Vistula and turned Poland into a Stalinist country and city. I peeked into the cathedral and was astonished by the modern stained-glass windows; I saw the outside of the Royal Palace with buskers in the square outside; and the museum here calls loudly to me, as do the cafes that line the square. Monday will be the day to go before I leave for Russia on Tuesday.

As always, the best way to explore is on foot. My walking shoes stand ready by the door....

The Vistula river runs north-south through Warsaw


IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2017. All rights reserved.