Warsaw

On the train its amazing how quickly you can strike up a conversation with strangers. There is a young couple opposite who are making serious inroads into a bottle of rum and soon getting quite merry. A Nigerian man who is living on UK, here’s us speaking English and we strike up a talk a little. He is visiting friend near Poznan and intriguingly he can speak Polish, so we learn that he studied in Poland.

We are met by Ewa our first Warsaw host, who seems a bit anxious. Apparently she was not expecting us to be on this train, as there is a direct train from Berlin, but when we were booking on line we didn’t find it.

Ewa has an apartment fairly near to town and soon we are settling down to a preliminary talk. She is an English teacher and her English is excellent. Soon Ewa and Eva discover, an amazing coincidence, that their maiden names are very similar, Riszko an Ryszkovska, which are apparently rather unusual names, so they claim each other as long lost cousins!

On Sunday, Ewa takes us to be Lazienki park, where we listen to a Chopin concert, part of a competition, which is held under the gaze of Chopin himself, in statue form. The playing is excellent and there is a large crowd listening, including many young people and families.

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We are watching with amusement, the dynamics of one family, father, mother, one son and three daughters. Big brother has mum all to himself, big sister snuggles up to dad, little sister fusses around and eventually starts plying with some toys that mum has brought for her. Middle sister looks disgruntled, or perhaps she is “a cat who walks by herself”.

Next we walk down to the former “summer palace”, which is set on a small lake, complete with “classical ruins” in the style of Capability Brown. The effect is very pleasing.

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After that we head for the old town, which is stunningly beautiful Once again, it’s hard to realise that all this has been carefully reconstructed. Warsaw was almost totally flattened during the war, even more than Berlin. Burek is a soup of fermented wheat, which sounds a bit iffy, but was very good, accompanied by a local draught beer. For desert, a stall is selling various home made goodies, especially poppyseed cake, of which we partake a large slab.

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Poppy seed cake, yummy

This is a “Madeleine” moment for Eva, whose mother used to make it often. I remember it with fondness too.

The old city is full of wonders; a brass band, break dancers, horse and cart,

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music box with parrot,

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and a reminder that Warsaw was the home of Marie Curie, the discoverer of Radium and Polonium.

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We wind our way through the “New Town” extension beyond the original city walls, stop for a plate of pierogi, stuffed pastries, and down to the Wisla. They are building a splendid set of embankments and esplanades, planned in 1935 and begun in 1939, it was supposed to finished in 1940!

The old Royal palace, is fully lit up, making a spectacular sight.

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Earlier, we saw an exhibition in the courtyard detailing milestones of the “cold war”, which was so captivating that we missed the free entry to the castle!!

Later on in the evening we attend a jazz piano concert in the grounds of the University, performed by a famous composer (whose name unfortunately I can’t remember). It was lovely melodic jazz, and when the clock tower started to chime, interrupting a piece, he immediately started to improvise to the chimes, segueing into “Frere Jacques”, then continuing with the piece.

Ewa is coming to NZ in October for a Servas conference and she will travel around, South and North, before coming to stay with us, so next morning we spend some time helping her plan an itinerary.

In the afternoon we go to the new Jewish museum, which covers the whole history from the twelfth century up to the holocaust. The museum is interactive for most displays with many extra pop up facts and stories, besides the actual artefacts. The history of the Jews in Poland has many ups and downs, often welcomed by secular authorities and often persecuted by the church. When the archbishop of Kraków expelled them, king Casimir (who was reputed to have a Jewish concubine) granted land outside the city, now known as Kasimercz. We spent over four hours in the museum, and then we rushed through the war period.

Ewa has taken us to our next hosts, Marek and Malgoshia.

 

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