After heavy showers last night we wake to a beautiful morning and promise of a warm sunny day. First Tshirt day for a while, and as typical Australians, the sun puts us I a good mood, despite the somber stories we hear.
Last night I was surprised by the elegance of Warsaw. The Poles I have known in Sydney and Hobart have tended to be stolid – and sometimes slightly eccentric. But the women here are smart – although they drink beer through a straw – and I pass one shop displaying clothes of Polish desi
gners only which are innovative and elegant.
Walking back from the old town we are passed by hundreds of in-line skaters. There appears to be an event set up in one square, and people are coming from all directions to attend. Of course, most of them have skated on ice since they were children, and their skating, like their cycling, appears natural.
We dined on fusion food- “no-one wants to eat Polish any more” – although we discovered that there were many traditional restaurants in the more touristy section of the city. In my existential wondering so about the meaning and purpose of travel, I wonder how seeking out the food of Poland past, now eaten only by tourists, is a more authentic experience than eating the food that is eaten today.
Warsaw is proud of its reconstruction. Almost totally destroyed during the war, along with virtually all its Jewish residents, after the war the people of Warsaw decided to rebuild it as it was before 1939. Painstakingly clearing rubble, removing landmines and searching through pictures for authenticity, they rebuilt the old town with its mediaeval shops complete with frescoes and stately 18thc buildings. Parks, monuments and fountains were restored, so alongside the Stalin unit blocks and the enormous building of culture and science which was Stalin’s (apparently unwanted) gift to Poland, there are various architectural styles, but all created simultaneously. The dates on the buildings declare the truth of their
origin,as ancient looking buildings proudly bear their dates of construction in the fifties. Today, the business district also bears the inevitable skyscrapers.
Warsaw is also proud of Chopin, who spent half his life here. He was a revolutionary, and on his death in Paris, authorities refused to allow his body be returned for burial in Warsaw. His wife smuggled his heart back in her handbag and it is now ina tomb in one of Warsaw’s many churches. We heard a Chopin recital performed by a mature, but passionate pianist. She may not have been note perfect anymore, but she evoked the Polish passion our guides referred to.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Poles are proud of their recovery from not only the Nazis, but also Communism. In fact, like many of their neighbours, the history of Poland is one of oppression and revival. Today’s revival includes ongoing restoration, a new metro line and a magnificent Jewish museum, opened last year but still to have its first exhibition. And the Catholicism which was suppressed by the Communists is flourishing, with not only churches everywhere, but also nuns and priests.
As always, Warsaw has far more to offer than can be seen in the brief time we have to spend here.