Sunday morning we took a bus tour of Warsaw. The first stop was the Royal Kazienki Park, which is dedicated to and has a huge statue of Frederic Chopin (and a smaller one of his friend Franz Liszt). Chopin is a French name...his father was French and his mother was Polish, and he was born and lived in Warsaw (also in France). This statue, like many others in the city, was destroyed by the Germans in the War, but has been completely replaced down to the last detail.
Speaking of Polish-French, we later passed by a museum dedicated to Marie Curie - nee Skladowska - who was also born here.
And speaking of statues, they sure have a lot of them! (or perhaps it was just that our tour went by all of them!). These include Copernicus (who studied here), Kosciusko (Polish and American war hero), Pulaski, and Reagan. That's right: old Ronnie is here commemorating his help with Polish independence from the Communists. Our guide said there are also statues of George Washington and Herbert Hoover (?). And many, many war-related memorials: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Monument to the Fallen Heroes, Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising, etc. How about a monument to no more wars????
Next we went to a Jewish Cemetery that has been in existence for hundreds of years. Per tradition, women are buried in one area, rabbis in another, wealthy people in another, etc. It also has the tomb of Zamenhof (see previous post), and several war memorials. One is of a pediatrician, Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage. When the Germans came to take the children, he went with them to his death. (More at http://www.inyourpocket.com/poland/warsaw/The-Korczak-Orphanage_71959f )
We then went to the area where the Jewish Ghetto was and heard about the huge number of people crammed into a small area, and the Warsaw uprising, and the eventual removal of all the people. Truly hard to fathom how this could happen.
The tour ended, so it was time to eat again. We found a great outdoor cafe (one of many) and had wonderful veal-filled pierogis, prawns in garlic butter (prawns seem to be a big thing here), and of course, beer. [An aside: 2 different guides have told us the same story: "If you go to a Polish restaurant and they don't serve pierogis, it's not a Polish restaurant!"]
After lunch we walked around some more (and walked off the pierogis), saw more memorials, and then rode the subway. Of course we stopped for "ludy" (one of the few easily pronounceable Polish words..it means ice cream). The Poles love ice cream and there are several walk-up ice cream windows on almost every block. Apparently they also love bagels as there are hot bagel vendor carts on many corners.
Speaking of the language, our local guide told us a tongue twister...something about a bug in the grass. It goes like this: chrzaszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Tszebrzeszynie. Go ahead...say it 5 times fast!
Later the group was treated to an amazing private performance: A Chopin recital by world famous, award-winning pianist Maria Korecka-Soszkowsk at the Palace Myslewicki (read more at
http://polish-landscape.pl/gb/our-pianists ). This woman, who is in her 70s, played 7 Chopin songs (and an encore by Paderewski) on a grand piano in a small salon room. It seemed at times that she had at least 4 hands. This was how Chopin intended his music to be heard, as opposed to Liszt who was a concert hall rock star. Remember, it's only been a little over 100 years since the time when, if you wanted to hear music, a real person had to play it! How utterly foreign in today's instant download digital world.
Yesterday we drove to Krakow. Took a short walk around the medieval town square (a beautful European town square that was not bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII--because the town was of no strategic military significance nor was there any resistance during the Occupation).
Got to our hotel and once again there were a lot of security people around. Why? The Dutch soccer team is staying here! (The Eurocup games are in Warsaw, Krakow, two other Polish cities, and two cities in Ukraine).
Then we took a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage site. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine ). This mine, which operated from the 13th century until a few years ago, goes to a depth of over 300 meters (we only went down to the 130 meter level) and has tunnels and caverns covering 190 miles (about the distance from here to Warsaw!). If you wet your finger and rub the wall and taste it you can actually taste the salt! It is a constant 52 degrees inside (quite pleasant actaully after the intial descent of 400 steps!). It also contains a sanitarium for people with asthma and other bronchial diseases. They live down there for a week, a month, or longer in the belief that breathing the salt air will help their condition.
There are many underground salt pools. The tour stops at various "rooms" (ranging anywhere from niches to a cathedral-sized one where they actually hold concerts and weddings!). Each had one or more carvings made out of the salt rock: miners, horses, the Last Supper, religious figures including Pope John Paul (who grew up here),....even miner gnomes!!!! All told we walked 2.5 kilometers and traversed 800 steps! Luckily, there is an elevator to the top.....well...it is a miner's cage measuring 3' x 4' by 6' high and all 9 of our group were stuffed into it!
So far, the tour has had a heavy slant on what happened during WWII. The war ended 70 years ago, which means 3 or more generations...a long time, yet a blink in history. Many people are alive who still remember the horror and suffering. But we wonder if this is the framework around which the current generation defines itself. To them, is it history or is it still an integral part of their lives?
Today we had the Jewish heritage tour plus Auschwitz--needless to say, we are drained so will save those write-ups for the next post. On to Budapest tomorrow.
Other fun facts:
Cranberry juice has apparently not made it to here yet. Instead, they drink black currant juice....tart, but not bad.
We Americans think of this area as "eastern Europe", but it really is central Europe, as there is a lot more east of here (check the map!). Once again our provincialism surfaces.
Apparently, anything can be used to fill pierogis: any kind of meat, potatoes, cabbage or other veggies, and then the sweet kind filled with fruit. And when you order them, you get 10 - 12 ravioli-sized pieces. Who do they think can eat all that?
wendy and wayne