An Invitation to Poland’s Capital : Friendships from Delhi to Warsaw

Old Town Warsaw at Night- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Old Town Warsaw at Night
Warsawa Powisie - Read More at www.MissMaps.com
Warsawa Powisie
Graffiti Warsaw - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Graffiti Warsaw

“What are you waiting for, a written invitation?”
This was a common phrase said in our household growing up as a way to hurry us along. We’d take our time getting ready, take our time at the pool, take our time eating. And Dad would always be punctual, left waiting for us to rush out at the very last minute as he hollered a gentle reminder to speed along, “What are you waiting for, a written invitation?”

In India last December, many of the travelers I spent Christmas with were from Europe, particularly The Netherlands and surrounding countries. When we parted ways, many of us expressed our desires to meet up again with invitations to each person’s home. Invitations were given in handfuls to different countries where the travelers lived, including one friend’s flat in Warsaw, Poland.

Warsaw Open Window - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Warsaw Open Window
The Hand at Collegium Nobilium Building - Warsaw- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
The Hand at Collegium Nobilium Building – Warsaw
Chatspot Warsaw - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Chatspot Warsaw

At the time, Poland seemed very foreign. I’d only recently met one other person from Warsaw and knew little about the country except what I could gather from her scattered memories. Upon returning to work after Christmas with an invitation to visit the city, I soon found out that a coworker was also from Warsaw. She and the friend I’d met while in India spent the next few months painting a more rich image in my mind of a city which had rebuilt itself from war’s destruction a half century ago. They told me how it now offers a rich culture with replicated buildings built upon the rubble and how the city’s regrowth has also left it covered in many other simple structures built more out of necessity rather than for aesthetics.

Through their stories, I was drawn to explore the city and decided to take up my friend’s original invitation to visit Warsaw. Unlike in my childhood meanderings which prompted Dad’s calls, I couldn’t take my time as much in accepting this invitation as my friend was about to move to the U.K. So there I went: just weeks before his big move, I boarded a train to Warsaw.

Palace of Culture and Science - Warsaw, Poland- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Palace of Culture and Science – Warsaw, Poland
Jan Karski Statue Warsaw - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Jan Karski Statue Warsaw
Nicolaus Copernicus Monument, Warsaw
Nicolaus Copernicus Monument, Warsaw

Arriving mid-morning, I had a few hours to spend before finding him at our designated meeting point. Various conversations with locals on the train and in the station encouraged me to visit Old Town, said to be the most beautiful area in the city. After securing my rucksack in a train station locker, I knew which direction to travel and headed that way. Soon I came upon a street lined with shops and cafes, and I filled an empty stomach with what I originally assumed was yogurt and fruits. Polish was a new – foreign – language to me, and the small carton of yogurt turned out to instead be a thinned version of sour cream. Still it was something, so I found a small park just off this main street and sat down to a lunch of sour cream, a plum, banana, and  personal-sized loaf of bread. Not a traditional meal but it was filling and I knew that dinner would be much more impressive once my friend could offer insight into the new language and flavors in an area not so focused on tourism.

After lunch, I continued on the street I thought to be part of the old town which everyone had pointed me toward. Assumptions were poorly made that day, as I found out this main street was not at all part of Old Town: It was merely a street. But a delightful street it was! I carried on looking at shops and purposefully got lost as I left the brick road for others, finding buildings meticulously painted in colorful graffiti, parks filled with gleeful children accompanied by their relaxed parents, and spent time enjoying conversations with multiple shop owners happy to practice English with a native speaker.

Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising - Warsaw, Poland
Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising – Warsaw, Poland
Tęcza : Warsaw's Controversial Rainbow Statue- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Tęcza : Warsaw’s Controversial Rainbow Statue

Warsawa Stairs

After an afternoon spent wandering, my friend and I met at the spot we’d agreed on and he led me to the real Old Town. An open square surrounded by buildings meticulously crafted as replicates of pre-war times, the area seemed at first glance to be original and truly historical. Closer examination showed otherwise. Facades were left unfinished, showing outlines of what should be and fill-in-the-blank spaces to be completed when time would allow. Architects had carefully rebuilt the spaces using photographs from long ago, and they had done a fine job in duplicating what once was, though more work was needed in order to return the area back to its original appearance. Still, it is a gorgeous place to take an evening stroll accompanied by tourists and locals alike. We spent time looking around and there he began his journey as an adopted tour guide for the next few days, leading me to other parts of the city and filling my mind with histories of the city, country, and world as we went.

After a dinner much more traditional than the earlier day’s meal, we called it a night. So far, Warsaw seemed to be exactly as described: history rebuilt into modernity where locals strived to maintain the city’s original charm and observe the heroes whom had once graced their land. The following days further proved this to be true, and brought with them more unexpected attributes as well.

Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland
Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland - Read more at www.MissMaps.com- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland
Peacock at Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland- Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Peacock at Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland

Beyond that, we explored the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the University of Warsaw’s extravagant greenhouse-like Library, and several times walked past Joseph Stalin’s personal gift to the Polish Nation: Poland’s tallest building, The Palace of Culture and Science. We stopped for a meal at a classic Georgian restaurant after he shared tales of his recent travels to the Eastern European country, and another day had a meal of Ukrainian borsch to prepare me for the next country on my list. A favorite find was the riverside pop up bars and cafes serving specialty cocktails. We’d had a busy few days touring the city and found comfort in two of the various lounge chairs placed on the river sands, enjoying a mojito in the blinding sun. We let the sun soak in to our faces and found it as the perfect place to take a cat nap. It felt more like we were sitting on a small town beach than in the center of Poland’s capital city.

Before and after my visit to Warsaw I’d met many others who found it as an unfavorable place to visit, especially in comparison to other Polish cities such as Krakow and Gdansk. Their experiences overall were not unpleasant, but not anything special to talk about. Many have claimed it to be a “been there, done that” city. Maybe like me, they left the train station, found a cup of sour cream (not yogurt!) and maybe even mistook a traditional street as Old Town, thus missing one of the city’s best boroughs. More realistically, I attribute their lackluster trips to the limited views they were exposed to, and attribute my pleasantries to the time spent with a friend I thought I may never see again when saying goodbye in India, having him act as personal tour and history guide, and consistently keeping an open mind and open eyes.

Knowing someone in the city might make for an entirely different experience than hitting the streets solo, but it is a great place to explore either way. What are you waiting for, a written invitation?

Syrenka Warszawska: Mermaid of Warsaw, and Świętokrzyski Bridge - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Syrenka Warszawska: Mermaid of Warsaw, and Świętokrzyski Bridge
Old Town's Syrenka Warszawska: Mermaid of Warsaw - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Syrenka Warszawska: Mermaid of Warsaw
Goodbye to Warsaw - Read more at www.MissMaps.com
Goodbye to Warsaw – Thanks for helping me see the city through a local’s eyes!
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2 Comments

  1. Hi, Annie. Thank you for your several recent postings. Most of them arrived while we were in Asheville, so it is only now that we are back in Lakeland for the next several months that I’ve had a chance to enjoy them. It is fun to know that you have been some of the places I have been, although I think you saw things that I missed, and vice versa. Certainly, Auschwitz was a model of sadistic efficiency. I was there in the winter, too, which made everything all the more grim and gray. Your tales of the bus ride into Ukraine from Poland were amusing, if a little breathtaking, given the possibility that you might have been faced with some hefty tolls. Does it really seem as if all the cars there are identical? Krakow I have been to a few times, always seeing the same sights, thanks to being on bus tours in various years. Did you see the dragon, Krak, for whom the town in named? A very famous poet, Wislawa Szymborski, lived there through the whole Communist era, and wrote some perceptive poems. I love the low hills out side the town. Were you able to be in the town square at 11 AM, when the trumpet player, high up in the belfry of St. Mary’s Church, begin sounding a warning that the barbarians are coming, but is silenced by a barbarian arrow? (Well, not really. But he mimics this incident which happen in the 1200s, I think.) And Warsaw I have visited four times, the last time in 1993. This means that most of the modernizing of Warsaw occurred after than, but I did see a Beneton shop and a luxury car sales facility. My main experience, though, was with a gray, cold, Soviet place, with stores that had mostly empty shelves, and with sour-looking army and police officials, and with the sense that you were always in danger of being apprehended for some imaginary offense. I went there so frequently because, in Lakeland, of all places, I met a lady in a super market, who stopped me to ask WHAT PLEASE IS THIS? The item in question was an air conditioning filter. And the lady was a violinist from the Warsaw Philharmonic, that group being in town for a performance at the local college. I invited her back to our house for supper, and saw her briefly the next day after the concert. This gave me the idea of going to Poland on a fam trip, I being at the time a travel agent and eligible for such perks once a year. So, three times between 1985 and 1990, I took various tours around the country, ending up in Warsaw, and spending some time with her before I left for home. The last time I was there was 1993. That visit we made a tour of our own by car. Later that year, Grandpa was in a bad accident, and the Polish trips stopped. But, every year at Christmas and Easter and at birthday times, we send each other cards. Her apartment is only a few blocks away from the Warsaw ghetto.

    Anyway, how wonderful that you could spend some time there, thanks to the fellow traveler you met in India. The Old City is really pretty, isn’t it? It was that way even when I was there. And there are a lot of handsome, preSoviet buildings near the city center. But how funny that you mistook a carton of sour cream for yoghurt. Hopefully, the fruits you ate along with it, plus the bread, were reasonably palatable. Did you have any cake while you were there? People might have had little variety or abundance of food when I was there. But there was cake, and really sinful stuff, too.

    Thanks you so much again for your postings. And forgive my long-windedness. it’s just so fun to find commonalities between your life and mine, however centuries apart in age we are.

    Happy what ever adventure you are involved with now!

    Love,

    Grandma

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