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20060804_P_0052 lo-res
Once a familiar symbol, now a museum piece
20060804_P_0059 lo-res
Leaving the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising

What a contrast to yesterday. We woke to a grey, wet day. Outside it was looking very autumnal, and somehow this just seemed a more fitting weather for Warsaw. We made a slow start, downstairs for French breakfast, upstairs to get ready, and then went out to the nearby Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. First though we tried to find a Sony Centre to have our laptop adapter checked. The first place we tried was round the corner from our hotel. They pointed us to a service centre a few blocks away but they couldn’t help either. Seems the Vaio product range is not supported in Poland. Still, it gave us an excuse to walk through some different streets, rather boring backstreets with service centres and dodgy bars as well as residential apartment blocks and local cafés and restaurants. I reckon these would be good places to meet some Varsovian “salt o’ the earth’s”.

In the rain we made our way to the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising which was situated improbably along a main road and track tracks, away from anything to do with the Old Town. The museum itself was a modern affair, a no-nonsense steel job which had a vaguely industrial feeling. Inside was an excellent museum laid out in modern fashion, i.e. well-planned displays but consisting of boring panels, instead a more haphazard-seeming collection of photographs, exhibits, multimedia things. Basically it took you through a timeline from pre-Uprising, context-setting, and then the period of the Uprising itself and its terrible consequences as it started to fail while the Soviets stood by and the Allies were unable or unwilling to intervene, and finally to the aftermath, the total destruction of Warsaw in systematic fashion and, as if that wasn’t enough, the subsequent Soviet occupation and distortion of the facts for a further fifty years. Along the way there was a multitude of personal stories, a mixture of the heroic and the tragic, and some pretty harrowing material on Nazi atrocities. We spent several hours in the museum, happy to take our time over it, with a coffee break in the period 1940’s style café which was situated halfway. An excellent museum and essential viewing to understand Warsaw.

It was still grey and raining when we left the museum. We walked to the fantastic Palace of Culture and Science, a superb lump of uncompromising stalinist architecture “bestowed” by Stalin on the city of Warsaw and meant to impress, reminiscent of Senate House and Big Ben on steroids and, from pictures I have seen, similar to Moscow’s Lomonosov university. By now the weather had worsened slightly, the grey clouds hung low and obscured the upper parts of the tall buildings. The impact of the sight of the building was lessened somewhat and marred a little by the presence of other tall glass office towers erected in more recent years, but its footprint was so big, including its surrounding wings, that it still had enough space to command a suitable perspective on approach. We had a drink at a café on a corner and then walked along the side of the Palace. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to visit inside it.

We walked along to another imposing lump of a building, Warsaw’s central railway station, stopping for a much-needed pit stop for Ness. Lots of dodgy characters around, bums and cheap tracksuits. Inside the vast station hall it was uncannily warm and I felt that “tug” of wanting to board a train, any train going anywhere. I know our method of travelling by car is an ideal way of getting around, freely, flexibly, cheaply, but train travel has such a romantic appeal and feels more exotic. We took a few pictures inside and then a few more outside. The gloomy weather really completed the atmosphere. It made both the Palace and the station look “right” somehow. Outside the Old Town, Warsaw is not picturesque, a rather grey city with, as we now know, a tragic past, but it does seem to brim with new-found confidence. Even so, what has been done to it, and to the Poles, can not simply be glossed over and has clearly left deep scars to this day. The greyness created an atmosphere of its own though.

We caught another cosy tram back. While waiting on the platform for the tram it was interesting to watch the drunks around the station, swaying this way and that. One of them had fallen into a gutter right by the heavy traffic. Maybe he had fallen after helping a couple of lads to push their knackered car (Poland is full of old Audi’s) to get it started – I only saw the two snapshots of the scenes separately. Along with a few commuters we got on our tram (we could have taken the earlier one everyone else got on but having checked the schedule we decided to wait for the “22”) and got off at the stop nearest to our hotel.

For dinner we popped into the nearby and very convivial-looking Pizza Hut, and over dinner spent more time planning, focusing on Bulgaria, based on our Rough Guide’s suggested highlights. We have both seemed to find renewed energy and enjoyment for our travels, a combinations of new horizons opening, as well as the fact that this really is our last chapter of our epic trip – I think it has made us realise that what we have been experiencing is a special privilege. I guess we have got back on an even keel with our travels and have stopped taking it for granted. So what if it’s “another town” – it’s still worth looking at in its own right and we should do our best to avoid categorising too hastily. Anyway, what I was trying to say was that it was bloody good to sit there with a map and book, circling dots and placenames. We returned to the hotel and I uploaded some more pictures while Ness jumped into bed. I stayed up late doing stuff on the laptop until about 2am before also getting into the snug warm bed.