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Happy Birthday Ness!

At breakfast there was only one other customer, a business-type, of the smart lawyer type rather than the laptop-brigade. The friendly hotel receptionist brought out the card and pressies. Ness had already opened the books and card Mama had given me to give to Ness. We packed our bags and checked out of the Waksman hotel. Before we left the receptionist showed us the large comfortable suites in the loft. Then we retrieved Eddie and headed out of Lublin towards Zamość, only about an hours drive or so, on a lumpy bit of road.

Zamość was smaller and had a very “Italian” feeling. Not surprisingly as it was laid out and designed by an Italian architect, Bernardo Morando of Padua, commissioned by Jan Zamoyski, a sixteenth century chancellor, to his own “ideological specifications” (RG). We had called ahead to book into the Orbis hotel which was just off the main square. We checked in and settled into our big comfortable room, a twin rather than a double but otherwise fine. Then we went out and took a look at Zamość’s Rynek which was very different from any we had seen so far. Our Rough Guide described accurately it as Italianate and Renaissance. The Rynek consisted of a perfect square, one hundred metres on each side, with Italianate merchant houses, with a low arcade running all around. The town hall is apparently one of the most photographed buildings in the country. In the centre of the open square a curious temporary structure had been erected. It consisted of a wooden half-pyramid, a kind of tower. A steep set of stairs on each side allowed you to climb up inside the tower. We plonked at one of the nice terrace cafés and ordered a pizza to share for lunch and just watched the square and people, many climbing into the pyramid and some who were too hasty slipping on their way back down the steep steps. The gradient reminded us of Angkor Wat. The sunny weather and clear blue skies made the colourful buildings stand out sharply, making for good pictures. We went on a short walking tour around the square and nearby streets, relying on our Rough Guide for commentary. Zamość’s layout is highly regular. It was designed as a utopian “ideal city”. We saw a group of scouts marching through the square and entertaining some local children. We saw them again at the town’s cathedral, with statue of John Paul II outside and its ornate interior. Standing free next to the cathedral was a bell tower. We climbed it, past the massive bells, and from the top had fabulous views over the town centre.

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For non-windy lifts head right?
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Scouts on patrol in Zamość

We continued with our walking tour, past a statue of the city’s founder, Jan Zamoyski, on horseback, looking a lot more imposing than the somewhat squirrel-faced portrait of him in our hotel. We finished our tour by taking a look at the Jewish streets and square, behind the main square. It looked pretty, old town houses with decorations, though not “Jewish” in any way, but the former synagogue was a clear sign that this used to be a Jewish quarter. Now it was more an exhibition space. Its interior now contained several works of art, at least one of which was on loan from the Gulbenkian Institute in Lisbon (another reminder of a previous trip for us). One was in a room with a large white board filled with thousands of small coloured cubes, each face of each cube was a cutting from a promotional magazine, with a price or a figure (see picture). In the main hall was another work which consisted of hundreds of sections of square steel tubes, neatly stacked. Along the walls of the now defunct synagogue another work consisted of sections of bright colours in the spaces where previously there would have been Jewish frescoes, presumably.

Back to the hotel for a pit stop. Outside it had now started to rain quite heavily but we still went out and continued our tour of Zamość. In fact it was quite nice to have some “weather” for a change. We walked to the town fortifications, which were so well designed that even the Swedish army couldn’t manage to surmount them. Now there was a covered market on two levels in one of the buildings contained in the city walls (i.e built into the fortifications). The covered market was full of stalls selling cheap clothes, electronics, fruit and vegetables, toys and so on. A reminder of that market in HCMC, though of course not so full on and in fact very empty. We followed a path/road that led a short way out of town, to a rotunda, also a former part of the town fortifications, a circular bastion which used to house twenty canons facing in many directions all around. This was another tragic Polish site now, as it had been used by the Nazis in WWII to imprison and execute large numbers of people. The canon cells were now memorials, each one housing flowers, wreaths, some kind of monument, plaques. The path leading up to it was lined with markers for those who had been murdered here.

We made our way, still through the rain, back to the main square. At a café we had a beer – I tried the dark Porter beer – and herring and żurek, delicious Polish sour soup with potatoes, cream, bacon, a hearty bowl. Mama called us to wish Ness a happy birthday while we were sat there. After this we returned briefly to the hotel and used the internet connection to check for birthday emails. Ness’s parents had excelled themselves with a poem and Ness spoke to them on the phone. Then we went out again. In the lobby we had to squeeze through a large Japanese tour group which had arrived. It’s actually quite a relief to see them instead of the ubiquitous groups of Germans! We went to the same restaurant on the square and had tasty and uncomplicated meals. Caz called and Ness spent a very long time on the phone. Overhead the sky seemed clear, a deep intense blue, providing a lovely backcloth for the buildings on the square, some of which were lit up. I just remember that the whole atmosphere was just “right” and that we both felt very relaxed and glad to be here. An enjoyable day of just mooching around in a lovely little town to explore and a fantastic summer evening atmosphere. Super!