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20060803_P_0040 lo-res
Commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising (and subsequent destruction by the Nazis)
20060803_P_0049 lo-res
They don't make trams like this anymore

A slow start, a lie-in and breakfast in l’Estaminet and then we did a bit more planning and uploading of pictures before we finally got ready to go out for a day of mooching around Warsaw. We have decided to stay here for a day or two before moving on, rather than just head out and leave Warsaw unseen (which was the original plan). It was a lovely sunny day. We jumped on a tram to head into the Old Town, without tickets as we assumed we could buy them on the tram. The trams are for the most part lovely old affairs that clunk along reliably, rather like the ones in Brussels. We got off one stop too early and walked the last bit, through an area of some apartment blocks and reconstructed old town houses. This brought us out by a small triangular square, with the castle or palace along one side, and open on one side, with a pillar or monument of some kind, and in the moat area below there were some “Tartu”-type medieval horse rides for kids.

We continued into the heart of the Old Town itself, along streets with the usual bustle of tourists and street entertainers. The narrow streets had been pedestrianised and were lined with tall old buildings, merchant houses and so on. We walked in the Rynek, the main square (Rynek is a generic name for this) and looked around. On all four sides it was lined with old imposing houses, some sort of uniformity as well as a bit of a muddle and mixture of sizes, decorations, styles. On the square itself there were many tourist cafés with their colourful umbrellas, and a good crowd of tourists strolling about. It was incredible to realise that this whole area, in fact just about all of Warsaw, had been thoroughly and systematically destroyed during WWII, levelled until hardly one brick stood on another, largely as a result of the Nazi reaction to the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 and as a part of their scorched earth policy as they retreated from the east at the end of the war. More on that later. The square had been reconstructed faithfully and you would hardly guess that this was only about sixty years old. Warsaw’s “Old Town” had been entirely rebuilt, but it was now the exclusive domain of the tourists. We sat down at a café and left again after taking a look at the inflated prices. Instead we found a more convivial and cheapter option on a street off the Rynek, a small branch of the Polish chain Pierogarnia with pierogi (Polish dumplings) and other Polish fare on the menu. We had a plate of pierogi each, mine with some type of mushrooms, Ness’s with mashed peas and bacon, delicious.

We continued walking round the streets of the compact Old Town for a little longer and then went into the Warsaw History Museum, on one side of the Rynek. I got fed up after a few rooms on the ground floor, especially after getting tired of being followed round by the old women who are the typical museum caretakers, and for being told off – “nie, nie foto!” – when I started to dig out my camera. I left Ness to see the rest and went to sit in the entrance lobby where I wrote my diary. Ness in the meantime took her time to go round the museum and from the length of time she had been away I began to realise that there must have been more than just this stuffy collection on the ground floor. When she came back Ness told me that the museum stretched over five floors across the six adjoining houses along this side of the Rynek, with recreations of merchant houses, collections of silver, wartime photographs of the destruction, and lots more. Ah well, shame I missed it, but I was quite happy to just have a bit of “diary time” anyway.

Next we went for a coffee, at one of the touristic bars on the Rynek, never mind the prices as it was a splendid setting. Ness helped out a table of four elderly Spaniards who were trying to ask for ice in their drinks. “Glace” was interpreted as “glass” but Ness looked up the right word in our Rough Guide for them. Dinner consisted of a kebab at a Syrian kebaberia on a side street and then we toured back.

We passed the dramatic Warsaw Uprising monument, showing a collection of bronze figures bursting forth from the earth, including one of a young boy wearing a helmet too big for him, and a separate, smaller group showing them retreating into the sewers to escape. In front of the monument and on the manholes, candles in red glass had been placed by way of remembrance. We didn’t twig until later that the uprising had actually started on 1 August and that we had arrived on the day following its anniversary. We walked on and caught a tram back, this time with tickets. Outside it was starting to get dark, clouds were darkening the sky, and inside the tram the yellow light shone atmospherically. I could just picture a Warsaw commuter’s journey grim autumn or winter weather as they sat or stood on the tram with a newspaper or book. We headed upstairs for “B, B and B” – book, bear and bed!