wonderlanded: (Spychick)
[personal profile] wonderlanded
As I'm delayed in Vilnius for three hours and have paid my 50 Litas to use the business lounge, it seems like a stirling opportunity to catch you up on my trip (sans photos, sadly).

So:

Warsaw, barring the reconstructed Old Town, struck me as not unlike Brisbane. (Everyone I've said this to so far has snorted mildly and said "How long is it since you were in Brisbane? It is worth noting that none of those people have been to both places.)

There's a good reason for the similarities. In both cities, post-war expansion has gone ahead with scant attention to lanning or reason. Soviet concrete realism bang up agaisnt rebuilt and restored prewar terraces, and grand, stately edifices shoulder to shoulder with modern glass-and-steel.

One Saturday, what seems like a very long time ago, I left Heathrow in Bank Holiday Saturday madness. Nightmare queues belied excellent British organisation and laudable national traits like Being Good At Queueing, so I had plenty of time for brekker at Giraffe. (I actually took a giraffe from my smoothie with me, with plans to emulate [livejournal.com profile] bextera and her travelling giraffes, but his legs broke off during my first day.)

I actually missed the Pope by a few hours, and the man who picked me up informed me that Warsaw had instantly emptied and the traffic was much less than usual as a result. Had first ever benevolent feeling towards this Pope.

I had a very walking kind of day, mainly in the Old Town which is awfully pretty but somewhat sterile and artificial. It's marvellous that it's there at all, since it was entirely destroyed after the Warsaw Uprising and rebuilt with painstaking accuracy after the war.

I ate pierogi at an overpriced café in the town square (still desperately cheap by London standards) before it started to rain.

I escaped from the rain by visiting the Warsaw Rising Museum, which is clearly very new (it's not yet on most tourist maps) and is really impressive. They've arranged it chronologically, and you follow a trail of day-to-a-page tear-off calendar pages, with a quick summary in Polish of what happened on that day of the uprising, and you can take a page with you if you like. They're doing really good legacy work, in terms of providing opportunities for people to remember and reflect on what they've experienced later. A lot of the intepretive materials were also in English as well, which helped me a lot but I think I'd have appreciated it even without.

They paid a decent amount of attention to the Ghetto and the Ghetto Uprising, which seems unusual for Warsaw. Plaques and monuments to the heroes of the later Uprising are absolutely everywhere -- and rightly so -- but outside the Path of Remembrance there's very little about Warsaw's Jewish population, what happened to them during the war, and their own heroism. The museum dealt with some things that must be uncomfortable for a monument to national heroes, like the lack of support for the Ghetto Uprising from the Poles outside.

Sunday was cold! I don't know why the Great Central Europe Cold and Rainy Spell had to start the same day as my holiday, or why London got brilliant weather while I was gone. Never mind. Slept very late and had lunch at Café Bristol before going to the Path of Remembrance. It was well done -- couldn't help it, I think. I found the main memorial a little sterile, and was much more affected by the Bunker Monument, between Mila and Niska streets, on the site where Mordechaj Anielwica commanded the Ghetto Uprising. The momument there is trilingual -- Polish, English, and Hebrew -- and concludes with the words: 'Here they lie, buried where they fell, to remind us that the whole earth is their grave". The other principal monument is at the Umschlagplatz, where the trains left the Ghetto. Along one white marble wall, one hundred Polish-Jewish first names are inscribed. It is a very quiet, spare place.

On the way back to the Old Town, I came across the Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East, which was enormous compared to the other memorials I saw that day. It's quite something. Photos later.

On Monday, I went on an expedition to find one of the last remaining fragments of the Ghetto wall, which I finally located after walking around the block several times and finally just barging into a courtyard. It's in a very peaceful place, with the sun shining through the trees as I found it. There are places between the bricks where people have put stones, and has plaques fixed to it from communities in Warsaw, Jerusalem, and of all places Melbourne.

Wandered by and through the Palace of Culture and Science, and did a bit of shopping nearby, including an AWESOME shirt that is far too big for Gnome, with a picture of a weird cycle thing and saying "our little autonomy" on it. Wandered randomly down near the river for much of the rest of the day. Must remember to find out why there are three magenta doglike creatures outside the Biblioteka.

I really did enjoy Warsaw, and left with some thoughts on Poland and Polishness -- particularly the use of language to promote homogeneity -- that I want to explore more fully.
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