Warsaw isn’t exactly a tourist’s haven. Most of the city’s architecture is a stark reflection of its recent history behind the iron curtain. Blocky, uniform apartment buildings rise from the concrete, dressed in varying shades of faded yellow and gray and off-white with little decoration or adornment other than the rectangular balconies and windows stationed at unsettlingly even intervals. Very waffle-y.
These buildings probably served their purpose well in a past political climate which dictated that everyone should essentially have the same things. You can bet that your pigeon-hole window looked just like your neighbours, and the folks in the next building over, and the one beside that. Same went for your dinner and your shoes and your car. Apparently the first time my Babcia and Dziadek visited Vancouver, they were completely blown away by our grocery stores and spent hours marvelling at the seemingly infinite colours and flavours and sizes and options laid out before them. Ahh, capitalism.
In our efforts to show Diego a few highlights of the city in a short time, we decided to visit Stare Miasto, Lazenki park, and the Polish War Museum.
The old town centre (Stare Miasto) is undoubtedly beautiful, although not terribly old. Really, none of Warsaw is that old. Stare Miasto in particular, was bombed beyond recognition during WWII and then painstakingly rebuilt by its citizens, many of whom performed this work in an act of volunteerism. In the wake of such atrocities, it’s difficult to imagine Warsaw residents – new and old – being able to find the emotional, physical, and psychological strength to rebuild all that had been destroyed. Then again, maybe that’s why they did it.
We drove into Stare Miasto in the early evening on the same day that we flew in, and spent a few hours wandering the cobblestone streets, peering into shop windows, and stopping to admire monuments and churches. We visited the Syrenka Warszawska (Mermaid of Warsaw), a mermaid clutching a shield and brandishing a sword.
To finish off the evening, we wolfed down a couple plates of fantastic pierogis. Eating in Poland as a vegetarian is an interesting ordeal. I’m never totally sure whether what I’m eating actually has a little fish or chicken in it – vegetarianism tends to mean different things to different people. I’m also not a fan of the taste of dill, while Polish folks have decided it is the best herb in the whole wide world and should be sprinkled generously on everything – everything.
MUSEUM OF THE POLISH ARMY
The next day, we set out early to visit the Museum of the Polish Army. It’s quite large, with an enormous collection of material and items related to Poland’s military and history of conflict ranging from medieval times to present. Only parts of the exhibits were in English, so I did much more looking than understanding. Without really knowing what I was looking at, I did the thing I do at museums when I don’t totally get it and wandered around and thought about burritos and parakeets.
Apparently this was a museum that my dad had frequented as a child, since he loved the planes and machines. I liked the idea of him running around all excited about the displays and gadgets.
We spent some time wandering around the large yard, filled with a robust display of tanks and bombers and helicopters and anti-aircraft missiles and amphibious vessels and planes of all shapes and sizes. They all just made me think about the people who had to drive them or fly them years ago, and my mind drifted off, thinking about where those people ended up.
In the end, it felt like more of a war glorification than a historical or commemorative museum, which I guess makes sense if we’re looking at things from a military perspective. I certainly did leave with an appreciation for just how much conflict Poles have endured over the centuries.
The sun started poking it’s way through the clouds as we left the army museum, so we we headed to Lazienki, a large park in the centre of Warsaw. The palace and grounds used to belong to some 17th century nobleman and originally served as a “baths park”, but was then rennovated by Poland’s King Stanislaw August into a lovely park with palaces and monuments. Nowadays, it’s a public park frequented by locals and tourists alike.
The palace was closed, so Diego and I took an audio-guided tour of a few buildings, while my dad napped on a shaded park bench. His ability to fall asleep absolutely anywhere is astounding.
Lazenki always makes me think of ice cream and colourful little swan-shaped boats and hot summer days spent in the park with my grandparents. I’m pretty sure I was a spoiled little shit when I visited Warsaw as a kid.
This time our visit was much calmer, which probably means and I’m getting old and boring. Diego and I spent a couple hours meandering around the grounds hand in hand, under the shade of tall leafy trees. We visited an old orangery, where they gave us little clip boards and pencils and paper so you could sit on a wee white bench and sketch the sculptures on display in the long hall. Diego loved this, of course, so we spent most of our time here. One of us got bored and drew a goofy face on their sketch, while the other took things a bit more seriously. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out whose photo was whose.