Friday, 31 July 2015

Things I didn't know about Warsaw

I didn't know much about Warsaw before I arrived. In the video library inside my brain there rolled archival footage of the Warsaw Uprising and  tv coverage of Lech Walesa at the Gdansk shipyard riots. Memories of Life magazine photos of blocks and blocks of concrete Socialist Realist apartments and stooped old women in headscarves clutching meagre purchases. I imagined meals of cabbage and borscht accompanied by copious amounts of beer. In post communist Poland, I expected the addition of some poorly built disaster capitalist skyscrapers and angry street art.

The real Warsaw is not what I expected.

The taxi driver played classical music as we drove in from the airport. Wandering the streets that evening we discovered Warsaw's cafe culture. We listened to buskers playing violins and walked down wide sidewalks. We ate gourmet dinners featuring new and unusual twists on classic dishes. Saw pastel buildings ranging from the medieval to the baroque in Warsaw's old town. Used a fully modernized public transit system with brand new bullet trains from one city to the next. 

We stayed in an Airbnb advertised as "elegant apartment in central Warsaw." Housed in an old Soviet-style apartment complex surrounding a central courtyard, Maria's place was the last word in elegance with tasteful pale grey walls, a modern Euopean kitchen with hidden appliances, white antiques and glittery chandeliers, futuristic bathroom fixtures and high end bedding. Around the corner on the upscale Nowy Siwat Stret, Vincent's served delicate pastries and excellent coffee. The next door Bierhalle was a microbrewery.

Chopin is from Warsaw. So is Marie Curie. Copernicus and Peter Gzowski were Polish.

The spirit of Warsaw impressed me. Although I knew of the Warsaw Uprising, I did not know that 200,000 civilians died. I did not know the Old Town had been pummelled to near oblivion by the Germans afterwards. Himmler said "This city must be obliterated from the face of the earth." 

After the war, residents restored every building to its former glory based on memory, old paintings and historic photos. The royal palace however was left in ruins as the Soviets overtook Poland. Its meticulous restoration did not begin until the 1970s but today it is complete- and filled with original works of art that were saved in Canada of all places!

There is so much I didn't know about Warsaw. It's a surprising place-a world class city. It's alive and full of hope. Put it on your bucket list!