Out of the blue I go to the train station and buy a ticket to Warsaw. Brest, where I am now visiting my brother, is so close to it and I can not resist the temptation. My train leaves at 4.30 in the morning. I go to sleep for a few hours and at 4 am I am at the station to pass the customs control –there’s only me and another person waiting. The customs girl (it’s interesting to see fragile women wearing those incongruously big uniforms) is surprised I don’t have any luggage. Indeed, I find it very exciting to be travelling to another country with no luggage other than a handbag. It adds lightness and augments the feeling of freedom and adventure. As I approach the train I find my carriage locked, so I jump in the nearest one and the polish conductor talks polish to me – I understand as it’s similar to Serbian, and can not suppress giggling –maybe it only sounds funny to me –as a Russian speaker. I follow him to find a compartment all to myself. It’s beautiful: a comfortable bed with light down-pillow and duvet, a table convertible into a sink and a cupboard concealing a mirror. It’s cozy and warm. I lie In darkness for a while enjoying the beauty of the lullabying train sound, before falling sound asleep to be woken up shortly by yet another customs control –on the polish side this time. An astute-looking woman, tight-lipped and cold-eyed, scrutinizes my passport and asks me far too many questions…those artificial borders we create –aren’t they a nuisance. Eventually she stamps my passport and leaves me in peace and harmony with the music of the train journey. I wake up rather early and happy for my biological clock to give me time to enjoy the morning coffee and the view of snow-crust Poland – which is very much like our own, the barren picks of black trees, endless snow fields and small villages flying past every now and then. At one moment I notice a pillar of a Macdonald’s sign rising high above the tree tops – gush, those Americans have taken after Columbus, haven’t they –in their insatiable quench for pioneering new lands… As we are approaching Warsaw I notice the architecture of houses changing – now and then baroque castles with fanciful columns rise up right by the railway. Peculiar choice of location, isn’t it? Yet, if you think of it – where else would one have as many spectators, as much opportunity to expose?:)
I take off at the central station of Warsaw – they’ve got three train stations, and the train passes through each of those. The central station is underground, and the building itself is rather incongruous, propped by a big shopping centre. I walk up looking for Information - finding it shortly, but to no avail -as the woman at the desk doesn’t speak any language other than polish, and my understanding of it is rather restricted. Luckily, a girl standing next to me turns out to be a Russian and she directs me - my first destination is the Old Town, or Staro Mjesto in Polish. It’s quite a walk, she says advising me to take a tram or a bus. But I love to feel the place, especially in the early hours of the morning, when the streets are deserted, when the city is still asleep, or merely waking up – it’s defenseless and you can feel it at this hour at the most. The day is crispy cold and blue sky-ee- beautiful. All the snow seems to have been taken out of Warsaw to make streets immaculately clean and dry. The first thing I see as I leave the building of the train station makes me feel I took the wrong train and back home now – there’s a Stalin’s skyscraper right in front of me, there are seven of those in Moscow- a soviet response to American skyscrapers. Apparently, the building here is a reminder of the soviet expansion, not the worst reminder – it’s full of character, pride and glory – reminiscent of the architecture of the Houses of parliament in London from the outside, and all ours inside..i have a very soviet take of those from inside –which developed during my short-lived work experience in the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow, i never failed to get lost in those intricate labyrinths...maybe stalin planned it this way –with a view of getting an enemy confused, should the occasion arise.. Warsaw’s skyscraper is known as the Palace of Culture and Science during the day, and at night apparently it is converted into a cinema (as a glowing light has it) and is opalizing in northern lights which bring to mind a simile to a Disneyland entertainment -maybe that’s their way to say a No to the soviet past, as demolishing the building would be an overstatement.
Now and then I chance upon a passer-by and confirm the direction with them – surprisingly, everybody I met so far speaks English (apart from the Information desk lady). I like to ask people, to see their reactions, I feel joy if they are willing to help and reciprocate kindly–that’s one of the ways for me to feel the place, its character and vibration. Shortly I take a turn to the Noviy Svet (New World) street which takes me past beautiful monuments, and wonderfully architectured buildings – Staszic Palace, the seat of the Polish Academy of Sciences facing the Nicolaus Copernicus Monument, one of the Polish capital's notable landmarks. It reminds me of the monument to yet another distinguished astronomer, the co-thinker- Giordanno Bruno In Rome, it’s exceptional, I couldn’t take my eyes of it –to understand, you should see it with your own eyes; a monumental, yet subtle and graceful neoclassical Presidential palace, the Visitationist rococo Church originally dating back to the 17th century – back then it took over a hundred years to build it (and a few seconds and a lot of hatred to destroy –in the 20th); numerous monuments -one roughly curved in metal is hiding in between the trees and looks alive. I pass by the Bristol hotel –why is there a Bristol hotel or at least a Bristol restaurant wherever you go? I wonder if Bristol has one too… and all the way, this wide sunlit street is trimmed with beautiful ornamental lanterns and lamp posts.
I love those lights –there’s something mysterious about them, making you wonder what they’ve seen during their life time, what scenes they have lit…Staro Mjesto is appearing at the distance. And I can’t help stopping to marvel at the view. I feel as if I’m a character of a fairy-tale –the buildings at the distance are small middle-age miraculously coloured houses…
The Warsaw Old Town dates back to as far as the 13th century. It was almost completely destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The reminder is the only wall which survived the battle and demonstrates the holes made by firing guns. The entire city was reconstructed and placed under Unesco protection as the World Heritage. The Castle Square with a Sigismund’s Column, one of the oldest secular monuments in northern Europe, is opening up in front of the old town facing the the Royal Castle, if you approach its walls your eyes will feast on a bird’s eye view of the city and the Vistula river. This square was the scene of many dramatic scenes from Polish history. On 1 September 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, the monument as well as the entire old town were demolished by the Germans. I continue my way into the Old Town, along its narrow cobbled streets with quaint colorful houses and enigmatic lanterns in abundance. The streets labyrinth their way around and I follow, happy to get lost in its realms – when lost, you can make lots of interesting and unexpected discoveries.
Shortly I come to a halt- a hot-milk-foamy-cappucino-and-hot-apply-strudel break. I leave the Old town and go to the tourist information bureau. I’ve never been into any tours, I like to discover places on my own and get lost, but once when, funny enough, I happened to be a guide for some Russians around London, given non-stop drizzle and my poor orientation, I couldn’t think of a better choice than a city tour double decker…and I thoroughly enjoyed it myself, it’s a very informative way to cover all sights of the city in a concentrated way. So I decided to have a glimpse of main attractions in Warsaw that way too, and having a friendly talk with a guy at the information desk I bought a ticket…no double or any other decker arrived…apparently, information service is not the strongest side of Warsaw. I gave my ticket back and asked the friendly guy for a piece of advice on what to see and where to go…I did abit of reading prior to my trip, but it’s always better to listen to tips of a local… or so I thought, and for some mysterious to myself reason, followed his tip, and quitted the beautiful Staro Mjesto heading for the Copernicus Science Centre.
The walk was beautiful – i went all the way back, past the president’s palace, and down to the river, past the national library depicting the notes of Chopin on its walls -to the suspension bridge, -the new modern architectured area of Warsaw, so is the Copernicus science centre. As i approached it i saw the queue which seemed reasonable...
The reasonable turned out to be over two hours. As my queue was approaching I was terribly tempted to leave the very moment. By then i got absolutely assured the place is far from being my cup of tea, the science tricks and gadgets have never been. – yet, something led me here, so i obediently served my toll (don’t I attribute too much to providence, rather than admitting my bull-headedness and lack of common sense?:) .. the content did not surprise me, it was the way i imagined it to be..so the tour took some 15 minutes (including vising a WC -that’s what i call time management - two hours of waiting-15 minutes exploringJ. . yet, as I said, i do believe there’s a meaning behind everything, so i found a meaning to this trip too: chancing upon a water mechanism with a sign: “the water wheel speeds up, slows down, stops and changes directions. Such capricious behaviour is explained by chaos theory which states that small alterations can sometimes have huge, very distant consequences. This is known as the butterfly effect – an insect flapping its wings in Brazil might start a breeze that eventually causes a hurricane in Texas”... and my life acquired a whole new meaning. My next destination is the Łazienki Palace also called the Palace on the Water located in Royal Baths Park, it hosts Chopin’s concerts and if lucky, I might chance upon one. I take a bus following tips of a few passers-by, I take the right bus in the wrong direction – which I find out a few stops later and change to another side… I buy chocolates on the way – the polish make great chocolates, mint and coconut, all sorts. They are big for wafers too – you can see everybody eating those in the streets with cream on top. Munching my chocolates I enter the park, it’s around 4 pm and the day light is drawing to a close, the sun slowly slides down the sky, the light is at its most beautiful at this hour, so is the park, it reminds me of the Arkhangelskoe estate next to Moscow, hosting wonderful jazz festivals and classical concerts every summer –one thing I missed when away from Russia.
The palace is closed by this hour, but the park itself is most beautiful, and I enjoy the walk –the view of the lake with ducks swimming in small patches of water in between the ice, and peacocks- most incongruous in the white of the snow. I don’t really like peacocks –their beauty doesn’t appeal to me, it feels gaudy. I walk all the way through the park along the river now and then stopping to breathe in the freshness of the crisp frosty air and to feast my eyes on the view. The sun colors the top of the trees golden and it feels more autumnal given the scarcity of snow. Now and then I feel a surge of sadness – as I’d love to share the feelings I experience at this moment, the beauty I see – as when sharing we make it augment…but then the strength of the moment overtakes and I give away to it. I’m happy, here and now.
As I leave the park it’s almost dark, I look up and see the Moon –it’s almost full, high up I notice a building too – it looks like a palace, a long case of stairs is leading up to it. A beautiful view of the night Warsaw opens in front of me as I reach the last stair. All cities are gorgeous at night, at any perspective, from land or through the illuminator of a plane. Irresistibly lookable.
I circle around the building -the entrance is on the opposite side. It turns out to be the Ujazdowski Castle which used to be a hospital for decades, at present housing the Centre for Contemporary Art – I almost clap my hands with joy at chancing upon what I normally look for purposefully. As I enter I find a surreal picture- a real life installation: people queuing to record their heart beat, and a doctor with a statoscope laboriously recording some data –prior to any person joining the queue and entering a little black cabin. Apparently, she’s selecting which hearts are worth recording. Meet Christian Boltanski, he collects heart beats –to highlight a memory of an individual as opposed to that of a humankind. Yet, what’s a Memory, isn’t it construed of numberless individual heartbeats.. I am at loss desperately searching for a novel in-depth idea… I proceed to the Modern Art exhibition to find myself wandering from one dark room featuring a big screen with black and white static and buzz, at times you feel the latter growing aggressive, the screens whirling around you. I chance upon another masterpiece then: called green gas eyes and featuring a video of two burners...oh, dear. Hasn’t Art tremendously expended its borders as of late… I quit the gallery – puzzled, at the very least. Don’t take me wrong – I love modern art, even though I am far from referring to myself as a connoisseur. But I have my idea of the mission of art, and it does not agree with that of the Viennese Actionism or Boltanski.
The affectation of this gallery resonates picturesquely with the naturalness of the park. I leave it and take a long deep breath of fresh night air. Isn’t it wonderful how one can find themselves in so many realities, in no time.
Russian-Polish relations have been dramatic and rather on a suppressed side – for the latter. No wonder they prefer to pretend (as ‘they say’) they don’t understand Russian, even if they do (in soviet times Russian was a compulsory subject at schools). Other than the masquerade lights of the Palace of Culture and Science, I did not find anything incongruous, quite on the contrary – in my less than 24 hour stay or rather walk – as I did non-stop, I found Warsaw absolutely adorable, so did its people –welcoming and hospitable...A man on a bus I asked directions (as I always do - post-factum – it’s only thanks to efficient airport policies that I didn’t take a wrong plane, so far:) explained to me where to get off, and helped me to buy a ticket from a bus driver who seemed not to comprehend me – he refused to take a note, and I only had one coin – the man offered to help me out –he fumbled in his pocket and extracted a missing coin...
You can find more visual impressions HERE