Friday 23/10/15 – Warsaw / Poland
Insurance runs out on the bike on 8th November, so we are making the most of riding whilst we can before it is garaged for the winter.
Autumn is so beautiful here, with all the wonderful colours. There are so many leaves on the ground, and we are amazed at how the streets are kept so tidy, with the leaves being swept up regularly…. phew what a BIG job. The sweepers must be very glad when the last leaves have fallen.
We headed into the old town and to the parks and gardens where we have been before, to see the Autumn transformation. WOW! WOW! WOW! Simply stunning… I have never seen quite so many Autumn leaves, and it was fun to kick through them like we did as kids! The pics can tell you the rest, words will not do them justice.
As we were heading back to the bike, there was a guy behind us, who said in a loud voice.. ‘see even bikers come to see the Autumn leaves’. Turned round in a flash and quipped…. ’yep…. and we’ve come all the way from Australia!’ He (Sebastian) was with an American couple, from Washington DC (Mickey and Morty) and after much laughter, we got to talking. He told us of the place called the Tortilla Factory, where expats gather, and where we could go to watch the Rugby World cup semifinal (Australia V Argentina) in a few days time. Perfect!
Today we did two walking tours of Warsaw, the ‘free’ Orange umbrella tours. All one has to do to join the tour is to be in Castle Square under King Sigismund’s Column near the Royal Palace at the designated times, and ‘follow the leader’. If you consider the guide has done good job, then you ‘reward’ them…. mm new definition of ‘free’.
The first tour was of the Old Town (Stare Miasto) at 11am, and our guide was Martyna, who had given the talk on Warsaw’s architecture at the Internations group. She is tiny, but packs a whole lot of punch, and can ‘tell a good yarn’. With these tours, people can join and leave as they please, and at one stage the group was getting very big. Martina was surprised as she said this is uncommon for end of season, so much so that she asked me to do a rough head count. Came up with around 75, and was she was chuffed. Told her it was the Aussie factor… ya right! Anyway, turned out this was a season record, and there was still 60 or so at the end of the tour! Martina asked us to take a group pic and send it to her for the Orange Umbrella web site!
Warsaw has so much history! It is a testament to Polish courage, resilience, determination, commitment and pride that Warsaw was raised from the rubble (so to speak) after 85% was deliberately flattened by the Germans in 1944, following the Warsaw Uprising. It took approximately 6 years (1945- 1961) to reconstruct the Old Town from archival documents and pictures. The UNESCO web site tells us that “it is an outstanding example of near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to 20th century’. And further…. “The reconstruction of the Old Town in its historic urban and architectural form was the manifestation of the care and attention then to assure the survival of one of the most important testimonials to Polish culture.”
“The city was rebuilt as a symbol of elective authority and tolerance, where the first democratic European constitution of 3 May 1791, was adopted.” Rebuilding continued until the mid 60’s . The Royal Palace however took longer to rebuild, some 12- 14 years, (completed and opened to the public in 1984) and was built entirely from donations, community support and where possible using materials that were salvaged from the rubble. Our friend Jacko tells us that growing up as a young boy in Warsaw, part of their school day would be spent cleaning off the bricks from the bombed palace so they could be reused in the rebuild! It is true testament that following its reconstruction, the rebuilt Old Town was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage collection. Go Poland!
Some of these pictures of Old Town are from earlier visits, because having been here so many times now, we did not take as many pics during the tour, however thought their inclusion shows the town well. The black and white pics were from a photo board exhibition in the Old Town. Such wonderfully historic pictures with the pics of today, show the rise of Warsaw from the rubble!
We also saw many monuments, remembering the war and the uprising, but perhaps the most poignant was the Little Insurgent monument (Pomnik Małego Powstańac).
This monument is dedicated to the heroic children who fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising. It depicts a young boy wearing a German helmet that is all to big for him, and carrying a sub machine gun! We were told that the inspiration for this this statue, was a 13 year old ‘boy soldier’ who was killed on 8th August 1944. Behind the statue is a plaque with the words of a song “We’re the children of Warsaw, going into battle – for every stone of yours, we will give our blood”.
Off for a quick bite of lunch, before joining the next tour, which was the WWII tour. Our lovely guide this time was Beata; she was very gently spoken which rather suited the area we were visiting. We are once again having a living history lesson…. and we are riveted.
One of the many, many stories she told us was about the ceramic bandaids. They are placed on old buildings that have survived the ravages of war and show the scares of bullets and the like. Two ceramic bandaids overlap and form the shape of a cross to symbolise that buildings, just as people can also be wounded. They also symbolise the pain and healing of both.
Sunday 25/10/15 – World cup semi final
Off on the bike again today (whilst we can), this time to visit Praga, on the other side of the Vistula river. This remarkable city, having survived the devastation of war has many original buildings that clearly show the scars of war. We are also told it is a poorer part of Warsaw, has cheap rent and is known as the ‘arty’ district.
They look so sad and run down, yet many are still lived in and they certainly do have a certain distinctive charm about them. There are also a number of empty buildings in this district that remain unchanged, unclaimed and empty post war.
There is a lot of Graffiti, which surprisingly adds some colour and rather brightens the area a bit. The multi story buildings are built around a courtyard, and entry is via an archway. We walked through arches into the courtyards, a little tentatively at first, because we were mindful that we were going into peoples living areas. Many courtyards have small religious shrines that have ribbons, candles and flowers demonstrating the strong Catholic faith.
In one courtyard, a young girl (around 12 yo) and boy (around 10 yo) came flying down some stairs from inside the building, as only kids can. They came to an abrupt halt when they saw us, watching warily. Fair enough! Gave them a big smile, said ‘Dzień dobry’ (good morning). They gave a cautious reply, so we then said “we Australie’. They looked VERY surprised, and returned a small, but still cautious smile, Their curiosity was however aroused, so delved into my bag and brought out two clip on Koalas. The young lad looked pleased, then immediately masked his expression, whereas the young girl clapped her hands and exclaimed in delight.. ‘Ahh Koala!!’ With this the young lad too beamed broadly at us. That was the only English they used, and we, having exhausted our vast repertoire of Polska, said ‘do widzeni’ (goodbye), as we waved goodbye.
John had headed back to the bike, as I headed into the next courtyard (where he had already been). We still had our helmets on, so I hear him say…. “don’t think you should go in there, there are a bunch of blokes hanging around’. Oops too late…. already committed. Sure enough there was a group of ‘rough looking characters’ hanging around the boot of an old car, stubbies at the lips. They looked up, so I just grinned broadly, waved and said… ‘Dzień dobry’ ….. then… g’day fellas”. What a hoot! To the man, they all laughed and waved.. bless. Just goes to prove you can not judge a book by its’ cover!
We have both had great haircuts in Praga, which cost ….. John for beard and hair was 20 zloty and me for hair cut with wash was also 20 zloty ($7.00).. not bad!
Unlike Warsaw, which was rebuilt post WWII, Praga has remained original and essentially untouched. This area, whilst it did see some fighting, did not surfer the destruction Warsaw did. It is now that Praga is beginning to be reborn (so to speak), with new buildings and the restorations of older ones in progress. Praga has just so much to offer and is just another of Poland’s gems. Hope you enjoy the photos, many showing the artistic flare for which Praga is well known.
Back home after another awesome day on the bike. We donned all our Aussie gear and headed out to find our way to the Tortilla Factory. It was a great night, great atmosphere, great company, annnnd especially because Australia won.. Go Aussies! Next week it is Australia V New Zealand, so fingers crossed.