It had never crossed my mind to visit Poland, even after meeting Ewa, and teaching children who had Polish fathers in Scotland and Sudan. I'd never felt the inclination to visit Eastern Europe at all, but Fate decreed otherwise. My husband had to go to the FiCEE exhibition as he was the only person with a valid Shengan visa, and I was to help him. He talked of hiring someone to help out, and as I knew Ewa had recently retired , suggested her. He jumped at the chance, and so , although my sight-seeing chances were reduced, I was able to renew my friendship with Ewa whom I 'd met two years previously when she visited Britain.
She advised us that with so little time for sightseeing we had to go the Old and New towns. We took her advice and really enjoyed the chance to stroll around this beautiful area.
Then she suggested we spend a few hours at Lazienki Park before she and her husband could come to take us to Wilanow. This we did.
I have since read on the Travel forum messages from people asking if it is safe to visit Warsaw, and is it worth going. I'd give a resounding YES.
Fondest memory: I think it must be visiting the Old Town, but making such a decision is hard. Wilanow is lovely, but the presence of the digging equipment spoiled the visit. And , of course, the chance of seeing Ewa in her home environment was an added bonus.
Favorite thing: Most of the time that I was in Warszawa, I was in the stand of Fruitconsult on the fruit organising trade fair MTAS. This was - because of the enthusiasm of both stand crew (translators Gosja and Alicja) and visitors - a very wonderful experience.
This small monument to Soviet genocide victims is very important for many, many Poles including me. For many it's a symbol of succesful fight against Soviet totalitarism and domination over Poland. Despite the nation will the monuments to the victims of any Soviet crime were forbidden till 1990. In 1981 (during limited freedom period after creating the Solidarity Movement) the first Katyn monument was secretly put at night in Powazki cemetery by unknown that time people. It was soon badly damaged at night by "unknown perpetrators" (read: UB = Polish KGB; never found though) and removed.
Most foreign visitors don't know how many touching and sad stories are hidden behind this memorial. There is no explanation at place in English (why?).
Let me translate the inscroptions:
"To memory of the officers of Polish Army who were killed by communist, Soviet totalitarizm all over the whole area of the Empire of Evil after September, 17, 1939." Signed: Katyn Committee, Colonel Kuklinski, Polonia from Chicago. Warsaw, May, 1998. And below: "stone from the fields of our fathers."
Katyn Committee is a common name of organisations founded all over the world by Polish families of the Katyn victims.
Colonel Kuklinski (1930 - 2004), a hero for many Poles now, was top Warsaw Pact spy for CIA in 1970 - 1981 when Poland was de facto under Soviet occupation. His museum (Kanonia St. in the Old Town) opens on May, 3, 2006. Visitors will walk on the former Soviet Union flags put on the floor which is controversial for some folks.
Chicago, Illinois, USA has the largest Polish community out of Poland.
On 17 September, 1939 Soviet troops invided Poland. The two great friends that time: Stalin and Hitler divided Poland.
Read more about Katyn massacre, please. Stalin's Killing Field in Katyn forest will be my first destination to visit in Russia, I am sure.
Fondest memory: I saw this monument for the first time during some tensions between Poland and Russia. Russia closed half a way investigation on the Katyn crime without charging anyone and refused to treat it as a genocide crime. That made many Poles outraged. Poland decided to start own investigation run by Polish governmental Institute of National Remembrance. The crimes of genocide never come under the statue of limitation in Polish law. This decision was criticized by Russian officials. Russia finally promised Poland to hand over all files of Russian investigation including 22,500 personal files of the crime victims but didn't do that until now (2006). Many Poles believe they will as Russia of 2000' isn't for sure the past Soviet Union, right?
Well, one of my foundest memories of Warsaw refers to that monument. I saw a couple with two teen-age boys standing and staring at this monument with flowers in hands. They had tears in eyes and desperately wanted to put their flowers. Well, it isn't a monument to put flowers under as you see in my picture. They asked me for help suprisingly... in English language. They were both from Chicago, USA, born in the USA. The woman had both parents born in Warsaw. They survived Warsaw Uprising as kids and luckily escaped to the USA soon after; quite common story. I got to know that someone from that woman family was killed by the Soviets during WWII and that her old parents were very unhappy not to be able to come to Warsaw and asked her to pay tribute to their ancestors among other places just by this, quite new that time monument.
Well, I found 5 people of my (not very popular) surname on the Katyn massacre victim list but as I know no-one of them is my family. There are more popular Polish surnames on the list: 64 Nowak and 42 Kowalski.
The fact that I could afford and pay myself for a 5-star hotel in Warsaw in January, 2006 is for me a symbol of unbelievable changes for better for me and generally for my country during the last 16 years (since 1990).
Le Royal Meridien Hotel in Warsaw reminds me Carlton Hotel (open my next picture) along upclass La Croisette boulevard in Cannes, France I saw in 1994 and can't forget. To stay at such hotel seemed absolutely impossible for me in 1994, that tume, later and ever. In Monte Carlo we saw luxury limousines picking up "rich and famous" to the Grand Casino and costumed boys opening doors for them. We thought that time that it's much better world which would never come to us or something like this. And in Warsaw 12 years later the boys opened doors for me haha. Unbelievable!
Keep in mind that by 1990 average Pole earned some 50 (fifty, not five!) times less than, average citizen of, say France or Germany. Thus buying even a small bottle of Coca-Cola in the West was a financial problem as it cost one day work in Poland. So, we traveled to the West to work (illegally) not for pleasure, mostly by funny, small, old-fashioned Eastern European cars full of... food and drinks onboard. The money earned hard (in my case in Greece and Italy) was spent for my next, much better (Japanese) car and first travels to the West for leisure. But anyway, with a short budget we didn't spend money for any hotels in 1994, we slept on a beach or in a car, we even liked it and enjoyed the trip a lot haha. But we surely dreamed about travelling in more "civilized" way, similar to our western friends... sleeping in cheap hostels, eating in cheap restaurants etc. etc. Very soon later those dreams came true.
Well, the last 10-15 years really totally changed my life and my country for better. It's still difficult to believe. But now it is more and more difficult to believe that we could travel and live in such uncomfortable conditions in not so old past.
Krzysztof Wodiczko is internationally renowned for his over 40 as for now (2006) large-scale slide and video projections on architectural facades and monuments all over the world. Whenever he choose your or closeby city for the presentation do not hesitate to go for it.
He was born in Warsaw in 1943, immigrated to Canada at age 34 and now he is Professor of Visual Arts, Department of Architecture, and Director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. I didn't see but remember from TV news his video/slide projection on the wall of the Town Hall Tower at Krakow's Market Square (topic: AIDS).
His exhibition in Zacheta National Gallery titled Monument Therapy (Pomnikoterapia) consisted of the three parts: video presentations of his monumental projections on TV screens, presentations (movies) on large, full size movie screens, and presentations of his artistic strange, industrial designs. Unfortunatelly taking any pictures of the exhibition was strictly forbidden :-(.
Fondest memory: I liked most the second part which was like a virtual night travel around famous buildings of the world combined with hearing moving stories of single people of various cultures, who experienced something very traumatic, tragic and couldn't deal with it alone, people who for example survived Hiroshima bomb explosion but lost family or lost a son in car crash or suffer poverty etc. The very private stories of those people showed to the large public during the projections on large buildings or monuments worked for them like a kind of psychotherapy, that is what Wodiczko calls Monument Therapy. Each Wodiczko's projection is about to move spectators about the leading topic and public problem like victims of car accidents, AIDS, poverty etc Look here.
I've watched interview with Wodiczko and his students on Polish TV and he seems to be a very nice and open person, beloved by his students at MIT. I would like to see his next projections in Poland, in Auschwitz for example (topic: Holocaust and Nazism), in Warsaw (Palace of Culture and Science; topic: Communism), and in Gdansk (Gdansk shipyard, topic: struggle for freedom). Should I e-mail a letter of invitation (or suggestion) to him? Join me, e-mail here :-).
Before going to Warsaw to a VT-meeting in January, 2006 I, as usual, checked what's on in Zacheta National Gallery of Art. I recommend to do it before each trip to Warsaw. I got to know that there was an exhibition titled "Boznanska Unknown." I am not familiar with art, so I asked Urszula who is a dedicated fan of art what's that and she shortly replied something like "WOW, fantastic, I MUST go to see it."
So we went to see that Boznanska on our last day in Warsaw. A day before, when my taxi driver passed by the building of the gallery at night, I asked him about the exhibition and he replied that he had seen long lines to the gallery the previous day. So, we went there pretty early on Sunday and we were not forced to wait in a line but some 2 hours later visitors were waiting as limited number of people was let in at one time. Keep in mind that many Warsaw loacals love to visit 3 places on Sunday, in chronological order: a church, a gallery or museum (option: park, ZOO) and a shopping mall/supermarket :-).
I bought a ticket (10 zl, on each Thursday free!) and followed the crowds and went upstairs. In the first large room I saw a lot of paintings by Boznanska and after taking 2 pictures certainly with no flash I was asked by a lady - museum guard not to take any pictures :-(.
Fondest memory: A young and very nice pregnant lady with huge abdomen (she is a happy mother now for sure) suddenly presented herself as a student of art, dedicated fan of Boznanska and welcomed all to hear her stories on life and art of Boznanska. She was talking with great passion. So, I easily got to know a lot of fascinating facts on the artist's life and paintings which was for me very interesting.
Boznanska (1865-1940) was taught painting and drawing by her mother. At age of 21 she moved to Munich, Germany to study art which caused conflict with her father. It was not costumary for a woman to be an artist that time. Soon she opened own studio in Munich, became famous and exhibited her works in many galleries in Europe and the USA. She was included among top 12 woman's painters in Europe by prestigeous Berlin's art journal. In 1898 she moved to Paris but often visited Poland. She never got married, she said that her husband was art. She painted over 1,200 paintings now mostly stored in private collections but also in Muzeum Orsay, Paris; Art Gallery in Lviv, Ukraine and National Museums in Cracow and Warsaw. She painted still life and landscapes but first of all numerous portraits. Now she is often classified as postimpressionist but in fact she developed own style. After WWI she closed in her studio and painted, painted. She was honored with the French Legion of Honor in 1912 and the Order of Polonia Restitutta in 1938.
I was surprised that many Boznanska's paintings were not well lighted, thus somewhat dark and sad. The lady-guide explained that strange and extravagant Boznanska used to paint not on canvas but on cardboards. The collectors from all over the world who hired her 110 works for the exhibition (all were never presented to the public) ordered specific weak lighting and usage of some filters not to damage the paintings.
I've visited the exhibition of pictures taken during numerous pilgrimages of John Paul II to various countries all over the world. The very interesting pictures show emotions of both the pope, various church hierarchies and people welcoming the pope. The photographs displayed around rotunda of the protestant church of the Holy Trinity are neither well lighted nor properly marked... it's a pity. The pictures were taken by Italian Arturo Mari - private photographer of a few popes and by Polish Jan Gruszynski.
Fondest memory: We, Urszula and I, were very, very lucky to meet personally Jan Gruszynski, living in both Warsaw and Paris, who told us a lot of fascinating stories on life of pope and his pilgrimages. He is a very friendly and open guy, dedicated passionate of photography, travels, other people and personality of John Paul II which influenced him a lot.
I regret Toyin wasn't with us, as saying about Nigeria Mr Gruszynski told us that one Black Nigerian church hierarchy in the picture with the pope, told to the pope that he had some Polish roots and could speak a bit Polish and indeed he told something in Polish. The pope smiled and replied that although he had been living in Vatican for years he probably knew Polish language a bit better :-). I didn't know that there were any Nigerians with Polish roots.
Shortly, after maybe half an hour of fascinating conversation we exchanged addresses and phone numbers with fascinating on VT Mr Gruszynski (he didn't know it), and... we do hope to meet him again... maybe even to welcome him to the next Warsaw VT-meeting, bad idea?
Jan Gruszynski was an independent reporter of 70 pilgrimages of pope John Paul II, philosophy and theology graduate of Wyszynski University in Warsaw, sociology graduate of Warsaw University and a Doctor of Sociology and lecturer at Sorbona University in Paris, a specialist on Polish immigration. He is also a dedicated traveller interested especially in Poles living in Siberia and the Far East of Russia where he traveled and made reasearches six times. He published a few hundreds reportages both in Poland and abroad and articles on ecumenical aspects of the pilgrimages of John Paul II.
I was lucky to meet personally and to speak with Stefan Centomirski (sometimes written as Tsentomirsky) in the protestant church of the Holy Cross. He is a painter living in Warsaw since 1994 and a friend of Mr Jan Gruszynski, a photographer of John Paul II.
We had short but interesting conversation on Siberia and his paintings which, I got to know, where once sad, painted in cold, mostly grey colours while now they are very colorful, painted mostly in vivid, warm colours (sample paintings here). It reflects changes in life of the painter. He was born in Poland, close to Kamienec Podolski (Western Ukraine now; Kam"yanets'-Podil's'kyy in VT location base) in 1928. His family, being regarded as kulaks and enemies of revolution, was sent sent to a small Siberiam village where Centomirski spent 12 years: 1936 - 1948. Then he studied art and painting in St. Petersburg (Leningrad that time) and Moscow.
His paintings were "usuful" in era of social-realistic art in the Soviet Union. Once, his painting was displayed front to the wall in Moscow Museum :-) I got to know that his works were displayed in Cafe Karma in Zbawiciela Square 3/5 but I didn't have time to go there. I saw his pictures in a catalogue he brought. Well, we were invited for a chat in a cafe somewhere close but unfortunatelly we were a bit in a hurry and I had to gently refuse. It's a pity. It would be fascinating to hear some of Centomirski's stories..
1. It's a common custom in many good Polish restaurants to give all costumers a small "gift" from the manager/owner in the beginning or at the end, usually a small local meal or drink. Well, we were more about to drink than to eat at about midnight. So, small glasses of Polish cherry (Poland is among top producers of cherry in Europe) were brought to us by our pretty and nice waitress, for free. It was a sign that they were going to close as well, I guess. Well, they - like most large restaurants - close at fixed hour, at 1 am in this case and they couldn't stay open longer, to the last guest, I mean. Following the gift we continued to order next glasses of cherry...
2. "Is it for me, please?", Kathy thought.
3. "Wow, it's for me, thank you!"
4. "Hmm... it smells nice"
5. "The next one for me, please", Claus asks.
I already met and get to know Brad (bradbrown) during the first official European VT-meeting in Vallegio sul Mincio, Italy in May, 2005. We both, Urszula and I, liked him a lot. We liked not only his VT-famous Brad-hugs (given to many VT-women :-), his energy, his passion to travel, dance, meet and entertain but his interesting and wise views on many real and abstract things, and we remembered passionating conversations we had. Quite an interesting and intriguing guy you are, Brad.
So, I was very happy to get to know that Brad along with the others comes to Warsaw on the way to London VT-meeting although just for one day/night. This simple fact encouraged me to prepare the meeting to welcome the VT-caravan coming with Brad. And we did it, met all together... Thanks a lot, Brad. Be as you are, please and follow my VT travel motto: always keep smiling and take it easy :-))). You are always welcome back to Poland. What about Krakow next time?
I was lucky to meet Agnieszka (Aggie_K) in Warsaw. Before the meeting I only got to know that she was a Pole living in Danemark and that she knew Brad and that her face looked very pretty :-). Well, I was very lucky to meet next very sympathetic VT-er, full of energy and always ready to entertain, right? Urszula (matcrazy0), my wife, liked Agnieszka a lot as well. It's a pity she couldn't join our company on Saturday and Sunday. We have to meet again here or there for sure.
1. I was lucky to meet Natalia (napi_pl) from Warsaw and enjoyed her company a lot even if we didn't have much time to talk. Well, her VT travel motto is "I belive I can fly" and, indeed, she believes in it :-). Thanks for coming, Natalia and welcome to the next VT-meeting... the question is not if but when and where. What about Krakow?
2. Katarzyna vel Kasia = Kathy (not a VT-member yet) came with Piotr (ZiOOlek). Well, I enhjoyed a lot watching your crazy dance with Brad :-) Thanks a lot for coming and welcome to VT!
3. Rusket, thanks a lot for interesting talks on travels, Norway, life, VT etc. etc, and for your very sympathetic mascot called Elge (you taught me how to pronaunce ir correctly haha). Warning: Norway and Stavanger is high on my future travel list.
What is my best memory of Warsaw and what I miss the most when I am away from Warsaw? Well, the reply is obvious: great company of over 20 VT-ers I was lucky to meet during the VT-meeting which took place on 20 - 22 January, 2006. So, let me share pictures and some, excuse, long comments on them... Do NOT rate this and the next tips, please!
Picture policy: just in case you want me to delete any of your pictures (no matter why), e-mail me as soon as possible, please!
81 MORE VT-MEETING PICTURES:
3. Evening 1
4. Evening 2
5. Night! Exclusively for adults!
6. Four VT-meeting travelogues on this page (40 pictures there)
In OKidoki hostel we met the rest of the VT-caravan, had some beers and first nice and amusing talks. Brad, surely was continuing hugging Urszula :-).
A few days before I made a reservation for the folks and us in Le Meridien Bristol hotel getting a large discount but check in was at 2 pm. So, we decided to wait and walk to the nearby hotel on time. At the hotel we met Ali (sachara) who had just come from Emmen, the Netherlands. Brad picked up Agnieszka (Aggie_K) from the Central Railway Station and despite unbelievable cold weather as for Warsaw (some - 20 C) we all together took a longer walk to Domowy Okruszek.
Well, this place offered some probably very good home-made Polish food but was too small for us all (a few micro tables) and they didn't offer any beer haha. So, we decided to look for something better for us close by. Someone discovered Turkish bar/restaurant at Bracka Street but we wanted a Polish one. Some of us used its toilet/restroom only (for free :-). We followed the suggestion of young woman (more expensive food but not bad) we met while walking and ended up in Batida restaurant right around the corner. We had some good and bad meals there and surely beer :-). But first of all we had next both amusing and interesting talks.
Urszula, my wife, who started to learn English in October, could speak slowly and practice her English with Ali (sachara). Wow, she was very happy to be able to communicate in English :-) and thankful to Ali for her patience haha. Well, we both, were lucky to meet Ali before, during the first official European VT-meeting in Valeggio sul Mincio, Italy in May 2005 and we liked her a lot.
There were a lot of jokes and both amusing and funny talkings during the meeting. Let me share just one. Hopefully Rasmus (Razmatec) from Copenhagen, Denmark will not ask me to delete it.
Well, somewhen between x and y bottle of beer :-) I got to know from Urszula that Rasmus proposed to Urszula, that is my wife... me to get marry his sister. Hmm... Urszula agreed and justified it telling me that Denmark and Copenhagen were so beautiful and Rasmus so nice (right!) that it would be not a bad idea :-). I asked Rasmus about it and he sustained the proposal and told me that his sister was younger than him. Well, is the idea still relevant, Rasmus? Lol! A bit more seriously: could you invite and bring your sister to the next VT-meeting, please? Thus maybe she would find someone from VT-gang by herself :-). VT-marriages and VT-couples are happy, as I know.
At the beginning, I couldn't learn that, a bit complicated to me, name: Rasmus. But I was shortly explained that there was an abbrevation: Ras. It was easy to remember for me as "raz" means "once" (one time) in Polish language.
Following the suggestion of fellow VT-caravan coming to Warsaw from Lithuania I booked rooms in Le Meridien Bristol hotel at a very low price (as for 5-star hotel) for a fixed number of persons. Well, we were a bit more numerous... and the discount price we got was for rooms with single beds only :-). So, at first we, Urszula and I, welcomed all to our room. Let's say I don't know what happened later :-). Look at my last hotel pictures. I am really sorry folks that I didn't get up early enough the next day to thank you all and to say you goodbye and wish you a great time in London.
1. With Brad (Bradbrown) in one bed :-)
2. June (poons) on a chair and Rasmus (Razmatac) on the floor :-)
3. Attention, cameraman!
4. Hmm... where to sleep?
5. Joy :-)