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New Europe

Day One Hundred: Warsaw

Monika Richardson 
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Monika, my guide to Warsaw.
Michael Palin - New EuropeIt may not dazzle from a distance, but down at street level Warsaw has some intriguing areas, and the comparisons with Paris become less fanciful when we walk through the squares and cobbled alleyways of the entirely rebuilt Old Town. Suddenly Warsaw becomes less functional and more mysterious. It seems extraordinary that the grey concrete apartment blocks are of the same age as the Baroque and classical facades, recreated from piles of rubble in the 1950s, with the help of drawings left behind by Canaletto's nephew, Bernardo Bellotto.

I ask Monika how much the war still means to young Poles. She's adamant that there is no other nation as conscious of its history.

'You read in your primary school about soap made of people's flesh, and people's hair made into handbags and it all happened to the generation of your parents.'

Then she checks herself.

'But I think it also makes us want to catch up, and show that the potential's still there and we're not slaves of our past.'

'Does anyone in Poland still learn Russian?'

'Not any more. I think the reaction is rather going the other way at the moment, and it's a shame. I mean who wouldn't want to read Dostoevsky or Pushkin in the original. It's a beautiful language.'

It starts to rain. Miss Vietnam, being photographed in a picturesque corner of the Old Town Square, gathers up her shimmering gold ao-dai and is whisked away.
'I think Poland in its entirety is now pro-Western, but with certain islands of traditionalism that's not pro-Russian or pro-anything. It's more sort of guarding our identity. This is always a big issue as our identity has been taken away from us on so many occasions.'

A traditional end to the day at a restaurant called, after the mountain region of the south, Podhale. It's a people's palace of a place with lots of old-style beamed rooms and food for those who work in the fields all day. Massive helpings of everything. I have beetroot soup and chicken escalope with oscypek, smoked goat's cheese, others have sets of spare ribs the length of a vibraphone. Mountainous beers and two in-house vodkas. All of which just about helped to deal with a tuba and accordion player serenading us with 'Zorba the Greek'.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred: Warsaw
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Warsaw
  • Book page no: 238

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