Bright, sunny and chilly start again.
We started the morning with a tour of bits of Warsaw in the coach, with commentary from Adam, one of the tour guides that were with us today. All very comfortable, but, although it was being explained very clearly, there was once again far too much information to make any real sense of.
Poland has had a very chequered history. It didn’t have much of a chance, squeezed as it is between two entirely different cultures – Germany in the west and Russia in the east. For 123 years, it didn’t exist at all as a self governing country between 1795 and 1918, divided between Germany, Austria and Russia. It produced the first written European constitution in 1791, but that only lasted four years before it was taken over again.
Its history can be traced back to the mid 10th century, with a succession of kings including the aforementioned Sigismund III, arguably the best of a pretty mediocre bunch.
Poland regained its independence in 1918 as a republic, but came under Communist rule after World War II. It got its freedom in 1991 after the fall of Communism, and is today a flourishing economy of around 38 million people.
All of this means that Warsaw is a city of contrasts. Much of the greyness of the Communist regime has been replaced, but the wide streets preferred by that administration (so they could run tanks along them to suppress rebellions) are much in evidence.
Our first stop was a very pleasant park dedicated to the Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin, born 1810, died 1849, a tragically short life.
Our excellent guide, Agnieszka (I think), told an extraordinary story about Chopin that I did not know. He knew he was dying – he was always in poor health and was living in Paris at the time. He summoned his sister, Ludmyla, and asked that she take his heart back to Warsaw after his death. Appalled, she nevertheless sought ways to bring this about. How the heart was removed is unknown, but she preserved it in a large jar filled with cognac!
She managed to smuggle it into Warsaw underneath the vast skirts ladies wore in those days, and it is buried in the Holy Cross church in Warsaw.
In 2014, a clandestine group of scientists and church people dug it up, ostensibly to check the container. They actually found that the heart was in great condition, proving (of course) beyond doubt that alcohol is good for the heart! 🤣
This park is alongside Bellevue Palace, once inhabited by the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, who died in 1798.
Back on the bus again. We ended up in the Jewish Quarter of Warsaw.
Poland had a very large Jewish population – over 4 million at one stage. The Nazis accounted for over 3 million of them – much the largest proportion of Jews murdered. The death camp at Treblinka massacred the biggest number.
Now only about 15,000 Jews live in Warsaw, a city of over 2 million people spread over a very large area.
A short bus ride, then, to the Old Town. This was a most attractive area.
Here we said goodbye to our coach driver, Michael, who has been with us since Prague and has been absolutely stellar, both in terms of his driving skill and his helpfulness. Top man.
This whole area was completely devastated by the Nazis in 1944 when they realised the war was ending and the Russians were on the other side of the river. The amount of rubble was enough to have built a skyscraper more than twice the height of the Twin Towers in New York.
Miraculously, the Polish people have reconstructed this lovely area in an extraordinarily short space of time, using materials from the rubble and finance from the people of Warsaw, raised by additional taxation. The first restorations were completed by 1953, nine years after the war ended. Truly fantastic.
We were then left to our own devices, so we wandered off to find some lunch. Settled on an open air café in warm sunshine, where we had a nice snack and some nice wine.
Back to the hotel to start packing as we fly home tomorrow, but we decided to investigate the enormous square directly outside our hotel, as it contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It was at this point we noticed a small park behind the tomb. We had a look around.
We then had a look at the information boards around the Saski Palace foundations. Interesting.
Final act in Warsaw was to go out for a meal in a restaurant called Selavi. Geddit? C’est La Vie? Oh, never mind……
Anyway, it was very good, and there was a party of Americans on the same trip on the next table, who were in a good humour, despite the fact that some of them had to be up at 3 a.m. to get their airport transfers. A great way to finish.
Our transfer is at a reasonably civilised 9 a.m., so I’ll report on how that went. In the meantime, good night.