Saturday 11 August 2007

Warsaw arising

A tourist itinerary

My first day in Warsaw was interesting as I spoke with the concierge about what interesting things to do and see in Warsaw.

My hotel room on the 7th floor overlooks the Saxon Garden and work commencing on the restoration of the Saxon Palace, the excavations now showing the old foundations.

After a chat to the concierge, I decided on the Warsaw tour, the guide would pick us up at 13:45, so I had time to kill before that rendezvous.

A quick walk down to Tourist Office for the Warsaw Tourist Card which I might not use, but is useful if I do need to get into one of the museums listed along my way.

A tourist dilemma

As I got to the ramparts of the Old Town, a girl accosted me and requested I stop to talk, I remonstrated saying there was no reason to stop; these squares are full of people trying to con tourists, sometimes you have to be quite assertively uncooperative – the best way is to keep walking and they eventually would fall away.

She had a good story, a university rag day where they to make people smile and engage in some social interaction, the accosted party rates them between 1 to 10 eventually parting with cash for some nondescript children’s charity and signing a form recording this meeting. That is a smart confidence trick if I ever saw one and I got fleeced and ended up with a candle souvenir.

Hardly had I been done over by this lady a man who had been waiting in line came over to tell me a sorry tale about prison, unemployment, food and shelter.

I do not like hearing these tales, I am not the social services and really as a tourist, it is none of my business however hard these people try generate empathy for their circumstances, it is a complete put-off as it sometimes gets aggressive.

Give it me back

I gave him something only to be confronted with the effrontery of it not being enough – You must be kidding me – I doubt if anyone had ever given him as much before I did, but because I could be that generous I sometimes get taken for dork – that really angers me.

On some occasions I have asked to be given back my money and they should go bother someone else, that usually jolts them back to reality, but this time, the only thing I could muster with a loud voice in the crowded square was – I am just a tourist in Warsaw, your problem is not my problem; the last part became a chorus repeated three times as I walked away and he also fell away.

The next little kid who crossed my path with a mendicant’s countenance stiffened by parental guidance got menaced with my cane swinging in offensive poise; I was not going to suffer this stuff gladly anymore.

Getting back on tour

I made it back for the hotel in time to catch a nap and then meet up for the tour of Warsaw which started off as a tour of hotels where only the English and Germans kept time and others kept us waiting for up to 15 minutes and did not utter a greeting talk less of an apology as they boarded the bus.

In fact, I thought it would b a bus tour but it included a two hour walk in different places, so the first walk was through the Park Lazienkowski towards the Palace on the Water which we entered and strangely everyone but those with canes had to wear shoe protectors.

The heavens opened as we roamed the rooms and corridors, this weekend is not expected to exhibit the best of sunny weather even though it would get hot and very humid.

Polish angst weaved into a guided tour

Funny quips about shape of the parliament building looking like circus but the circus really being in the chamber or the some federal building with a yellow colour being a banana republic got us all laughing; the Poles can make fun of themselves.

We called at the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto heroes and heard about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising and there have been quite a few in 1794, 1830 and lately 1944 - before we ended up at the Warsaw Old Town where we sought refuge for quiet contemplation in a reconstructed church from the elements before we returned to our hotels.

As interesting as the tour was, along with the very friendly people I met, much of what I gleaned from the tour guide was Polish angst, Polish suffering, the equating of their history to that of the Jews and their more consuming hatred of the Russians over the Germans.

At least the Germans have tried to apologise for the Nazi occupation and Jewish persecution, it would appear Russia is still too big to recognise that they had done Poland wrong, not to talk of the fact that Western Europe went to war with Germany over Poland and then sold them out to the Soviet influence at the Yalta Conference.

Today, I should do something cultural like a Frederic Chopin recital and something scientific about Marie Skłodowska-Curie, both Polish born who emigrated to Paris at some point in their lives.

So far so good.

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