Where do you start when you get back from a day of wandering about Warsaw and you have almost 400 pictures that you manage only to whittle down to 78? At the beginning.
We’re all tired from our intense pace these first few days, and it showed when we all collapsed into bed: it was eleven by the time we headed out the next morning. I’d already been out quickly for baked goods for breakfast. A friend who’d visited last night told us she’d passed a promising looking bakery on her way here, so I retraced her steps looking for it. I knew she’d taken the metro to get here, and the nearest station is Rondo ONZ, so I walked along Swietokrzyska Street toward the metro stop, but I saw nothing but old-style shops, all closed for renovation. I kind of wished at least one of them was still open. Still, even with everything closed, it looks like the Warsaw I knew in the late 1990’s.
I couldn’t find the bakery A had mentioned, but I knew that if I just wandered around a bit in a systematic way, I’d find one. And sure enough, half a block later, there was Piekarnia Aromat. This was no typical Polish bakery: not a regular drozdzowka or rose-filled donut to be found. Instead there were things like raspberry brioche and something called “buleczka z pistacjami.” Literally, “a roll with pistachios,” it was a big hit with everyone — but L, of course. She was happy with her chocolate filled something-or-other.
Our plan for today was simple. In fact, we only had one thing on the agenda: Łazienki Park. It was a cool, overcast day — perfect for a long walk in the park. In the end, we spent about five hours there, and we could have all easily spent more.
First, though, we had to get there. We walked down along the edge of Park Świętokrzyski on our way to the Świętokrzyska metro station. The Boy was already counting the modes of new transport he’d experienced: “First a train, now the subway!” He thought for a moment and asked about trams.
“Later. Maybe even today.”
“Yesss!” (At one point the other day, when encouraged to “mow po polsku” he explained that “taaaaaak!” just doesn’t express happiness like “Yesssss!”). A few stops later, we got off at Politechnika station, walked a few hundred meters (which included a surprise: a rescue vehicle roared out of the station right as we approached), and there we were, in the famed Łazienki Park by the statue of Józef Piłsudski. The Boy insisted on a picture.
We wandered around a bit and took a gondola ride. The Boy managed to chalk up another mode of transportation, and the gondolier provided a bit of history, including the sad fact that the peacocks and other animals are harassed almost incessantly. “People will be people,” he concluded rather stoically.
As we were disembarking from the gondola, we met M and her son E, and with our live-long Varsovian as a guide, we continued through the park, eventually making it to the Old Orangery, which is filled with statuary and busts of the most eclectic collection: busts of various Roman emperors — including Caligula — fill the garden, while the interior itself is filled with busts for famous Poles in history, most of them completed by Italians.
As we were leaving, we came upon a group of young people, probably ages eleven to fifteen, who were starting some kind of drawing exercise. The lady running it asked L her name, jotted it down on a name tag with the comment that she was the third L in the group, and gave her some charcoal pencils. (“See, I told you,” laughed M later. “‘L’ has become a very popular name in Warsaw.”)
It turned out that it was a two-hour program. L begged to stay. She didn’t have to beg long. K and I were both thrilled that she had taken the initiative to participate in something like this. We explained that we wouldn’t stick around, that we’d leave her there and explore the park further on our own. “That’s fine.”
“And you haven’t eaten since breakfast. You won’t be able to each for two hours more at least.”
Our girl is growing up.
We left her among the statuary and went in search of gofry and ice cream. And people watching.
Łazienki Park is perhaps the best place in Warsaw to people-watch. There is an incredible mix of people: tourists, locals from two to one hundred and two, families, lovers. (Click on pictures for larger view.)
We returned to a happy girl with two gofry to snack on as we made our way to M’s apartment, where her husband J was cooking dinner for us. Along the way, the big D300 put away, I snapped pictures with the little X100, trying to capture a few images that show the old Warsaw and the new, sometimes separately, sometimes juxtaposed.
There was the drug store that looked just like shops did when I arrived first in 1996.
There was an enclosed soccer field that seemed timeless, as if it had always been there.
There was a middle school with graffiti and rebar.
A newstand (“This, this, this is a newstand! I have meat here!” came to mind, a line from my favorite Polish film. In Mys, though, the newstand is not in a kiosk but its own building.) across from a used clothing store that sells clothes by weight.
And lots of people just going about their business.
Dinner and the evening flew by as it does with friends you haven’t seen in years. The conversation ranged far and wide, and for once there was on worries about whose toes we might step on with this or that comment when things turned to more political matters. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, and we can talk about it rationally and leave disagreements be. Not that that happened this evening. Parenting and parenthood tended to dominate the conversation and the environment in general.
After dinner, one last adventure: a neighborhood concert just a few blocks away in Szare Domy, a neighborhood of blocks of flats dating from the twenties that have small garden areas tucked in between the blocks. Usually closed off to non-residents, the neighborhood was throwing something like a block party, and everyone was invited.
The kids played. The adults chatted. The residents who stayed at home watched from the balcony.
Finally, around nine, everyone called it an evening. The D’s went back to their apartment after walking us to the nearest tram stop.
We made it back to Emilii Platter Street without worries, did some shopping, and had a final, amusing encounter. Walking out of the shop, E asked K, “Mommy, can I have the banana now?”
“No, just wait till we get back to the apartment,” she replied in Polish.
A young man sitting on a bench called out after us in English: “Why does he speak English when she speaks Polish?”
I turned around and summed it up as quickly as I could: “American reality.”