By the time I woke up this morning, Tara had already gone running, tidied the hotel room, and planned our day of sightseeing in Warsaw. Wow! She picked a museum about Marie Curie, the old town, and a park where we might hear free classical music concerts in the tradition of Chopin.
As we packed our camera and sound recorder, preparing to leave, were a little bummed when we realized it was 10:30 already. For a moment, we thought by the time we got into town and found our bearings, it would be late in the day. Then, we would feel rushed and wouldn't get to see much of anything and before we knew it it would be time to come home.
Thankfully, our sour mood only lasted a few seconds. We had forgotten we have car. Instead of wrestling with public transit in a language we don't understand, we reached the center of town in our LRC at record breaking speed, found a parking spot without trouble, and confirmed with a taxi driver that there are no tickets on weekends. Success!
Then, we walked to our first destination: the Marie Curie museum. I was hoping it would have lots of information about Curie's scientific work (she was a pioneer in the field of radioactivity). But, for some unknown reason, the exhibits were almost entirely about her childhood and family life instead.
There were lots of interesting photos to see, though. In particular, we liked this one of Marie and her husband with bicycles on their honeymoon. They don't look too wild about it, though:
There was also this great shot of her after giving a lecture at an Ivy League graduation:
…and then, our favorite. Just chillin' with her friend Albert:
After having learned very little about Marie Curie's contributions to science, we took a stroll through the old town. Lately, it seems that everywhere we go there are food markets!
There were loaves of bread and pastries, fried pierogis, sausages grilling next to what smelled like saurkraut, some sort of cold soup that was pink, and lots of fancily pressed cheeses.
While I was busy salivating at the sight of all this good food, Tara stopped to admire these scarves:
When she was through, we got back to the food! First, we bought some sort of warm, smoked cheese, served with cranberry sauce. It tasted how I imagine a campfire would, were it possible to eat one.
Then, while I enjoyed a real Polish kielbasa, Tara ate a small plate of pierogis.
Hunger curbed, we walked onwards, somewhat surprised that Warsaw was turning out to be so nice.
Though the old town is beautiful now, it was systematically destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. That is, when they weren't busy killing everyone:
By order of the German occupation authorities, the ghetto was cut off from the rest of the city on November 16, 1940. The ghetto area, surrounded by a wall, was initially 307 hectares (759 acres); with time, it was reduced. Starting in January 1942, it was divided in two parts called the large and small ghettos. Approximately 360,000 Warsaw Jews and 90,000 from other towns were herded into the ghetto. Nearly 100,000 died of hunger. During the summer of 1942, the Germans deported and murdered close to 300,000 people in the gas chambers of Treblinka. On April 19, 1943, an uprising broke out in the ghetto. Until mid-May, fighters and civilians perished in combat or in the systematically burned ghetto buildings. The remaining population was murdered by Germans in November 1943 in the Majdanek, Poniatown and Trawniki concentration camps. Only a few survived.
To the memory of those who suffered, fought, and perished.The City of Warsaw, 2008.
Shaking our heads, we left the old town and headed to our next destination, Lazienki Royal Park. We didn't find any free concerts, but there was so much to see and do (and photograph) that it was honestly more than a little overwhelming! Though we spent several hours walking around, I feel certain we could easily spend a day or more exploring the area.
Not far into the park, we spotted a little red squirrel in the distance. Excitedly, I grabbed the camera, hoping I could finally capture a picture of one. As I was reaching for our telephoto, it unabashedly hopped our way. Like, directly towards us. It stopped inches from our feet and looked up quizzically, as if to say, "Hey! Whats up? What, you've never seen a squirrel before?"
Then, still just inches from us, it dug around, unearthed a nut, and started eating it! We were both momentarily baffled. A real live red squirrel was crouched directly in front of us, nibbling a walnut like Bugs Bunny would absentmindedly chomp on a carrot! What's more, he or she didn't seem to be the least bit concerned about our presence. It was surreal. It felt like we were in a Disney movie.
Looking around, we quickly realized this unthinkable event was totally normal here. Kids and adults alike were all scraping around in the nearby underbrush, searching for fallen walnuts and hazelnuts to feed the adorable squirrels.
Once sufficient bait had been collected, little Polish kids would hold their hands outstretched off the path, calling out "bashsa, basha, basha." (to the tune of herrrrree kitty kitty kitty) while everyone took photos.
Tara was just as excited as the kids, and she too went on the hunt for a some bait. The first time she found a nut, a tiny bird swooped in out of nowhere and snatched it out of her hand!! After few seconds of confusion about what the heck had just occurred, we both started laughing. What a cool park!
It didn't take long to find a few more walnuts. Once they'd be collected, Tara tried again. Soon this little guy appeared, looked at her for a moment, put a teeny tiny little claw on her hand, and then greedily snatched the nut and absconded with it.
For the rest of the day, Tara would stop occasionally, sigh happily, and then remind me that she got to feed a squirrel.
The rest of the park was equally fairy tale-like. There were several over-the-top weddings going on:
While these kids were chasing and feeding pigeons, one of the wedding couples swooshed in like glittery royalty to have their pictures taken. All the pigeons and kids rapidly dispersed, though the bride managed to forcibly grab one little girl (a complete stranger, by the looks of it) by the arm for a photo-op first. Uhh?
Continuing on the magical vibe: there were several freaking peacocks, just walkin' around the park, completely indifferent to the hundreds of people around them:
Hands down, this was best park I've ever been to. Feeling hot, tired, and a bit overwhelmed by all we'd seen and done, we slowly walked back to the car through sun-dappled lanes. We began to wish we were resting on a bench, or getting a ride in one of the many strollers being pushed around by young mothers. Eventually, we succeeded in traversing the park to where our little red car was waiting to take us home.