Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Warsaw: the first two days

We arrived in Warsaw Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, my suitcase did not, and remains lost in the airline ethers, adding a bit of complication to life.  Fortunately our apartment has a washing machine, so daily ritual involves wearing one set of underwear and socks while the other set is drying on the heated towel rack.

We were met at the airport by wonderful Anna, the PhD student who is serving as our host.  She is altogether remarkable - brought us to our apartment, gifted us with some simple groceries, maps and guidebooks, and has been dutifully (if unsuccessfully) pursuing my luggage each day.
We were, of course, dog-tired upon arrival.  We explored our immediate neighborhood (mostly apartment buildings and a few markets), ate a simple meal courtesy of Anna, and slept for nearly 12 hours.

Sunday's first task was to make certain Susan could find the building where she would be teaching the next day.  It is a short walk from the apartment, and a grim building indeed.  It houses WISP, the Warsaw International School of Psychology.  It is a part of the University of Warsaw, whose main campus is in the Old Town section, and offers graduate and undergraduate programs taught entirely in English.  Many courses are taught by visiting faculty like Susan, with a two-credit course compressed into a single week (meaning she will give the mid-term exam on Wednesday).  The building was occupied by the Nazis during the war, and one gets the sense that it has not been dusted since.  I will encourage Susan to write about her classroom experience.

We also walked to a huge shopping mall, suspecting that I might need to purchase some clothing, and had lunch at a so-so restaurant there.  We soon learned that "English is widely spoken in Warsaw" is a bit of an exaggeration, but we are getting by on smiles, gestures, and our few Polish words.

Anna had done much scrambling to get us "senior" passes for the buses and trams, so it was time to put them to use.  We rode to Old Town, which we had visited briefly our last time here, and wandered about.  We mistakenly entered the Presidential Palace, passing through layers of security, and became part of a tour group.  The tour was, of course, conducted entirely in Polish, and once it began there was no way to leave until it was over.  I cannot imagine many American visitors have taken that particular tour.

Old Town by night, even in a light, cold rain, is spectacular!  The lights are magically beautiful, and the main street featured holiday "installations" - small buildings made of lights through which little children could run giggling.  Falling snowflakes were projected onto the walls of buildings.  The area was completely destroyed by the Nazis, then rebuilt brick by brick.  Unlike the central business district with its skyscrapers, no building in Old Town (palaces excepted) is more than three stories, and they ooze with charm.  We treated ourselves to a wonderful dinner in a cozy below-ground restaurant (me in jeans and a ragged shirt, but what can you do?).  Our appetizer was raw salmon, cream cheese and caviar, our entree chicken stuffed with veal pate.  For dessert we sipped vodka and nibbled on faworki, a simple pastry I had not tasted since childhood, when it was made by a Polish friend's grandmother.  We walked off our meal, and with a bit of trial and error found our way home on the buses (later learned that if the number on the bus is red it is an express that will sail past the stop you wanted).

Susan reviewed her lectures, and we slipped into our peculiar little bed (the apartment is worthy of a description in another post) in (vain) hope that she would get a good night's rest.


Lori said...

Great stuff John. Keep it up!

Annette said...

Yes, I am very much enjoying your writing, too and hearing about your adventures. :-)
Annette G.