We travel for days like yesterday. Or today, because San Francisco time Sunday still continues. Our Sunday started on an airplane over the Atlantic, where Dave and I read everything Rick Steves' guide had to say about Poland in general and Warsaw in specific. We studied how to say hello (Dzen dobry) and thank you (Dziekuje) and practiced on the flight attendants (unsuccessfully). I was wondering how much I was going to be able to understand knowing Russian. Turns out, I do okay. About as well as Dave, with his knowledge of Russian. We can count and tell prices. We can smile and say "po-angielsku." I had to photograph a sign in the airport that said "baggage zagubleny" (lost) because in Russian this means "baggage that has been brutally murdered."
Rick Steves alerted us to the fact that on Sundays in the summer there are Chopin concerts in one of the local parks at noon and 4 pm. So after we took the bus to our hotel, we immediately set out to go to the concert. It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon; the weather was perfect, sunny and almost hot; the city was quiet and most businesses we passed were closed (we were looking for ice cream). Warsaw was pretty much completely destroyed during WWII, and the new construction is haphazard. There's the reconstruction of the old city (we haven't seen yet), the dominant Soviet architecture, much of which has already been updated, renovated, put behind glass and fits very well with more modern Euro-style construction. It's very green -- trees everywhere (not many yellow leaves yet). I recognize oaks and chestnut trees. When we got to the park, we saw all the little kids picking up acorns and ripened chestnuts off the ground and munching on them. I tried an acorn and it tasted more bitter than I remember.
On our walk to the park, an older gentleman introduced himself to us. He was going in the same direction, and he said hello in Polish. We told him "po-angliesku," and he was all smiles, asking us where we were from and how long we were going to be in Poland. He had been in NY a year ago, visiting his son, who lives in Long Island.
The scene in the park was idyllic. The concert took place by a larger-than-life Chopin statue (that had been melted down by the Nazis and then recast later) in a rose garden: a piano was set up under a white canopy. There were dozens and dozens of benches among the blooming roses, all occupied by local families and tourists alike, and in the middle -- a lawn where more people were sitting on the ground. We found a spot there and munched on a bread treat (all the packaged ice cream at the park entrance was sold out.) The concert lasted about an hour and ended on a high note, with Polonaise Op. 53 in As-Dur. After that we found more ice cream deeper in the park, by an island-palace, a smallish palace built in the middle of a river.
After the concert, we had no plan other than meander around town and eventually find dinner. The town seemed empty again the moment we got out of the park and until we to the main street, a royal way, connecting the Old Town with a royal residence 30 km or so outside of town. All the boutiques were closed for Sunday, but the street was closed for automobile traffic, and lots of people congregated at the cafes with open seating. Rick Steves says that all the places marked "bar" are really "milk bars" -- cheap (government sponsored??) eateries selling all the local staples, pierogi, salads, soup. We weren't ready to commit -- until we wondered into what seemed to be a local farmers' market: maybe two dozen stands trading in sausages, bread, cheese, beer. We approached the selection methodically and sampled everything from grilled smoked cheese with berry jam to an open sandwich with lard infused with apples and onions to honey beer to a long link of sausage.
There were several communal tables set up between the tents, and the moment we sat down, one of the young people at the table asked Dave "Where are you from?" and "What are you doing in Poland?" Dave might tell the story in greater detail on his own blog, I'll just say that within minutes we were introduced to Martin, Agnes, Agata and Artur, and spend the rest of the evening with them. Martin is a former athlete-champion, who now works as a stunt men in the local movies. Agata speaks really good English because she organizes tours of Poland for Israeli visitors. She told us that the farmers' market was a really special treat, because you can't get this stuff in the stores in the city, and this was the last day of the season. She also recommended more beer to try. Later, after the market closed and the benches were taken down, they invited us to go out with them to another bar, called Indeks. This place had a mini beach set up in the back, with bean bag chairs to sit in, and a stage where a jazz band was setting up. (It was still very early, 8 pm or so). Agata and Arthur are married, have been married for more than a year; they've met online and had their honeymoon in Thailand and Singapore, & are planning their next trip to India and Nepal. Agata has a cousin in Knoxville.
A funny thing: I am shy of being Russian in Poland. Our new friends were wondering why my Polish accent was so good, and I explained only at the end of the night, after a few beers. Then it made sense to them: they can understand Russian about as well as I understand Polish.
Dave has his own story to tell. His blog is here: http://dave-grenetz.blogspot.com/