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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Warsaw, Part 2: A jolt of Stalinism

Soviet-style Communism was ugly on so many levels

The drive from Kraków to Warsaw was a lot easier than the drive done in reverse three days previously. For one thing it took the four hours or so that Google Maps indicated it would, thanks to there being fewer cars on the road, which resulted in fewer traffic delays. It helped that we left Kraków at 8:30 on an ordinary Friday morning, so traffic was relatively light until we reached central Warsaw. We checked into the JM Hotel Warsaw Center, dropped off our bags in our room on the 22nd floor...:

...and headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for a lunch of Polish dumplings and beer...:

...before hitting the streets of the Financial District:

Had we more time to spend in Poland's capital city, I would've used it to see the Warsaw Rising Museum, which is only a short walk from the hotel. But our time in Warsaw was limited, and the girls don't have much interest in World War II-related attractions, so there was only one obvious choice - the Palace of Culture and Science. The PKiN is a questionable "gift" from the Soviet Union to Poland, completed in 1955 and standing 231 meters high, still the tallest building in the country. And it's attractive in a hideous sense, in that special way that only the architects of Socialist realism could pull off successfully. These days the Palace of Culture & Science is hidden by the other tall buildings of the Financial District, but even after seeing countless photos of it, nothing could prepare for the shock as we turned a corner and came face-to-face with...this:

Once you've seen it in person, you have no choice but to take the elevator to the 30th floor and enjoy the views from 115 meters up. As the Poles supposedly say, the viewing terrace provides the best vista of Warsaw because it's the only one that doesn't include the PKiN itself!:

You could say it was a touch chilly up there on the terrace, a different kind of cold war being waged between the forces of nature and Socialist Classicism:

Back on terra firma, preparations were being made for a New Year's Eve concert and countdown to be held the following evening:

A conceit among some travelers is that you should only eat the local food, ignoring the fact that locals like to try new and different things in addition to the traditional staples. And so our last dinner in Poland was at a Lebanese restaurant, where I pondered life, the universe and the meaning of it all over a glass of Okocim:

It was a cold walk back to our hotel, in the below-freezing temperatures and chilling wind that made us miss the "warmth" of Vilnius:

A last look at the nightscape from our hotel room:

It was a long, tedious drive back to Vilnius on the last day of 2016, but it only took six hours this time (seven if you include the lunch break), thanks to an early start, the lack of traffic and the fact that I made sure to program the proper border-crossing first into the GPS to ensure no unnecessary detours into Belarus. The scenery was exactly as I used to imagine Eastern Europe to be - dull and relatively featureless (not too dissimilar to the American Midwest), and complemented by a heavy fog that reminded me of driving in California's Central Valley (there would be heavy snow on the ground soon after crossing into southern Lithuania, but it would all be gone by the time we rolled into Vilnius in the late afternoon). The only things missing were peasants on horse-drawn carts and German tanks coming over the hilltops:

Just before reaching the border, we stopped for one last meal in Poland, lunching on goulash and pork cutlets, while Shu-E at least got to enjoy a Łomża:

Dziękuję za wspomnienia Polska!...:

...but if there's going to be a next time, we'll fly or take the train...

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