June 12, 2009
En route to a conference in Gdansk, Poland (AITO Specialist Travel Agents’ conference, www.aitoagents.com), we had a few hours in Warsaw yesterday and it was a revelation – 29 degrees for starters! It was a national holiday – Corpus Christi – so everyone was in party mood, and the old town was buzzing. People strolled around with their families and pet dogs (and, bizarrely, a pet cat and a pet ferret on leads, too!). Outdoor cafes and restaurants were packed, flowers cascaded from balconies and the sun shone. We had booked a guide for a walking tour and learnt that the many beautiful mediaeval-looking buildings and squares were, in fact, all re-built in original style after the destruction of the war, which left Warsaw largely a pile of rubble. (This is one reason why Polish builders are so good at their work, claimed our excellent guide.). Post war, they widened the key roads in Warsaw. One of the major thoroughfares had just one bulding still standing – a church – and Polish engineers sliced it from its foundations and slid it back 25 metres on to new foundations to accommodate the widened road without harming the church. Astonishing!
We learnt that Marie Curie was Polish by birth, as was Chopin. 2010 sees the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, which will be much celebrated by the Poles – a must-visit year for music lovers. We had an excellent al fresco lunch in one of Warsaw’s squares – just £16 pp for starters, main courses and coffee, including beer, water and tip; great value. (Thank you to Kirker Holidays, www.kirkerholidays.com, for fixing both guide and lunch venue.)
This year sees the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism – the Velvet Revolution, which started in Poland. Lech Walesa, who subsequently became President of Poland, and his colleagues in Solidarity, were prime movers in these momentous happenings, and today we are in Gdansk, on the Polish Baltic coast, where Solidarity took its first brave moves. More on Gdansk tomorrow, when we’ve explored its cobbled streets… Sue Ockwell.