Trip Journal - Warsaw




Warsaw -- 3 August 1998

We checked out and left our bags with the Hotel Polonia. They had a Left Luggage office in the basement. Paul gave the man a 5 zlotych tip (a buck and a half) and you'd think by his reaction we'd given him our firstborn. We headed to Old Town, with the idea that we would do a little sight seeing and also to check with Tourist Information about an Internet Cafe so we could see if Angus had emailed us. We hoped to meet up with him, and maybe get invited to stay at his place. In the old town square there is a tall column with a statue of a King on it. It's probably the most famous monument in Warsaw, and one of the oldest, since it's managed to survive so many sieges. I'd seen it before of course, but was surprised to find that it was our old friend from Sweden, King Sigismund III Vasa. We walked around Old Town Square (Rynek) and over to the Barbican. Only later did I realize we hadn't looked for Syrena, the warrior-mermaid who is the symbol of Warsaw. The story about Syrena says she came to a fisherman named Wars and told him that he and his wife, Sawa, should build a town on this site, which they did, and named it Warszawa, which is the Polish name for Warsaw. It's a nice story, although the name of the wife somehow got misspelled.

We went to the Internet Cafe on Krakowskie Przedmieszie which was a very cool space, all steel, and wire and cable. The workstations were on platforms of diamond-ribbed steel plate suspended by steel cable from the high ceiling. It was a pretty cool techno/industrial decoration scheme. But there was no message from Angus. We sent him another message just to let him know we were in town now, and then went to investigate the campground that was reccommended in the guide book. They told us that all their bungalows were filled, they only had tent camping, and since we had no tent, we were out of luck. They were quite helpful though, in directing us to the student dorms across the street, which act as hostels during the summer. The first one was full, but the second one had a room for us. We still thought we might catch up with Angus and save ourselves the cost of a night in the dorm, so we went by his house. We knew his address, but were missing his apartment number, so we didn't know which of the eight buttons to push from the gate. We tried to ask a woman coming out if she knew Angus (Paul said "Angus Lyon?" to her with a a questioning look and a smile) but we got nothing from her as she walked away. After that, we went to plan B, which we made up on the spot. I would hang out in front of the building to catch Angus coming home from work (I had to stay because only I would recognize him) and Paul would go to the Student Dorm and nail down a room, then go to the Hotel Polonia and get the luggage. Admittedly, I had the easy job. But it was really hard for me to stand on the street and allow all the inhabitants to eye me and wonder what I was doing there. I felt like a criminal. But it was much harder on Paul, who hurt his knee again with all the walking. He came back through on his way to the hotel (after getting us a private room in the dorm), then had to walk back again to get the luggage receipt from me. Also, the ATMs were refusing to give us any cash, so he had to go the American Express office in the ground floor of the Marriott building to get a cash advance on the American Express card so we could pay for the room. Luckily he was able to take a taxi to move the luggage to the room in the dorm. When he came back to get me it was 7:00, and he was limping and hungry and grouchy from the pain. He almost never gets grouchy, so I knew it must be bad. In the meantime, Angus hadn't shown up, so we gave up and went in search of dinner. All the grocery stores were closed by this time. We walked into one bar, but it was all men drinking and smoking and didn't seem to serve food. Finally, we turned the corner and there at the Plac where all the trams stop was a Hong Kong restaurant with outdoor seating. We sat down gratefully, although Paul was worried about the prices. All I could see was that his knee was bothering him and we had to sit down and get a beer and some food into him.

I'm coming to see now that it's probably always going to be a disappointment to go a chinese restaurant in most foreign countries. Probably not in Britain and hopefully not in China and SE Asia, but probably everywhere else; the owners of the restaurant will have tailored the menu to the local's taste and we'll be disappointed. The Poles like their food very bland, just like in Göteborg, and the food here was completely consistent with that preference. We got a few laughs from Paul's dish, which was chicken with vegetables - the veggies were peas, carrots, and corn, as if from frozen. Mine was chicken with nuts - peanuts - and that was it. Nothing else. And rice was extra. Needless to say, there were no fortune cookies. But the evening was fine and the beer restored our spirits.

After dinner, we went home to the student dorm. We were on the fifth floor, and luckily there was an elevator. The room was a triple: three single beds, two end to end on one wall and the other on the opposite wall. The room was long and narrow, with one large window. There were two desks, a few shelves, and three narrow lockers by the door, and a sink. It was pretty cramped, and I can't imagine how three people could live there a whole semester. The sink was cracked and I was afraid it would leak, but as long as you didn't plug the drain it worked fine. I got used to the room, but I never really enjoyed the bathrooms. They were filthy, wet, and the doors were all rusting and falling apart. There were also unisex, as there was only one bathroom on each floor. At least the shower stalls had doors. One bright spot was that there was plenty of hot water, thanks to Warsaw's centralized hot water plant. But yet again there was no way to sleep together, so we put our pillows together and slept head to head. My bed must have had rusty springs - I kept waking myself up every time I rolled over. The dorm is right next to a major road as well, so the traffic noise was quite bad. But it was a roof over our heads, and it was safe so we were fine.

Warsaw -- 4 August 1998

The next day, we dutifully went again to the campground to see if a bungalow was available, since the bungalows were about half the price we were paying for the room in the student dorm. Again we were told that they were all full. So we went downtown, checked our email at the wacky little internet cafe (no word from Angus yet), and went about sightseeing. I was rather chagrined to realize that all the touristy stuff I'd seen in 6 months of living in Warsaw fit into a couple of days this time. But the Lonely Planet listed everything I knew and not much more, so I guess that's just Warsaw. I feel so sorry for Poland sometimes. It has such an air of being abused, and picking itself up again, only to be knocked down once more. Even the trees and the grass look as if they were perpetually recovering. They probably are - from acid rain and coal pollution. When I was in Poland in 1994, I'd assumed all former Eastern Bloc countries felt like that, but it's really just Poland. To Warsaw's credit, there has been a huge amount of improvement in four years. They have opened a new metro (only one short line so far, but it's a start) and it's beautiful, and there's lots of construction and renovation going on. The city is bustling with growth. The only sad thing is that Krikoland is gone. It was a big, scary, rusty, rickety amusement park right on Al. Jerozolimskis, aka Al Jereau Street. It was torn down to put in the metro. In 1994, I waited for the big accident at Krikoland to happen, but as far as I know it never did. It was spooky to watch Polish kids whooping and having a good time on such dangerous looking contraptions.

On this day, we went for a stroll in Lazienki Park, which was the summer residence of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the last Polish king (late 18th Century). It's one of the few places that were virtually untouched during the war, and I think it's one of the most beautiful places in Warsaw. We had "lunch" there, which consisted of fries and drinks at a cafe. Two boys came in collecting money for "the children's home". They had a spiel in Polish, and as soon as we let them know we didn't understand they switched right into English. We saw that the locals at two other tables gave them something, so we decided they were legit and gave them a little something too. Another sign that the Warsaw is beginning to prosper - Poles are giving to charity. There was a wonderful dog at the cafe, whom I couldn't resist petting. He seemed starved for attention. I think his person was rather taken aback.

Lazienki, which means bath, has a palace built on the water, just a little one, but impressive enough. The last time I was there, the lake surrounding the palace looked like a sewer and was full of trash, but it's looking much better now, and they even have gondola rides across the lake. I used to spend a lot of time at the little ampitheater there, which was made to look like an ancient Greek ampitheatre (with broken doric columns and partially collapsed lintels), with the stage set out into the lake so that some of the action can take place in boats. People used to bring their lunches there, and students would study there, or come to draw and paint. But now it's all locked up and you're only allowed in when there's a performance. In attempting to show Paul the rose garden where they have Chopin concerts on Sunday (and getting hopelessly lost), we stumbled upon a snake and reptile house, and Paul just had to go in. I was less than enthusiastic but I followed. They had an impressive collection of snakes, but as always, I felt sorry for them being in captivity. Most of them had only fake plants in their glass boxes, and a few of them didn't seem totally healthy. I think Paul had been expecting to see tarantulas as well, but they were off in another exhibit. Most horrific were the pictures of people with snakebite wounds and snakes in the process of devouring rabbits, birds, and other snakes. Its was horrifying and mesmerizing at the same time.

On the way out of the park, we found out the time for the Chopin concert on Sunday, then spent quite a while trying to find someplace to buy more bus tickets before heading home.

Warsaw -- 5 August 1998

By morning, my cold was in full swing, and so I gave myself up to it for about the first time in my life. Usually I feel guilty about not doing things that I should be doing while I get over it. But this time, the cold really didn't feel so bad, and the only reason I can come up with that seems to fit is that I'm learning to give in to what has to happen, so that instead of having to spend a lot of precious energy resisting, I'm learning to cut to the chase and just get it over with. Whatever the reasons, it sure is easier. Paul was wonderful and totally pampered me. He went out to check the bungalow situation again, and came back with groceries, including instant coffee, tea, honey, and orange juice. He even boiled water for tea on the little gas burners in the communal kitchen in a coke can. He also brought back an interesting story about the bungalows. He had asked again, and they said they were still all booked. So he asked if there were likely to be any vacancies tomorrow or the next day, so he could save himself the trouble of coming back, and the girl behind the counter said, "Ok, I'll tell you the truth.". It seems that the campground is still owned by the state, the bungalows are 40 years old and in such bad shape that they only rent them to the Romanians (read "Gypsies"). They plan to privatize the place next year, so no repairs have been made. So really what she was saying was, you're a nice American couple, you don't really want to stay back there with the Gypsies. Well, Paul took her at her word and didn't press the issue any further.

I stayed in bed all morning and most of the afternoon, letting myself be sick. Paul came in and out and catered to my every whim and made me drink orange juice and tea. Late in the afternoon, we walked over to the other campground in Warsaw, Camping 123, to check it out. I'd initially been against it because it was right across the road from the Hotel Vera where Rob and I had first stayed when we got to Poland. but I wasn't keen on staying in the dorm much longer. I needed a good night's sleep. We walked by the Vera and it was completely different, all white an freshly painted, and I knew it was okay. The bungalows in the campground were really nice, with twin beds we could push together, a table and pegs to hang things. They were paneled all in wood, and had a little porch on the front. We were attached to another bungalow, a triple with a WC. Only later did we find out how thin the walls were. But it was a green area, with a swimming pool in the middle, with very nice communal showers and WC. So we booked bungalow A1 for the next night and made our way back to our soon-to-be-ex home.

Warsaw -- 6 August 1998

Another slug day. After moving ourselves and our gear to the bungalow at the campground, we lay around all day reading books, working on the journal and playing Free Cell. Life was good. We did get up to check email and lo and behold, we had emails from Angus, telling us to give him a call. After much searching, we found a coin phone at a Kino on Aleje Marszalkowska (which Paul has named Marshall Krenshaw Street). But it was a strange one: it took the money, then gave it back again. It would place the call, but then cut off shortly after the call was engaged. Finally a nice man noticed our difficulty and pointed us to another coin phone that worked properly. We got through to Angus at work, and agreed to meet the next evening at 5:30, at his place. The reason we found a phone in a Kino (movie theater) was because all I wanted was to be able to sit for a while and be entertained. I was tired of lying in bed with this cold, but I wasn't up to anything strenuous, so a movie was perfect.The problem was that since Poland is several months behind the States in new releases from Hollywood, we had already seen almost everything that was playing. We decided to get a bite to eat and Paul chose a little hole in the wall off Marszalkowska. It turned out to be a really cute hole in the wall. He had thought is wall all stone inside, but it turned out to be a bit fake. The walls were lined with stone a few inches thick and put together with real mortar. The stone ended just above the tops of the door frames and tended to overlap the sides of the frames a bit. A curtain of funky beads hung in the doorway to the kitchen. The place was very small, only five or six tables. I was just getting ready to go to the counter/bar to try to order something in Polish when a lovely, jolly woman came out to take our order. We didn't have many words in common (I guess it isn't so incredible that I've totally forgotten Polish) but we had a great time. I asked for tea and coffee and pierogis. There were three types of pierogis on the menu - Russian, something else and cheese. I picked cheese. The woman then said something I totally didn't understand and I looked at her and just screwed up my forehead. I couldn't think of what we might have left out of the ordering process. But the woman laughed at me and said something else, which I'm sure was something like, "Silly, you take it all so seriously! We didn't even need a common language to get this done." I do worry about being correct, about proper etiquette and politeness. Probably too much so, whereas Paul worries (or doesn't) about getting the idea across and connecting, getting what he wants. He generally just uses a big smile to make up for any lack of politeness on his part. The last time I was in Poland, no one spoke English, or at least very few did. Now, everyone in stores and on the streets speaks a few words. It's so much more accessible now. Poland was a good lesson for me in letting go of being correct and just getting what i wanted. We had a very nice little dinner and I went back into the kitchen to thank the woman before we left. She was my Faith in Humanity Restorer just when I needed one.

We finally decided to go see Armageddon that night, which was really our only choice. It was playing everywhere - the big summer blockbuster. It's amazing how your standards come down when you're desperate for some easy entertainment (in English). After the movie, which we enjoyed, we got the last tram back home, which was now at Camping 123.

Warsaw -- 7 August 1998

We loafed around in the morning, doing what married couples do (at least the young ones). We'd had to listen to our neighbors, a well dressed woman who smoked a lot and her two sons, until quite late. About 3:00, we left to go to the Post Office and mail some postcards. It was like walking back into Sweden. The Post Office had been totally redone in the last four years. There was now a queuing system, with a box which printed out a number for you. And five different choices of queues, depending on what service you wanted. Of course, the descriptions were in Polish, so we didn't know which of the five choices we wanted, so we just took the first one. When our number came up on the little display above the window, the whole system reverted back to Poland though. The woman ahead of us had given in a stack of mail to be stamped, and rather than wait until a slow time, the woman stamped through the whole pile before she would even acknowledge us standing there. This used to infuriate me; now it just shows the charming remnant of a Communist past. I thought we had five postcards and asked for that many stamps, proud of my effective Polish. But it turned out we actually had six, so when we came up short, I had to sheepishly take it when she told me she thought I had really wanted 6. I said "Maja Vina (my fault)" several times and escaped. I was just a mess. Not only had I miscounted post cards, I'd forgotten to write USA on half of them and one was missing an address entirely. But we finally got everything straightened out with the help of the Palm Pilot and got all the post cards safely away. Then we headed out and up the street to get something to drink. The nice woman at the "hole in the wall" the night before had given me courage and I boldly ordered tea and coffee at a little cafe. Too late I found out that Paul had really wanted a Coke. D'oh! He graciously said he would get one later. So we sat outside, sipping our drinks and watching people going about their day. One annoying thing about Poland is that you have to special order milk for your coffee. And it costs extra. I think it should be standard, like sugar. On this day, I remembered to ask, but there were many times when I'd forget, and then have to go back through the line, pay my 35 or 40 groschen and get my evaporated milk or cream. It seems like discrimination against people who don't drink their coffee black.

We walked up the street and got a Coke for Paul and a Fanta Citron for me and looked for a phone. We didn't have a phone card and couldn't find a coin phone. Fortunately, we just gave up the idea of calling ahead and went straight to Angus' house. Luckily he was at home and welcomed us with open arms. He's the same guy, now a little heavier and has a tidy beard and mustache that makes him look very distinguished. We sat down in the kitchen next to what appeared to be an enormous pile of laundry, but it may have been what normal people, who don't carry everything the own on their backs, tend to wash. Angus fussed about cleaning up, then made himself a cup of tea. Two minutes later it was like we'd seen each other just last week, not a couple of years ago. There were just a few details to fill in, one of them being that he in in love, with a Polish woman named Olena. We talked for a while, then headed out to get groceries so we could make dinner. Boy have things changed in 4 years. I used to go on the "store circuit" every day to find the things I needed. One day one place would have something, then the next day not. It would take a couple of hours to get groceries. Not there's Géant, across the river, a huge superstore complex with everything. It's so big it's scary. The shopping carts are chained together and you have to put in a 1 or 2 zl coin to free one. When you chain it back up to another cart in the corral, you get your coin back. This was the first time we saw any really aggressive begging by Gypsies, and it came in the form of a little girl not older than 10. (In the old days, if you wanted to be entertained by aggressive begging, you could go to the train station and stand in the incredibly long lines to buy tickets. Women and children would alternately paw and stoke your arms, asking for money. It used to give me the creeps. The lines in the train station are shorter now, and the Gypsies are gone. This girl was determined to return our cart for us so she could get the coin, and she gave Paul quite a fight for it. Polish people are much meaner than we are about saying "no". You can see where you'd really get sick of it after a while.

But I'm jumping ahead : the store was grocery paradise with german old lady etiquette - a man rammed me in the ankles from behind with his shopping cart, so hard that it bled, and when i yowled and turned to accept his apology, he turned his eyes up to the ceiling. I sicced the Gypsy girl on him. We got pasta, veggies and bread, and of course, Angus' favorite, Grolsh beer. Then we went home and cooked and talked and drank beer. After dinner, we switched to Zubrovka (Polish buffalo grass vodka) mixed with apple juice. The bottle comes with a blade of grass in it from the fields where the buffalo once roamed. It was great stuff in the apple juice. I'm sure I'd hate it otherwise.

We drank and talked until pretty late in the night, and Angus had to get up early to go to Lublin - I thought it was for business, but it turned out that he was going to pick up Olena at her parent's house and bring her back to Warsaw Sunday evening. She all but lives with Angus now, so we were going to get to meet her. (Her real abode is with her sister and her boyfriend, and to hear about it, there was no fridge when they moved in, and there will never be a washer until one of them wins the lottery). We would have the place all to ourselves that weekend.

Warsaw -- 8 August 1998

Slug day. We didn't go out all day. We enjoyed having a house. I did four loads of laundry, which we hung out to dry on the balcony, and Paul worked on the website. We even got to watch some TV in English. It was wonderful.

Warsaw -- 9 August 1998

We got up early to go to the Russian market. We took the tram there, and I was a nervous wreck the whole way there. Then I remembered that it was on the tram from the Russian market where I'd gotten ripped off and lost all my money. This time my fears were unfounded. The city had been cleaned up. Police patrol tourist sites regularly, and there are black-clothed security guards in all the underground passages, and they carry guns. The scam used to be for four or five guys to get onto the tram and "crowd" you, jostle you, etc. to distract you while one of them picked your pocket. This time though the tram ride was peaceful and uneventful.

The market likewise was not quite what it used to be. It used to be the place to get russian military-issue night vision goggles, watches and small medals, as well as knives and small arms. The busses from Belorussia and Russia would come rolling in during the early hours of the morning. There were Russian crafts, and bras in all one size (huge). Now its the place to get bootlegged software - Windows 95 and 98, with Office 97 and Photoshop was 30 zl ($10), and that was before we even started bargaining. One of the CDs we looked at still had the CD-R recordable media insert in the back of the jewel case, but most of the copy jobs were more professionally done, though none had the ubiquitous Microsoft hologram. There were also knives, small arms, industrial machinery parts, tools, and lots and lots of clothing. It was crowded but not packed. The marked itself takes place around the rim of a huge soccer stadium, all concrete with rotting wooden benches. We talked to a guy names Johnny, who was called in to translate for us when we inquired at the next stall about software prices. He's been living in Poland for seven years now, before that he was in Hamburg for five years. He's originally from India. He has a Polish wife now, so he figures he'll be staying for a while. He made it sound like he does a brisk software trade. I wonder how long before the long arm of Bill Gates reaches these guys. Or the Polish government comes to collect the taxes?

Once we'd had enough of people pressing too close to us, we took the tram back across the river and walked South to Lazienki Park to hear the Chopin concert. We were pretty early, so we got choice seats where we could watch the pianist. It was incredibly windy all of a sudden, and little dust devils formed along the paths between the roses. The concerts are held in a lovely rose garden with benches lining the paths around a small reflecting pool. At the Western end of the pool is a gigantic sculpture of Chopin with a tree curving up and over him, bending close to hear better. Or maybe chopin is being inspired by the wind in the tree, and it is the wind which causes the tree to bend low. Anyway, is a really cool, very large piece of sculpture. For the concert, a grand piano is set at the base of the sculpture, next to the pool, and a guest performer is invited to play a selection of Chopin's works. It's becoming quite a sophisticated event: they have the piano miked and speakers are set up. A man welcomes the crowd in Polish, English, German, and some other language we failed to identify. He said "Let the sun shine, let the wind blow anyway, and let the music play!" It was very sweet, and again I was impressed by the leaps Poland has made. Maybe if I'd been there the whole time, I'd be more cynical, because the day-to-day stuff can wear you down. But I see great things for Poland if these trends continue. Her greatest advantage is her people, who are so lovely, so willing, and so charming. The concert was really only mediocre, but it was great to see how people crammed eight people on to a bench built for four or five in order to enjoy the lovely atmosphere. I don't think the music has to be top-note, the spirit is enough.

After the concert, we walked through the rest of the park and stopped at a Kawiarnia (Cafe) to have lunch. There was a choice on the menu called Pierogi Firmowe ("House" Pierogies) so we decided to give that a try, and we ordered a salad as well. It was way too much food. Usually pierogies are just a snack or a side dish. These were two huge pierogies each filled with rice, chicken and vegetables in a curry sauce. It was a totally unexpected combination, but it was marvelous. I couldn't finish mine. After lunch, we went back to the apartment and enjoyed having it to ourselves for a few hours before Angus and Olena arrived. A while later, the phone rang, and it was Olena telling us they would be arriving within the hour, so we made ourselves decent and set about straightening up the house.

When they arrived, and we had all been introduced, we decided to go out to Lalek, a bar and restaurant in one of Warsaw's huge parks. There's another bar there called Balek as well. The story is that Lalek and Balek are the two boys in a Polish cartoon. It's drawn simply, like stick figures, or they may be cave boys. Another place will be opening up soon named after the little girl in the cartoon. The park is a great place for the pubs people can barhop without having to get in cars or walk in traffic. You just meander through all the trees to the next place. At the end of the night, taxis are there to whisk you home. Lalek was a kind of Flintstone-style place with big, rough-hewn tables and chairs in an outdoor area surrounded by a fence made from big, rough timbers. There were also wooden swings, a jungle gym, and putt putt golf. Families were there with their dogs. It was a big picnic. Inside, everything seemed to be disproportionately large: the counters were high, made from thick slabs of wood, the stone fireplace was gargantuan. Olena made Angus order for us, so he could practice his Polish. She seemed a bit reserved, or perhaps just shy when we first met her. But it's obvious that Angus adores her. I caught a glimpse of them together in Angus' room before we went out. They were standing very close together but not touching. It seemed so intimate; I felt like I was trespassing. I think they may have the real thing. Olena is younger than Angus, she's 23 and he's my age. She's studying computers at school, and she and Paul got a chance to talk shop for a while until Angus got bored of it and insisted on a change of subject. Maybe he didn't like to have Olena involved in an area where he couldn't compete. But he was cute about it, and he's her lover, so we let him have his way. She's smart and funny and playful. She worked in Germany and Finland, speaks a handful of languages, and is very independent. She loves hiking in the Ukrain, has strong opinions on politics, and she Adores Angus. What's not to love? After eating, we headed to another pub, but it was very smokey, and the live music was so loud you couldn't even talk. We opted to sit outside at Balek instead, where the band did renditions of the Beatles, and ended one set with John Denver's "Country Roads". It was very amusing. Angus and Olena told us funny stories about their travels in Croatia and we told them the story of the Drover's Inn. Rather suddenly, Angus ran out of steam, so we went out to get a taxi to drive us home (we had walked out, but it was a long walk). The plan was for Olena to do the talking so we wouldn't get the tourist rip-off rate. Angus and Olena whispered Polish sweet nothings in each other's ears to make it convincing. Paul and I must have seemed suspicious though. Next time I'll feign a drunken sleep. Poor Angus had only gotten back Tuesday, and went straight to work Wednesday. We arrived on the scene Friday and kept him up late, before he had to drive out to Olena's parents, stay put late with them, then come back Sunday so they could go out with us. I hope he finds time to recover no that we're gone.

Warsaw -- 10 August 1998

This morning we set out to run some errands, get a few things we needed. One of these things was a new tent, since we had decided that the effort of carrying a tent around would probably be worth it because of the money we'd save in lodging. We had debated before we left in May whether to bering a tent, and at the time we thought it would take up too much space. Now, though, much more comfortable with lugging our big packs around, we felt we could afford it. So we sought out the store the Olena had recommended to us. When we found the street, we discovered a dozen or so tents set up on the strip of grass in front of an apartment building across the street from the store. A very nice guy, who spoke decent English, was outside with the tents and gave us the sales pitch. He was very nice about it. We looked at quite a few, but couldn't decide on the spot. We were still wondering whether we really should get one. We went over to the store to see the tents packed up, to see how big they were and how much they weighed. We still weren't any closer to a decision, so we headed off to do our other errands. After trying and failing to convince the Bankomat to give us some cash, we went to get Paul a new book at the very tiny English language book shop near the PKO rotunda on Marszalkowska. Maximum capacity is 5 slender people, and then you can only get out in the reverse order you came in. We found some nice science fiction there, so Paul was set. Eventually we got cash, hung out at a nice cafe, and then later in the day, headed back to the tent place where we finally settled on the Alpinus "Purple Rain 2". Nice tent. Stupid name. Of course, this was the first one the sales guy showed us that morning. It's bigger than our old tent, with room enough for our packs under the front and back "porches" made by the rain fly. We tried to ask about whether the tent seams needed to be sealed before we used it, but we utterly failed to make ourselves understood. It seems that the word "seal" is not in the common vocabulary. We did get "seam" across by pulling out the tent and pointing, but we never did get the whole question asked, mush less answered. Later we learned that the term is "water-proofing". Oh well. We paid for the tent with a credit card and watched impatient people on either side of us press in and try to "pay" by placing the item they wanted down with the exact change on top of it. Then they would nudge it in closer and closer. There was a man on one side of us and a woman on the other, both competing to see who would be next, or maybe break into our transaction. The woman who was helping us didn't go for it though, and even prolonged everything by giving us our 5% discount card. It was great to be on the good side of the queue for a change.

When we got back to Angus' apartment, Olena wasn't back yet (we hand only one set of keys between us, and she had them) so we walked over to the park to set up the tent and check it out. While we were putting it up, a man came walking over from the neighboring apartment building all worried, trying to tell us we couldn't camp there. We laughed and tried to tell him we were just trying out our new toy. His English was about as extensive as our Polish though, so at first he didn't understand. But then three boys who had overheard the exchange explained it to him, and he seemed mollified and went away. Olena got into the apartment just before us. She called Angus at work and found out he'd be leaving in about a half hour, then he planned to stop at Géant for groceries for dinner. But that seemed silly for him to have to do the shopping, so Paul and I said we'd go shopping and cook dinner. We left Olena there with strict instructions to meet Angus at the door with an open bottle of Grolsh. There was only one store open this late within walking distance, and it turned out ot be pretty decent. Naturally, our plan was to make stuffed peppers, which we can do with our eyes shut now. We found everything we needed except spinach. I don't know why it's so hard to find in Europe. We made french bread toasted and topped with cheese (it got a little burnt on the bottom because no one knew what temperature corresponded to the oven settings 1 - 7). After a bit of scraping, that made a fine appetizer. The peppers were a big hit, even without the spinach, and substituting Grolsh for sherry. We stayed up and chatted for the remainder of the evening, then put Angus to bed at the reasonable hour of 11:30.

Warsaw -- 11 August 1998

We took the tram up to Ulica Adama Mickieuicza, where I used to live in 1994. I felt like I had to go there again, to banish any old ghost which were still hanging around. It was just the same, a huge communist housing block, faded yellow with white balconies, but I didn't see any ghosts. It looks like I'm done with the place. Paul pointed out that the gardens on the balconies were incredible - which is true - so maybe people don't feel as helpless as I did there. But the place is crumbling apart. I think they're waiting for it to fall down. Even in '94, lots of Gypsies were living there. Maybe they will continue living there until the place is condemned. We got drinks at the old supermarket - it's exactly the same - and sat at the concrete tables outside. It's good to have left it all behind. We came back down on the tram and decided to have a late lunch at a fast food place on Marszalkowska. It was an experience. We ordered risotto for me, which turned out to be regular rice with some vegetables on top, and pierogies for Paul. It all had a very greasy feel to it. I forgot to order milk with my coffee and had to wait 20 minutes to get someone to get me some, and of course I had to pay for it. Paul had a USA Today paper, so he was perfectly comfortable. But I was restless, so I went over to the department store Junipor to look for a sundress. Since the Russian market, Paul had been talking about wanting to see me in a strappy little sundress, and I thought it'd be fun to dress up like a girl - from the ankles up of course. My feet would have to make do with the fisherman's sandals. I didn't find anything at Junior, in fact it's exactly the same as it used to be. Very few actual items to buy, hideous patterns and nothing that was displayed in the windows was available on the floor. So we went to explore the labyrinth of stalls in the market next to the Palace of Culture. Most of the places have a curtain that they can pull so you can try things on. I felt self-conscious about it at first, but I got over it. I tried on a (strange but true) pink dress first, but decided to keep looking. Then I tried on a green, gold and blue one and decided to take it. think it set us back 34 zl ($11). It's quite short and to me feels quite - no revealing, but certainly body-defining. It does show quite a bit of leg. Once I get up my courage I think it'll be fun to wear.

We decided to see a movie and settled on Wild Things (yeah, we were desperate). It didn't start for an hour and a half so we hung out at McDonald's (fries and cokes) in their outdoor seating and did a little reading. As the sun went down, I got cold, and I thought I'd freeze in the movie theater (I forgot that fear of excess AC is totally unfounded in Poland) but we decided anyway that we had enough time to run back to the apartment, change clothes and come back, which we did. Olena was home when we came in so she knew our plans and knew we were giving her and Angus an evening alone. We presume they took advantage of it. Wild Things was about what we expected. The last four minutes were pretty good.

Warsaw -- 12 August 1998

It was our last full day in Warsaw and there were still a couple of things left on our list of things to see and do. One was Cafe Blikle, a fashionable coffeehouse where Tom Corral (a fellow T'Bird) and I spent many a damp and rainy fall afternoon making one cup of coffee and one napoleon last for hours while we tried to study Polish. I was reading "A Secret Garden" in Polish and averaged about one page an hour. I never did finish it. The cafe now has outdoor seating and it was so beautiful out that all the tables were full. But one soon opened up and in true Polish fashion, we ran in and snagged it before anyone else could. We splurged on potato pancakes, then had coffee, tea, and napoleons. It was great, just like the old days. A beggar stopped by at a table full of French-speaking people behind us, and was studiously ignored. "Why are you so cold?" he demanded with great drama. Then he wandered on. Cell phone abounded in the business crowd, and since it was Friday alcohol was also quite prevalent. I wrote in the journal and watched people while Paul bit into a new Sci-Fi book. For some reason, I kept thinking about the pink dress. I didn't want to leave without it, and finally I told Paul, feeling silly and ridiculous, so we went back to the market stalls and tried to remember where the dress was. We found it eventually and bought it. After that we went to the Palace of Culture, the last item on our list. I'd completely forgotten my way around there and demonstrated this admirably to Paul. The Palace of Culture and Science is a huge, monstrosity of a building which the Lonely Planet effectively describes as "apocalyptic". Is is constructed entirely of huge concrete blocks, surfaced to look like sandstone. The place was given as a gift from Russia to Poland in 1957, and it dominates the city skyline. It is said by the locals that the best views of the city are from the top of this building, because those are the only views that don't include the Palace of Culture itself. It has a central tower some 30 stories high and there are four wings which spread out from the base. One of the wings used to house a concert hall, now it's a casino. There's also a communist-style department store inside (only one entrance and full of things that no one wants or no one can afford), a movie theater, a regular theater, and a museum of science. We went up the elevator to have a look from the observation level in the tower. On the walls inside are photographs from 1945, right after the entire city was leveled during the war, and next to each one, a picture from 1961, just 16 years later, with everything completely rebuilt. The devastation in the first pictures is really horrifying, and the massive construction evident in the second pictures is incredible. Of course, all the buildings were rebuilt largely out of concrete, instead of the original stone, and much of the work was quite shoddy, and is now starting to decay. I guess it was the right thing to do at the time, because people have to have someplace to live. But in the coming decades it's going to be a huge burden again when they have to rebuild all of it.

At 6:00 we met Olena and some of her friends for drinks at a pub behind and down the hill from the castle. The pub was in a really nice market square, the afternoon was warm and sunny, and it was Maczek's birthday, so there was cake. He was the shyest of the group, and arrived late. He has a shock of white hair in front, which makes him look quite interesting. The other two plus Olena were already there when we arrived, and kindly switched into English for our benefit. They were Pawel Zawila-Niedzweicki and Mariusz Szczerbinski. How's that for great Polish names? They are both studying computers as well, one is in software, the other hardware. They both have jobs for the summer, so they were still dressed in office attire. They both had excellent English, and we had a great time talking with them and getting the Polish point of view. They'd all recently gotten back from a trip to Turkey, so we got to see their photos and hear the stories. By the time Angus showed up we'd all had a couple of beers and were feeling great, so we didn't mind waiting while Angus drove the HR director of his company home.

We went to the Blue Cactus for dinner, a great Southwestern (as in U.S.) restaurant, where everyone seemed to speak English better than they did Polish. We ordered margaritas and poppers and little empanada-like things for appetizers. They were gone in minutes so we ordered another round. The we had dinner. I had an excellent chimichanga (with chicken, no vegetarian option). Angus entertained us with witty stories, and we stayed out until quite late.