Thursday, May 17, 2012

I left my heart in Warsaw...

Chopin was Polish you know: Polish, Polish, Polish. Yolanta, our feisty guide today, was very keen that we should get that straight, and not let France or Spain attempt to poach him. So were Copernicus, John Paul II and Madame Curie, and they all came into today's tour, but Chopin predominated. At Wilanowa Palace, where we enjoyed the Baroque splendour almost as much as the warmth inside on yet another day of icy wind, we came across these schoolchildren, one party of dozens we saw in the city today, really getting into the spirit of the period - though when this little mock-Chopin sees the photos in later years, he may not be so proud, especially when teased by the boy behind.

The Poles are proud of Warsaw, of what they've made of the 80% destruction after the war, of how they fought back in the 1944 Uprising. They're not proud of Russia's gift of an ugly wedding-cake tower in the centre of the city: "gift", they call it, the inverted commas part of the name - they paid for it with 50 years of communism. But the Old Town that they rebuilt and recreated, using the walls left standing and recycled rubble, is pretty and authentic-looking and no doubt hugely important to their self-image. From a tourist's perspective, it works well, and we wandered happily around it, the Royal Way with its grand buildings and embassies, and then the less appealing modern maze around the Russian monstrosity, for hours today, as the sun finally came out.

This Insight tour is less leisurely than I was expecting: we've frequently had 6am or so wake-up calls, and there's been quite a lot of walking in between the days on the coach travelling between cities. Though I think differently when the phone rings each morning, I actually wouldn't want to change things: there's no point being here and not seeing as much as we can - so even on the free afternoons we've been busy, prowling around looking more closely or doing extra exploring; consequently, despite being so well fed, we're actually feeling pretty fit, and the scales that seem to be a feature of hotel rooms here aren't the party-poopers they might otherwise have been.

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