Sunday, July 31, 2011

Warsaw -- the Tour Begins

Not entirely sure why I’m so tired, as I’ve actually been sleeping quite satisfactorily. OK, sure, I did wake up around 3:15 this morning with a headache, but I was back to sleep soon after I tossed back an Advil or two. (I was actually pleased when I saw the clock said 3:15, as I was pretty energized then, and I figured I had several more hours of sleep coming to me.)

We had a tour of Warsaw today. This was the first tour from our tour company, and, actually, I think the tour guide we had today was not as good as Rafal was yesterday. (Our tour company supplies different local guides on the ground in each city. Our tour director seems pretty good. The local Warsaw guide is a moron.)

No, “moron” is much too strong of a word. (On second thought... the fact that she twice tried to count the group, to see if we all (41) were there, and each time gave up because she couldn’t count that high … yeah, maybe “moron” is appropriate.) She told us much of the same history of Warsaw as Rafal told us, but she was very disorganized and didn’t paint it as clearly. (One particular story was told to us in three separate chunks, as she twice had to stop to tell us something else, and didn’t quickly return to the topic.)

The tour company also gave us great little “whisper” devices, so we could listen to her without standing directly in front of her. She had a microphone and we had little receiver packs and earpieces – so not only could we wander around (the range on ‘em was more than 50 yards), but she didn’t have to raise her voice. Great invention for tours. The downside was that she had no freakin’ clue how to use it. She’d often be looking up at a tall building while describing it – which put her voice right out of range of her microphone. She also wasn’t really on top of the whole idea of her tourists wandering. She’d say something like, “Over here is …” or “let’s walk this way,” without realizing that half of us might be looking at something else and (since we’re listening to her over the device, rather than out loud) have no idea where “here” is. So, yeah, great toy, but she really didn’t take advantage.

Fun that I could keep listening to her ramble on even when I was in the bathroom – and that was a whole floor away.

She was older than Rafal, so totally grew up during Communism. And she confirmed the bit about how the Communists never really taught the true history of Poland. “The Nazis killed the people and the Communists killed their memory,” she said. Very sad. (She did not make the same linguistic error Rafal had – she totally spoke about Polish Jews – but candidly admitted that, until 1968 (when the Communists tried to expel all the Jews from Poland), she didn’t really know any Jews, or have a solid grasp on what a Jew was.)

Sights today consisted partly of Things Warsaw Is Proud Of (the Chopin statue; the largely recreated Old Town; the Warsaw Uprising Memorial statue) and partly of WWII/Warsaw Ghetto/Jewish history things (the Jewish cemetery; the mark on the ground where the wall around the ghetto used to stand; the memorial marking the departure point for where Jews were transported from the ghetto to Treblinka). I suppose the memorial dedicated to the Ghetto Uprising falls in both categories. That was quite impressive – it was made of stone that the Nazis had imported into Warsaw in order to build a victory monument; a few years later, the people turned it around and built a monument which, on one side, honors those who fought in the ghetto uprising and, on the other, serves as a memorial to those who suffered and died there.

What’s really interesting about the whole of Warsaw is that World War II is more immediate here. This makes sense – so much actually happened here, and the City suffered so much from the destruction wreaked by the Nazis – it can’t be easily forgotten or put aside. At the same time, it was only when the Poles got out from under Soviet control that they could really teach and learn about the truth of what happened – so, in that sense, remembering the war is even more immediate because the people are only recently being allowed to do that.

I have pictures of most of the sights I talked about – but I haven’t the time (or speedy connection) to resize and post them. We had a three(ish) hour break after the tour – my sister and I spent most of it having lunch and hunting down (on the web) the story of a dude with our last name who had been buried in the Jewish cemetery here. I was planning to spend the rest of it aimlessly wandering around Warsaw (OK, not ENTIRELY aimlessly – I got bit by mosquitos in the cemetery, so wanted to hunt down some cream to make the bites stop itching) but it started raining torrentially, so I came in and wrote up this post instead. I’ve got just enough time left to run downstairs and post it before I have to change clothes and get back on the bus for our Chopin concert tonight.

Early start tomorrow – we’re back on the bus for the drive to Krakow.

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