Poland - Łazienki Park and Chopin
We made a move at a reasonable time for once and managed to reach Warsaw around 10:30. However, we were unable to find anywhere to stop with the bikes where we could safely leave them but still keep in eye contact! All we wanted was a coffee and by the time we found a decent place to stop (by going up a one way street into a pedestrian zone) we were hot, tired and a little pissed off! However, the café made up for it as it was serving what looked like fantastic chunks of cream cake.
In the relaxed atmosphere of the cafe, it wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation with the young lady to our right whom we’d seen earlier tucking into a luscious piece of cake (bannoffee cream, Mmmmmm...) Jessica was an American working for a few months in Warsaw as part of her University studies, International affairs (hope we’ve got this right Jessica!). She had previously been in Bolivia. As cake and good coffee were enjoyed, the conversation easily saw the hour mark.
Lisa’s love of classical music was thrown into the conversational mix and to our delight Jessica quickly suggested we join her and a friend in Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park (aka Łazienki Park) where there was a free Chopin concert. Of course it was music (literally!) to Lisa’s ears! Chopin being played in the park where he used to walk when he lived in Warsaw, was a wonderful dream come true for Lisa.
In the park there is a large bronze statue of Frédéric Chopin, which was finally cast and erected in 1926 but then destroyed in WW2. The original mould for the statue survived however and this made it possible to cast a replica, which was placed at the original site in 1958. So we were told it was at this statue’s base, (and every year since 1959) on summer Sunday afternoons there are free performances of piano recitals of Chopin’s compositions.
However, prior to our date with culture we were more than a little aware that we were both a little smelly and dirty (remember the camp site had not had any facilities the previous night!) Jessica, without hesitation offered us the use of her flat and bathroom and so with the bill paid we were off to get cleaned up. Trustingly Jessica had given us free reign of the apartment. Whilst we showered and changed she went out giving us some privacy. Yet again, we both felt very humbled and honoured to be in the company of such genuine trust and hospitality. A short bus ride later and with Jessica acting as tour guide, we arrived at the park and it wasn’t long before we’d found Juan Diego (Jessica’s friend) The park was packed but luck was still with us as we found a bench for four.
As the concert progressed Lisa was in her element. The music and setting was perfect. The pianist elegantly positioned under a small marquee, which itself was dwarfed by the huge statue of Chopin sitting under the willow. Red rose bushes were everywhere and within this sea of red the afternoon passed all too quickly.
With the concert over and with our new friends we headed to ‘Old Town’, a district in Warsaw packed with restaurants and bars, now heavily used by tourists it still proved a picturesque setting for dinner. The evening called for some traditional Polish food to be eaten sat outside. We enjoyed our meal whilst discussing our trip and getting to know Diego.
Diego was Colombian and had arrived in Warsaw some 18 years earlier to study. He liked it and so stayed. Now Diego is also one of those clever people whom all too easily slips from language to language effortlessly, so talking to us in English one minute, would see him switch to Spanish the next whilst talking to Jessica. A few minutes later he was talking fluent Polish when chatting with the waiter. Polish is a very difficult language to pick up and apart from some difficult pronunciation it also has seven separate tenses. Diego had mentioned he had taken an intensive language course when he had first arrived. The intensive course was 8 months! We were going to have to be satisfied with learning the basics; hello, goodbye, please, thank you and of course 2 beers please!
As the evening drew in we suddenly realized that we had not found a campsite let alone put up the tent. Again, we needn’t have worried as Diego casually mentioned, “why are you camping? I have a spare room I never use, stay with me”. We graciously accepted and joked about how often he picked up odd-looking tourists in Warsaw and took them home.