Breakfast was a not atypical hotel assortment of eggs (a little oranger than ours), buns and bread (much much better than what passes here), cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, coldcuts and a large rack of wieners. Orange juice in very small glasses and coffee in half size cups to fill from a Nescafe machine with settings for espresso or regular. This was very much a portent of life for the next week as regards coffee; bad and always machined Nescafe (with a couple of exceptions only) and bread worth writing home about.
Here in Canada, I fear to buy bread even in bakeries at times for the poor quality about but there I had not one slice or bun that didn’t rank high. Didn’t like the butter but it did not matter at all. And cookies or pastries….a very dangerous place for the weight conscious. And in general, the vegetables and fruit tasted better than here; even the potatoes tasted home made. Food in Poland was good (even the hotel convention food) with only the coffee substandard.
We ended up sitting at a table with K, an Australian whose wife was at the conference but he was trying to keep himself amused. He knew a bit of the history and had already done one day in town and offered to be personal tour guide for C. They spent the rest of the day in the Old Town visiting the palace, some of the gardens, various military sites and also the Warsaw Ghetto. C said that she saw a Rembrandt which struck her as somewhat postmodern in that the figure’s hand extends over the picture frame within the painting.
She was also quite moved by seeing the holes in the bases of the palace walls which had once held German explosives and only by chance had not been detonated during the retreat. So much of Warsaw had been bombed and in fact one of the interesting displays at the Old Square was photographs of the destroyed buildings and the reconstruction which took place using Canaletto paintings of the same. (We were to see many more Canalettos later in the Prado.) I could not find the painting displayed but this other one of his will give you an idea of the sort of detail he was capable of (and when 85% or so of your city is destroyed and you would rather recreate the old glory than start fresh, this just the sort of thing you need).
When C and I reunited later in the day she remarked as well on how many beautiful 17 years old girls were in evidence as well as strapping young security guards. But before that I spent part of the day warming seats and listening to others jaw and another part having others listen to me flap my gums. My colleague and I presented in the same session and ended up after in the Gromada bar with our other presenter (from Nigeria) and some amusing individuals from a couple of tobacco companies. Three beer each later and we ended up (with C) in a very fine restaurant (U Fukier) off the old town square. That’s the square below (not our picture) we have some to come during the wet days that followed. But this is kind of what it looked like that night.
After fine dining (Russian crab in crepes, tomato and onion salad, fine red wine, dessert and a good latte) we spilled out into a hot night onto the cobblestoned square which had people under canopies drinking beer (almost all Poles as opposed to the tourist haunts for most of the rest of the trip). As we walked across the square I recalled a German concept I had recently read about called “Platzangst” which is the fear that can overcome you as you are attempting to traverse a square that you will never actually reach the end of it.
We tottered into the bar at the Bristol (an art deco bar dating from around 1905 where Marlene Dietrich reputedly used to hang). Most of us had beer and C at my suggestion tried the bison grass vodka we had read about. Interesting but not repeatable. (I could not find a picture of the bar itself and did not take one regrettably but see one of the hotel below; we did not know it at the time but we would end up spending a couple of nights there). (C almost ended up taking a side trip with one of the others to Krakow and the camps (Dachau and Birkenau) but the price was a little out of range. Krakow would have been great since it had most of the old architecture still intact.)