Working Our Way Into Warsaw

Warsaw is about 180 miles of flat plains away from Gdansk. But it makes for an interesting road trip, filled with plenty of food and history.

It seems a long drive from Gdansk and Malbork Castle to the capital of Poland but our guide Piotr knows where to stop when stomachs start to complain: It’s road food Polish style. We recognize kielbasa and stuffed cabbages and see how busy this roadside café is with motorists. When we board our coach — as if we might still be hungry – our driver and tour manager produce a huge box of doughnuts, paczki, another memory for us.

The coach continues south on the flat, great plain of Poland. We have 287 kilometers to go — about 180 miles, but that is nothing to Americans used to distances in the United States. We enter Warsaw and again see a Pelican on a wall and recall the explanation we got from the guide at Malbork. We swing past a vehicle we hadn’t seen for some time, a ridiculously long limo of the kind favored by our ridiculously popular celebrities. “Yo,” someone cries out from the front of the coach, “Elvis is in town!”

Our coach stops at the Sheraton Warsaw. The hotels, Sheraton and Radisson Blu have been consistently upscale, more elegant than what we usually stay in as independent travelers in Europe. International Sheratons are significantly superior to what Sheratons offer in the United States where they have lost that price range battle to Marriott and many Canadian hotels.

The figure standing outside the Sheraton is Wincenty Witos (1874 — 1945), “a controversial person sometimes defended as hero and creator of the peasant party, sometimes accused as a traitor who agreed to cooperate with the Soviets when they ‘liberated’ or rather invaded Poland in 1944.” We don’t have an opinion on this or on the other controversial statue we found within a 10-minute walk, Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970). Controversial? Well, he argued constantly with the two allied commanders who were set on liberating France in World War II, the British Bernard Montgomery and our own Eisenhower, and when Paris was finally liberated, de Gaulle took all the credit. He was, in fact, allowed to march into Paris at the head of the liberating army. But that was a long time ago and a trivial story compared to how Poland had suffered. Says our guide: “See how he is striding out! He loved our doughnuts. There was a bakery in the direction he is marching and that’s where he’s heading!” The bottom figure is Warsaw’s tribute to the celebrated artist Jan Matejko whose work we have seen in Krakow.

Old Town in Warsaw gives the shoppers in our group another opportunity for free time shopping whether it be in an antique shop with exhibits like those from early 20th century like His Master’s Voice advertisements or those from contemporary Polish arts and crafts.

There is shopping for amber in Old Town as well. You will find dolls dressed up in traditional costume or even comely waitresses ready to serve you if it’s time for lunch.

But what comes later today as a special Insight Vacations expedition is a Chopin recital by Iwona Klimaszewska in the Szuster Palace. Ms. Klimaszewska, we find, has given piano recitals in, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Japan, and Sweden and, of course, in many locations in Poland

The Szuster Palace was originally built in 1772. It was burned by the Germans in 1939 but restored in the 1960s for the Warsaw Music Society as its home. Ms. Klimaszewska plays eight pieces starting with Chopin’s Polonaise A major Op. 40 and could barely escape from her enthusiastic audience at the end of her recital.

We chose for dinner a Bavarian-style restaurant called Adler about 200 yards from the Sheraton, for what was going to be our last pierogi Polish pasta. We got back to the hotel early because the next day was our last full one with Insight and they had planned a lot for our small group in this memorable city, one Germany had reduced from a population of 1.25 million to 20,000 in a four short years. The Nazis did more: they reduced classified historic monuments from 957 to 781 and destroyed everything on the entire left bank of the Wistula.

There is an old story one about a Russian, a German, and a Pole arriving at the start of the 1900s at the gates of heaven. St.Peter tells them they may each ask one question.

The Russian goes first. "What does the future hold for Russia?" St. Peter ponders for a moment, then whispers the answer. "Oh no!" cries the Russian, and starts weeping.

The same thing happens with the German, who also ends up in tears. Finally, it's the Pole's turn. "What will the future hold for my Poland?" he asks.

St. Peter, looks at the Pole and hesitates. Then St. Peter, himself, starts weeping.

Photography by the authors

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.