Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last day in Warsaw ~ Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday was a day that we got more immersed into Polish life, coming face-to-face with people to learn about Poland in a personal way.

One of many beautiful Polish churches
First thing in the morning, we walked up hill to the main street and entered the Holy Cross Church for Sunday mass.  That one single church service provoked a wide variety of reactions.  Some found the mass “wonderful,” while others found it boring or irritating or hard to relate to – then again, it was entirely in Polish!  Those familiar with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy noted the slight differences in the service and rituals.  We could see that many Polish congregants were deeply moved, including the two Polish people from the hostel who attended, but the school-age kids who were led inside clearly did not want to be there.  All of us agreed that the church was pretty, though not that ornate – where was all the stained glass??  And how could you ignore the fact that there, in the marble pillar next to us, Chopin’s heart was interred?  The rest of his body was buried in France.  Doesn’t that provoke religious feelings in you???

Joseph trying and failing to fit in with the local Poles

From staid, conservative Catholicism, we entered the world of loud, proud, evangelical Christianity.  This is a new phenomenon in Poland.  Our contact was not planned.  Hundreds were gathered in the plaza in front of our destination, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but they drew us in with their contemporary pop rock, red shirts emblazoned with “Jezus cie kocha,” and inexplicable waving of world flags.

Since we are Americans and used to such in-your-face religious expression, we walked around them and gathered around Donal for a lesson about the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the key battles commemorated on the plaques.  We strolled through beautiful Saski Park.  We found statues representing fields of knowledge, and all the history majors and Prof. O’Sullivan posed in the shadow of their historical muse. 

Smile for the camera!
They have legos in Poland too?

We continued our journey through town until the Warsaw Uprising Monument, broke for lunch, and met together in Castle Square.  The afternoon’s activity was to be a tour of the city of Praga across the Vistula. 

Once there, we discovered another side of Warsaw.  Praga is like a city in transition, composed of different types of buildings side by side: decrepit old elegant buildings, concrete Communist-era blocky structures, and modern colorful office buildings.  Unsuccessful at finding a renovated Jewish bath house, we did find a building that still had a mezuzah container on the entrance gate. 

But the highlight of the day was hanging out with Polish college students from SWPS (Warsaw University of Social Sciences and Psychology). 
Students from all corners of the world 
Four of them had volunteered to meet us in the college cafeteria, and in short order they offered to show us around Lazienki Park and the Palace of Culture.   

Man, I look good!
The park had interesting wildlife.

We saw peacocks, red squirrels, tiny mice with stripes down their back that darted around the bushes, and friendly ducks.  Bridges arched over beautiful ponds, and fountains sprayed.

Waffles, cream, and warm
toffee sauce - the best!

It was gorgeous, but of course so
was dessert at the café.

We had to hurry to make it to the Palace of Culture look-out tower before it closed at 8 p.m., and we got in the door with 2 minutes to spare.  Luckily they let us stay up there (33 floors high) to marvel at the perfect view of Warsaw on the sunny and clear day.
Stalin's "gift" to Warsaw 
The spaceship is actually a soccer stadium!

“Speak to us in Californian,” one of the students asked.  This is strange.  We have accents?  Nonsense.  Our English is the standard version!  While half of them practiced their English on us, the others spoke Spanish to some of us.  What an opportunity it was to meet sweet and friendly people like us who took time to show us around.  We all had a great time.    

Seeing another world together 

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