After visiting the folk art exhibition, I discover that the Gromada, built for country groups visiting Warsaw under communism, is still functioning as a hotel. So of course I book myself in for a night. It’s an odd mix of grand marble staircases and folk art decorations. My room provides darkness and silence, both in short supply in the apartment, and its location a new neighborhood to suss out.
The main resident of the plaza outside the Gromada, apart from the installers of Christmas lights and a few rugged-up pedestrians, is Napoleon, designated Wielkiemu wodzowi, the Great Chief according to my translation app. Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw and with it the hope that Polish sovereignty and borders would be restored after it had been divvied up between Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1772. My first translation of the words on the bottom of the plinth suggested he’d been recycled, which startled me a bit. Further investigation, and I realise that the statue had probably been moved from elsewhere.
I ramble around side streets and find artisan beer, cheek by jowl with a Solidarity office, shadows and a seriously rusted padlock.
Distressed brickwork is in the same block as the gracious Philharmonie building, built in 1900, burnt down in 1939, rebuilt in the socialist-realist style in the 1950s, where I discover another program to tap into for my evening musical pleasures.
The sun is shining but I’m uneager to walk much and definitely averse to going inside, so I hop on a tram to ride it to its terminus. It takes me across the river and out into the suburbs, passing the vast Gródno cemetery, and finally to an industrial area, a reminder that all Warsaw is not its centre.
Near the city tram stop is a building site, with historical photos on its hoarding, a history of the area from its grand days to the destruction of World War 2.
Making my way back to the hotel to check out, I pass a lion perched high and supercilious at the junction of two buildings. The fish market which was setting up as I watched the elevation of the Christmas lights is now busy: fish frying, curries bubbling and fresh fish, bottled fish, tinned fish, prepared fish offering themselves for purchase.
As I look over today’s ramble I remember back to this day last year and wonder at the vagaries of my life – and at my faulty memory. I could have sworn I spent the day looking for orchids in the bush at Congo and brunching on beer and wraps near the beach.