After breakfast this day, Slav took us for a nearby walk to the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is guarded around the clock each day of the year, with a scheduled change of the guard. The tomb sits under a stone arcade, the only remaining part of a palace that once existed on the site that is now an open square. Behind the tomb is a massive decorative fountain and a landscaped park that was once part of the palace gardens. Old Town Warsaw is like the Phoenix…risen from the ashes of its former destruction.
I planned an unusual itinerary for our stay in Warsaw and Slav helped us schedule a special stop. One of our requests was to see the Museum of the Polish Devil. In Poland the devil is known as Boruta. He shows up in many disguises, sometimes as a nobleman, a farmer, a friend, a soldier, etc. Sometimes he is even a patriot. But you can recognize him by horns and a tail. The museum is private, kept by an elderly man in his own home, who has been collecting folk art depictions of Boruta for 40 years. After his death, the collection (already owned by the government) will be housed in a public museum.
It was time for coffee and what better place to enjoy a break than the garden cafe at the Wilanow Palace. This lovely building and museum included a panel of paintings depicting nobles with our surname! That was unexpected and would have been missed except for Slav’s quick eye. One of my favorite memories is the larger than life, full paintings of nobles that hung on both sides of a long gallery in the palace museum. The male and female figures were dressed in 16th and 17th century period costume and the detail was stunning. Clothing was fashioned in Oriental style. Fabrics were plush and details on gowns and suits included laces, furs and gems. Unusual shaved hairstyles for men represented styles worn by people of that time. There are interactive exhibits and treasures to explore. The grounds behind the museum include formal gardens being renovated and planted and a waterside garden with a chapel – boathouse. It was a lovely setting bordered by ancient trees.
Soon it was lunch time and this day we ate at the “Communist Restaurant”. The food selection was great. Following our meal we drank small cups of thick coffee. We tipped over the cups to “read fortunes” in the coffee stained images. Even the waitress became involved in our silly ending to the meal. Our fortunes look pretty good… except for the image of a bear that remained in Arif’s cup.
The next stop was the two hundred and twenty year old Powazki cemetery, where up to one million people are buried. Like other European cemeteries, it is filled with old and beautiful sculptures.
Statues of angels stand guard over many graves. At Powazki, the aisle rows between graves filled with golden leaves, when they floated down from the branches of the massive trees this month.
Marble and granite gravestone sculptures reflect artistic styles from different time periods. Some graves have imbedded portrait photographs. Towering trees and architectural features make the cemetery eerie yet beautiful, especially at dusk.
The celebration of Halloween is discouraged in Poland. Instead, special traditions take place around All Soul’s Day on November 2nd. In late October relatives begin to scrub gravestones. The ground around and between the graves is cleaned of all leaves and debris; literally raked clean. Then mounds of fresh and/or artificial flowers and votive lanterns are placed on the elevated grave surfaces in preparation for family visits on All Soul’s Day. The colorful glass lanterns are lit, glowing softly at night. Zenon later explained that if you want to meet up with family, there is a better chance of seeing them at the cemetery on All Soul’s Day than at Christmas.
The day’s tour ended with a visit was to the Warsaw Rising Museum. The stories and films with depictions of Warsaw citizen resistance to the Nazi regime are moving. The sacrifices made by ordinary people and the amount of destruction in the city was sobering. On August 1, 2012 at 5 p.m., citizens of Warsaw stood in silence for one minute. This was a 68th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising ( Poland is Awesome.com for August 2012 entry).
We spent our final night in Warsaw at a restaurant called Rozana, for a final celebration.
We dined in a spacious entrance hall, surrounded by flowers, live piano music, attentive waiters and wonderful food. It was a memorable end to our stay.