Poland: Dobrzyn to Warsaw

September 12, 2013 • 11:14 pm

Yesterday morning was my last in the countryside, and it was with heavy heart that I left my friends, Andrzej, Malgorzata, and Hili, to head to Warsaw for new adventures. It was immensely relaxing in the country, and the combination of good company, good food, quiet, and a wonderful cat gave me a well-deserved rest. (I also managed to make good progress on my book, which I hasten to assure readers will not be a collection of website posts!).

The night before my departure, Malgorzata prepared zucchini shells stuffed with vegetables, bits of bacon, and cheese. With it we had a “Bison” Polish beer and polished off the remnants of the cherry pie (something else that I’ll miss!)

Malgorzata and dinner

My hosts were kind enough to keep Hili indoors the night before I left so that she could be around to say goodbye to me.  Of course she became restive, as she really craves her outdoor jaunts, and so began running around like a lunatic, burrowing under the rugs:

Hili 1

After a while she resigned herself to the overnight incarceration, but seemed to me to look quite depressed:

Hili 2

After I said my goodbyes to her, we let her out, but she stayed outside and went for a walk with Andrzej and me. It was a usual Hili walk, with her pretending to ignore us but staying with us down to the river, darting across our path, ahead of us, lagging behind, and so forth. My theory, which is mine, is that cats have fealty but are not pack animals and so demonstrate their independence. As Malgorzata would say, “Well, she’s a cat!”

After the walk Andrzej picked her up for final goodbyes:

Hili 3

The train to Warsaw was 1.5 hours late, but I was greeted at the station with a group from the Polish Rationalists with a banner! They are a very friendly and hospitable group:


We immediately repaired to a “milk bar” (bar melczny) for lunch; these are remnants of earlier times when workers could get a good Polish meal for very little money. They are still around, and very popular. For those who can read Polish, here’s a menu:


I had asked to be taken to one of these; people queue, order and pay at a cashier, and then pick up their food at a small window:

Milk bar line

I had the most typical Polish meal I could think of: borsht with dumplings, followed by cheese pierogi. It was washed down with kompott, a drink made with the juice left over from stewing fruit in sugar.

My hosts also insisted that I sample the blueberry pierogis with sour cream (Polish food is not light!):


Blueberri pierogi

One of my hosts also had a traditional dessert: pancakes, also filled with berries:

Berry pancakes

On the way to lunch, we passed a very famous Warsaw landmark, the Palace of Culture and Science, which was built from 1952-1955 and was originally called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science. (The building still serves as a cultural center and a venue for meetings.) It absolutely epitomizes Soviet-style architecture, and apparently many Poles hate it because it conjures up the Communist era.

I like it because it is just so—Soviet!


My talk went well, I think: the house was packed and there was an hour of questions. The talk itself lasted 100 minutes because there was consecutive translation, with an excellent translator who made me stop every two sentences to convey what I said in Polish. (BTW, it is hard to maintain the momentum of a talk when you must stop every 15 seconds!)

There is a deep need for rationalism in this country as it is heavily Catholic (95% of Poles are Catholics) and the government is deeply infused with religion. Recently a Polish policeman asked for a crucifix to be removed from his office (crosses are everywhere here, including in all schoolrooms, where religious instruction is mandatory through high school, and Parliament).  For that request he was prosecuted for the offense of “offending religious feelings” (that is a law!), and may lose his job. Polish atheists have a tough job ahead of them!

Today I have an entire day of sightseeing, although I meet for a while with the biology faculty of the local university. Then I will visit the Warsaw ghetto (not much is left!), the Modern Art Museum (where I’ll get a private tour), and engage in other sightseeing stuff. Tomorrow I take the train to Cracow for more lectures.


23 thoughts on “Poland: Dobrzyn to Warsaw

  1. I can’t criticise Andrzej, Malgorzata, and Hili’s taste in Scotch.

    And I think the “Palace” in Warsaw looks far more interesting than the equivalents in Moscow.

  2. Ah, we have “kompott” too. But it is a sweet blend of mashed and sugared fruit or berries cooked. (From fr “compote”.)

    I’ll stay aware of the difference!

    For that request he was prosecuted for the offense of “offending religious feelings”

    And per religious special pleading it is just one privileged religion, not the others or the absence of all.

    Sooo medieval and devoid of human rights.

  3. My tastes may not be popular, but I like the Stalinist architecture.

    Whenever I travel, I’m struck by how much better food is everywhere. We just don’t appreciate it here.

  4. … which was built from 1952-1955 and was originally called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.

    Ironically, during the era of Lysenkoism.

  5. When I was in Warsaw in the early 80’s
    I was told that the best view of Warsaw was from the Palace of Culture because you couldn’t see the Palace of Culture from there.

    I once watched two rather portly gentlemen in a Warsaw restaurant called the Cafe Europa put away a large oval dish each of two large pigs knuckles and a generous pile of boiled potatoes washed down with beer. They labored mightily as the pile got smaller and smaller and then there was nothing left but the bones. Such knuckles are one of my favorite dishes. I was told that in those days the red wine frequently came from Bulgaria where it was fortified with vodka. My aunts boiled the milk as
    soon as they brought it home because it was already souring. Beers brewed for a short time were for local consumption. Beers brewed for a longer time were for export to countries under communist control. Beers brewed for a longer (and presumably adequate) time were exported to the rest of the world. Meat was scarce, but pickles were superabundant. Flowers were available everywhere and I was told that it was customary to bring flowers when invited anywhere. I spoke fluent “Warsaw Polish” then (I was so informed by my aunts), and still do but of course I frequently had to struggle to find the proper word. When people were mystified by this, I would explain that I left the country at the age of 7 right after the war, they would exclaim
    “Ah, you are not from here.” even though I was born there. I am still mystified by this.

    Somehow, I was never inclined to go back there, but Jerry’s accounts are perhaps changing my attitude.

  6. I realize it is too late now, but if you ever get back, you absolutely must see the Warsaw Uprising Museum if you have not yet visited. It is probably one of those most moving, thorough experiences I’ve ever had, short of the concentration camps. When we were there in July, we also attempted to see the Gestapo Museum but it was well-hidden (ha!) and by the time we found it they had closed.

    1. During the war my parents were in the resistance and left me with my maternal grandfather and a Jewish lady with false papers, a new Polish identity and no relatives, an important factor in acquiring a false identity. We stayed in a small village (then) called Mlądz with a small river, the Świder running thru, or near the village. It was not far from Warsaw.
      One day, we moved somewhere else to a
      building with a third story balcony, One evening my grandfather took me to the balcony and pointed out the fiery glow in the distance. It was Warsaw burning, Hitlers
      punishment for the uprising. Over the years my parents and their friends (often visitors from Poland) discussed their experiences (under the influence of copious amounts of vodka) and I listened with fascination and indeed horror, not being able to imagine how I would have behaved under similar circumstances. Somehow, I was never encouraged to inquire about the details, and never did, perhaps to avoidpossible mental consequences of knowing too many details. There were many stories. My parents, rescued a few Jewish friends who were smuggled to Sweden, were involved in asassinating a collaborationist, once bribed a Russian soldier with a 2 inch stub of pencil, my step (maternal) grandmother was German and did a great job smuggling guns
      in her shopping basket while exchanging pleasantries with German soldiers. I have read about the Warsaw uprising. When I was in Poland many street corners were decorated with plaques of names of people who had been murdered there by the Nazis. I have heard the stories of Jewish friends who survived concentration camps and it must also be remembered that some Poles contributed to the slaughter of the innocents. I was truly protected from the horrors of the war in my childhood. Somehow, were I to return, I would prefer just to enjoy the much freer and wealthier part of Poland and avoid visiting (but remembering) the past.

      My apologies for this autobiography (testimonial, rant, whatever. Lets eat makowiec and drink vodka (in moderation).

  7. I am under the impression that Poland is so heavily Catholic for the same reason as Ireland: the Church was identified with the nationalist struggle against outsiders- in Poland’s case, Lutheran Prussia and Orthodox Russia.

  8. “I also managed to make good progress on my book, which I hasten to assure readers will not be a collection of website posts!”

    Careful there, lad. Next thing you know you’ll be accused of topping up a wineglass!

  9. “I also managed to make good progress on my book, which I hasten to assure readers will not be a collection of website posts!

    Careful now, lad. Next thing you know you’ll be accused of topping up a wineglass!

  10. Thank you for visiting my country and sharing your experience. I wish I could’ve attended one of your lectures and been at the Punkt Ka cafe in Cracow. I’ve just watched the interview TVN did with you. It sort of felt like watching Fox news interview an atheist 😉 Not a great job on the part of the interviewer, I’d say. You dealt with the questions gracefully 🙂

  11. Meeting you, Jerry, was a wonderful experience. Thank you very, very much. I’m waiting already for your next visit.

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