Thu, 28 Aug 2008 18:01:59 +0000
Warsaw Day 1 Index Vilnius Day 1
I woke up fairly late and decided to have a go at the hostel breakfast, for 10 zloty. Cornflakes, bread rolls, jam and yoghurt, not bad. The staff here are very helpful and friendly, but I swear there's something off about everything we say to each other. They always say "yes, of course" as though being asked for something so simple was the most bizarre thing they've ever heard. I guess they're just very, very helpful.
I decided to do more museums today. I thought I'd go back to the National Museum, since it seems it is more of a historical museum than I'd thought after all - or at least, it has lots of historical artworks. It turned out that while the temporary exhibit is a rather steep 17 zloty, the permanent exhibits are free. As expected, yes, there's only artworks, but there's a very nice collection of gothic art. So I wandered around looking at the saints being dismembered in various inventive ways.
And one panel showed a legend about Mary Magdalene in which she apparently grows hair all over her body, like an ape. Just when you think hagiography can't get any more surreal... Unfortunately there wasn't any English explanation of what was going on, and looking things up in Wikipedia later didn't help. I'm curious to hear the full tale.
I went to get some lunch from a cafe, and then returned to visit the military museum, which is part of the same building but reached through a different entrance. The grounds nearby are full of warplanes and tanks and so on. There also seemed to be an excursion from the Polish military, lots of young blokes in fatigues wandering round. I guess it keeps the patriotic fervour going.
The ground floor was full of mediaeval artefacts, the most impressive exhibit being a round helmet that's almost 1000 years old and still in fairly good condition. There weren't many English captions though, and it's really just a big pile of pointy things. I did like the one suit of armour that had a huge Groucho Marx nose/moustache modelled onto it in gleaming metal.
I took some photos, and was then told that this requires an extra ticket. Photos being not so essential as all that, I decided not to bother and just put the camera away.
Moving upstairs, the first thing I encountered was what looked like Polish propaganda paintings from the last couple of hundred years. The lack of English captions prevented me from understanding what I was looking at, but one painting in particular stood out, of the defence of Warsaw against the Bolsheviks. In addition to the usual nobly charging Poles riding roughshod over the disorganised Soviets, up in the clouds there are the spectral figures of what looked like the virgin Mary and a cohort of mustachioed Polish soldiers. Do Poles really believe that the heavenly host intervened to rout the Russians on this occasion? Quite possibly.
There was a large area devoted to the Polish fight against the Nazis, both home and abroad. I must admit I didn't know how significant a role they played in the UK - there were Polish planes at the Battle of Britain apparently. Still, on the home front things seemed somewhat futile. They probably had more success after the war, when they were fighting tired Russians.
I had a kebab for dinner, from a takeaway stand. I had trouble figuring out their dual-queue system (once to order, once to pick up), but it was quite a nice kebab, and I ate it in the park next to the hostel. I further fortified myself for the overnight bus with a beer and then a shower from the hostel.
I also tried to get my towel back, which I'd forgotten to pack this morning. Upsettingly, it seems to be lost forever: they collect and wash forgotten towels to lend out to guests. Man, I spent ages tracking down that towel! But they rather kindly furnished me with a replacement. It's much larger, so I'm effectively trading up here. Yay.
It's a bit weird at the bus station, since it looks like you only have local buses stopping there. But I asked and was told that I was indeed in the right place. I was joined by an Australian woman who works as a photojournalist in Cambodia. Man, my life seems dull sometimes. Needless to say, her tiny little shoulder bag made my backpack look absurdly overpacked.
I was lucky enough to find an empty seat next to me, and the seats are comfortable, so let's see how much sleep I can get tonight.
Warsaw Day 1 Index Vilnius Day 1