Warsaw Day 7: Souvenirs and Hot Beers

Slept like shit last night. I thought I was over the jet lag but it came back again with a vengeance, preventing me from even thinking of sleeping until 1am. I lay there for an hour, my brain was racing, I got up, I read and played games trying to tire myself out, then resorted to slamming a pillow over my face at 3 am, hoping to convince my stream of consciousness to shut the hell up.

I woke up at 8:20 despite the restless night, and considered going back to sleep but decided to muscle through the fatigue and go to the National Museum. Along the way I encountered a street sign that illustrates perfectly why I keep getting confused about how to cross the street here.

Wtf?

The National Museum turned out to be right next to the brewery I went to the day before. It too was located in a hideous hunk of cement. The front of it had nothing that indicated it was an art museum – just a big empty fountain and a set of uninspiring stairs. Inside, there was again a huge mob of school kids. (sigh…) Admission to the regular galleries was free, but I paid the $6.50 admission to see a special exhibit of work by a 19th century Polish painter called Aleksander Gierymski. He was the most split-personality artist I’ve ever encountered.

Gallery after gallery was filled with paintings that looked like different people had done them; some were hard, some soft, some Impressionistic, some Academic, some sketchy and loose, some so tight they made my head hurt. My favorite part of the exhibit was a room full of night paintings like this one:

Paris Opera House at Night

He was obviously talented, however he had a tendency toward the sentimental and melodramatic that didn’t serve him well. In fact, I saw a handful of other good Polish painters in the museum and they seemed to do the same thing so it could be a romantic aspect of Polish character. Anyway, though the museum itself wasn’t much to look at, it was worth the visit for the handful of strong painters and some really impressive wooden Medieval sculptures, including these that looked like they had real hair. Ugh.

NOooooOOoooooOOOooooo...

After the National Museum, I was getting peckish so I went in the direction of the Modern Art Museum, thinking I’d find something along the way. I ended up going back into the mall where I had a warm beer (not wanting a warm Coke) and a soggy caesar salad. Not a very satisfying lunch, but enough to power my legs a few doors down to the museum. Admission was free, and as you might expect, the Poles do Modern and Contemporary weirdness pretty well.

It's a snowman. In a freezer.

The Modern Museum was small so fairly quick to get through. That left me with time to go back toward the Old Town and look for some souvenirs and/or draw. Taking new streets, I ran into this building in what used to be the Warsaw ghetto—it’s something else to be walking and suddenly run into it.

A monument to Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

It’s sobering to see, and I was honestly amazed that people were sitting outside at a cafe right next to it, eating lunch.

Past the building, I ran into the Saxon Garden which was built by King August II and dates to the 18th century. In it, I nearly fell over a slew of other points of interest: a huge fountain, a sculpture garden, a sun dial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (I basically breezed past a bunch of picturesque things, knowing I had a mere handful of hours before my time in Warsaw was done.)

My sense of direction must be improving because the path I took through these sights took me where I intended to go—the Old Town. There, that “I have to find gifts for people and I’m running out of time” anxiety set in. I found myself surrounded by tourist shops full of cheap, ugly “folk art”. (Machine-made, mass-produced garbage such as magnets, flags, dolls and ugly t-shirts with the word “Poland” on them.)

Finally, after scouring every shop on every street, I ran into a place right on the market square that was just what I was hoping for. A gallery full of hand made items made by different Polish artists. There I got me and Nick this adorable animal wall hanging…

Raccoon!

…and once I picked up this purse, I was physically incapable of putting it back.

The best use I've seen for felted wool.

Pleased with my purchases, I went out to the square and sat down at an umbrella table to drink a beer and sketch. The young waiter was not at all happy that I only wanted a beer and shook his head at me ruefully. Like, with some serious rue. Not to be intimidated by a judgey teenager, I took out my sketchbook and defiantly took up a table for over an hour. I got a few drawings done, accompanied by a guy with an accordion who blended together things like Besame Mucho, Russian folk song Korobushka, and the theme to the Godfather better than a New York City DJ.

I ended up justifying the time at my table when a friendlier waitress went by who was willing to accommodate my out-of-season request for hot beer. Take THAT, stubborn pierogi restaurant waiter!

Beer. With a straw.

The hot beer was…interesting. As the waitress explained it, they boil regular beer, then add cinnamon and flavored syrup. It’s meant to be a hot drink for a cold evening, but I’m not convinced it’d be all that satisfying. First, it was lukewarm, not hot, and second, the boiling process took all the carbonation out of it. Basically, it was a fruity, flat, somewhat-warm beer. Oh well. At least I can say I had it.

I also had this:

After seeing about a hundred kids walking around with them, I had to have one myself. Yes, it looks like leftovers from a mass murder, but it’s a belgian waffle slathered with cherry pie filling and whipped cream. I’m sure I looked disgusting eating it, but it was delicious. While munching I noticed this. So…when the live music is playing, are you supposed to climb down this hole?

Club entry or laundry chute? You decide.

Well Warsaw, that’s just about it. I leave tomorrow morning at 7 am. You’ve shown me some interesting sights, treated me to some incredible food, and been more hospitable than I would have imagined. We may never see each other again, but let me say with sincerity – I’m glad we met.

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