Giżycko & Warsaw, Poland
We drove into Poland and this time it only took us half an hour to notice the time change - a new record for us. Garmin, as usual, took us via poorly-made back roads to our destination, the Masurian Lakes district. Unfortunately, most of the lakes were obscured by trees, so it wasn't the most scenic of drives.
We stopped in the small town of Giżycko and spent some time wandering aimlessly around the streets. Funnily enough, the town was set on a huge lake, and dozens of yachts were moored in the marina. It had the feel of a quiet summer resort town, scenic and laid back. Most of the boats were full of young people drinking the day away and making sure everyone on dry land knew they were there. There were a handful of carnival rides (I was tempted but resisted) and dozens of food stalls around, which livened up the place. Danny decided he wanted to taste a European waffle, so he ordered one with a woman who spoke no English. It came out covered in cream. When I say covered, I mean the layer of cream was at least twice the height of the waffle. As soon as Danny turned the corner, out of sight of the stall holder, the whole layer of cream went into the bin. Surprisingly the waffle tasted pretty good. Before heading back to the car we stopped to watch karaoke being performed on the street. It turns out that it is just as lame in Polish as it is in English.
Following a hot night with little sleep, we departed Giżycko and drove straight to Wolf's Lair, an old Nazi headquarters where an attempted assassination of Hitler occurred. The site was located in a dense forest, and the light rain that was falling through the trees gave the place an eerie vibe. Dozens of former buildings were now just rubble, including the room where the famed event took place. Hitler's bunker was the largest of all of the structures and was still standing, but there was nothing to be seen inside. We discovered there was a shooting range at the site – gunshots are not the most soothing sound when walking through former Nazi stomping grounds.
Three and a half hours and many back roads later we arrived in Warsaw, with beautiful weather and easy flowing traffic. We booked into the caravan park and went in search for a supermarket. It was too late to do any sightseeing so we sat outside with all the bugs, ate pizza and people-watched. Due to a wet and muddy ground, no one was happy with their chosen spot in the caravan park. Multiple attempts at moving caravans and campervans around mostly resulted in people getting bogged. The Italians were not very happy about this and made sure the whole caravan park knew about it. The most entertaining people, however, were the two middle-aged Finnish women sporting the same haircut, same outfit and the same dogs. Weird.
It was a great start to the morning, with blue skies and warm weather. As soon as we got off the bus in the centre of Warsaw, the skies had turned dark. We decided to go our separate ways to make the most of our time while it wasn't raining. I headed to the History Museum but it was closed for refurbishment. Instead I wandered around one of the most amazing old towns I had ever seen; Danny later told me he didn't agree. I then visited the Marie Curie Museum, although it was a stretch to call it a museum. The displays consisted of black and white photos printed off the internet on A4 white paper, stuck on a piece of beige cardboard, and a short caption placed underneath. I don't think I learned a lot.
By the time I had finished at the Museum it had started raining heavily. I stuck it out in the shelter of the Museum for a while but the rain wasn't going anywhere, so I quickly ran down the street and ducked into the nearest cafe, which turned out to be a pizzeria. I should point out that I was wearing a t-shirt, skirt and thongs/flip flops, with no umbrella and no jacket. I did not expect rain.
I sat in the pizzeria for about an hour but the rain didn't let up. I gave up and walked through the downpour to the Museum of Caricatures, which was another 'museum' that wasn't quite a museum. The lack of any other visitors seemed to verify this. Most of the cartoons depicted the EU as some sort of evil conspirator against Poland in a slightly humorous way. It would have helped if I had the slightest idea about Polish politics.
Once I left this museum I strolled through the rain for another half an hour, trying to find my way back to the bus stop. It wasn't cold (actually it was overly humid) but I don't think I could have been wetter if I tried. I then jumped on the wrong bus, got off at the train station, found the correct bus and caught it back to the car. I ran inside, changed, stuffed down a quick bite to eat, grabbed my umbrella and got ready to head out again. It was at that exact moment that it stopped raining. To add to the misery I managed to burn my hair on the grill while cooking lunch, leaving me with several short strands at the front and a lovely burnt hair smell in the car.
I ended up meeting Danny at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which definitely was a museum. Three floors, visual and sound effects at every turn, stacks of information on the occupation and eventual release of Poland - it was fantastic. The only downside was that it was too crowded, probably because the Museum was free on Sundays. It was incredible that there was so much information on the uprising itself, which only lasted three months.
With dinner (risotto) we tried a classic Polish drink: vodka infused with bison grass. Danny was eager to try it, and as vodka is so cheap here I splurged on a bottle, which came with actual blades of grass inside. Danny drank it straight; it still had that vodka kick but with a slightly sweet finish. I definitely prefer my vodka mixed.
It wasn't raining when we woke up the next morning but we weren't taking any chances: we both made sure we were prepared for wet conditions. Of course it didn't rain at all.
Today it was all about seeing the sights rather than visiting the museums. We walked past dozens of monuments (my heart broke at the Little Insurgent statue), visited a couple of picturesque town squares, climbed up the tower of a church for city views, strolled through parks and gardens and explored beautiful old streets. We also passed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was closely guarded by two living soldiers.
I split up from Danny and caught the bus out to a park so I could visit Palace Lakienki, but I ended up walking through the wrong park. After much frustration and confusion, I eventually realised my mistake and made it to the right park. It contained a huge monument of Chopin in a rose garden (they are very proud of Chopin in Poland) and a lovely palace on the water. It was literally on the water: the river ran right underneath it.
I went supermarket shopping on the way back to the van but with all the ingredients listed in Polish I didn't really know what I was buying. It turned out that I didn't choose well and we ate a sub-par dinner. Danny has continued on his peanut quest (now that he suddenly loves peanuts), eating his first Snickers bar and also scoffing down a few peanut biscuits I bought (and actually enjoying them). Ironically I, the peanut lover, didn't like them at all.