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The 1950's Stalinist era tower which dominated Warsaw but which today is getting many new tall modern neighbors.

Some wags have given it the nickname:






When in Rome, do as...

And when in Warsaw you attend a concert featuring Home Boy, Frederic Chopin, especially during Warsaw's Chopin Festival.  

We like to stay in downtown hotels in the capital cities, it allows us to take in more of the culture.  And at the Sofitel that day were a number of posters advertising the Chopin Festival as the Sofitel was a prime sponsor.  And performing that evening in the State Opera House was the World Renowned Orchestra of the 18th Century under the baton of Frans Bruggen.

As with many of the great concert halls, the State Opera has a number of venues within its walls and this night we were seated in the 1000 seat Recital Hall.  With metal chairs on 3 sides enclosing the center, the sold out crowd slowly assembled.

Expecting a 2 part performance of Chopin favorites and a Schubert Symphony, we were informed that the guest soloist had taken ill and there would be a substitution.  With a groan the audience listened for the new artist and then the explosion of applause that erupted told us that no one was going to be disappointed tonight.


Coming to the piano was Janusz Olijnicz one of Poland's most renowned concert pianists.

Now I did not consider myself a Chopin fan because piano music is not my favorite.  However, once you hear the best, playing with a full orchestral backup, playing one of the all time great piano concertos (Concerto in F Minor).  Well it was spellbinding.  I damn near yelled "Bravo", but restrained myself  - not wanting to sound nouveau sophisticate, don't you know.

The 2nd half was 50 minutes of Schubert's 9th Symphony "the Great", also superb.


And at the end of the performance we strolled arm in arm through the cool northern Europe evening back to the hotel.

The next morning on the elevator we met Mr. Bruggen and thanked him for the evening.



Chopin in the Park





Meeting people throughout the old East Bloc was much more difficult than in the west.  Maybe it is a Slavic thing, or a reaction to centuries of repression from royalty, Nazis and Communists.  But the average person avoided eye contact and we saw very few smile on the street.  No one, it appeared, wished to draw attention to themselves.






The Polish Versailles

The great Warsaw palace of Wilanow was begun by the most famous of Polish Kings, Jan III Sobieski, hero of the Battle of Vienna in 1683.  What began as a small summer house became over time, and through a succession of noble owners, the large palace of today.  Escaping the destruction of WWII it came to us as one of the larger Polish palaces.  

The interiors were quite special, however the website photos are a bit small to do it justice.  Located a dozen miles south of Warsaw it is a must see venue.

As it appears to be Polish custom, no photos are allowed within.






Nine folks in the scaffold refreshing the building






Two Towns on the Road to Somewhere Else

It was time to move north toward Denmark and we started toward the port of Gdansk.  On the way we followed the great Vistula River as it bent its way north (so reminiscent of the great Mississippi of the American Heartland).  We spent a night each in the towns of Plock and Torun.



The great river flowing north

Untouched by the fighting during the large Red Army Winter Offensive of 1945 (they traveled so fast and so far that they basically by passed German strong points and left them for the following troops), the town has numerous structures of historical importance.

The Capital of Poland in the 1000's, its castle and cathedral were both damaged by a huge landslide in the 1500's.  Today the neat streets help to showcase the large cathedral and the remains of the castle towers.  Pope John Paul II visited the city on June 7 and 8, 1991.




Above - the boys taking a bath


Town Hall Square


This ain't Kansas, Toto!

Plaque on the High School building


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A UNESCO site because of its well preserved old town with 2 Market Squares and 3 superb churches plus the Town Hall and portions of the city wall.

A university town with a buzz and excitement that the young bring to it.

A Torun legend says that a witch tried to live in Torun and when she was turned away, she cast a curse on the town causing Torun to be invaded by frogs. Then, a fiddle playing boy came along and enchanted the frogs with his beautiful playing. They followed him out of the Torun and the town was saved.



Copernicus was born here


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The Foundation of Prussia and the German Nation


The great fortress at Malbork, known to the Germans as Marienburg. 

Home to the Grand Master of

The Teutonic Knights

The Order of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem (Teutonic Order) was organized in 1190 in Acre when military monks were assigned to protect a new  hospital for the care of German pilgrims there.  In a very short time the military side of the house took precedence.  Eventually displaced from the Holy Land due to Moslem victories, they eventually found a home when invited by the Emperor and Pope to Christianize the pagans of Prussia.  With the aid of German crusaders they were able to subdue the tribes and were granted land concessions.  Encouraged by the authorities they began to wage Crusade against Poles and Lithuanians further east.  (Which seem moot after the Lithuanians and Poles converted).  A joint Polish-Lithuanian Army soundly broke their military power in 1410 at the Battle of Tannenburg and forever changed the political landscape of northeast Europe.  As the order moved east they establish their principal seat in the castle at Marienburg in 1309.  As an independent military duchy they wore out their welcome and they were encouraged to secularize their territory, which they did in 1530 - the basis of Prussia.

Because it had been the head and soul of Prussia, the German Army decided to make a stand here.  The photo shows the result.

Choir stall panels in the semi reconstructed Church



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