Looking for cheap airfare to Tbilisi, Georgia, Marilynn books a last minute flight to Warsaw, Poland. “It’s not that far away from Georgia,” she says. “Get us a nice hotel where we can recover from jet lag for a few days.” Okay, I reserve a four-night stay in Warsaw, with intentions to lounge around a nice hotel and recover from jet lag. Need to be strong for a hiking excursion in the Caucasus Mountains in the country of Georgia, just a four-hour flight away. After a long, crowded, sleepless flight full of screaming babies and coughing people, we cannot wait to sleep in a bed. We have no plans, not even a “Marilynn list” to fulfill.

Well, so much for “resting,” as the food, sights, and history of Warsaw pull us from the comfort of our hotel room and into the lively streets. I read a tattoo on an airline passenger’s leg that said, “Sleep Is Overrated” (I could not disagree more). Besides, we are hungry. Let’s eat some Pierogi (stuffed dumplings) and Zurek (sour soup with sausage and fermented rye flour). After all, we do travel on our stomachs. Food defines cultures in many ways.

Our hotel sits close to The Palace of Culture & Science, a 237-metre-high (about 800 feet) gift from Stalin that was ferried in from the Soviet Union in 1952. It served as Communist Party headquarters. At present, it houses several theatres, cinemas, bars, restaurants, and cafes. Too bad we cannot see it from the window of our hotel room, as those typical cheap Expedia rooms usually offer views of hotel walls.

The nearby “Nozyk Synagogue” stands as the sole survivor of 400 Jewish places of worship that were destroyed during World War II. Still utilized as a place of worship, this restored synagogue stirs emotion. Hidden as a horse stable during horrific times, walking through it produces a faint glimpse of atrocious human experience.

Who comes to Warsaw to eat fresh oysters? Most varieties here ship from France, but our overwhelming favorites hail from Ireland. We may skimp on flights and hotel rooms, but not on food. The oysters taste fresh with a bit of briny, juicy crunch. Especially the cold water Irish ones.

This walkable city, where vehicles stop for pedestrian crosswalks, offers way more than one can see in only four days. So much for “resting up” as rest shall have to wait for another day. I mean, how could you come all the way over here and not walk around? Off we go again, on a stroll to Old Town, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Warsaw’s top tourist area. Pride, hard work and craftsmanship entirely rebuilt Old Town after it was destroyed during WWII. The air smells fresh and clean in this large city of about two million people, which sounds oddly quiet.

Cobblestone streets twist around ornate tenement facades and plazas, with European architecture completely restored. While the area is not quite bustling, we imagine that it would be much more crowded with tourists were it not for current world circumstances nearby.

Whew! Time to lighten up a bit with a shot of Sliwowica and a chaser of Tskie Beer. Follow this with traditional Polish pickled Herring and Golonka (Pig Knuckle) surrounded by sauerkraut. We sleep a good ten hours after this. Waking, not sure where in the hell we are.

A morning walk to Lazienki Park, which covers 74 hectares (183 acres), proves much more than a simple walk in the park. It just happens to be the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first partially-free elections, and demonstrations fly in full force. We had no clue.

A crowd estimated at half a million people pushes us around, protesting the nationalist Law and Justice party led by Jaroslaw Kacznski. This marks the largest demonstration in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989.

We also had no clue that the Chopin Monument provides free classical piano concerts every Sunday at noon from mid-May until the end of September. Wow! Talk about roaming around at the perfect time.

A pianist plays Chopin so well that the chants of protesters in the background do not interfere with the journey of the music. Bravo to him for playing amidst such distraction. The park is free, as is the music.

Our walk leads to the Palace on the Island, once the residence of King Stanislaw in the 1700’s, and provides a respite from the demonstrations. as well as the opportunity to justify more traditional Polish fare.

How about a Placki Ziemniaczane (Polish potato pancake) topped with cold smoked salmon and sour cream? I will share my Golabki (cabbage rolls) stuffed with veal, rice and onion, served with tomato sauce.

While negotiating our walk back towards the hotel, pressing and pushing through the massive crowd, we re-energize and find a revered seat in a “Best Polish Food” sidewalk restaurant for, you guessed it, well deserved beers. I have a feeling that we will sleep well again tonight.

We must check-out of the hotel, and eventually take a red-eye flight to Tbilisi, Georgia tonight. So, we walk all day, this time to one of the largest Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, “Okopowa.” It holds over 250,000 marked graves, plus mass graves of victims from the Warsaw Ghetto. A small portion remains active today, and much of it is overgrown with forest, as many of the residents have no surviving kin to care for the mausoleums and headstones.

Not far away lies the Catholic cemetery,”Powazki.” Over one million people have been buried here since 1790, The massive grounds of 43 hectares (106 acres) are well cared for and laden with sculptures and exquisite headstones, some of notable artistic quality.

So here we sit in the hotel bar, checked-out of our room without a view, polishing our blog post. Quite exhausted from hours of walking today, we are trying to stay awake for our red-eye flight tonight. Then, we shall walk some more.

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