Chopin's birthplace – signs of life in the Polish tourist industry?

“Things to do near Warsaw at the weekend” is right up there in the list of World’s Shortest Books alongside “Great French War Heroes”, “1000 Years of German Humour”, “Good American Beer” and “Mother Teresa’s Guide to Erotic Pottery”.

If you live in Warsaw, like we do, you run out of places to “pop out to” at the weekend after about two weeks. You can only visit Kazimierz Dolny so many times before you’re sick of the place and, sad as it may seem, that’s the only interesting place close to Warsaw and even that’s too far away for anything less than a lengthy day trip. Let’s face it, Warsaw is located about as conveniently as Timbuktu and you might think that this would spawn a huge industry in providing places for bored Warsaw folk to go spend some time and money whilst escaping from the city for a few hours. Well you’d be very wrong. In the years I’ve been here I think I can count on half a hand the number of new weekend jaunt options that have arisen. Actually, I can’t think of any new ones right now but Kazimierz has improved so I suppose that counts for something.

It doesn’t really matter what it is – an open day at the Płock refinery, a guided walk through the historical back streets of Radom, a cruise up the Wisła to Pułtusk, who cares? At this stage we’ll take anything we can get.

And so it was, with a sense of deja vu that we ventured out yesterday to go see Chopin’s birthplace at Żelazowa Wola one more time and you can imagine how smacked our gobs were when we found the place awash, positively overflowing, with new developments!

Zosia has to walk away and compose herself (pun intended)

“At last they see my full potential”

The normal routine here ever since dinosaurs ruled the earth was to pay your 5 zlots to the drunk car park attendant, cross the street, pay another 10 zlots each to get in, walk around the garden for 10 minutes (it’s not big), walk around the house for 3 minutes (it’s tiny), then leave and eat a dodgy meal in the restaurant opposite.

The tiny house where Chopin lived for all of 7 months.

A perfect Warsaw family day out! It always looked like a good opportunity wasted because every time we’ve visited we had to play a game of dodge the Japanese person. Chopin must be bigger than Michael Jackson in Japan judging by the numbers that flock to his birthplace. I mean, it’s not even as if the great man lived there very long is it? The house is full of pianos and stuff but they moved to Warsaw when he was 7 months old…so….would he really have been composing and playing in Żelazowa Wola?? Anyway, so what, he was born there and that’s all the Japanese persons care about.

It was really quiet there yesterday, probably because it’s not worth visiting right now, unless you like building sites and write a blog, but there was still one Japanese person there. I even took a picture. I think they have one Japanese person there 24/7, like a sort of vigil thing.

A (surprisingly tall) Japanese Chopin worshipper – with a big camera of course!

Looks like they won the lottery, or worked out how to apply for EU grants. The gardens are being re-laid and there are two new buildings being erected, one might even call them complexes, to deal with stuff that tourists want like souvenirs and coffee – no doubt with piped Chopin tunes throughout.

New gardens, new buildings with a “transparency of architectural forms”

Apparently there are 1,500 visitors a day in spring and summer, mostly pale yellow tourists on a bus ride from Warsaw with money burning holes in their back pockets. For centuries they have been left to wander round in search of somewhere to untrouser a few stówki and been left disappointed, well not for long. The 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth is fast approaching – March 2010 – and those visiting Żelazowa Wola to celebrate will finally get what they came for – plenty of wonga-splashing opportunity a real life pukka tourist hot-spot here in our very own Polska! Hallelujah!

Not only….I say NOT ONLY do they get a proper tourist experience at the birth-site in future but they ALSO get to cross the road and eat in style. Yes my friends, gone is the home of kotlet schabowy, chips and mushy peas and please take a gander at the latest venture for Gessler Gourmet Enterprises, coming soon to a birthplace near you –“Polka By Magda Gessler”:

Good food, fancy waiters & OTT decor = duży yenski.

I may be taking the pish here just a tad but I’m genuinely excited by this. This is the sort of rampant commercialism that Poles need to grasp with both golden hands. Fifteen hundred tourists a day for six months a year in a place where they are well and truly a captive audience is a license to print money. Not only that but it’s an opportunity for Poland to put on a decent show and leave people with a good impression. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happening and I certainly hope it happens a lot more, especially anywhere within an hour’s drive of Warsaw!

Come on Poland – you can do it! Just take a look at what your close neighbours are doing with their composers:

Bach-Haus in Eisenach
The Mozart industry in Salzburg
The Beethoven industry in Bonn
Elgar’s cottage near Worcester


Old style – the phantom car-park carver of old Chopin town.

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26 thoughts on “Chopin's birthplace – signs of life in the Polish tourist industry?

  1. adthelad says:

    On good form Mr S.

    Tick, v.g.

  2. m says:

    You can try Czersk – but ruins are the only attraction there.
    My tip is – Torfy nearby Otwock. In my humble opinion great place regardless of weather.
    http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rezerwat_przyrody_Na_Torfach

    Regards from London :)

    Angry Pole

  3. Scatts says:

    ad – glad you liked it!

    guest – I know there’s stuff going on in the city but that’s not the point. The point is to escape from the city for a while. Useful link though, thanks.

    m – good idea! We drive that way reasonably often but have never bothered to investigate that park. It is now on the list as a combo Torf Lake + Holiday Inn brunch. Thanks.

  4. yellerbelly says:

    We visited here last year in the autumn and were quite surprised to find that we were the only ones there. Perhaps it transforms in the summer – 1,500 visitors a day sounds rather a lot! The gardens are quite pleasant for a stroll with the kids, but the house seems to be forcefully made-up to please visitors. None of it really seems genuine.

    Is it going to be a Magda Gessler cafe? From memory, it’s quite a drive outside Warsaw and there isn’t much else around. Seems a bit of a trek for a romantic evening meal or a business lunch. Oh well, maybe she’ll target her audience and serve sushi…

  5. Scatts says:

    There is bugger all else around unless you fancy spending time in Sochaczew. We did that once, so desperate were we to find a different place to eat. We ended up in the “Hotel Chopin” dining room, one of those ubiquitous communist styled places, this one in the pale green colour option.

    Żelazowa Wola is 50km and 1hr drive out of Warsaw centre.

  6. Pawel says:

    I recommend Torun. Longer drive, but lots to see and do. Historic city centre, UNESCO-listed, refurbished. Gingerbread Museum (that’s what Torun is famous for) offers courses in baking cookies according to recepies from the middle ages. With ladies dressed as mieszczanki from that period. Planetarium lets you know more about the universe, and is quite impressive. There’s the Ethnographic Museum right in the centre, village folk houses were moved there. It shows village life in XIX century, a guide will tell you many a tale. There’s the Nicolaus Copernicus House – where he was born. More to see than in Żelazowa Wola. Regional Museum (in the Town Hall and Eskens’ House has historic things connected with Torun to see:) More sophisticated travellers might also pop to the Centre for Contemporary Art. Right outside Torun, in Piwnice, there is the largest radiotelescope in Europe (run by Nicolaus Copericus University), which often lets visitors in. You can hear the “cosmic noise”, and see old-style equipement. And of course in the historic centre plenty of cafes, beer-gardens, and restaurants. If you’re into medieval art – there are medieval churches full of it. You can hire a guide who will tell you all about it in any language.
    As for Chopin, Warsaw launches a huge campaign remaindig that he was most attached with Warsaw. Lots of goings-on are planned. You don’t have to go far to find out about Chopin. There’s an audioguide to download, a map to print – and off you go for a Chopin tour. http://www.um.warszawa.pl/wydarzenia/chopin/
    http://www.um.warszawa.pl/wydarzenia/chopin2010/

  7. Radek says:

    Just spent a summer driving around Poland. There is nothing – read my caps – NOTHING to do in Mazowieckie. It is the most dreary and depressing wojewodztwo in all of Poland. You cross it’s border in ANY direction, and suddenly the world seems a brighter, more beautiful place – it stops raining, the roads get better, castles and beautiful villages pop up everywhere. The amount of signage near the road decreases. I blame it on poverty and the the bad quality soils, I suppose…

    Luckily, Mazowieckie “curves” near Warsaw (to the south west) and you can leave it quickly. And whadayaknow, you cross the border and there is….Lowicz. You gotta go there – its a gorgeous town/village – beautiful baroque cathedrals/churches, nice town hall, two (sic) nice and newly revitalized market square (only the second triangular market square in Europe), a decent high street and possibly the best cafe/cake shop outside of Gesslerowa’s Slodkie/Slone in Warsaw.

    Also, they loads of famous “lowicz” folk art (which, is actually fairly decent), a nice museum and there is a decent, unbombed original palace + gardens in Nieborow, 15 minutes away. There are also loads of “karczmas” around. Best of all, its all within 80km of Warsaw… You just have to leave Mazowieckie ;)

  8. Steven says:

    Bydgoszcz has the prettiest girls I ever noticed in Poland..not that I notice much …nor want to notice… nor look at the girls in Bydgoszcz. But if I were not very happily married, I would take a nice weekend drive to Bydgoszcz for lunch and interesting historical sites to see.

  9. Scatts says:

    Yes, I was wondering about Łowicz but it seems such a shame to have to drive even further out. Might try it next time, should be able to pick up some milk at the very least!

    I have a feeling we’ve done the Nieborów thing. Are there a lot of sculptures in the gardens and it’s called something like “Arkadia”?

  10. Pioro-Boncza says:

    I went to Torun the other weekend with a couple of friends and had a blast! Gorgeous old city with the best example of Gothic architecture in Poland (that wasnt reconstructed in the 1950s) Although for a day trip its a bit far but for a weekend its great and cheap. And the road from Warsaw to Torun is mostly just a one-laner it is almost completely renovated and smooth with little traffic, except at the beginning leaving Wawa.

  11. island1 says:

    “Right outside Torun, in Piwnice, there is the largest radiotelescope in Europe (run by Nicolaus Copericus University), which often lets visitors in. You can hear the “cosmic noise”, and see old-style equipement”

    God I love stuff like that. I’m running to the station now…

  12. Pioro-Boncza says:

    Oh and about the Japanese obsession with Chopin. From what I understand his music really does somehow speak to the Japanese soul. Interesting trivia: Many of the original 8-bit arcade and Nintendo video games used Chopin scores often simply sped up!

  13. Ania says:

    Signs of life? Ugh, FINALLY. So many little places are completely being wasted because of this politics of secrecy. We’re not showing anything to anyone, period!
    And we will not build roads anywhere, anyway.

    When I’m in Madeira, that’s what I envy them the most. Madeira has no industru to speak of, but they used the EU transformation to build double-lane roads with tunnels and bridges leading to the most remote 5-house villages. And they pinned down any old thing that can attract a tourist, put a visitor’s centre next to it and printed some flyers.

    Not sure why we can’t do that – probably places of interest are still property of the state and require a written permission of the borough council, wojt, burmistrz, secretary and head of cleaning staff.

    Bastards.
    And then everyone wonders why we have such low attendance in the elctions. All there is to vote on are lefty leftovers after the exclusively equitable party of party-goers. May they rot.

  14. guest says:

    It is not only a Japanese thing. Chopin is also very popular in China and Korea.

    h ttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chopin,_Szanghaj_2.jpg

    Japanese people just traveled more often to Warsaw in the past. I think in the future we should see more and more chinese tourists…

  15. Norman says:

    Have You been to Urząd Wojewódzki w Katowicach? You must see elevator they have there – it’s a fun place ;]
    And don’t get yourself caught at this – pretend You’re trying to arrange something.

  16. ex-expat says:

    Scatts, you’ve forgotten to put “English contributions to the culinary world” in the opening paragraph ;-)

  17. Scatts says:

    You see that’s interesting because I actually did consider including it for while but when I got to thinking about all the genuinely great British food I decided against it. The trouble with British food is not that great food does not exist, it’s that 99.9999% of establishments do not sell it.

  18. Scatts says:

    I found a picture of the westybul and judging by that they must have one of the ancient rattling metal cage type of lift. Would I be correct?

  19. […] writes about a trip to Chopin’s birthplace at Żelazowa Wola. Cancel this […]

  20. […] writes about a trip to Chopin’s birthplace at Żelazowa […]

  21. Norman says:

    I don’t know, if i understood You correct, but… it’s not cage type. It’s open and doesn’t stop – you jump in and out, while it goes up and down… The rest is too complex for me to describe in English. Google “winda paciorkowa”.

    And if You go there, You should see Giszowiec and Nikiszowiec (not to mention the rest of Śląsk) ;]

  22. americangoy says:

    Sigh…

    There were many more French military heroes than English ones, that’s for sure.

    Your Norman overseers say so, chum.

    The only reason the Brits are so puffed of themselves is because they always use their cash to get others to fight their battles for them, and then get in at the last minute to claim all the glory (that chap Woolesley with that funny hat comes to mind, prancing about waaay after the glorious French Army got its derriere kicked up by the Russkis).

    Also, here in Johny Yank, there is GREAT beer – microbreweries prosper here and they are godly.

    Anyways, here in Yank-landia, on Travel channels Eastern Europe is almost never shown, instead Paris and perhaps Western Europe are profiled (Ah, Bruges! How eeeeeeeeeexciiiiiiiting!).

    If E. Europe is shown, it is inevitably Czech republic for some reason – never any other country.

  23. Dominik says:

    Nieborów is one thing the Arcadia is another :) Both places are close to each other. Here is the Nieborów thing; Other places you may find worth seeing: Skansen at Sucha, The Fortress of Modlin, Czerwińsk, Płock (excellent boulevards by the Wisła River).

  24. Mateusz says:

    “…You can only visit Kazimierz Dolny so many times before you’re sick of the place and, sad as it may seem, that’s the only interesting place close to Warsaw and even that’s too far away for anything less than a lengthy day trip….”

    Well I would recommend Lublin as it is just 166 km(Google maps) away from Warszawa. And during vacation the city is empty! The renovated Old Town is different than anything you can see in Poland. Also this is the only place in Poland where you can see so much Orthodox, Eastern influence (mainly in XVI-XVII architecture)! City itself is literally filled with students and it gives nice atmosphere compared to fast paced Warszawa.
    Not to mention that you won’t be able to see whole Lublin in 5 min like Kazimierz.

    Tourist Information:

    http://www.loit.lublin.pl/index_uk.html

    Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lublin

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