I visited Warsaw, the Polish capital city, for the second time in 2015. Just like the first time, the main reason behind my visit was a music concert. The first time I had arrived on an early summer afternoon, just days before the UEFA Euro 2012 would kick off in that very city. Everybody had told me that Warsaw was grey and ugly, but I found it exciting and vibrant and unexpectedly colourful.
On my second visit I felt like I had landed in the wrong city. A thick fog was covering the top of all the tall downtown buildings, including the infamous Palace of Culture and Science.
Many people who belong to a generation different than mine will say that their favourite view of the city is with their back to the Palace. I stood facing it, my sight getting lost where it merged with the sky on that foggy day. Built as a gift from the Soviet people to the Polish nation, the Palace of Science and Culture came to be one of Warsaw’s symbols. Those who hate it see it as a perpetual reminder of a hard time that now belongs in the past. I don’t blame the past on a building; to my generation the Palace is only a harmless piece of architecture.
The Palace does not stand alone anymore as the tallest building in the area. Skyscrapers built in the last decade keep it company and on foggy days together they merge with the sky. I found it absolutely mesmerizing, seeing all these tall buildings fading to grey. It was only my second time in Warsaw and the city was showing off a completely different face than the previous time, spoiling the photographer in me.
As I was wandering around the Palace I was approached by a strange man who engaged in conversation. My weird Polish accent betrayed me and he asked if I was Ukrainian. His shabby clothes and worn out hands hinted at the fact that the streets of Warsaw were his home, and his desperate need to have a conversation with another human being made me think even more so. He told me that he had taken part in the 1980 Summer Olympics and suggested I’d visit the gym on the 43rd floor of the InterContinental Hotel for the best view of the Palace.
I figured I had nothing to lose and headed for the classy hotel after we said do widzenia. Once inside the reception I headed towards the elevators and asked to be taken all the way up. No, I was not a hotel guest, I just wanted to visit the gym. As the elevator doors closed behind me I felt like I got really lucky to receive this random tip to be able to see the city from a different perspective.
“Not the best of days for the view”, greets me the receptionist of the gym. I tell him I’m only here to take a few pictures and then I’ll leave. He tells me to take my time. Indeed, as cool as the fog was from street level, up there it kind of ruined it. Nevertheless, I felt lucky I got to experience this.
As my train made its way out of Warsaw the following day I thought back about that stranger and wondered if he had really been in the Moscow Olympics. I will never figure it out, but I like to think this could have been the truth. Or maybe it was only a little story he liked to tell random strangers who would grant him the pleasure of a conversation.
After all, liars always make the best storytellers.