It was late Sunday morning when I found myself having a slow breakfast on one of the main historic streets in Warsaw. It’s called Faubourg de Cracovie and it is one of the best-known and most prestigious streets of Poland’s capital, surrounded by historic palaces, churches and manor houses.
It comprises part of the Royal Route that runs from Warsaw's Royal Castle and Old Town, south to King John III Sobieski’s 17th-century royal residence at Wilanow.
The King was an able military commander, most famous for his victory over the Turks at the 1683 Battle of Vienna, after which the Pope hailed him as the savior of Christendom.
Sobieski ruled over Poland and Lithuania for 22 years.
He had a French wife - Marie d'Arquien, known in Poland by the diminutive form "Marysieńka", which actually sounds sweet if you understand the language.
The Royal couple became famous for their love letters, written from 1665 to 1683, when they were parted either due to John III Sobieski's military engagements or her travels to Paris. The letters give insight into the authentic feelings of the loving couple and also their reflections on day-to-day decisions made by the king, as he consulted his wife about them.
That late morning I was sitting outside, having a glass of hot red wine and feeding a small bird with almonds so it stayed on my rustic wooden table and kept me company. Just up the street a young blonde woman was playing violin and she was really good at it.
It was the type of a morning that is hard to recreate anywhere else.
Warsaw suffered heavy destruction at the beginning of the Second World War, in September of 1939. Then, during the uprising in August of 1944 the town was totally leveled by the Germans. It’s a shame really, because Warsaw was of the most beautiful cities in the years leading to the war. It was known as the “Paris of the North”.
After the war the Poles rebuilt the landmarks, which simply means none of these are real, just recreated.
Interestingly, from the founding of the Poland Kingdom in 1025 through to the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in 1569, Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe, and that’s saying something given what went on in Western Europe at that time.
For centuries it became a shelter for persecuted and expelled European Jewish communities and the home to the world's largest Jewish diaspora of the time.
As Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I, it became one of the world's largest Jewish centers of over 3 million people.
Later, World War II and the Nazi prosecution of the Jews ended that chapter of history, as we all know. It was the worst ending imaginable.
Geopolitics is like real estate, it has three important rules: location, location, location. Poland is the bridge between Germany and Russia - with wide open planes it is the narrowest place to cross east-west between the Baltic Sea and the Tatra mountains in the south. Every major European confrontation happens here, whether fought secretly (typically) or an all out war.
This country is hard on people, I don’t live there anymore and need to learn to let it go. Maybe one day I will.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler