Warsaw Stories and Tips

It's not every day you see President Obama

The first of the bikes! Photo, Warsaw, Poland

It took me quite a while to get used to living in Warsaw. Having lived in Portugal for ten years and in the south of France I found the cultural changes very different and at first I really didn't like what the city had to offer or the language. I missed my Mediterranean comforts and the opportunities to show off my knowledge of the Latin languages.

After four years things have moved on quite a lot. I am very fond of Warsaw these days and am always out and about taking photographs of the Old and New Town. Learning a Slavic language is for me a long process and I am still not sure about it. I don't like the word sounds and I can never remember or spell the words properly. One day it may all piece together but at the moment there is a big space missing in my language development.

One area where I have progressed very quickly is my knowledge of the city's streets. I reckon I would make a pretty good cab driver now as I know the city very well. I have my favourite streets and most of them are based around the Stare Miasto. Miodowa Street is one I stumbled upon quite by accident when I was taking a walk through Krasinski Gardens. I came to the end where the palace is and there in front of me was Krasinski Square leading on to Miodowa Street.

It isn't a very long street, I can see from one end to another. What is fascinating about it is the number of glamorous residences situated on the street. Only half of the royal houses exist out of the thirteen that lined the street and boy, they are pretty spectacular to look at. Look is what you are only allowed to do unless you are visiting on official business as they nearly all house government offices.

One building, the Collegium Nobilum is not a government building but a Theatre Academy and it was outside this building where I stood on Saturday morning waiting for President Obama to drive past.

I had already had a glimpse of him the evening before when he popped along to the Jewish Ghetto to lay a wreath in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. It was very difficult to pick him out as Security had blocked all the roads and built a huge bank of metal fencing so nobody could touch him. From where I stood in the crowd I couldn't see him close up but I was lucky to see him as his car drove past the crowd and turned the corner. He smiled and waved to the crowd and that was good enough for me.

From the news reports I found out he was travelling down Miodowa Street with his entourage on Saturday at 2. 20 pm. That's the time I thought I saw on the TV. I know the street well and thought I would give myself at least an hour or so to stand and wait for the cars to come rolling down the street. The reason he was coming down Miodowa Street was to turn the corner to visit the Field Cathedral Church of the Polish Army. It would only be a short visit as he had to then travel back to the airport to fly back to Washington.

The weather was okay but a bit drizzly and when I arrived the police had cordoned off the bottom half of the street and Krasinski Square. Barriers were placed so people could look over but I knew by now that he wouldn't be walking around shaking hands with people. For some reason Security didn't think it was a good idea to let him do the 'walkabout' thing in Warsaw. I was a bit sad about that as I would have liked to have shook his hand but I suppose his life is always at risk and I sure wouldn't want anything to happen to him.

It was a strange experience. I could sense the importance of the visit by the way the helicopters where flying low and police cars were rushing up and down checking everything. Big Security guys who looked mean and heavy stood at intervals down the street with mobile phones and there eyes were everywhere. Every five minutes or so armoured vehicles would drive at a slow speed; the men inside dressed in black with machine guns and black masks covering their faces, only eyes peeping through. I could see them looking high on the rooftops for anything looking out of place.

Gradually more and more people came along but they went down to the square area probably to get a better look at him as he would enter the church. I decided to stay put because I was near the pavement and nobody was in my way except a police officer. I did seem to be waiting a long time and then my husband phoned me to tell me that he was watching the Press Conference on TV. I had got the time wrong and he hadn't even left the conference yet. So I waited and waited - a bit like the little boy in 'Cider with Rosie' who was told to wait there for the present. He was sad because he thought he was going to receive a present but didn't. I knew that my present would be another glimpse of Barrack Obama so I was happy enough to wait.

After about 30 minutes I knew something was about to happen - the police traffic started to move faster. Vans turned up to the side of the pavements and scores of police officers jumped out and formed a line on both sides of the road. They stood at metre intervals. This was to make sure that nobody ran into the road as the entourage was about to proceed. I could see the posse of motorbikes with blue and red flashing lights and sirens wailing. It was so exciting and I began to feel shivery. Next came police cars followed by black armoured vans, a black car with body guards in and then the presidential car; black, sleek and shiny as a leopard. The flag of the United States flapping in the summer breeze. The windows were slightly darkened but I was able to see through. He was sat next to someone holding a conversation but looked up and waved to the people on my side of the street. In a fleeting moment his car disappeared round the corner and the rest of the entourage followed on. There must have been about 20 vehicles following. Suddenly all the bikes came back and stopped half way up the road, the riders took of their helmets and had a breather. The other cars did a mad turn at the end of the road, parked, ready to be off again as soon as he came out of the church.

Ten minutes must have passed and I could hear voices on walkie talkies, engines revving, the bike guys were donning their helmets, switching on their engines and they were off - it was like the start of a Formula 1 race. The noise and energy was amazing - I felt exhilarated and within seconds the leaders of the Presiden't s gang were leading the way. He was on his way back down Miodowa on the opposite side of the road waving to the crowd and then he disappeared. President Obama was on his way home and I felt sad.

I will always cherish this memory of the President, his entourage and Miodowa Street. When exciting things like this happen I am happy I moved to Warsaw.

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