The house in which Chopin was born, at the end of February 1810, is set in a park which at the time was part of the estate of Count Skarbek. Chopin's father, Mikołaj Chopin, had been taken on as a tutor by Ludwika Skarbek in 1802, and Mr and Mrs Chopin moved in to the house after their wedding in 1806. They moved again soon afterwards to Warsaw, towards the end of 1810, but despite considerable problems caused by the effects of the Napoleonic wars and by two world wars – plus the neglect of subsequent owners – the house has now almost gained the status of a national sanctuary.
The bus driver drops me outside the entrance to the park at opening time, 09:00. I buy a ticket and walk along the straight roadway to the house. But there's not much to see, and very little information. A few paintings of Chopin, paintings of his parents and sisters but nothing about them, a few items of furniture of the period. No audio guide, no printed notes, no photos allowed, no entry to the garden, no toilet. And I feel I am intruding on the private conversation of the three attendants. I go round twice, slowly, and am out by 09:25. The weather is clouding over, but I wander round the park getting a few photos to show the setting, and of the statue in the garden over the hedge.
I found the Chopin house very disappointing, compared to all the similar places I'd seen – and I'd seen a lot in the previous five weeks. It's more like a shrine than a museum. He is a national icon, has the country's main airport named after him. His almost exact contemporary Mendelssohn has an excellent museum in Leipzig. Dvorak's birthplace in Nelahozeves, not far from Prague, presents many interesting documents and has printed notes in several languages. Even little Köthen had a really good English audio guide for their modest Bach display.
Had I become cynical after all my travelling? I don't think so. As I wrote in my diary at the time: "the Chopin Society should get out more and see what other museums are doing."
On the way in to the park I'd asked the guard – who spoke a little English – what time the bus went back to Sochaczew. He asked the ticket lady, who said there were buses at 10:05 and 11:40 (at that time I thought 10:05 would be far too soon!). So I was all done by 10:00, and walked over the road to the bus stop. But working hard to decipher the timetable, I reckoned the buses were actually at 10:00 and 11:30, so I'd just missed one and now had an hour and a half to wait. At 10:10 an unnumbered bus came along and I put my hand out. I offered the driver 3 Zlotys (the ticket out was zł 2.40) and he offered no change. I guess it was a school bus returning to base after the morning run. He dropped me in the middle of Sochaczew and I set off walking. I asked the way once, and eventually found my way back to the station, about a 2km walk.