Warsaw #1: Jewish Quarter and Old Town Walking Tours

Poland's flag
Europe » Poland » Masovia » Warsaw
December 17th 2019
Published: May 6th 2020
Edit Blog Post

After arriving the previous evening, I was ready to head out and explore Warsaw. I had booked two free walking tours for today. The first one started at 10 am and was a walking tour around the Jewish part of Warsaw. The starting point was about a 20 minute walk from where I was staying. I enjoyed the walk there taking in all the new sights around me. The Palace of Science and Culture loomed over the city. I really like the building. It's just so huge and very different to the modern skyscrapers that around the city. The tour met in front of All Saints Church, which is a Roman Catholic church that was completed in 1883. There were about ten or fifteen people on the tour, so not too big a group. Our first stop was a short walk away. We made our way to Nożyk Synagogue. We didn't have time to enter the synagogue, so our guide explained about it outside. This is the only surviving prewar Jewish house of prayer in Warsaw. Since the Jewish community in Warsaw was one of the largest in world with over 400 houses of prayer, it is an example of the destruction caused by the Nazis during World War. This synagogue was opened to the public on 26th May 1902. During the Second World War, the synagogue was damaged during an air raid in 1939 and was later used as a stables and storage depot by the Nazis. The synagogue was completely rebuilt and extended in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The synagogue is situated in the 'Small Ghetto'. Warsaw had two ghettos named the 'Small Ghetto' and the 'Large Ghetto'. These two areas were divided along Chłodna Street with the 'Small Ghetto' being the area southeast of the street and the 'Large Ghetto' the area north of Chłodna Street, which itself was excluded from the Ghettos as it was one of the main thoroughfares in Warsaw.

We headed along the main street, Grzybowska, and then headed off down a side street. It was really interesting to hear about the history of this area, as there has been a fair amount of rejuvenation in the area with some swanky hotels being built, so to just walk through the area you would be unaware of its past. We came to 'Kamien i co', one of the largest murals in Warsaw created by Wiktor Malinowski in 2009. I really liked the simpleness of the piece the solitary balloon flying through the air. We continued down to 'Mur Getta', which was part of the ghetto's wall. This site of the wall was part of the former brewery that belonged to Herman Jung. The building is now derelict and looks pretty abandoned with the windows all boarded up. We headed back to the main road and came to a sign on the pavement that marked where the ghetto wall had been in the past. This area was a real mix as I had seen some nice looking hotels but there were also quite a few buildings that looked rather worse for wear. I wonder if in a few years time the whole area will have been gentrified. Since we'd done quite a bit of walking, it was time for a pit stop. We stopped in at a cafe, where I ordered a coffee to not only warm myself up a bit as it was a little chilly, but also to wake me up as I hadn't had the best night's sleep. I really liked the cafe we were in, I could have happily sat there with a book and relaxed for a couple of hours.

After our quick break, we were back on it and it was only a short walk to our next stop, which was A Footbridge of Memory. There was a footbridge on this site as it connected the two ghettos in Warsaw and now there is a pair of metal poles on each side of the road connected with optical fibre. Before the footbridge was built in 1942, there was a gate connecting the two areas. The next area that we walked through was largely residential and there were really good street art adorning the walls. We continued on and came to the Church of St. Augustine. The church is a Roman Catholic church and was built in the late 19th century. Since the church was within the boundaries of the Warsaw Ghetto, it was effectively closed for worship, however Father Franciszek Garncarek and vicar Leon Więckowicz continued to live there and helped smuggle Jews out of the ghetto. Both died during the war as Father Garncarek was shot on the church steps in 1943 and vicar Więckowicz was deported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp where he died. When the ghetto was liquidised the church was turned into storage unit. The church was one of the few tall buildings left in the ghetto and our guide showed us some photos. It was amazing, in a sad way, to see the land surrounding this church completely flattened, and the church still standing among piles of rubble. We walked over to the Museum of Pawiak Prison. The prison was for both political and criminal prisoners when it opened in 1835. During the Nazi occupation, it became the biggest prison in Poland. In front of the museum, there is a memorial tree, which since 1945, Warsaw residents and their families used to commemorate the prisoners murdered in Pawiak by attaching the victims' names written on metal boards on to the tree. The original tree is no longer there and there is now a bronze tree in its place. I would have liked to visit the museum but it was closed and I wouldn't have time to visit the next day. A reason to come back Warsaw. The last stop on our tour was the POLIN Museum, this is the museum dedicated to the history of the Jews in Poland. Since it was a Tuesday, it was closed and we just had a look at the statues in front of the museum. Since the tour was tips based, one bloke tried to get out of giving any money to the guide, claiming he didn't have any cash, he looked rather gutted when she pulled out a card machine and told him he could pay by card. I love that the cheapskate got his comeuppance.

I had already decided that I would walk to the Old Town and get some lunch there, ahead of my Old Town tour that would be starting at 2 pm. The walk was nice but I didn't really pass anything of interest on the way, apart from the Warsaw Uprising Monument. I made my way to Sigmund's Column, which is where the tour would start from. This area was a real contrast to the part of Warsaw, where Id just been. Here was very quaint and old worldy, whereas the Jewish tour had taken me to what felt like to me the more realistic looking Warsaw. I had a wander around a couple of the old streets and found a restaurant, Gosciniec, for lunch. The restaurant wasn't too busy, when I first entered but it soon filled up. The restaurant served traditional Polish food and I decided not to have Pierogi (Polish dumplings), but crepes instead. There were quite a few to choose from on the menu. I went for the pork and mushroom ones. My food soon turned up, the crepes were good, but not what I had expected. They contained lots of other vegetables, which I was happy about and the chunks of pork were rather large. I had chosen Béchamel sauce for them, as I am not a fan of tomato based sauces so I was surprised to find that although the outside of the crepes were smothered in Béchamel and cheese inside there was tomato sauce. It wasn't bad, I just would have preferred more Béchamel . After scoffing my crepes, I still had room for dessert, so I decided to order some sweet Pierogi. I was going to go for the strawberry ones, but the waitress told me I could have a mixed plate, so I opted for that so I could try all three flavours they did. My plate of dumplings came on a base of sour cream and I was eager to try them. Out of the three flavours: strawberry, cream cheese, and blueberry, I really liked the first two, the blueberry one was okay. I enjoyed the Pierogi and it was my first time to try sweet ones. These ones were a little too doughy for my liking, but I will definitely try to have them again.

I still had a bit of time before my tour, so I headed back out for a walk around. I came across some kind of protest going on, on the main street. I have no idea what it was about but there was a large police presence and the protesters seemed to be on their best behaviour. After living in China for a few years, it's strange for me to see this kind of behaviour now. I did ask the guide later if she knew what the protest was about, but she didn't. The tour started at Sigismund's Column, which is a monument dating back to the 17th century and has a statue of King Sigismund III on top. From there, it was a short walk just across the street to The Royal Castle. I had seen it earlier and hadn't twigged that it was a castle. It was a very pretty, pink building. We headed through the archway into the inner courtyard. The guide explained a bit about the different styles in the castle as different parts were added at different times. I really should have allowed myself more time in Warsaw as it was quickly becoming evident that there was a lot to see and do. From the castle we headed into the Old Town and to St. John's Arch cathedral. It is one of Poland's most important churches and adjacent to the Jesuit Church. There was a plaque outside of the cathedral to show that it has been visited by Pope John Paul II. Poland is very fond of their famous son. We headed through the streets and came to the Wishing Bell, which you could rub and make a wish at. The guide told us an interesting fact about the houses lining the square around the Wishing Bell. The houses were taxed on how big the fronts were, so they were kept pretty small in order to pay less tax. I imagined that the houses would be the same size front and back, but as we made our way round to the back of one of the houses, I was shocked to see how huge the house actually was. Good imaginative design for getting out of paying taxes. We then took a look out over the river and our guide explained that we were standing on what was the location of the town dump for human waste. This part of Warsaw was literally built on shit. The guide told us that the area across the river was a real up and coming area with good street art, I wish I'd had enough time to visit.

We headed to the Old Town Market Square and took a break there. I really liked how the square was all set up for Christmas. There was an ice rink in the middle of the square and there weer lots of fairy lights strung around the square. I just loved the beautifully coloured buildings that surrounded the square. It was totally gorgeous. After taking a short rest, we took a short walk through the Barbican. The Barbican dates back to the 16th century, but it was reconstructed in the 20th century. Just next to the Barbican, there was a Milk Bar, which is an old school Soviet style restaurant. I really wanted to eat at one on my trip, but in the end I didn't end up having enough time. We continued along the street and came to the former house of Marie Curie, which is now a museum. I never realised that she was Polish for some reason I thought she was French. She was actually a naturalised French citizen. We walked on, it was getting colder and colder and I was a little glad that the tour would soon be over as when we stopped I could definitely feel the cold. The last stop was the Warsaw Uprising Monument. This commemorates the uprising of local people against the Nazi regime in 1944. Since it was dark by the time the tour had finished, I headed back into the Old Town to take a look at the place in the dark. It didn't disappoint as it was all lit up and looked lovely and Christmassy. I really liked the Christmas tree in front of the Royal Castle. I took a look around some of the other things that were lit up before heading off to get some dinner.

When I had booked my accommodation, I had looked at some of the restaurants nearby and I had found a vegan sushi place, Youmiko, that had great reviews. Being a big lover of sushi, I really wanted to try their veganised version. It was quite a walk from the Old Town to the restaurant, but it allowed me to build my appetite. Since it was still quite early, there was only one other table taken in the restaurant when I arrived. I don't know why I bothered to look at the menu, I knew exactly what I wanted. There was a tasting selection which was a variety of nine different sushi depending on what season ingredients were available. It was a bit more expensive that the normal menu, but I really wanted to try it. I sipped on my coconut water, while I waited for the sushi to arrive. It turned up one or two pieces at a time, which was quite nice as it meant I wasn't overwhelmed. I couldn't really understand what the waitress was saying when she brought each piece of sushi, so I just nodded and smiled and pretended that I knew what I was getting. The first plate had a mushroom sushi and a neon pink radish one. Next came two with pureed toppings, one pumpkin and the other tasted like hummus. The next plate held another two types of sushi, one was a small mound of rice wrapped in grilled eggplant and topped with avocado. The other was a simple roll with cucumber and what looked like the brown vegetable that is often in Korean kimbap, I think it is burdock root, but I could be very wrong. My next plate had sushi that was very similar to Korean kimbap and filled with delicious fresh veggies. The next plate held a roll with tempura vegetables in it and the final plate was a beancurd sushi, which was sweet and was a great dessert. I really enjoyed all of the different types of sushi, and if I could have vegan food like this for every meal, I would go vegan in a heartbeat.

Additional photos below
Photos: 49, Displayed: 32


Tot: 0.088s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 23; qc: 96; dbt: 0.0244s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.6mb