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Published: September 29th 2007
The Royal CastleThere is no way that either Kate or I would have ever imagined that we would be spending our 39th wedding anniversary in Warsaw, Poland but due to an airfare special from a German airlines that is exactly where we landed on our anniversary. Warsaw, being the capital of Poland, is a large city. According to Wikipedia, the city area is 516.9 square kilometers (199.6 sq mi). It is the eighth largest city in the European Union. Fortunately, most of what we wanted to see centered around Warsaw’s old town and relatively new downtown sections. There is so much to see and do in Warsaw that we found it but both physically challenging and exhausting to see what we did see. We were on the go from morning to night. Fortunately, we stayed at a very nice three star hotel, Hotel Hetman, which had the most comfortable beds and a large bathtub to soak our weary bodies at the end of the day. The hotel also offered, at least for me, a fantastic assortment of food for breakfast. A great assortment of meat, cheeses, breads, stuffed hard boiled eggs, great pickled herring, and the usual assortment of breakfast cereals, fruits and
Once the royal residence and later the the house of Polish-Lithuanian parliment, the palace is now the site for state ceremonies and national cultural events.
St. Martin's Church just off the Old Town Plaza was the meeting place for the Polish Solidarity movement of the 70's & 80's that final gain Poland's independence from the then Soviet Union.
drinks. One great thing about Warsaw, and I have found it also true in Krakow, is that Poles love to eat. Even though Warsaw is the most expensive city in Poland, it is still fairly inexpensive in terms of food and drink. Except for one dinner (see picture insert), all our dinners were never more than $30 for the both of us, and that included drinks (beer & coke).
During World War II (WWII) approximately 98% of Warsaw was destroyed. Warsaw has done an outstanding job rebuilding their historical sites, especially the Old Town section of the city. It is difficult to imagine that all these beautiful sites were once nothing but piles of rubble. The people of Poland did such a great job of restoring the Old Town that UNESCO granted it the World Cultural and Natural Heritage status.
What we did find interesting was that buildings prior to WWII were very colorful and had beautiful and often with intricate facades, whereas, those buildings built after WWII during the period of Communist control were very bland in both color and architecture and some, like the Ten Year Stadium, looked more like ruins than functional areas.
The Sigismundus III Column
It was built in 1643 by King Vladislas IV in commemoration to his father Sigismundus III, who moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw. It is the most popular of the monuments and a great place to have your picture taken. Notice the pedicabs, they are an excellent way to get a quick tour of the Old Town.
being a primarily a Catholic country has more than its fair share of Catholic churches. This is especially true in the Old Town. Not only did it appear that there was a Catholic church on every corner, you would find at least one more in the middle of the block. In one case they are even two Catholic churches side by side. Warsaw has lots to see and do. Every Saturday during the summer months, free concerts are given near the Frederic Chopin Monument in Lazienkowski Park. Unfortunately for us, that Saturday was cold and rainy and we decided to pass on it. Later during our trip the weather improved and we saw lots of people enjoying the many parks located throughout Warsaw.
Warsaw is a fairly easy city to get around either by bus, tram or metro. You are warned that many of the buses and trams are crowded and pickpockets do a fairly large business there so we recommend always carrying your valuable in an inside travel pouch or money belt. We found the Poles to be friendly and helpful and even though we didn’t speak the language, the universal language of pointing and gesturing got us
One of the entrances to the Old Town Plaza.
most of the answers we needed.
The one thing we noted, actually Kate noticed, was that when people went out they were fairly well-dressed. Even at the huge flea market/bazaar people walking around shopping were very well dressed. We didn’t see ripped jeans and sloppy dress that you often see at a U.S. shopping area. Speaking of shopping, Warsaw, being the capital of Poland, has not only the normal stores but also a section of town similar to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
One of the things we found to be very special in Warsaw was what we called “the wedding walk”. The Saturday we were in Warsaw we must have seen five or six weddings going on at the various churches in Old Town. After the wedding the various brides and grooms left the church in a car, but later we would see the brides and groom strolling around Old Town Square, perhaps their first opportunity to stroll together as man and wife.
Warsaw sure has a lot of statues and memorials. It might be because of their being under Communist rule for a little better than 50 years. As you can see from the pictures,
Oldd Town Square
Laid out between the 14th & 15th century, this square was the place of festivals, fairs, and executions. The picturesque tenement-houses that surround the square were originally built in the 17th century. They were completely destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in the same style after the war.
monuments, statues, and even the building facades, the images portrayed are very graphic and moving. The one thing I noticed was that at most of the memorials and even some of the statues, people left flowers or burning candles. The Poles still remember their past. This might be because the past for them has been hard and sad, even their relatively recent past.
Although there is so much beauty to see in Warsaw’s old town building and in its parks, Warsaw, as well as all of Poland, has had a sad and often bloody history. Poland, being in the center of Europe, was often the target of attack from all neighboring countries. The size and shape of Poland has changed many times in history, even at one point where there was no separate Polish state at all. Although Poland has a lot of its bloody history, the occupation of the Nazis in Poland, especially Warsaw, was extremely brutal and horrific. During WWII, the Nazis gathered all the Jews and undesirables and placed them in the Warsaw Ghetto which had as its largest population, approximately 440,000 people, or about 37% of the entire population of Warsaw at that time. However,
Mermaid of Warsaw
Seems sort of funny seeeing a mermaid in Warsaw. According to legend, a young woman named Sawa was changed into a mermaid by a wicked witch and had to live in the Vistula River. Her boyfriend, Wars, rescued her and they married and lived on the shore of the Vistula. From their names, Wars & Sawa, the city of Warszawa (as it is called in Poland) came into being
the Ghetto was only about 4% of the entire city. The Ghetto was closed off to the outside world on 16 November 1940 when the Nazis built a wall enclosing the Ghetto. Over 100,000 died due to disease and starvation and 254,000 were sent to Treblinka concentration camp and murdered there. The Warsaw Ghetto residents realizing that those taken from the Ghetto were being killed decided to fight back. The uprising started in January 1943 and was officially ended in May 1943. During the 63 days, the Polish Jews fought the Nazis and managed to gain control of parts of the city. The Nazis had to bring in extra soldiers to quell the uprising. Finally, by going from building to building, burning, killing, and destroying everything in its path, the uprising was put down. During the uprising, 13,000 Jews were killed, the remaining 50,000 were sent to concentration camps or killed enroute. There were approximately 5000 Jews who escaped through the sewers of Warsaw. As we walked along the quiet and peaceful streets, we would sometimes come upon a memorial plaque in the wall of a building indicating the number of Poles who were executed at this spot. It was
Saturdays are big wedding days in Warsaw. We must have seen 5 or 6 weddings going on at the various churches in the old town area. After the weddings, the various brides and grooms would walk around the old town square. We found it to be a very nice custom.
hard for us to imagine how people, for any reason, could do such horrific things to their fellow human beings.
Even with Warsaw’s bloody past, we found it to be a very nice city to visit. There is probably a lot more of Warsaw that we missed seeing, but what we did see gave us a good understanding of Warsaw’s history and its people.
Until our next adventure! Play fair and be safe!
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