Augustow and Warsaw in Poland 4 to 6 September

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September 8th 2014
Published: September 8th 2014
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Augustow and Warsaw in Poland 4 to 6 September

After crossing the Polish border, passing another derelict border crossing building, we soon arived in Augustow. This is a pretty town nestled by a lake and river. The town has cycle paths and walking tracks by the lake and river. We drove into the city centre and parked just off the city square, forgot to look to see if there was a need to pay for parking because it was a smallish town (!!), so got a 35 Polish Zloty parking fine (2.80 Zt to $1 AUD). Oh well! We found someone to ask about paying it. Tom found a pharmacist who spoke good English and she found out where to pay it - job down!

The central streets were cobbled stoned, the large town square which was marked out in 1550 is paved with granite and a lovely park, dotted with many monuments, runs off to one side. After having the obligatory coffee and buying some new jeans ,we had a lovely walk along the lake and riverside, watching boats go along the river. There was a beautiful 'Palace on the water' which is now accommodation and a beauty spa as the quality of mud (for mud-packs for the blokes who don't know) and water in the areas is of 'high remedial quality' they say.

It was lovely strolling in the sun, but if we got into the shade for too long the breeze was a little chilly. There was also a go-cart speedway next to the path. Four guys and a girl were have a fantastic time knocking into each other. There is also a 740mwater ski-pull that pulls the skier 58km/h. They had also made a new beach alongside the lake which is excellent for swimming and diving - too cold for me!!

We then drove out of town to a lovely roadside stop to have lunch before driving along the duel-lane highway where at about 7.00pm, we pulled off into the forest near a harvested paddock for the night. We were about 145km north of Warsaw.

We arrived in Warsaw at about 11.30am Lithuania time - we had to put our watches back an hour in Poland so it was 10.30am. As you know, Warsaw is the capital of Poland and, with 1.7 million people. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly equal distant (350 km) from both the Baltic Sea in the north and the Carpathian Mountains in the south.

The Centrum area, which also comprises the famous Warsaw Old Town, is where we spent most of our time while in Warsaw. It's made up of six diverse districts and is a mixture of industrial areas and prestigious residential neighbourhoods.

The medieval capital of Poland was the southern city of Krakow, but Warsaw has been the capital of the country since 1596, and has grown to become Poland's largest city and the nation's urban and commercial centre. Completely destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, the city managed to lift itself from the ashes immediately after the war. Today, almost every building in Warsaw dates to the postwar era - with what little remains of the old structures being confined largely to the restored districts of Stare Miasto (the 'old city') and Nowe Miasto ('new city'), as well as selected monuments and cemeteries.

The monolithic gray apartment blocks that characterize much of the city (especially its outer areas) are a relic of the Stalinist utilitarianism that dominated the rebuilding efforts.

After settling to the Camp Site which was about 5 kms from the Old Town, we caught the bus into the city. We had no problems as we were given good maps from the lady in the camp site. However, we did get off a few stops too early but that gave us a chance to see more sites. We stopped for lunch before we ventured along what is known as the Royal Road.

The Royal Road was originally a track linking the Royal Castle to the Royal Palace in Wilanow which is 10 km out of the city. There were many points of interest along the route. The first section of the Route is Krakowskie Przedmiescie, a street which is closed to cars on the weekend, is one of the branches of the Castle Square - it is one of the prettiest and most elegant streets in Warsaw we thought. It is lined with restaurants and shops. We ended up having a cheese board and nuts (which turned into dinner) with our afternoon beer in one of these restaurants while being entertained by very talented buskers.

In Castle Square there were big celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the Border Guards so they put on some performances By the Polish Military Band who were partly dancing while playing their instruments. There were also Polish Dancers. While they were doing their very long speeches (which we couldn't understand), we walked around some of Old Town and later that afternoon, walked around the rest.

The numerous palaces, museums, theatres and Opera House, and cathedrals lining all the other streets in Old Town as well as outside this walled city, were magnificent. We were visiting the St Joseph Care's Church of the Visitationists and there was an organ recital on so we payed the 10zt and it was incredible. The organist got every sound and every note out of the 100s of pipes of the church's magnificent organ. The sound went right through you.

We also went into the courtyard of the Royal Palace and then caught the hop-on-hop-off bus to see the remainder of the sites.

One of the stops was the Ujazdow Park, Botanical Gardens and the Lazienki Krolewskie Park and Palace Complex. This area is massive. There is a Palace on the Lake and an amphitheatre. There were also plenty of squirrels and peacocks wandering around the park and up the trees.

Did you know that Fryderik Chopin grew up and was educated in Warsaw? There was a memorial for him as well as a statue. We also found a multimedia bench equipped with photo codes to down load of a mobile guide, as well as audio and video material.

Just as we were leaving the city to go home, I spotted a tower that you could climb up and it was nearly time for the sunset. It was a magnificent view of the city...and we caught the sunset. The sky only had one wisp of cloud in it. Once the sun set, we caught the bus back to the camp site, feeling very satisfied with the day's adventures.

We didn't go into any museums in this city but we found learning about the Warsaw Uprising very interesting. Here are some notes for those who are interested:

In 1939 the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany cooperated in the invasion and occupation of Poland only to strike against one another in 1941. A thriving European capital, Warsaw was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1939, and was the scene of two major uprisings: - the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 (by remaining inhabitants of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto), and - the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (by Polish resistance forces).

After five years under Nazi occupation, in 1944 the tide of war started to turn against the Third Reich. Soviet forces were approaching from the East, and so the leaders of Polish resistance movement confronted the choice of either liberating the capital or allowing for dubious Soviet 'liberation'.

The Uprising formally began on August 1, 1944 at 5PM. Fighting continued until October 5, 1944 when the Home Army and its allied organizations surrendered. In the first days of fighting, Nazis murdered about 60,000 civilians, including women and children. In total, the Uprising claimed lives of 180,000 civilians, and 18,000 insurgents. Polish fighters were outnumbered and outgunned as they hardly received any support from the Allies(the Soviet Union denied them airfields on the territories it controlled). The Soviet Union purposely allowed the Warsaw Uprising to fail.

Notwithstanding the terms of surrender, Nazis destroyed over 85% of Warsaw. Out of almost 1,000 historically and culturally important buildings only 64 survived. Polish soldiers were sent to concentration camps. Some of Warsaw's civilians were sent to concentration camps, others to Germany for forced labour or to different Polish cities. Once the entire city was turned into ashes, its inhabitants killed, its leaders killed or imprisoned, Soviet forces entered the city to establish a puppet government that would control postwar Poland for the next 50 years.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, Warsaw has been developing much more rapidly than Poland as a whole. They told us you wouldn't recognize the city if you saw it ten years ago, and more changes are constantly taking place. Warsaw has long been the easiest place in Poland to find employment, and for this reason many of the Polish inhabitants of the city are first or second generation, originating from all over the country.

The next morning, we headed for Krakow which is about 300 kms south.

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