The capital of Poland has a long but perhaps unenviable history. The city like Poland experiencing various hardships, and misfortune throughout its history.
A fact summed up very well by spymaps humorous tongue in cheek description of Warsaw in the 18th Century…
“The troubles continued with the Great Northern War & Poland’s enemies & allies traipsed their armies up’n down the country besieging Warsaw every now & again – out of tradition mostly. ” – spymaps
The city has also its high points. Being the birthplace of Marie Curie. The first women to win the Nobel prize and the first person to win it twice (for chemistry and Physics). Often mistaken for French she was Polish but moved to France to work with her French husband.
Warsaw has a beautiful Old Town and for many tourists this will be the highlight of their trip. The architecture is appealing but nowhere near as old as it may seem.
As the Polish rose to fight against the German occupiers, Hitler decided to try to crush Polish resistance by destroying 85 percent of the city and massacring between 150,000-200,000 inhabitants as a result of the Warsaw uprising alone,In a testament to Polish spirit, the Old Town was rebuilt from photographs after World War II and the quality of the work outstanding so that as Lonely Planet details that every building looks at least 200 years old.
I visited Poland and Warsaw in particular to meet my kind friend Ania. I already had plans to visit the south of Poland the following year.
I flew with Wizzair, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the flight but the pickup service was horrendous and I don’t recommend using it as far as Warsaw goes although the return service was smoother.
Not that the pickup company cared…customer service still has yet to infiltrate a minority of service providers in Poland. One thing to be aware of, at least when I used it there was no Wizzair logo and the pickup is a regular taxi which can confuse new users to no end.
Warsaw itself was more enjoyable. I stayed at the Helvetica Hostel for the beginning of my trip. Having booked a dorm room I found on arrival my room had been taken (without the knowledge of the receptionist) and I was upgraded to a private room.
The location was a good base for the New and Old Town. At which point I should point out ‘New’ is entirely relative here. The New Town is from the 15th century.
Contained within the Old Town are several nice cafes, and restaurants. The cobbled streets a nice place for a stroll. However eating or drinking in the Old Town was pricier than other areas of Warsaw.
Before visiting the Old Town I went to the Praga district. Described as being edgy as well as suffering less damage than its illustrious neighbour the Old Town, it is separated by the Vistula River. I walked across the lengthy bridge which gives a wide panoramic although (then) foggy view of the Old Town behind, the river and stadium across the bank.
As an Orthodox (due to be received in Theophany) I was interested in visiting St Mary Magdalene church. One of a few remaining and active Orthodox churches in Warsaw.
Having not yet even attempted to use any form of public transport I made the journey on foot.
At the present time, in Poland Orthodox Christians account for just 2% of the population. Despite this, Orthodoxy forms second largest religious group. Poland is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic with 95% of the population adhering or identifying themselves as such.
Orthodoxy also has a troubled history suffering some form of persecution for being indentified by some with colonial Russian authority. The beautiful Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Warsaw, along with all but two of Orthodox cathedrals in Warsaw were destroyed by the then Polish authorities who went further in encouraging and promoting such action by encouraging investment in the stripped materials.
Arriving at the church the main doors were shut. I had seen a church worker, open the doors with a key and go in and then shut them. And I didn’t feel comfortable with going in so I circled the church before asking someone in the grounds if it was open. I entered using some side doors into the basement.
There I was greeted by a very friendly deacon (in fact he is of high rank, but his rank escapes me). He could not speak English but was very welcoming. With a smile he greeted me and sought the translation help of a parishioner Stanislav.
Stanislav was from the US but of Polish descent and living in Poland. I also met a Ukrainian lady Mariam also living in Poland. Like the rest of Orthodox churches I visited in Eastern Europe they were especially happy to hear I was a catechumen due to be received soon. The deacon gave I was given a tour of the basement which even housed some surviving fragments of murals that once graced Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
The deacon also opened up the main church upstairs and gave me a tour as well as inviting me to vespers which I went to in my final evening in Warsaw,
Stanislav and Mariam invited me to join them after we departed from the church and I would have loved to but was conscious of the time I was to meet Ania.
I met Ania outside the Palace of Science and Culture.
An apparently unwanted ‘gift’ from the Soviet Union under Stalin to the people of Poland..
The ‘palace’ or rather skyscraper is often derided and often mentioned in connection with a famous joke. That inside offers the best views of Warsaw (as it is the only place where it cannot be seen!)
With its connection with Russian / Soviet occupation that such views are understandable.
A more telling feature is that outside the palace there is a statue of a man with a book containing the communist ‘greats’ of Engels, Marx and Lenin, plus there is a space. That space is where Stalin’s name once was now erased from the book.
The Polish could have easily removed all names from the book but the fact that it was just Stalin’s name just removed perhaps even more of a statement, insult and damnation of the ex Soviet dictator.
For all of its nicknames including Stalin’s penis, as an outsider who has no sympathy for either Stalin or his ideology I think the Palace of Science of Culture is actually architecturally interesting, a worthy monument and a soviet architecture that is worth retaining.
It reminds me of the Empire State building but rather more so of Gotham city.
The Skyscraper would make the perfect backdrop for the mythical dark city especially on a dark, misty Warsaw winter evening…I wonder why Hollywood hadn’t spotted this.
However this aside it is much better to visit the skyscraper in good weather and that is what Ania and I did.
I had an enjoyable time with the beautiful views and talking with Ania, with whom I also returned to the Old Town where we went to a restaurant to have a traditional polish meal. Ania was especially warm and kind and also showed me other streets and place to eat in the morning of my last full day in Warsaw.
Warsaw is was an enjoyable city of interesting buildings especially the New and Old Towns, nice cafes and an abundance of catholic churches with varying architecture.
The Warsaw uprising museum is an excellent museum. Highly recommended to understand a defining point in Polish history.
Occupied by Germany since the early start of the second World War, the Polish never simply lied down to accept there fate. Towards the war end as the Soviet troops pushed close to the Vistula River on the eastern side, the Polish home army of men and women volunteers tried a desperate attempt to expel the Nazi occupiers. The valiant attempt went well at first as they expelled the Germans from some parts of Warsaw and even re-established postage. But the campaign was doomed to failure on a number of accounts. Including a lack of support from its Allies and as it is often believed the half hearted attempt from the Soviets who saw nothing to game from the Polish Home army expelling the Nazis. In deed one of the first things the Soviets did after they occupied Germany was to persecute the freedom fighter.
The Ghetto uprising was an ultimately doomed and desperate attempt by the Jews (aided by some elements of the Polish resistance) in Poland against the Nazi’s extermination or final solution plans. Of Warsaw’s 393,950 Jews before the war only around 50,000-60,000 were left as the Nazi’s were embarked on genocide of the Jewish population.
Realising what fate lay ahead of them the remaining Jews tried to fight back but the odds were against them.
After the conflict the Germans rounded up the remaining 50,000 Jews and sent them to near certain death at concentration camps.
I visited Warsaw a few other times on the eve of 2013 on transit abck from St Petersburg and in July of that year. I ‘celeberated’ New Year with one of the best views in Warsaw. Staying at the Novotel Warsawa I was able ton see a clear view of the frefworks at the Palace of Science of Culture. And at a moderate price. I returned to London on New Years Day.
The next time I returned to Warsaw as again intransit to Gdansk. I visited the huge Łazienki park but the weather wasnt very compliant.
I did get to see the Former Gestapo Heaquarters and now a museum. It is on Al.Szucha 25 and was used by the Nazi’s to torture anyonbe suspected of being part of the Polish resistance and their families. Here, like the Warsaw Uprising museum, details the courage shown by Poles in fighting their oppressor and the great cost they paid as a result. You can also see about the willingness of Stalin to work togetehr with Hitler in the persecution of the Poles.
Apart from the museum I did not see much but I was hosted by the very kind Sylwia.