Warsaw was the first European destination of our trip. It was a city with a great mix of architectural styles and interesting history. 85% of the city was destroyed during WW2 so most of what we saw was built after 1945. We stayed in a soviet style Air B & B apartment with a nice couple who were away most of the time we were there. The place was quite funky and had a huge balcony with great views of the city.
In between the rain we had some lovely spring weather so got out and about on foot, exploring the neighbourhood near our place; spotting some lovely churches, the famous giraffe statue near the zoo and the river.
Praski Park was beautiful and green and just 10 minutes walk away. We spotted a sleeping bear on the concrete island in the park – one of three bears that live there.
After rain forced a morning in, we headed off on our second afternoon to explore the city. We rented a bike which was not much of a success so soon gave it up and headed off to the central city, over the river Vistula.
We found a sushi place which had a fantastic lunch deal… it was some of the best sushi we’ve ever had! Really beautifully presented too and so cheap! So good in fact we ate there the next day too!
The iconic Palace of Culture and Science, Stalin’s ‘gift from the Soviet people to the Polish nation’ has been controversial since it was completed in 1955, with many viewing it as a symbol of Soviet oppression. At 231m it is Poland’s tallest building and we quite liked it, especially the fabulous views it offered from the top.
We explored Warsaw’s beautiful Old Town on the free walking tour for Angloville volunteers. The Old Town was established in the 13th century but was completely destroyed in WW2. It has been meticulously restored and was quite a picture to wander around in. They’ve done such a great job of the reconstruction the Old Town has been listed as a UNESCO heritage site, as ‘an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century’.
Warsaw’s Mermaid, Old Town Market Square
We visited the reasonably new and highly rated Warsaw Uprising Museum. While it was interesting to learn more about the German occupation of Warsaw in WW2 and the uprising in particular I don’t think I have ever been more frustrated in a museum! I was trying to follow the chronological order of displays but it was so difficult and the layout so maddening as well as the place being very crowded… not the best experience.
The 1944 uprising to liberate Warsaw from German occupation was in many ways a failure – although that’s not how it was portrayed in the musuem. The Polish resistance was let down by Soviet troops who they thought would rally in support but did not. After 2 months, the Germans recaptured the city from the Polish Resistance Home Army. During the fighting 25% of the city had been destroyed but after the Germans reclaimed the city they deliberately, systematically levelled another 35% of it. Between 150,000 – 200,000 civilians died during the uprising and about 16,000 Polish resistance fighters. On the German side 8000 lost their lives.
There were sculptures around town that we came across reminding people of the uprising and the way the people used the sewers both as transport during the uprising and as evacuation routes at the end.
In contrast to the frustrating Uprising Museum experience, our visit to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews was a really good one. As the name suggests this museum was not just about WW2 but the history of Jews in Poland throughout the centuries. It was housed in a fabulous building, had excellent displays and allowed for you to skim the headlines so to speak or delve further into detail when something grabbed your attention. It was really worth a visit.
Also worth a visit was the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world. Some really interesting and beautiful gravestones and tombs.
Antony wouldn’t rave about Warsaw but I really enjoyed it. From here we headed off on our first Angloville experience, in the country about an hours drive from Warsaw, then we spent 5 days in beautiful Krakow. More on that in the next post. 🙂