Whirlwind tour of Warsaw

I learned one thing in Warsaw: don’t believe anyone who tells you that ‘one day is more than enough’ or ‘there’s nothing to do’. About twenty people told me not to ‘waste’ more than one night in Poland’s capital and I sincerely regret taking their words for it. I booked only one night in Warsaw and had booked accommodation in Krakow for the next four nights.

I don’t usually do this – book accommodation two cities ahead – and I wish I hadn’t. I found that there was much more to do than I’d expected, and I could have used at least one more day. As it was, I had a day and a half.

The Old Town in Warsaw is quite picturesque.Don’t be fooled though – it’s almost entirely reconstructed, having been destroyed during the Second World War. After the war ended, stones and bricks were brought from the ruins of Wroclaw to Warsaw for the rebuilding, although you’d hardly know today.

I spent half of my first day there wandering around the old town, despite being told ten minutes was enough. I walked there via the old ‘Royal Way’. The Old Town was tiny, but it was gorgeous – plus, it seemed like it was full of weddings and I kept seeing brides everywhere. The entrance to the Old Town is at the castle, where there is also a statue of Kind Sigismund III on top of a very tall pillar.

Winding streets with reconstructed buildings lead to the market square where there is a mermaid statue. There’s a lot of mermaid statues in Warsaw – apparently they represent the River Vistula. It was full of market stalls selling flowers, the usual cliché tourist watercolours, and tacky souvenirs.

I walked down and around the wall, and then across the bridge to the other side of the town. I decided against visiting the Marie Curie museum, as it was exorbitantly expensive, and instead found a great little Indian restaurant and spent my money there instead. It was brilliant. I’d been craving Indian food for weeks, so I was very happy to finally find some.

In the afternoon, I visited the Ethnographical museum and stayed there until they kicked me out when the museum was closing. They had a great exhibit of mid-eighteenth century traditional Slavic dress for both men and women, put together about 150 years ago, as well as rooms on different parts of the world including Australia. I like ethnographical museums – I enjoy finding out about different cultures through random items like spoons, masks and weapons.

After being kicked out of the museum, I had a wander through some parks to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a rectangular building with archways, with the tomb in the centre and two soldiers standing on guard. That must be a horrible job, and I wondered whether it was a punishment. More likely it was an honour, but I can’t imagine having to stand perfectly still al day, not moving to swat at all the wasps around and putting up with everyone taking your photo.

The next morning I took the bus to the Warsaw Rising museum. The plan was to spend about an hour or two there, and then walk up to the military cemetery and the Jewish cemetery. In the end I didn’t make it to either cemetery as I had significantly underestimated how much time I might need at the museum. After almost five hours there I realised that I needed to get the train to Krakow at 3.30 and had to rush back to the hostel to grab my stuff and head to the train station, where it took 45 minutes to buy a ticket.

The Warsaw Rising museum is possibly the best museum I have ever seen. It was highly interactive, with films and computers, information on what happened on each of the 63 days of the eventually unsuccessful Rising to collect, things to touch and a great big wall in the centre. The wall had bullet holes against which you press your ear and hear different sounds recorded during the Rising, such as tanks and gunfire. The museum had an unbelievable amount of information as well as personal effects of people involved, such as the Scout uniforms of young boy and girl scouts who acted as messengers. Uniforms in which a number of these ten to fifteen year old children were killed in.

Unlike I’ve done in some of my other posts, I’m not going to go into the history of the Rising and I’d suggest looking it up if you’re interested. The Warsaw Rising was a people’s rebellion against the Nazi occupiers in 1944, and the story of those 63 days is both heartbreaking and inspirational. It ultimately failed, but not until almost 200,000 Polish resistance fighters [including huge numbers of women and children] and civilians were killed. If you are ever in Warsaw, even only for a day, I’d say that the Warsaw Rising museum should be your top priority over the castles, palaces and churches in the city.

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