I do worry that maybe I’m being a bit too personal with my A-Z of Poland so I’m nipping right down to the foot of the alphabet to tell you about Warsaw, a place I don’t have an emotional connection to. Some of you may know it much better than I do. I was only there for one day, but what I saw was truly inspirational, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
Not that I was sure of this when I emerged from Warsawa Centralna railway station into a honking, braking cacophony of traffic. I looked across at the unmissable 231 towering metres of the Palace of Culture and Science, took a deep breath and plunged. Once over on the green island that surrounds the museum, things didn’t seem so bad, but that impression wasn’t to last.
Time was short and my priority was to see Stare Miasto, the old town, more than 80 percent of which had been deliberately razed to the ground during World War 2. Some of the family were already inside the museum, cameras clicking. The rooftop panorama from the 30th floor viewing deck appealed, but it was hot and busy so I decided to reconnoitre the surrounding area, looking for a bus stop which would take us to the Old Town. Mistake! With hindsight it would have been faster to walk, but that was never an option as Dad was with us, and he’s not so good on his legs. He’d been determined to accompany us, despite knowing that it would be a tiring day. Rightly enough, as he’d never seen his Polish capital in all his 80+ years.
Let’s just say that we hopped into taxis, but not before I had seen a little too much of modern Warsaw and taken plenty of wrong turnings. Never mind, it all faded away as I gazed in awe at Plac Zamkowy, Castle Square, with its serene Royal Palace, barely believing that this was all reconstruction. I said that I don’t have an emotional connection to this city but it would be impossible not to be moved by what transpired here. Following almost total annihilation, in 30 years, working from paintings and old photographs, the Old Town was painstakingly resurrected in all its glorious colour.
It was a grand setting in which to sit and admire this seat of Polish kings from 17th century onwards. It opens for guided tours Tuesday till Sunday (free on Sundays).
Cafes and restaurants line this majestic space, not cheap by Polish standards, but you don’t have to pay for the view if you don’t want to. You can grab an icecream and hitch up on a wall or the stone seating if you can find a space. Dad, as so often, charmed his way in.
I had picked up a map at the Tourist Information office in the square and it seemed a good idea to get our bearings on board the mini tourist train. The commentary was in Polish but it didn’t matter as it was difficult to hear whilst rattling over the cobbles. The map was useful, especially when it came to strolling out of Plac Zamkovy, past St John’s Cathedral. It was occupied by German tanks during the war and so badly damaged that only the Gothic exterior is original. Kanonia, behind, has views of the endless River Vistula.
I was beguiled by Rynek Starego Miasta, Old Market Square, smaller and bustling, with Syrena, the mermaid statue, at its heart. The buildings are beautifully patterned. No.42, the Historical Museum of Warsaw, is where you can follow the entire story of the city’s heroic rebirth. In Summer artists stalls and florists thrive in the space. A circuit of the charismatic narrow streets will bring you to Ulica Podwale, where a bronze statue of a small boy in a gigantic helmet symbolises the children who fought alongside their parents in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The defensive walls of the Barbican lead back to Plac Zamkovy. A final treat before leaving the square is to climb to the observation tower in St Anne’s Church, which amazingly withstood the surrounding devastation. The views out across the Old Town and the river provide wonderful photographic opportunities.
Krakowskie Przedmiescie is the start of the 4km Royal Way and an elegant stroll to Łazienki Palace. My husband designs gardens for a living and I was sure that he would be impressed by these. Dad was tiring and we hopped a 180 bus directly to the palace gates. Not far inside Dad was delighted to find an open air café where he could relax with herbata (tea) while we explored. The palace was the Summer residence of Poland’s last monarch, King Stanislaw Poniatowski, and the park was awash with canals, pavilions and statuary. We shared the green space with nimble red squirrels and gracious peacocks. On Sunday afternoons in Summer, the Chopin Monument is a concert venue to showcase the composer, but we were surprised to find a rock band tuning up in a handsome stone amphitheatre.
Time was beginning to run out on us and we gratefully languished in a taxi back to the centre. We rejoined the rest of the family and ate in the striking glass shopping complex, Złote Tarasy, close to the station. I had the strong impression that this could be a shopper’s paradise. I left Warsaw with the happy conviction that there was much more to see and do, after a totally memorable day.
I should mention that I travelled to Warsaw by express train from Kraków, in the company of my step-brother Tony, wife Carole and step-sister Lynne, who had travelled all the way from Canada with husband George, so it was quite a family affair.
More of my Polish adventures can be found by clicking on the Polish eagle banner at the top of this post, and in the sidebar. Why not join in with Julie Dawn Fox’s A-Z challenge
- it’s amazing what you learn.