What I did when in Warsaw (pt1)

Warsaw is perhaps not a place immediately associated with a holiday or a relaxing getaway, it’s a capital city, some say very similar to London. On the surface it appears to not have much to offer, it has become Westernised with he same shops (H&M, Next etc.) same cafe’s, with Cafe Nero being the main one, dotted almost at every corner of the city. Although around Warsaw it is called ‘Green Cafe Nero’ due to Gerry Ford, CEO of Cafe Nero and Adam Ringer, CEO of Green Coffee deciding one day that their businesses have lots in common so they joined them together and created a unique coffee house that is now vastly popular in Poland.

The hustle and bustle of the city might not appeal to someone who is looking to relax but Warsaw isn’t just that. It is a city far removed from people’s misperceptions. It isn’t as busy as a stereotypical capital city, there aren’t people pushing past, buses aren’t crammed to a point where you have to miss the first to get onto the next. The underground isn’t as hectic; there are only three zones so this might be the reason why. People often forget how much history Warsaw holds, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 left the city flat, there was nothing left to see and simply going to see how the city has rebuilt itself is a reason in itself!

There are beautiful places in Warsaw that you have to see when visiting. For some people those places alone are a reason for going, for others they might be there for something to do when they are bored and questioning why they have chosen Warsaw in the first place.

One place that is popular amongst tourists but not many people know why is the Palace of Culture and Science. It is 237m tall, the tallest in the country and eight tallest in Europe, but this isn’t the sole reason why it is a “must see” attraction. It was built in 1955, a gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland, it is now not used for any other purpose other than a tourist attraction, you have to pay for a guide to take you around the palace otherwise entry is forbidden, it seems sad that this amazing building with so much history isn’t used for any other purpose however, it is still deeply associated with communism and Stalin and so the history is simply too painful for poles to be proud of it and use it as their own.

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View of Warsaw from the viewing terrace (30th floor of the Palace of Culture and Science building)

 

Poland was once proud to have her own monarchy, it is something that the people are still proud of and as a result many of the royal palaces and castles are still open for the public to visit. Two main ones around Warsaw are Łazięki Palace (Royal Baths Park) also known as the Palace on Water and Wilanów castle. Łazięki Palace is based in the largest park in Warsaw. In 1766 King Stanisław || Augustus purchased the estate and converted it into his private, small, summer residence. It now stands proudly amongst the trees and lakes in the park, it looks particularly majestic in the winter, when the lakes freeze over and the whole park looks like a winter wonderland. When walking around the rooms in the palace you can still see the original statues and paintings, which add a feel of authenticity.

The palace isn’t particularly vast so walking around shouldn’t take much longer than 30-45minutes. The real attraction is the park surrounding the palace, you can hear the birds chirping as you wonder around the park. There are bird feeding houses hanging off virtually every tree, the place is peaceful and never really busy due to the enormity of it. At the entrance gate there is a souvenir shop where you can buy postcards and magnets to remember your trip.

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Royal Baths Park
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Bridge over the lake to the left of the Palace entrance.

Another sight that is worth leaving a day free for is the Wilanów Palace Museum of King Jan |||. Wilanów is a district in Warsaw a little bit further away from the center than The Royal Baths Park. The number 180 bus takes you directly there, you can catch the bus from the center (Old Town) and Wilanów is the last stop. This castle survived Polish partitions and both of the World Wars. It is one of Poland’s most important monuments. The castle is far larger than The Royal Baths Palace and definitely has a more impressive interior. The royal rooms and the decor oozes wealth and royalty, the paintings on the wall spread over onto the ceilings, you feel like a member of the royal family walking in the chambers.

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View of the Wilanów castle from the main gate

-iPhone clip of the Wilanów Palace –

If you are not into the monarchy and visiting palaces and castles doesn’t interest you don’t panic, the city has more to offer. The Jewish Cemetery and the Polish Military Cemetery are both next to one another and are very beautiful but thought provoking at the same time, the difference between the two is very noticeable and for some might be upsetting. The Jewish cemetery, although it is beautiful it holds a lot of painful history, the graves are bare and there are no wreaths or candles, this is due to Jewish traditions. Jews they don’t decorate or place flowers on graves as they believe that flowers and material decorations will die and leave nothing behind, they like to think that the dead prefer to have a modest headstone and no flowers on their graves but be remembered for the person they once were.

This is greatly juxtaposed with the colorful and beautiful graves seen at the Polish military cemetery next door. Flowers and candles symbolize how proud and thankful the country is for its soldiers and people who freed them from oppression. It is a way to show thanks and appreciation as well as love and remembrance. This doesn’t mean however, that Jewish people are any less remembered because their graves are bare, in some cases they are remembered and loved more.

To top it off, if the places above aren’t enough to entice you to visit Warsaw the POLIN museum will be. It is a museum about the history of Polish Jews, this may seem very morbid to hear about after only just reading about the Jewish Cemetery but this museum isn’t like any other you have been to. Opened in 2013 it has already been recognized for it’s educative and creative aspect, it has been awarded the Museum of the Year award in 2016 and rightly so. The lay out of the museum is very interactive, offering both Polish and English languages, a headset is available for those who don’t understand Polish or those who prefer English. The museum takes you through the history of the Jewish community from the start of time to the current day, each section is carefully thought out, there are artifacts and original objects that relate to the writings on the walls. Audios that can be heard playing in each room, you can tune in and relax or read along yourself at your own speed.

The museum is very modern and interactive making it very appealing to the younger audience. It changes the perception that museums are boring as this one definitely isn’t.

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Photo credit: inexhibit (POLIN Museum) 

So, this might have encouraged you to visit Warsaw or at least put it on your long list of places you would like to visit. It is definitely one that people don’t instantly gravitate towards, it isn’t exotic, there are no beaches but there is a lot of history and a lot of amazing sights worth seeing. It is also cheap to fly to, Ryan Air offers flights to Modlin Airport for as little as 9.99 each way, you get free hand luggage of up to 10kg, what more could you ask for? Can’t say no to a cheap weekend in a new city, meeting new people, soaking up new cultures!

 

Travel makes one modest; you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. – Gustave Flaubert

 

A-xo

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