Warsaw

*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring my blog captures everywhere I have travelled.

I made the most of another long weekend while living in Germany by flying to Warsaw, the Polish capital. After an early flight out of Frankfurt airport, I landed around mid-day. Having dropped my bags off at my city hostel, I headed out on foot to get a feel for the city. I really like to explore a new place or city on foot because it allows you to get a much better feel for the vibe of the place. It is also often the case that many European cities have a historical Old Town heart, which is a drawing point for tourists. As well as an excellent area to explore on foot. Warsaw was no different and the Old Town here is up there with one of the best and most beautiful I have witnessed. Even on the walk into the old town from my hostel, I walked past numerous grand buildings, embassies, palaces and parks. The city centre along with the old town had an amazing feel to it. One point of note though is that although the old town of Warsaw is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so. Sadly as with so much of Europe, the majority of it has been painstakingly rebuilt after the Second World War replicating how it once stood before everything was destroyed. Spending a few hours strolling the beautiful streets of the old town, taking in the quaint squares, bars and restaurants is a great way to experience the life of the city itself. Start your journey at Sigismund’s Columns where you can also join numerous walking tours which add rich vocal insight to that which you are witnessing. We passed Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s old laboratory now a museum which the scientist in me found really cool. As well as taking in the sights of the Warsaw Barbican, before ending up at the more sombre relics of the city. The Warsaw Ghetto boundary markers and the Warsaw Uprising Monument. A striking sight and landmark of bronze artwork commemorating the sacrifice of anti-Nazi resistance fighters in the summer of 1944, during the famous uprising. Having explored the old town for the afternoon I took the long route home along the Vistula River ending up at Vistula Boulevards and the Museum of Modern Art. I seem to remember you can get up to the roof of the museum and get great views of the river itself and the national football stadium across the river. 

Colourful houses of Warsaw old town

The following day I ventured to the deeply moving Warsaw Rising Museum. A short metro ride out from the city centre. The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish underground resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. It occurred in the summer of 1944, and it was led by the Polish resistance Home Army. Spending a few hours exploring the various exhibitions and learning the deeply harrowing history of the event is a must-do if you’re ever in the city. The Museum itself is relatively new and was opened on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of fighting in Warsaw. The Museum is a tribute to Warsaw’s residents and to those who fought and died for an independent Poland and its free capital. Altogether, Polish losses during the uprising included 150,000 civilian deaths and about 20,000 Home Army casualties. The German forces lost an estimated 10,000 troops. Fighting stopped on October 2, 1944, with the formal surrender of the Home Army, but during the next three months, German forces demolished much of what was left of the city and deported 650,000 civilians to a labour camp south of Warsaw. When Soviet troops finally “liberated” Warsaw in January of 1945, Poland’s capital was a vast desert of hollow-shelled buildings and rubble.

Warsaw Uprising Monument
Warsaw Uprising Monument

After a deeply moving morning at the museum, I went for some lunch aiming to sample some traditional Polish cuisine. For that, there was one dish I had to have, pierogi! Undeniably Poland’s most famous and popular dish. Pierogi are thinly rolled-out dough, filled with a variety of fillings, savoury or sweet. Which can be served as an appetizer, main dish or dessert. 

Tomb of the unknown solider Saxon Garden Warsaw
Tomb of the unknown solider

After lunch, I did a little more exploring of the city taking in some of the public parks. I visited Saxon Gardens which houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, set amongst beautiful gardens and a decorative central fountain. That evening I then met with a Polish friend, who I had actually met during my time doing summer camp in America. That’s certainly one of the best things about travelling is the international friendship group you’re able to form. Meaning there are oftentimes I will now travel somewhere and know at least one person I can meet and catch up with. Aga was studying in Warsaw and introduced me to some of her friends there too. We headed out for dinner at the Hala Koszyki Food court. Which has a great variety of food stalls to choose from, before sampling some Polish vodka in a nearby bar. Before finally ending the night at a local club. The club in fact was an LGBTQ club, which certainly made a change to the usual venues I opt to visit. But I enjoyed the evening with the atmosphere being pleasantly different compared to other “standard” clubs I’ve visited. It was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise to find this kind of club in Warsaw. The attitude towards the LGBTQ community in the county can certainly be hostile. However, my visit to the country was obviously several years ago and things have sadly gotten worse for this demographic in Poland. The country has often been described as the worst country in the EU for LGBT rights, with many rights being taken away simply for one’s sexual orientation. 

Having returned to my hostel in the early hours I was late to rise the following day. Not leaving the hostel until late Morning. Once finally out and about I headed to the Palace of Culture and Science, a notable high-rise building in central Warsaw. With a total height of 237 metres (778 ft), it is the second tallest building in both Warsaw and Poland. This was the main reason for my visit, the tower is home to an observation deck high up on the top floors that offers fantastic views across the city. Although, there is far more to do here than just take in the view. Constructed in 1955, it now houses various public and cultural institutions such as cinemas, theatres, libraries, sports clubs, university faculties, and authorities of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Motivated by Polish historical architecture and American art deco high-rise buildings, the building was designed by Soviet-Russian architect Lev Rudnev in “Seven Sisters” style and is informally referred to as the Eighth Sister. (The Seven Sisters are a group of seven skyscrapers in Moscow designed in the Stalinist style. They were built from 1947 to 1953 in an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles). 

I can’t quite remember how I whittled away the remainder of the day but what I do remember is heading to the iconic multimedia fountain park that night. Located at the foot of the Old Town, the fountain is home to a spectacular show of light, sound and water. Here an animated story is told regarding the history of Warsaw and its legends. Accompanied by laser lights and several-metre-high columns of water rising to the rhythm of the music. All the while being illuminated by colourful floodlights. To admire the spectacle, it is best to sit on the grassy slope. The shows occur every Friday and Saturday in May, June and July at 9.30 pm, in August at 9 pm, and in September at 8.30 pm. I had no idea something like this existed in the city, but it is certainly worth experiencing the show if visiting during those times of the year. I also think outside of those dates, there is a smaller version of the show, accommodating for the colder weather. 

Multimedia fountain show in Warsaw at night
Multimedia fountain show

That all but concludes my long weekend trip to Warsaw, having thoroughly enjoyed my stay. My flight back to Germany wasn’t until that afternoon though so I had a final few hours to kill before I headed to the airport. I was staying close to Lazienki Park home to a great number of buildings, monuments and statues. Some of the most famous include the Palace on the Isle which began its life as an elaborate bath house, and the Chopan Monument, dedicated to the famous Polish Composer. It was a lovely morning so this made exploring the park even better. Everything was beautifully kept, making for a lovely place to take a stroll and get some fresh air. In fact the day I was visiting the Chopan Monument a pianist was playing some of his most famous work at a free open-air concert. I’m not exactly one for classical music but sitting there in the sun with live music in the background was a wonderful way to end my time in this great city. 

Before heading to Warsaw I didn’t really know what to expect. I first planned to visit as the flights were cheap and it would enable me to tick off another country. But by the end of my brief visit, I was pleasantly surprised and would certainly recommend a trip to this great city! Additionally, I know Poland has far more to offer outside of Warsaw and I one day hope to return to sample some of these additional attractions. 

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