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Irene's Adventures

Poland - Warsaw

POLAND | Monday, 20 August 2012 | Views [448]


2 1/2 years ago I began the process of applying for my Polish citizenship.  My father was born in Poland and had never renounced his citizenship, which entitles me to become a citizen of Poland.  Lots of people ask why I want to become a Polish citizen.  Well, I guess because it is my roots, but also because once I have the Polish citizenship, I am also a European citizen.  Since I have a son who is a British citizen, I feel it opens more options for me in the future.  Or as my husband likes to say with a smile:  She can work there, but I can't....  :)

I had been struggling through the process via the Polish Embassy in Canada.  It seemed every time I called them, one more document was required.  Then everything came to a standstill.  The Canadian Embassy assured me that everything was in order and was waiting on some Polish agency.  I grew restless and called the Polish agency.  Everything was NOT in order!  I needed proof that my Grandfather was not a Canadian Citizen and did not serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.  It is an easy thing to prove that one IS a citizen or DID serve in the Forces, but how could I possibly prove he did not! 

I contaced a friend who is into geneology and she put me on a path that lead me to an organization that had archived documents on homesteads.  She made copies of all the documents that were associated with my Grandfather in his failed attempts to get his citizenship because he could not read nor write in English or French.  He could not read nor write in any language, for that matter.  However, in the end he was given his homestead through a special form that made allowances because he had proved up the land as required and was a member in good standing in the community.  Some of the letters he had written heart wrenching.   They gave me strength in my feable struggle - compared to his.

So now I had documents stating that he was denied citizenship.  Perfect!  Since I was going to visit my son in London, I decided to take a detour to Warsaw.......

I flew into the brand new Modlin Airport and grabbed a taxi.  I knew it was going to be expensive and probably over-charged but I reasoned that I needed to get to my destination as quickly as possible. It was 10:00 am and I hoped I could get a good head start on dealing with governement agencies. The airport is an hour from Warsaw and the taxi cost me $100 - not zloty, dollars!  But he dropped me right on the door step of agency.  I saw the lady I had been talking with on the phone, but she said I had to go to a different building.  Even though it was only a 10 minute walk, I had no idea where to go.  I showed the address to a lady walking down the street and as soon as she realized I could not speak Polish (fine Polish citizen I will make....) she kindly motioned for me to follow her.  We came to an underground metro station that is directly under the crossroad of two major streets.  She motioned for me to go up that set of stairs, while she proceeded to go up a different set. 

I finally reach the building but I am not sure it is the correct building.  No one speaks English.  I am shown the machine to "take a number".  I wait......  A little over an hour later, a family comes out of the inner offices and they are speaking English!  I hurry over to them. 

"You speak English!"  "Yes, we are from Canada"  They were going through the same proceedures that I was.  They were from BC visiting their nephew who is also Canadian but married a Polish girl and now lived in Poland.  He was helping them with their forms.  It turns out that his cousin went to school in Alberta and one of her professors is my best friend, Carrie!  Well, they were so tickled that I knew one of the girl's favorite teachers, they offered to help me fill out my forms.  I collected my new forms from the inner office then head across the street where we hung out in the coffee shop for several hours, pouring over forms and filling them in as quickly as possible, as we all wanted to get them submitted that same day.  A lot of the papers that I had previously submitted (2 years ago) simply had to be copied to the new forms.  What I did not have, Chris filled in for me. 

Then I had to literally run to yet a different office to pay a filing fee.  Then run back to the second building to submit the forms and fee.  Apparently, everything used to be in one building but there was some bribing going on so they had to split things up.  Thankfully, all three buildings were within walking (or running) distance of each other.

Now I am waiting, again, in the second office, with my number 89 in hand.  The other Canadian family went ahead of me, as I still had documents to copy and they had a train to catch at 5:00.  When they came out, Chris wished me well and offered his email if I needed more help. Thank you Chris! 

It is now after 5:00.  The outside doors are locked.  They are not letting new people into the building.  I remain with my number 89 in hand.  My number is finally flashed on the board.  I go into the inner office and the same girl I had picked up the forms from earlier is still there.  She is pregnant.  It is after 5:00pm.  I had missed some entries on my form.  She grows weary of me struggling with the Polish.  Finally she smiles and says "May I fill it out for you?"  Yes, please!!  Within a few minutes, the form is filled out and she assures me that it is ALL in order and I should have a final decision within one month. 

Now I can enjoy my remaining time in Poland......

I now had to find the Europejski Dom Spotkań Młodzieży (Hostel).  The girl in the office gave me vague directions.  I got lost.  I asked a policeman. His directions got me more lost.  I finally asked a man waiting for a bus.  Same as the lady earlier, when he discovered I could not understand Polish, he motioned for me to follow him.  Remember, I said he was waiting for a bus.  I followed him for about 10-15 minutes.  He lead me right to the door of the hostel, kissed my hand and disappeared.  I hope my hostel was at least near where he was taking the bus.  As it turned out the hostel was directly across the street from the first government office I visited.

I had the 4 bed room to myself, which was really nice as I could sleep in the bed under the open window.  It was lovely.  The bathroom was massive and sparkling.  They even provided towels! Bonus!

I asked the girl at the desk where was a good place to eat.  She said to just go to the end of the street to the old city.  I had no idea what a great location this hostel was when I booked it.  It was only 2 blocks from the old city Barbican.  The streets were packed with outdoor restaurants.  It was a glorious warm evening, a perfect setting to try some Polish beer and some of the famous Polish mushrooms I had heard so much about. 

As I sat and observed people, it became obvious that I was totally under-dressed!  While I sat in shorts, T-shirt and trainers most of the women wore dresses or full skirts with flouncy blouses and heels.  Those that did not wear such wore very fashionalbe capri's with heels.  The men were also well dressed.  Ahhh, the style of Europe..... I really must pack better next time.

The next morning I headed out the door early, so as to catch as much of Old Warsaw as I could in one day.  As I neared the old city and about 50 meters away was a Mime.  He spotted me.... he leveled his gaze at me.... I froze like a deer in the headlights, glacing this way and that for a means of escape..... He smiled devilishly and began to twirl his lariat.....  I looked frantically about....  he threw his lariat, and nabbed me..... I lurched forward....  he began to pull me in.... I braced my feet.... he lurched forward.... I grabbed the rope and now yanked him forward.....the tug-of-war back and forth began.... he was stronger and eventually pulled me to within 3 meters of himself, at which point we ran into each other's arms!!  We laughed hysterically, then he thanked me (in American English) for being such a good sport.  It was great fun and a fantastic start to an amazing day!


I entered into the Old City through the Barbican.  It is the remaining defensive walls of Warsaw and was erected in 1548.  It now seperates the old city from the new. Inside the old city was mostly destroyed in WWII but has been rebuilt from its own rubble to perfectly match its prior splendor.  There are people who live within the walls, and it is really strange to see a modern car parked along the ancient wall.  Most of the old city is filled with tiny shops selling everything from amber jewely, to hand painted dishes, to crystal wine glasses, to flower shops (long stem roses with stems at least a meter long - wow), restaurants, to ice cream shops so close together you don't have time to eat one cone before you come upon another.  There are street musicians beautifully performing their talents.  I would buy an ice cream then sit on the step and listen to the performance remembering a story I had recently heard of a world famous violinist who took his 3 million dollar violin to a New York city subway station and performed the world's most difficult composition, having just performed the same piece the night before to a sell out performance of $1000 per ticket.  The only people who stopped to listen to him play in the subway were children whose parents hurried them along.  As I sat and listened, I wondered if I were listening to a world famous musician - or at least a future world famous musician.....  the ice cream was enjoyable too.

Barbican and defensive walls       


The Old City and near surrounding streets are a living monument to the glorious past of Polands triumphs and sorrows.  The Warsaw Rising Monument was just a few meters from my guest house.  This monument commemorates the thousands of heroes of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising who gave their lives for their homeland, having fought against the occupiers for 63 days under woefully uneven odds. It is a two-part monument. The first part presents the fighters as they crawl out from under a bridge support, while the second part shows them entering the canal system. An entryway into the canal system used to escape from the Germans.  Just outside the walls is the Little Insurgent Monument.  It is touching sculpture of a boy with a helmet much too large for him, which commemorates the heroic children who fought againts the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising.  There is a very unusual monument, Gnojna Góra, along the river side of the Old City. From the Middle Ages to the second half of the 18th century, this was a waste dump, but today it is a man-made hill with a gorgeous terrace. The view extends from the right side of the Vistula River and goes very far east.  There is a monument of Jan Kalinski, the humble shoe maker, who lead the people during the Kościuszko Uprising (18th century).  One does not walk very far without coming to yet another monument, each one telling a story of Poland's past and giving hope for the future.

  Warsaw Uprising Monument   Little Insurgent Monument      Gnojna Góra  Jan Kiliński Monument


I got a terrific birds eye view of the old city and beyond from St. Anne's bell tower. 


Old Town Square with Royal Castle  King Zygmunt III Waza Column


The old city market square was founded in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, this is one of the most picturesque corners of the city. It was once the main square of Warsaw: celebrations and markets were organised here, and legal judgements were passed on the condemned. The central part of the market was originally occupied by the town hall which was demolished in 1817, and in 1944, the Old Town was completely destroyed. All its buildings were reconstructed after World War II and their appearance is a perfect match to the Square's original look in the 17th and 18th centuries.

At the center of the square stands the Warsaw Mermaid.  According to legend, a mermaid swimming in from the sea stopped on the riverbank near the Old Town to rest. She found the place so admirable that she decided to stay. Local fishermen living nearby noticed that something was creating waves, tangling nets, and releasing their fish. Although their original intention was to trap the offender, they fell in love with the mermaid upon hearing her sing. Later, a rich merchant trapped the siren and imprisoned her in a wooden hut. A young fisherman heard the mermaid’s cry and with the help of his mates, released her, whereupon she declared her readiness to offer fishermen her help whenever it would be needed. Ever since, the mermaid, armed with sword and shield, has been ready to help protect the city and its residents.  Today there is a small pond at the base of the monument where children splash and play, while the adults sit on nearby benches relaxing in the sun.

Along one side of the square stands a restaurant with a figure of a Basilisk.  A legend says that in the basements of the buildings located there lived a Basilisk. It guarded the treasures once stored there, and every man who tried to reach them was killed by the gaze of the Basilisk, which turns men to stone. He was defeated in the end by a wandering tailor who showed the monster a mirror. The Basilisk was petrified by its own appearance, and hid away; from then on, he was no longer a threat to residents.

Old Town Market Square  Monument of the Warsaw Mermaid 


Of course Warsaw has its share of churches!  Cathedral Basilica of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist is squashed in the old city.  Originally built in the 14th centrury as a modest wooden church, it has become the most important church in the Republic of Poland. Weddings, coronations and royal funerals were held here. There are crypts with numerous tombs of the dukes, archbishops, Presidents and the last Polish King Stanisław.

Katedra św. Jana Cathedral Basilica of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist   St John the Baptist Basilica


Church of the Polish Army of Mary Queen of Poland stands directly across the street from the Warsaw Rising monument.  It was originally built in the 1600's and was burned, rebuilt then after the November Uprising remodeled, with the bells being cast from cannons, their sound was intended to suppress all patriotic sentiment. After Poland regained independence, the church was transferred to the ownership of the army. Since 1920, the church has served as a garrison church, and from 1991, it has been the headquarters of the Military Department of the Polish Army.

Cathedral Church of the Polish Army of Mary Queen of Poland  

There were a few things that surprised me in Poland.  First of all, I thought a lot of Polish would come back to my memory, as it was my first language.  It sounded so familiar, so soothing - like a Grandma's lullabye, and maybe it was.  I recognized the words, but had to translate them into English; the automatic mother language had faded.  I really believe that if I were to spend a few months in Poland the language would come back.  I was also surprised at my connection to this land that I had never set foot on, but somehow could feel the energy of my forefathers.  I cannot logically explain it.  It felt like home. 

I had only one full day in Warsaw, and was catching the train to Krakow in the morning. 



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