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Around some of the world in 180 days

Warsaw

POLAND | Saturday, 7 July 2012 | Views [742]

Old city main square

Old city main square

A very confusing thing about the naming of train stations in Poland is the use of the word Central. Warsaw Central for example does not actually denote the terminal station in Warsaw. It's name means a train station in central Warsaw, which was clearly displayed on the graph of the train route and I didn't bother to look at. It was just as well the on-board announcements are in both Polish and English. And for the thrice confirmation, I also asked another passenger, who seemed confused that I was confused. 

I'd booked into Ibis Hotel, which didn't look too far from Warsaw Central based on the map I downloaded from the hotel. It didn't look too far beause the !"£$% thing wasn't to scale and the walk ends up taking an hour through some very unsavoury neighbourhoods with "massage shops" openly advertising themslves and the constructions works throughout the city didn't help either. The real kick in the teeth is a tram that runs between Warsaw Central and a stop 1 minute walk to the hotel.

The hotel is located between all the interesing things in Warsaw. Contrary to the not to scale map, the Old Town is nothing like walking distance. In fact, about the only thing within walking distance is the Warsaw Uprising Museum, at 15 minutes.

It's about 2 in the afternoon before I've settled down and ready to go out. So I decided to waste the rest of the day away at the shopping mall in the centre of Warsaw. Which coincidentally is opposite the Palace of Culture of Science. From the tourist map blurb, it was apparently a "gift of friendship" from Stalin in the 1950s. The building looked more like some kind of perverse utilitarian monstrosity:

The building was also hosting a football exhibition. Probably taking advantage of Euro 2012, this was one of the worst exhibitions I've ever seen unless anyone thinks displaying a hundred shirts worn by famous footballers is really interesting. Complete waste of 20 Zloty.

From the palace, it's a 5 minute walk to the Akradia shopping centre. It's the biggest shopping in Eastern Europe and shouldn't hard to find considering it has about 7 floors. I was a little disappointed that it's a completely modern shopping centre with famous brands. It would have been interesting to see what a communist era shopping centre looked like or what they sold. Since most Polish foods don't cater to vegetarians, I had this dessert thing, can't remember what it's called. It's a little like a Cannoli and delicious:

Back at the hotel, I discovered that the internet was only free in the public area contrary to the description on the online booking site which said it was available in room. It took a full 5 minutes of "discussion" over semantics before the manager caved in and give me access in my room. There was a time when after a minute, voices would be raised. I'm actually quite proud of myself because after 6 months of travel, I've learned to keep cool and get my way without getting angry.

The next day, I take the tram to the old town or Stare Miasto as the Poles call it. The old town is a Unesco World heritage site, so I as expecting something special for an entire town to be bestowed with such an award. The walk starts at the old royal castle and the Barbican, the only remaining parts of the old city walls:

From there on I justed walked around seeing the many colourful buildings now housing shops, restaurants, bars or homes. The Poles must be a reigious lot because there are so many churches. The most beautiful part of the old town has to be the old town market, which is roughly the centre:

For lunch, there're many cafes around the area and I chose a speciality coffee shop, which must have had the longest list of espresso in the world. Note to self, coconut does not go with espresso no matter how much sugar is used.

At the market is a Cinema museum where I enquired if the museum had English labels. After the lady replied in the negative, her colleague (I think ) berated her in Polish. I assumed that the intention was to lie and declined purchasing a ticket. I was interested in the film being shown at the museum about Warsaw before, during and after WW2. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pictures. The film does a great job of showing life in the city despite the footage being at least 70 years old. The Germans systematically destroyed the city, turning Warsaw into little more than rubble and it's only watching the film that the devastating destruction of Warsaw becomes apparent. The old town was also lovingly restored to it's 18th century state.

Around the old town is the Marie Curie Museum. Not the most informative museum in the world. One of only four double Laureates and the only woman. A real privilege to be in the house of such an illustrious Nobel Laureate:

A bit more walking around the old town and I'm surprised is already late afternoon. Which just goes to show beautiful the area is and what a great job was done during the restoration. I have to head Warsaw Central to find out about trains to Krakow and I choose to walk because of the many fine buildings along the way.

The final item for the day is the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Covering Poland during the war, but mainly about Warsaw and the failed 1944 uprising against the occupying German forces. As a Scot, I was particularly ashamed that the Allies failed to help the Poles for the second time in the war despite promising aid. The Soviet Union weren't much better as they stood by and let the Poles get slaughtered. Afterwards, the Germans systematically razed the city in an act of vengence.

The museum was closing early today and I really could have spent more than the 1.5 hours available. It's a real privilege to visit a museum dedicated to so many who faught so valiantly, capitulating only when further resistence was futile.

The Holocaust monuments and Jewish Museums were closed or being renovated, so I decided not to add the extra day necessary for these. Two days was enough to see the other things in Warsaw anyway. The city is not much of a tourist destination. The post war rebuilding meant that the focus had to be on providing a habitable place for people to live and the post-communist period have turned Warsaw into just a another big city.

Tags: old town, poland, sightseeing, warsaw, ww2

 

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