10.09.2016 - 10.09.2016
I caught the train to Warsaw early this morning, leaving Krakow at 08:20. The train was different than the one I had taken to Krakow and, despite following the same direct route, it took slightly longer to reach Warsaw. I spent the time on the train getting some work done, which helped to pass the time. Upon arrival in Warsaw I made my way to the hotel; I arrived too early for check in, but I was able to store my luggage.
It was another hot day in Poland and I would be out in the heat all day today as I explored the city. As I set off into the city, my first brief stop was outside the Palace of Culture and Science, which was quite near the train station. It resembled similar buildings that I had seen in other former Soviet cities: the 1950s Stalin Soviet style. The entire complex was rather large, with a square and fountains in the front.
I was quite a ways from the old town area (I had chosen a hotel close to the train station to make my departure to the airport easier on Monday). The walk through the city was nice; I was surprised by how large and modern Warsaw felt. The city was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, so the city had been steadily rebuilt ever since. Among the modern buildings are the random older-style buildings. My progression through the cities of Poland resembled my progression through the Baltic States:
Tallinn - Gdank
Very old European, Gothic cities with a lot of charm
Riga - Krakow
A blending of old Europe and modern Europe
Vilnius - Warsaw
Large modern cities with a small taste of old Europe, which is lost in the bustle of the modern side
oh, and then there's...
Kaunas - Kaliningrad
I walked through the city and found my way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located in a massive square at the end of a very nice park. The tomb is a small structure with an eternal flame and two guards on either side; the structure has a roof, so the guards are not exposed to the sun and heat. Listed on the pillars around the tomb are the names of battles where Polish soldiers served. Several military personnel were setting up some rope barriers in the square, which seemed odd. I found out later that some sort of military parade was going on, though I've no idea why.
I spent a few minutes walking around the park, which had a large fountain and some beautiful flowers - very vibrant! Scattered around the park were benches that would play classical music when a button was pressed; the composer Chopin once lived in this part of Warsaw.
Nearby was the presidential palace, which was quite impressive. It was larger than I had expected. Across the street was some sort of protest movement; they had several large signs spread out on the ground and hung up. Directly in front of the palace was a large cross on the ground made out of jars with candles.
By this point I was needing a break, so I stopped for lunch at a local cafe. The cafe served traditional Polish food and I went with Polish sausage with sauerkraut. It was incredibly delicious, as was the beer that I enjoyed with the meal. Sitting next to me was an older couple who sat silent during their entire meal, not speaking once; the woman ordered a beer and 7up, which she then mixed together! Yuck!
After lunch I reached the traditional old town, where I saw the Warsaw Castle and some of the old city walls. The square in front of the castle was nice and full of tourists. In one area, a woman was singing and some people were dancing the tango (badly) as she sang. Right next to that I saw a man running around in a thong and fishnet stockings; he was stopping to take pictures with female tourists. It would have been amusing had he been attractive!
I continued to explore the old town, stopping briefly in the main market square, which is simply a collection of old buildings and full of sidewalk cafes. I stopped to grab an ice cream before venturing further on. I found another section of the city walls and was able to walk around them for a bit.
I left the old town area and made my way to the former Jewish ghetto. In random areas I would find memorials with pieces of the old ghetto wall. Along the ground was a marker embedded into the sidewalk marking out where the wall had once stood. I took a short detour into a park that I stumbled upon nearby, finding a rather nice building that turned out to be the Krasiński Palace. This was the most interesting and beautiful building that I saw in Warsaw, with a lovely garden attached to it.
As I started to leave, I noticed a sign on the street indicating that the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising was nearby, so I decided to follow the signs and find it. The memorial was much further than it appeared, but it did allow me to discover the military parade. I only saw the very end of it, but there was a large group of military members on horses making their way down the street (which was consequently full of horse shit!). I finally managed to find the memorial, but discovered that I'd gone to the wrong memorial! I've no idea how it happened and the memorial I found was dedicated to the heroes of Warsaw; it was... ok, but not worth the detour and significant backtracking.
I had one last sight to see on my list: Umschlagplatz, which was a holding area where the Nazis kept the Jews before deporting them to the concentration camps. (It turns out that I passed by the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising on my way there, but didn't even realize it). However, I did stumble along a different memorial during the very long walk to Umschlagplatz: the Museum of Independence at the former Pawiak Prison. The prison was a former Tsarist prison and was used by the Gestapo during the 1940s, imprisoning and killing thousands of people. The prison was destroyed during Nazi reprisals after the Warsaw Uprising; only a small section of the main gate and walls remain.
When I reached Umschlagplatz I realized that it was worth the long walk. The memorial was in the shape of a walled-in courtyard with signs along one side of the memorial. It was toned-down and somber, but very effective. When I reached the memorial there was a group of younger tourists laying around the memorial, goofing off and not showing any respect for what the memorial commemorates; they were all in their late-teens and should have known better. When the group was leaving, one girl refused to get up from lay down on the memorial; I couldn't tell what language they were speaking, but I could tell that she was indicating that she just couldn't go on; she was offered food and water, but she refused; it was clear she was being a drama queen. Thankfully she eventually left and I could finally take some good pictures.