Okay folks. This one is long and needs to be edited, but I need to walk away. Forgive any mistakes. They will be fixed in due time. I may also have to add some stuff. I also may need to reorder to help with flow.
Now that I am in Warsaw, I wonder why Poland was not on my radar screen of places to visit outside of wanting to visit Auschwitz.
Warsaw (Warsawa) is Poland’s capital and largest city. The capital prior to Warsaw was Krakow but that was changed by a king in 1596 after he lost his castle to a fire.
The Warsaw I am seeing is one that is pretty vibrant. With the history, you could expect doom and gloom, but there is power in the human spirit. It’s extremely mind boggling to learn that 87% of the city was destroyed during WWII. I try to imagine how it would feel to lose everything, but my mind can’t grasp it. I can’t imagine seeing Seattle leveled to the ground. An estimated 800,000 residents of Warsaw lost their lives during the war. Hitler decided if he couldn’t have it, it would be destroyed. Exit the Nazis. Enter the Russians.
The architecture the Russians built is just plain awful. I really like the style of architecture that was designed to reflect the Polish past. In my pictures so far there are a lot of churches and a lot of buildings. So right now there is a combination of Soviet influenced buildings, which basically remind me of projects. Buildings that were rebuilt to look medieval (old style), which are my favorite. And there are modern day skyscrapers.
About 1.7M people live here. There are around 38M in Poland. 95% of the population is Catholic with 75% practicing, which explains the many, many, many churches. Sometimes they are right across from each other. Poland was between Protestant Germany (one time Prussia) and Orthodox Russian. The fact that both nations have played significant part of the Polish history is not lost. Faced with oppression, the people hung to their faith. Poland didn’t exist between 1795-1918. At this time it was divided between three countries (Russia, Prussia, and Austria).
Before WWII, 80% of the Jewish people who lived in Europe lived in Poland. This was second worldwide after NYC. In the middle ages while other European kings were imprisoning or exporting Jews, the Polish kings accepted them. So they flourished in Poland from the middle ages until WWII.
The hotel I am staying at is in a very good, central location. I have done all of my sightseeing in this area. Today I walked for well over five hours, possible six. Hopefully this will lead to a slimmer me when I return. *_*.
Today I started with a morning tour with my group, which included going to the other side of the Vistual River, going to see Chopin’s monument, going along the Royal Route, going to the former Jewish Ghetto, and going to Old Town. When it was finished, I spent a lot of time exploring the Old Town and then went back to the former Jewish Ghetto. Then I cut back to Old Town and walked the Royal Route home. My hotel is literally off of the Royal Route.
So let’s start at the beginning.
My tour guide is Dean. He was born in Amsterdam to Serbia parents. He currently lives in Belgrade. The Warsaw tour guide was Magda. I learned that she used to work 30 hours/seven days a week, but has reduced her hours because she has a child.
One thing that sort of sticks out is the Palm Tree. My driver on the way to the hotel from the airport pointed it out to me. I was like what? How? He didn’t tell me that it was plastic, so now it makes complete sense.
We drove by a series of embassies. I actually meant to go back and get some pictures because a lot of them are old villa palace style. The eye-soar example is the American Embassy, which is modern. It’s my own preference, as I abhor modern architecture.
The park that housed the Chopin monument is under construction, but we could see the statue through the gate. Though his name and dad are French, his mom and birthplace are Polish. I’m not that interested in his life, but learned he had to flee Poland. Ended up dying alone around 39 of TB.
The area on the other side of the river (from the center) is being gentrified. It’s now becoming popular and trendy when before people would not go over there. There was a lot of criminals and criminal activity.
When the Nazis’ occupied Warsaw the city was divided into three sections: Polish, Jewish, Nazi. We visited a few monuments in the Jewish Ghetto. When I walked through the ghetto again, I revisited the monuments, and I am glad I did! But first some history.
For centuries Jewish people lived in Poland peacefully. In the middle ages, it was safe haven. Other nations in Europe were deporting or imprisoning Jews. In the 1930s there were 380,000 Jews in Warsaw. The Nazis arrived in 1939 and within a year pushed all the Jewish people into the one neighborhood and built a wall around it. People from other towns in Poland were brought there so it was overcrowded (1/2 a million). Over the next year the population grow by1M! By 1942, 1/4 of the people had died of starvation, sickness, committed suicide, or been killed. The Nazis began moving 5K a day to “resettlement camps,” which in fact were the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz. When the population was around 60,000 they began getting word about what was actually really happening. Thus they staged an uprising (April 19, 1943), which was unsuccessful. The Nazi’s struck back. They destroyed the ghetto and “liquidated” the people. About 300 were able to escape through an underground rail system.
I saw two monuments. There was one in the Ghetto Heroes Square. It is “for the dignity and freedom of the Jewish Nation, for a free Poland, and for the liberation of humankind.” The people in the monument are very striking. People have left flowers, candles, and stones. There is a Path of Remembrance leading to the other monument. It’s kind of like a Stations of the Cross, as it tells the story of the uprising. The next site is the Umschalagplatz (German for transfer place) monument. It marks the stop where Nazis brought Jewish families to prepare them to be loaded into trains bound for Treblinka or Auschwitz. The second time I went there there was a tour group with Jewish teenagers. They sounded like the could be from England. Their leader was trying to emphasize what had happened in very direct terms. It seems like after struggles, each generation forgets or the impact is not there for them. I hope the young people heard what he was trying to instill.
It is hard to not judge history from today’s perspective. How many countries promised help but did not deliver? How many countries turned a blind eye and listened to the Nazi propaganda that nothing seedy was happening? And why does ethnic cleansing happen today with the world leaders putting sanctions on leaders who are killing people? It seems so simple.
I saw a brick house that was a place Jewish people used to live. There are pictures of faces all over the building. There is talk about renovating it to it’s former glory, which asks the question should it be restored? Or should it be left as is as a reminder? It was an amazing experience.
In lighter news, I visited the Old Town (97% of this area was destroyed) and New Town. I really like the Old Town. I started in Castle Square, which has the royal castle. I also visited St. John the Baptist Cathedral. It’s the oldest cathedral (1339) in Warsaw. In 1791 the Polish constitution was consecrated there. It was also the last battle in the Warsaw Uprising. The rebel leaders were hiding in the church and the Nazi leaders sent a tracked mine (a huge bomb on tank tracks) into the church and killed the leaders. There are some that criticize the uprising, but again judging history from our own eyes. I suppose at some point in time, you have had a enough and want to take your future into your own hands, especially when you could be going from worst to worst. The Warsaw Uprising happened in the summer of 1944. The Soviet tanks were near and it was known that the Nazis would be pulling out soon. Many felt that if the Soviets “liberated” Poland, they would not be independent. In August 30,000 Polish resistance fighters launched an attack. The uprising lasted two months. 18,000 uprisers and 200,000 civilians were killed. Hitler was outraged and demanded that the city be destroyed, and it was. After the Nazis pulled out, the Soviets (who sat and watched and waited) pulled in. So was the uprising brave or stupid? I can offer no judgement.
There are some who don’t like the Old Town. They say it’s cheesy, but I like it. It actually reminded me a lot of Brugge. It has what would have been the ruins to outer walls (originally the rich lived in Old Town and had walls built to protect themselves). There was also a defensive gate. The New Town represents the area that was built outside of the wall. Ironically, because of the war, parts of the New Town are actually older than the Old Town. Basically, some of the buildings built used parts from the old buildings.
There was also a mermaid fountain. Long story short. Two fishermen found a mermaid and would visit her daily. An evil man was suspicious why two fishermen came back daily with no fish but happy. He followed them and saw the mermaid. He captured her to make profit. She sang a sad song and the fishermen recognized her voice and rescued her. She now carries a sword and shield to protect herself and all fishermen. She has a twin who lives in Copenhagen.
For dinner, I had pierogi, which was totally good. It’s basically called a dumpling. Mine had meat inside and being as greedy as I am, I could have eaten another serving, but I did not! There is one other dish I want to try before I leave. It’s soup, bread, and a sausage.
It’s a city that is changing and growing. There is so much construction happening. They are actually building another Metro Line as well. One of the tour members visited 35 years ago. She said it has changed since she was there. Warsaw had been described as dark and gloomy, but hope has a way of changing things. Did I mention communism ended there in 1989?
Oh I met this Russia guy earlier and I wonder how his reception is in Poland? I guess the past is the past is the past and at some point in time there has to be reconciliation. The way I meant him was I accidentally stepped into his picture as he was taking it. I apologized and he was like no problem. Then a few minutes later, he asked me take a picture him. Then I was just wandering aimlessly in the Old Town and ran into him again. That’s when I learned he was from Moscow. His impression of Seattle is that it rains ALL of the time.
Which reminds me the building I saw yesterday and really liked was was the Palace of Culture and Science. It was a “gift” from Stalin that the Polish people paid for. They call it Stalin’s Penis (insert another word choice). I really, really like the building, but it’s problematic since it was a forced gift. There is (or was) seven similar places in Russia.
The next time I come I want to visit the museums and spend more time in the parks, which reminds me I did walk through a nice park. I need to find out the name but it has a cross in honor of Pope John Paul II. He has a street named after him, which ironically has a block with adult themed shops.
Tomorrow we head to Krakow. We will see the Black Madonna enroute.
More to come!