Warsaw, a name that brings scenes of chaos to mind from WWII history, is now a progressive city. The city is walkable and a dichotomy of new and old. Even the old buildings are new, totally rebuilt from the rubble based on photographs and using bricks that were salvaged from the original buildings.
The highlight of our visit to Warsaw was the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. The visit was sobering but even now it is a vital part of Warsaw. The Nazis had bombarded Poland with propaganda showing how wonderful the Party was, but reality quickly came to the Polish people. From April 19 to May 16, 1943, the Polish underground resistance staged an unsuccessful revolt to prevent the transportation of Jews from the Ghetto to extermination camps. Unfortunately, the failed revolt led to even harsher treatment and the deaths of most of those involved. The museum allows visitors to walk through tunnels similar to ones used by the revolutionaries, hear recordings of the voices of news commentators, and touch bullet holes in walls. The motto of the museum is touching and encapsulates the entire revolution, “We wanted to be free and owe that freedom to nobody.”
Warsaw also houses more uplifting sites such as the Royal Lazienki Park and the Royal Route (Trakt Krolewski). Simply strolling through the Old Town and sampling traditional Polish foods such as Pierogi, breaded pork cutlets, and cabbage rolls is a fun experience. Of course, tasting a few of the Polish beers adds to the enjoyment. The Old Town is filled with many surprises such as the mermaid statue in the Old Town Market Square. The mermaid, a sister of the one for which Copenhagen is famous, is the symbol of Warsaw. Legend has it that this mermaid loved the same man as her sister in Denmark, so she left in tears. After wandering aimlessly for a long time, she found herself in Warsaw and, after a very involved story involving danger and espionage, she fell in love with a local farmer and stayed.
Warsaw celebrates its famous musician, Frederic Chopin, with unusual benches for tourists and locals. The benches play excerpts from Chopin’s compositions to entertain and educate you as you watch people go by or look at sites like the Church of St. Joseph of the Visitationists on Krakowskie Przedmiescie BLV where Chopin frequently played the organ.
The Royal Castle and St. John’s Cathedral are also interesting stops in a walking tour of the city. The Saxon Garden (Ogrod Saski) is a fun break from buildings. The park, one of the first public parks in the world, now houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a memorial statue for the Polish president and 95 other dignitaries who were killed in a plane crash on their way to a memorial event in Russia.
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