Sunday, June 22, 2014

Travels to Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland, located in the east-central part of the country. It is also known as the "phoenix city" because it has survived so many wars throughout its history. Most notably, the city had to be painstakingly rebuilt after the extensive damage it suffered in World War II, during which 85% of its buildings were destroyed. Warsaw is known as the city of palaces, royal gardens and grand parks. Many aristocratic residences and mansions are located near the city center.
Skyline view from our hotel.
After a 3 hour train ride from Krakow, we arrived in Warsaw at the central station.  Our hotel was less than a mile walk away, but immediately we noticed the difference from the other cities during this trip, as Warsaw was much more metropolitan and bustling with major city traffic.  After checking into our hotel, we head out to start our city sight-seeing.

The Church of the Holy Cross is a Roman Catholic house of worship located opposite the main Warsaw University campus. It is one of the most notable Baroque churches in Poland's capital.

In 1980, Warsaw's historic Old Town was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage list. Walking the streets of the Old Town allows you to rest from the bustle of central city life. Atmospheric alleys, squares, and cozy cafés create a unique sense of history.  This area was most crowded with tourists, but one of my favorite as I found the colors and connected old buildings to be most charming and reminiscent of the Old World.

By now, the sun was beaming down, and we decided to stop for a cool treat.  With it being strawberry season, these sorbet cones caught my eye.  It was so sweet and refreshing!

In the Old Town Market Place sits a replica of the 1855 bronze sculpture, The Warsaw Mermaid.  The statue stands in the very center of the square, surrounded by a fountain. Due to vandalism, the original statue had been moved to the grounds of the Historical Museum of Warsaw.

Located between the Old and New Towns, is the Warsaw Barbican, which is a semicircular fortified outpost, and one of few remaining relics of the complex network of historic fortifications that once encircled Warsaw.  It was a cool medieval site in the middle of the city.

What makes Łazienki Park different from other green spaces in Warsaw is the presence of peacocks and pheasants, which can be seen here walking around freely, and royal carps in the pond. Established in the 17th century, the landscape gardens feature many interesting architectural monuments, the most important of which include Łazienki Palace, also called the "Palace on the Water" that was built for King Stanislaw August Poniatowski – Poland’s last monarch.

During the summer time the Chopin Statue in the park is a place where pianists give concerts to the park audience.

The Saxon Garden was formally a royal garden. There are over 100 different species of trees and the avenues are a place to sit and relax.  This park was a popular 'rest area' for tourists while we were there, as people tried to cool off from splashes of water off the fountain.

At the east end of the park, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is situated. The tomb of the unknown soldier is an important central Warsaw landmark, which is constantly lit by an eternal flame and assisted by a guard post by the Representative Battalion of the Polish Army.  It is there that most official military commemorations take place in Poland and where foreign representatives lay wreaths when visiting Poland.  We luckily arrived just as the changing of the guard was taking place, which we overheard occurs only twice daily at 2pm and 8pm.

The Monument of the Heroes of Warsaw Uprising is situated at the point where reconstructed historic Warsaw ends, and the vast expanse of socialist architecture, massive apartment blocks and new modern skyscrapers begins.  Here we are reminded of the significant role of the uprising in shaping the city. It was in reprisal for the insurgents' attempt at liberty that the German army bombed Warsaw to the ground, destroying over 85% of its historic treasures and leaving a sea of rubble behind.

The restored Old and New Towns that stretch out behind the Uprising Monument are a testimony to the undying will of Warsaw's citizens, who refused to let their beautiful history disappear from memory.  This can be seen in the many contemporary graffiti pieces around the city that add to the political and historical commentary of Warsaw.

Here is a map of the stops we made in Warsaw- feel free to use it to build your own itinerary:

For more Warsaw eats check out my restaurant reviews. The capital city was much more modern than Krakow.  Have you visited Warsaw before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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