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Warsaw – The Newest Old Town in Europe

September 24, 2017
The mermaid in the centre of Warsaw's Old Town

Europe – Poland

Warsaw –52.2297° N, 21.0122° E

Mermaids…Jewish Ghetto…Uprising…

Warsaw or Krakow

72hrJetsetterGirl was keen to explore Poland in particular Krakow.  In her research, she found that yes Krakow, is probably the jewel of Poland, however in terms of things to do and see in the former capital one day would be more than enough for 72hrJetsetterGirl.

St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow's Main Market Square

St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow’s Main Market Square

Researching the Polish Adventure

Whilst researching this adventure, the package deal to Warsaw was significantly cheaper than to Krakow, another reason to choose Warsaw.  From Warsaw day trips to Krakow and Auschwitz could be arranged.  In the planning stages, 72hrJetsetterGirl had found tour companies that offer these day trips for less than US$100.  Ok theoretically everything as sorted.

Old City Walls of Warsaw

Old City Walls of Warsaw

A couple of weeks, prior to jumping on the Air France flight from Dulles International Airport to the Polish Capital, 72hrJetsetterGirl thought about planning those side adventures.  You remember that US$100 tour to Auschwitz, well when 72hrJetsetterGirl entered the intended day of the tour and the number attending, just one – Guess what … the cost jumped up by 400% to US$400 WHAT THE!! After searching a couple of other travel websites for a tour to Auschwitz from Warsaw, the same thing happens. OK, it must be going rate.

Krakow is about a 3.5-hour high speed train ride from Warsaw, yes it would be a very long day, so 72hrJetsetterGirl contacted the travel company to see if they could accommodate Krakow and Auschwitz on the same day.  Yes, they were very accommodating and able to do so. In the planning stage 72hrJetsetterGirl thought that whilst she was in that part of the world, lets also include a trip to The Wieliczka Salt Mine, and this will mean overnighting Krakow.  With this addition side trip, it was still more cost effective to fly in and out of Warsaw.  Everything was now sorted!

Main Square, Kraków  

Main Square, Kraków

Exploring Warsaw

The transit from Chopin International Airport to 72hrJetsetterGirl’s accommodation was a piece of cake. Warsaw has a very modern, efficient and cost-effective airport transportation system for travelers.  See details in the Nuts and Bolt section of this blog.

After checking into her 4-star accommodation, it was now time to explore the city.  The accommodation was situated in the Embassy area and approximately a 25-minute walk to the Old Town district.  Yes, the Australian Embassy was just around the corner from 72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel. Hopefully she will not be calling upon their services during this adventure.  It is always nice to see the Aussie flag blowing in the breeze when abroad.

Australian Embassy in Warsaw

Australian Embassy in Warsaw

History Lesson and Getting Fit

To get acquainted with Warsaw and to keep the jet lag at bay, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for a free walking tour of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto.  There is nothing like the flight touching down at 11.30am and then participate on a walking tour starting at 2pm.  Yes, 72hrJetsetterGirl certainly tries to do and see as much as she can within her 72 hour adventures and quickly made her way to Sigismund’s Column in the main square of Warsaw for the tour.

Sigismund's Column

Sigismund’s Column

The temperature in Warsaw whilst 72hrJetsetterGirl was in town was hitting around 38degC, probably not the best conditions to be out walking in the sun.  Oh, a hat, sunnies and a water is all you need!

Patricia the guide who is a native Varsovian and fluent in four languages (Polish, English, Spanish and Italian) started with a brief overview of what the tour will be covering in the next 2 or so hours and will do her best to keep us in the shade as much as possible.  Man, you have to give it to these Europeans they are usually fluent in more than 2 languages, yes the majority of us native English speakers certainly lag behind in the linguistic area.

View of Warsaw from St. Anne's Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne’s Church

First stop on the tour, was in front of the Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw also know as the Warsaw Nike (Just do it! LOL!).  The monument commemorates all those who died in the city from 1939 to 1945 in the defense of Warsaw (1939) and the participants of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising as well as for the victims who suffered by the German terror.

Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw

Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw

The biggest challenge for this monument was casting the sword which weighs about 1000 kg. The special design of steel bars embedded inside it makes it very strong and if it is a bit breezy, the sword can sway from its position by up to 15 cm… mmm lucky 72hrJetsetterGirl was viewing the monument from across a busy road.

Met Life

Patricia explained the boundaries of the Jewish Ghetto and tested the group and asked why a modernist building (Met Life Building) was right up beside a traditional building?  As the heat was affecting 72hrJetsetterGirl, she just looked blankly back at her. Well, where the Met Life building is now situated, in prewar days it was part of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto and was bombed to rumble during WW2 and the traditional building right next door was saved as it was outside of the Ghetto perimeter. 72hrJetsetterGirl did not have camera out ready for a photo opportunity and missed this picture 🙁

Map of Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Map of Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Making new friends

Wandering down a once bustling street in the Ghetto, 72hrJetsetterGirl recognized an Aussie accent in the tour group and was introduced to Tegan and Jono from Newcastle (can’t get more Australian than Jono!).  Learning that the traveling Aussie duo were on a 12 month “working adventure” in Europe and they were very keen to shared their recent travel experience with 72hrJetsetterGirl.  Yes, the story of the dreaded bed bugs in the hostel dorms.  Oh, the things you remember when on a tour.

Once a bustling street in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Once a bustling street in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Cannot believe what is being told

Throughout the tour, Patricia explained the horrific living conditions in the Ghetto as the entry gates were guarded by the Nazis, and therefore they reduced the amount of supplies (food and medical) that were allowed into the Ghetto.  The recommended daily calorie intake is around 1500 calories per day, those living in the Ghetto were given 650, which resulted in starvation and the spread of disease. Just terrible conditions.  Patricia then went onto advise that people could escape from the Ghetto however, remaining outside of the perimeter walls was the test and few managed to remain alive. The details that the tour guide provided were in-comprehensive for group.  72hrJetsetterGirl had tears of sorrow running down her face just as the majority of others in the group upon hearing the atrocities that occurred to fellow human beings.

Warsaw Ghetto Wall Border

Warsaw Ghetto Wall Border

The Heroes

The mood of the tour group was certainly very somber, as the realization of what occurred between 1940-1943 in this part of the world is still to this day very, very hard to comprehend.  Patricia made reference to two very important people who tried to spread the word to the West on what was actually happening in Warsaw during this period of history.  Firstly, Jan Karski, has been christened the “man who tried to stop the holocaust”.  Irena Sendlen was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize due to her actions to save children by smuggling them out of the Ghetto by hiding them in ambulances, taking them through underground passageways or wheeling them out in suitcases or boxes to safety.  Irena made notes of the children’s name and stored the information on little pieces of paper in canisters. 72hrJetsetterGirl hopes that the time will come that the world officially recognizes the courageous and heroic efforts of Jan and Irena.

Jan Karksi - the Man who tried to stop the Holocaust

Jan Karksi – the Man who tried to stop the Holocaust

A new language

Before reaching the final destination of the walking tour, Patricia educated the group on Ludwik Zamenhof, a Polish-Jewish medical doctor, inventor and writer and creator of  the most successful constructed language in the world “Esperanto“.  The murals depicts common expressions in Esperanto. Also around this area, the housing apartments are raised significantly above street level.  As the Ghetto was reduced to rumble, instead of removing the rumble, apartments were just built on top.  Even today, local residents tell of “ghostly” occurrences happening in the area.

Ludwik Zamenhof, creator of the most successful constructed language in the world "Esperanto“.

Ludwik Zamenhof, creator of the most successful constructed language in the world “Esperanto“.

Commonly known expression written in Esperanto

Commonly known expression written in Esperanto

A place to remember

The last stop on the tour was in front of the POLIN – Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Jewish Ghetto Memorial.

POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews

POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews

Jewish Ghetto Memorial

Jewish Ghetto Memorial

Time to say Good-Bye

After a very informative and heart felt tour, it was time to reward Patricia for her services and in return a useful map/guide was given to all. This useful pocket guide will be very handy for 72hrJetsetterGirl to navigate her way around Warsaw. 72hrJetsetterGirl bid farewell to Tegan and Jono and wish them well on for their continued adventures around Europe and hope they do not have any more encounters with the dreaded bed bugs.

Polish Cuisine in the New Town

As 72hrJetsetterGirl skipped lunch it was now time to taste some traditional Polish cuisine in New Town.  Just for the record, New Town is 100 years younger than Old Town which is about 700 years old.

Warsaw New Town

Warsaw New Town

Whilst browsing the menu, it dawned on 72hrJetsetterGirl that Polish cuisine is not what you would call “light” or suitable for someone watching their waist line (more like watching the waist line expand).  That being said 72hrJetsetterGirl settled for Placek po zbojnicku (Potato pancake with spicy pork goulash) and to wash it down with a local draught beer.  Taking a conservative approach, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for the 0.33l size of ale instead of 0.50l – it’s all about moderation.

Placek po zbojnicku (Potato pancake with spicy pork goulash)

Placek po zbojnicku (Potato pancake with spicy pork goulash)

The Rebuild

From reading history books, 72hrJetsetterGirl knew that the locals of Warsaw were not the type to sit back and wait out the Nazi occupation.  As the Warsaw Uprising enraged Hitler, his retribution was brutal by destroying anything of cultural importance and setting whole districts on fire.  When liberation occurred over 90% of the city lay in ruins.

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Today, due to the indefatigable spirit of the Polish people, Rynek Starego Miasta has been rebuilt by using paintings and photographs as architectural blueprints to recreate the burgher style houses that once framed the Old Town Square.  This work has been recognized and the Square is now an UNESCO World Heritage site. Warsaw is now the old new town of Europe.

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Sunset on the Old Town

As the sun was setting in the West, 72hrJetsetterGirl climbed the stairs to the viewing platform at the top of St Anne’s Church for a panoramic view of Warsaw Old Town with the surrounding walls and the Royal Castle. Which was also re-built after the war.

View of Warsaw from St. Anne's Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne’s Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne's Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne’s Church

It was now time for 72hrJetsetterGirl to wander down Krakowskie Przedmiescie pass the Presidential Palace to the fake “Palm Tree” and hang a right along the main street of  Al Jerozolimskie back to her hotel.  The fake Palm tree is a great landmark for directions but really, a Palm Tree in Poland, it is certainly not Dubai!

Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace

Beautiful Buildings along - Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along – Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along - Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along – Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along - Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along – Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Defining Landmark

Across the road from 72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel is Poland’s tallest and largest structure, standing at just over 231 meters high – the Palace of Culture and Science.  This architecture building was commissioned by Stalin as “a gift from the Soviet People” to the people of Warsaw in 1955. It is estimated that over 40 million bricks were used in its construction.

Palace of Culture and Science

Palace of Culture and Science

Another Walking Tour

As 72hrJetsetterGirl enjoyed the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto walking tour, she signed up for the Old Town Walking tour.  Meeting at Zygmunt’s Column, she was greeted by another cheerful guide named B.  As pronouncing B’s Polish name is a bit challenging for a non-Polish speaker, so he prefers to go by B to make it easier for us tourists.  B, was certainly a very passionate Varsovian and firmly believed that Zygmunt made the right decision back in 1596 to move the capital of Poland to Warsaw from Krakow.  Nothing like a bit of intercity rivalry.

Royal Castle

The first stop on B’s tour was the Royal Castle which was rebuilt from 1971-1984.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

As the group meandered down the cobble stones alleyways the next stop was at St John’s Cathedral.

St John's Archcathedral

St John’s Archcathedral

As Pope John Paul II, was a Pole, he conducted his first official tour as Pope from Warsaw, which irked the residents of Krakow as the Pope had spent the last 4 decades living in the town in south west Poland.  B was certainly gloating at this stage.  A plaque is located on the walls of the cathedral to commemorate this event.  72hrJetsetterGirl though that the plaque looked like a cable network dish rather than something of religious importance.  Oh, suppose each to their own.

Pope John Paul's Plaque

Pope John Paul’s Plaque

Square

Of course, you cannot have an Old Town walking tour and not visit the main focal place of the town – the Square.  B provided a narrative on the significance of the mermaid statue located in the centre of Rynek Starego Miasta.

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Leaving the Old Town, and walking by the City Walls to New Town, B pointed out to the group a “milk bar”.  The milk bars are remnants of former Soviet life.  The milk bars sold milk and egg products and today offer good value for money meals, with the main source of the meals being milk or egg based.

Milk Bar

Milk Bar

I thought she was French!

During tours, a lot of information is given and to be honest 72hrJetsetterGirl fails to recall every single fact, however her ears certainly pricked up when reaching the next information point.  Marie Curie was Polish not French! B pointed out the house where the two time Nobel Prize winner was born and now houses the Marie Curie Museum.

Marie Curie Plaque

Marie Curie Plaque

Marie Curie Museum

Marie Curie Museum

Jewish Ghetto

New Town borders the Jewish Ghetto and B gave the group an overview of the Ghetto before proceeding to the memorial for the Warsaw Uprising.  The Warsaw Uprising took place in 1944 and became both the most glorious and tragic episode of the city’s history.

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Music in the Streets

As the great composer Frederyk Chopin was a Varsovian and th benches in the Old Town area have  been installed to play the composer’s works as you sit back and enjoy the atmosphere of the old new town of Warsaw. It was at that note (sorry for the punt), that B concluded the informative Old Town tour

Time to Eat?

With all this walking, 72hrJetsetterGirl was ready for some late lunch.  Once again keen to try regional Polish cuisine, this time she ordered homemade fried dumplings (meat, potato, onions)  served on a hot frying pan with sour cream on the side.  Of course, not to disappoint,72hrJetsetterGirl’s beverage of choice was a local beer, still keeping with 0.33l size.

Homemade fried dumplings

Homemade fried dumplings

Child Soldiers

72hrJetSetterGirl noted an unique statue nearby.  Maly Powstaniec is a statue in commemoration of the child soldiers who fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

Maly Powstaniec

Maly Powstaniec

Decisions due to the Weather

As 72hrJetsetterGirl loves a good palace, she was keen to visit Warsaw’s Imperial beauty – Wilanow Palace – dubbed “the Polish Versailles” which was a 30-minute bus ride from the Old Town.  However, the skies of Warsaw decided to open up and drench the cobblestone alleyways and 72hrJetsetterGirl rethinking her touristic options, decided to go to Warsaw Uprising Museum instead.  The museum claimed to be one of Poland’s best was about a 25-minute walk from her hotel in the opposite direction to Old Town.

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Surprisingly there was a minimal wait time to purchase the entry ticket for the museum. Once inside the museum, 72hrJetsetterGirl was certainly overwhelmed as it was packed with many people and filled with interactive displays, photographs, footage and exhibits.

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Going Solo

Not electing to use the audio guide, 72hrJetsetterGirl navigated her way around the museum the old fashion way with a floorplan guide. Yes, the museum provides a good description/overview of the Uprising, the role of the Allies (or lack you could say) and an explanation on why Warsaw was bombed to rubble.  In her research, 72hrJetsetterGirl did read in the tourist forums, that the direction indicators in the museum, ie. sequence of the exhibits and the follow from one level to another was not that clear and made the visit a little more challenging.  On the whole the museum is very well done, however once again the over load of information is sometimes a little harder to retain in a short period of time. Or has 72hrJetsetterGirl had too many beers!!

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Golden Terraces

After leaving the Uprising Museum and feeling sad, 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way along Prosta Swietokrzyska to Zlote Tarasy for some retail therapy. The Golden Terraces as it is also known as is the most significant shopping center in Warsaw which is located in the very heart of the city.

Warsaw City Centre

Warsaw City Centre

Palace of Culture & Science

Palace of Culture & Science

The shopping centre has all the major retail brands that are available in the US.  After walking the multi levels of the shopping complex, 72hrJetsetterGirl found a supermarket on the lower level where she could pick up some supplies for dinner, at this stage all she wanted was a garden salad to take back to her hotel room as she had very early morning start for her trip to Krakow.

Warsaw City Centre

Warsaw City Centre

Getting Home? Well not today

72hrJetsetterGirl had enjoyed her time visiting Warsaw and Krakow, even thought it was quite an emotional adventure, she was now ready to head back to Washington DC, to start work the next day. Arriving at Chopin International Airport in sufficient time and had received notification from her travel app that the flight from Warsaw to Paris was “looking good” (code for on time).

Up Up and Away

Up Up and Away

When presenting her travel documentation to the check in agent, she was quickly advised to go the Air France Customer Service desk as there has been a change.  Actually, that travel app had it all wrong…. The flight from Warsaw to Paris was delayed by 2 hours and hence 72hrJetsetterGirl would miss her connection in Paris for the onward 7-hour flight back to the US.  The helpful Air France staff, had transferred her to a Lufthansa flight which was leaving earlier and instead of transiting through Paris, it was now Munich and arriving back in Washington 15 minutes later – not big deal. Everything was now OK, well that is 72hrJetsetterGirl thought.

As 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way to the Lufthansa check in counter she was promptly advised that they will not accept her, as their flight out of Warsaw was also delayed and they did not want to handle the possibility of a misconnection in Munich.  Back to the Air France counter.  After 35 minutes waiting, whilst the agent tried various other routes, 72hrJetsetterGirl was advised that she won’t be heading back home today, either overnight in Warsaw or go to Paris and overnight there.  Off to Paris 72hrJetsetterGirl goes.

Whilst waiting on the Tarmac, the captain comes over the pa system in a very calm and captain like manner advising the passengers the reasons for the delay.  As it was a public holiday in Poland, they were holding a military air show, hence all commercial flights in and out of Warsaw were disrupted, along with bad weather over Germany and a mechanical issue, the flight will be arriving 2 1/2 hrs behind schedule.

Up Up and Away

Getting Ready for Takeoff

Upon arrival in Charles DeGaulle Rossiy airport, 72hrJetsetterGirl was provided with accommodation, transfers and meals vouchers and was booked on the flight back to the District for the following day.  A night in Paris?? No it was not that glamorous – airport hotel right under the flight path – very little sleep.

Charles De Gaulle Airport

Charles De Gaulle Airport

On the upside, 72hrJetsetterGirl received an upgrade for her flight from Paris to Washington as compensation for the inconvenience.  Hey this all part of the traveling experience, just need to roll with it.

Premium Economy - Air France

Premium Economy – Air France

Nuts and Bolts of this New Old Town Adventure

Why this Destination
  • Krakow was on 72hrJetsetterGirl’s bucket list and after doing some research it was more economical to base herself in Warsaw.  An opportunity to explore another city.
Considerations
  • A day trip to Krakow from Warsaw is certainly a very early morning start with a very late finish in the evening. As 72hrJetsetterGirl does not have the luxury of added vacation days, (she does work) the plan put together by the travel agent was well worth the money, to take visit Auschwitz, the Salt Mines and a guided tour of Krakow.  If you have time, yes of course you could have planned the adventure yourself.  Unfortunately, due to the extended stay in Krakow, 72hrJetsetterGirl did not have the opportunity to visit the Warsaw Zoo.
  • Just a note:  Even though Poland is part of the EU, they have not converted their currency to the Euro as yet and uses the PLN. Schengen immigration policies apply for Poland.
How Long
  • 4 nights, with 3 1/2 days for sightseeing. Departed Washington DC on Thursday evening, arriving into Paris Friday morning with about a 90 minute layover and then into Warsaw around 11.30am. It was interesting, as 72hrJetsetterGirl and the other passengers were disembarking the plane in Warsaw, Polish Police Officers were at the plane’s door for a passport inspection. Originally planned to depart Warsaw around lunchtime on Tuesday with a 80 minute layover in Paris before connecting back to the US. However due the travel delays, overnighted in Paris an additional night.
Getting Around
  • The 20-minute train journey in a modern and efficient train from the airport to Warsaw Central train station costs 4.40zt (or approximately 1 euro).  72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel was located within a 2-minute walk from the Central Station and opposite the most well-known landmark of the city – The Palace of Culture and Science. It was a 25-minute walk to Old Town from the hotel and about 10-minute walk to the City Centre.
What to take
  • Definitely check the weather guide before going as 72hrJetsetterGirl adventure occurred during an extreme heatwave. For females would not recommend wearing any form of heeled shoe as the cobbled streets makes walking a little bit more challenging in the Old Town area. Casual attire would be more than appropriate.

Verdict

The trip to Warsaw was certainly an emotional adventure for 72hrJetsetterGirl, given the events of World War II and the devastation of Jews and the destruction of the city of Warsaw. As this is part of history, it is important that we remember those who suffered and hope that these terrible acts of crime are never never ever repeated again.