Saturday, September 12, 2009

Warsaw In July

I was in Warsaw, Poland, for a good part of the month of July. Unlike many of my trips to Stockholm, on this one there was ample time for sightseeing in the evenings and on the weekends. I have to say, Warsaw is probably the most hard done by city I've ever visited. It was pretty much completely destroyed in WWII, then with much of the rest of eastern Europe it lived through several decades of Soviet rule. Despite that, it is today, an incredibly vibrant city. I would have to say, I think of all the places I've visited, Warsaw is the one that is most loved by its inhabitants. The picture above is looking down on the Old Town square. This area was completely destroyed during the war. It has been rebuilt with such care and attention to detail that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is one of the few places in Warsaw that look old. I did not, during my time there, see an abundance of old people, buildings or trees. There are, to be sure, some of all of the above, but not a lot.

There is so much to see here. Many buildings that look old have a plaque that reads something like this:

Designed 1775 by so and so
Constructed 1776-1784
Destroyed 1944
Rebuilt according to original plans 1949

The dates and the names vary, but the theme remains the same. The citizens of Warsaw will not allow their history to be erased. It is very cool.

I came across this site on one of my walks. They are re-paving the walkway in this area with two inch granite slabs. Not concrete. Not cheaper, smaller pieces of stone. No, not for Warsaw. Barring another war this walkway should still be here in 2000 years or so.

While there is some crime in Warsaw, it is mostly of the non-violent sort from what I saw. Some petty theft, etc. Never at any time did I feel afraid for my safety. I didn't stray far from my hotel after dark, a rule I generally follow in every place where I travel alone. But I never felt threatened in any way. The people were generally pleasant, cheerful, and helpful, even if they sometimes didn't speak much English. By and large the average citizen of Warsaw speaks much better English than I do Polish. :)

I stayed at the Marriot hotel. This was the view from my room on the 34th floor. It was very nice. From the skybar one could see across the city in the other direction, toward the old town, pictured above.
Many of the intersection in Warsaw have no way to cross them above ground. Instead, there are tunnels that go under the streets, sometimes very elaborate ones. These are filled with small shops, kiosks etc. It is almost like a second city down here.

This is one of the few remaining pieces of the wall that enclosed the Jewish Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. All around the city there are discrete plaques marking the corners and intersections of this wall, but there are very few actual pieces of it that remain.

This building is the 'Palace of Science and Culture'. It was a 'gift' from Stalin, though most view it as a not so subtle way of saying Big Brother is watching you. It is I believe the tallest building in Poland, although there are now a few other skycrapers in Warsaw that are giving it a run for its money. The one nice thing I can say about this edifice is that it is visible from many distant parts of the city, and since I knew it was right next door to my hotel, it made it very difficult for me to get lost....... :)

This is another view of the Old Town, looking back towards the Palace. You can see what I mean.....I never had to worry about being lost.....

There is a lot of modern construction in Warsaw. This is one of many bridges over the Vistula river.
This is another perspective on the Old Town. You can see the flag stones (probably similar to the ones above).I visited several other historical places. The monument at what used to be Mila 18 really stuck out. Though it looks like an L in the name, its actually a little different. It is pronounced Meewa in Polish, and means nice. I had trouble pronouncing several of the street names in my head here, though I did learn some of them eventually

This is the monument to the Jewish fighters who died here during the Ghetto Uprising. It is on the plot of land that was once Mila 18. Leon Uris wrote a book about it, which I recommend. I visited this site several times, and each time I found it very difficult to keep my emotions in check. It is both one of the simplest, and most moving monuments I found in Warsaw.

This is the Umschlagplatz. I think I spelled that correctly. It is the place where Jews were required to report for deportation from the Ghetto to such well known places as Auschwitz and Treblinka. I hadn't realized it, but near the end of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw there was also a concentration camp in the city. As they pulled out, the commander asked everyone who didn't feel up to making the long journey to not be shy and please speak up. Some 180 souls came forward. They were left behind, but only after they'd been summarily shot.

This is what remains of the tree that once stood outside Pawiak prison. The prison was used by the Czars and the Nazis. The tree was eventually replaced by a bronze cast of what remained of it when it finally died, and it is today emblazoned with obituary plaques of many of the people who were executed here.

There were actually two major uprisings against the Nazis in Warsaw. The above is part of a monument to the Warsaw Uprising which was conducted by the Polish Home Army as the Nazis were preparing to leave. They fought long and hard, and ultimately were defeated. The Soviet Red Army sat literally on the opposite bank of the Vistula river and let the Poles and the Nazis tear each other apart. This was made all the more appalling by the fact that the Polish Home Army was, by this time, formally a part of the Soviet Army. Stalin no doubt thought it expedient to let Nazis and the Poles destroy one another, making it easier for him to occupy and hold Poland as the Nazis withdrew.

I never did cross the Vistula. I was warned by my hosts that that was a somewhat more dangerous part of town, and that it would be highly advisable if I didn't look too much like a tourist during the day, and especially not at night. I did however walk along the river. There are spots, like this one, where you'd hardly know you in the middle of a large city.
The river is lined with this stadium seating style structure that goes on for miles. I saw several people fishing in the river, but none of them spoke English. I stopped a young couple near the end of my trek. They spoke enough English to communicate. The gentleman suggested that fishing in the river was perhaps more of a 'Polish meditation', and indicated that he was very doubtful that there were any live fish in there. The woman looked absolutely horrified when I asked if anyone would eat something they'd caught in the river......horrified.....Hopefully the river can be re-rehabilitated.
I'll close with what is truly the most bizarre thing I saw in Warsaw. This was in the Botanical Gardens. I have no idea what the significance of a 'Ladybug/Bull' is, let alone what it is doing standing up against a was just so weird, I had to take a picture of it.