I’m sad to leave Warsaw, even though I’m excited to come back to Chicago. I got used to being in Warsaw; walking down Nowy Swiat street, taking buses wherever I need to go. It reinforces my belief that I can get used to most situations and environments fairly quickly. So I left Poland with mixed emotions.
Overall though, I’m glad I had the chance to spend so much time in Poland and get to know Warsaw all over again.
My last week in Warsaw was pretty busy as I tried to squeeze in all my last-minute sightseeing.
I finally went to check out the University Library, which is a really cool, modern building along the Wisla. It’s an interesting area, right by the river, with new, elegant, contemporary apartments popping up around the library.
Luckily, I found another poster guy at the library, so now I have two poster websites from which I can order my Polish posters (the other guy’s store is at Rynek Startego Miasta/Old Town Square).
I went up on the roof to see the library’s garden – yep, it’s up on the roof. It was well worth the visit. It’s such a peaceful, relaxing environment, with views of the Swietokrzyski Bridge, Stare Miasto (Old Town) and the Wisla (Vistula) River.
Next, I walked along the Wisla River to get shots of Old Town from that angle. I love seeing the hill crowded with red-roofed, old houses from that perspective. Of course, pictures won’t do it justice, but I tried.
It looks like some quaint village in the country from a hundred years ago. From that angle, you’d never guess that the capital of Poland lies right behind those houses.
I know I already wrote a little about Warsaw’s Stare Miasto (Old Town), but I wanted to focus in on all the nooks and crannies of this especially beautiful area of the city.
Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square)
This is the main entrance to the Old Town, which you approach walking down Krakowskie Przedmiescie. The main attraction here, as you might guess, is the Zamek Królewski (Royal Castle). Unfortunately, the building was completely and purposefully destroyed during the war, so what you see today is a thorough reconstruction. My favorite rooms are the super-Polish throne, and the marble room.
On Sundays, entrance to the royal interiors is free.
Napoleon allegedly walked down these picturesque stairs that you find not far from the Main Square.
These walls were once Warsaw’s defense and now surround the Old Town. You can find restaurants and gift shops hidden away in these walls and towers.
Ice cream (lody in Polish) is not just a dessert, it’s a way of life in Europe! You can’t go one hot summer day without at least one scoop. There’s a really well-known ice cream spot in Old Town, on Świętojańska street, that features many popular flavors like pistachio, blueberry and hazelnut.
Many of the apartments, galleries, jewelry boutiques and gift shops sit under beautiful stone entrances. Here are just a couple of the ones you’ll see as you stroll through Old Town:
The view from below
One of my favorite views of Stare Miasto is from below, along the Wisla (Vistula) River. Whether you’re driving by or walking along the river, you get a spectacular view of the charming old houses scattered across the hill, and a glance at the back of the Royal Castle.
My dad’s old photography gallery
Ok, this isn’t really a traditional tourist stop, but it’s my blog so I’m including it. This is where my dad managed a photo gallery when he lived in Warsaw before coming to Chicago. The building still houses photo galleries, so you might catch an exhibit if you stop by.
Little Insurgent Monument
This statue (Pomnik Małego Powstańca in Polish) commemorates all the children that fought in the Warsaw Uprising. As a kid, it was always one of my favorite monuments in the city. You can find the statue right outside the western Barbakan wall of Old Town.
In the end, Old Town is just filled with charming, picturesque alleys, corners and plazas. Walk around and find your favorites!
According to the Warsaw tourism board, nearly a quarter of the city is made up of parks and other greenery. Warsaw’s parks are a big part of my memories from childhood and teenage visits, so I took advantage of a couple hot and sunny days to walk through a few of my favorites.
Ujazdowski Park (Ooo-yahz-dov-ski)
It’s funny that I remember this park from when I was a kid in Warsaw, but when you’re little, everything blurs together a bit. I remember visiting Łazienki back in those days (see below) and that it was a huge park, so in my memory I seem to have blended all the parks from those days into Łazienki. In my defense, at least Ujazdowski Park is down the street from Łazienki. It’s also across the street from the U.S. Embassy, in case you’re ever looking for it (there are actually several embassies in the neighborhood).
Anyways, Ujazdowski Park isn’t all that big, but it has a peaceful pond with a pavilion at one end and a bridge crossing a little brook at the other.
This is one of the city’s largest and most-well-known parks. I always thought it was funny that the name of the park translates to “baths” – or technically, “bathroom.” Łazienki are home to a large Chopin monument that overlooks a pond and is surrounded by benches and red flowers (the park sometimes hosts events and concerts here during the summer months). It was weird to stand there now, as an adult, and remember the last time I was there with my brother, mom, grandma and grandpa. And now I’m all alone!
After hanging out at the Chopin monument, I walked down to the lake, which was just how I remember it. The white palace at one end, the amphitheater essentially floating in the water, weeping willows on its shores and peacocks strutting on the paths around the lake.
I actually wondered, at that moment, if next time I’d set foot in this park I’d be with my own family (apparently my grandma’s non-stop lecturing about having kids is infiltrating my thoughts!).
Saski Garden This garden is located right behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by Piłsudski Square. At noon, you can catch the changing of the guards, who march over from the direction of Krakowskie Przedmieście.
The park’s paths are lined with statues of gods and goddesses, representing seasons, arts and other concepts. There is also a quiet pond with a fountain in the middle. Thanks to its location close to Stare Miasto (Old Town) and many other attractions, this is a great place to relax for both tourists and Warsaw citizens.
It was time for another road trip, this time to Kazimierz. Due to an intense argument the previous day, my grandma declared that she would only talk to me about “sprawy urzędowe” (logistical details) moving forward. Thanks to her vow of silence, the car ride to Kazimierz was peaceful if not awkward.
The town was nice, it’s located along a hill along the Wisła river, so it’s known for being very picturesque. Poland is experiencing some serious floods, so the river was quite high and powerful, but luckily no flooding for the moment in Kazimierz.
One of the main attractions of the town is its main square, which is charming usually, but unfortunately this particular day there were a bunch of stages & promotional booths that killed the atmosphere a little. However, there are also some really cute Polish folk art shops that line the square with great souvenirs.
And you have to walk just past the main square, almost behind it, to find the “Mały Rynek” – a smaller square filled with stands selling tablecloths, antiques and dried flower bouquets.
The entire town is full of art galleries, so if you’re looking for an authentic painting of a Polish landscape (i.e. Kazimierz), this is a the place to find it.
Another common souvenir from Kazimierz is baked bread in the shape of a rooster, which you can either eat on the spot, or dry out and keep.
The nearby hills are home to remnants of old castles, churches and granaries. If you have the stamina, you can climb up to visit the castle. I did not have the stamina (in my defense it was really, really hot out). Especially after I climbed up countless wooden/dirt stairs carved into the hillside to the Góra Trzech Krzyży (Three Crosses Hill). And get this – only after you get to the top is there a little stand asking for an “entrance fee.” Granted, it’s only 1 PLN (which equals about 33 cents), but it’s the principle! In Polish, I call this “bezszczelne.”
All that’s at the top of the hill is a clearing with three simple, wooden crosses that aren’t necessarily much to look at, but the view down onto the valley where Kazimierz lies and the river was worth the fee.
One thing to watch out for in Kazimierz during the summer is wasps – they are all over the place, and they can be relentless!
The road trip ended with a pretty stressful drive back to Warsaw since the entire city was shut down when we got back due to the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising and the Tour de Pologne. Let me tell you, driving around in circles for an hour with my grandma’s maneuvering skills was too much to handle!
The National Museum of Art in Warsaw is conveniently located across the street from my grandma’s house. That, and the fact that my mom spent a big chunk of her life there, made it a destination I was excited to see.
13th-century religious figures from Wrocław: apparently these old wooden figures were the subject of my mom’s final paper. What really caught my eye was this tall wooden figure of Jesus on the cross, where rope created bulging veins and grape-vine metal drops of blood created a very intense portrayal of the crucifixion.
Faras Gallery: these frescoes were uncovered in Egypt by a group of Polish archaeologists, and was actually a very important discovery (the team found the site just in time, Faras is entirely flooded and under water now). The saints and figures depicted in the frescoes have simple, almost child-like round and oval-shaped features and faces – but their simplicity is very beautiful.
Witold Wojtkiewicz: I was interested to see the Polish paintings in the gallery, since I’m really not very knowledgeable about Poland’s art history or major painters. Wojtkiewicz caught my eye because his paintings have interesting topics and I like his painting style. But just seeing all the older as well as more modern art was worth a visit.
Ancient Egypt Collection: the museum has a good, if relatively small, collection of artifacts from Ancient Egypt. For me, the highlight was a section from the Book of the Dead that is displayed, including a translation of what each page reads.
There was also a very graphic special exhibit when I toured the museum, Ars Erotica. It was a little too “modern art” for me, but there was an interesting part of the exhibit that examined homosexuality in mythology.
Overall, the Museum is definitely well worth a visit, especially to see the Polish art displayed there. Saturdays are free!
Since it was raining yet again in Warsaw, I decided to go to the movies. Before the movie began, I had to take a trip to the bathroom. You can imagine my reaction when I get to the bathroom doors and all that’s on them is a circle and a triangle (insert expletive here).
I stand in front of the two doors for a minute and randomly choose the triangle. Well, it wasn’t completely random – I figured the triangle was like the dress on the typical girl bathroom sign. Plus, I thought of the triangle chalice symbol from the Da Vinci Code (damn you, Dan Brown!).
When I walked in, the bathroom was empty, but you’d think the urinals would have tipped me off. Nope. Oh well, it was just awkward walking out as some guy walked in. He seemed confused for a minute, as if he had made the mistake, but nope – it was me!