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.
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!
So, back in Poland after 10 years. What to do, what to do…
I decided to take advantage of my grandma’s central location to some of Warsaw’s best attractions and walked towards the Stare Miasto (Old Town). Basically this is the route: you start on Nowy Swiat (New World street), which eventually turns into Krakowskie Przedmiescie street, which runs right into the Old Town.
Nowy Swiat This street has changed so much in the past 10 years! It was always a more modern part of this route, lined with little shops. But now it’s completely re-done, and is literally restaurants after bar after cafe, and each place has an outdoor patio area, so the entire street is lined with people eating and drinking outside.
If only I had someone to eat and drink with! Guess I just have to eat alone – there’s even a Spanish tapas place and a Mexican restaurant (I tried both of course, and they were pretty good but not 100% authentic (man, I miss Mexican food!)).
Let’s not forget that this is where you can find a Starbuck’s. I’m not a die-hard Starbuck’s fan, but I must admit it’s comforting to see a “familiar face” in essentially and country you visit.
This is where the historically significant landmarks begin:
Holy Cross Church: this is where Chopin’s heart lies (his body is buried in Paris).
Hotel Bristol: apparently plenty of famous people have stopped here, including JFK and Woody Allen.
Presidential Palace: yes, the scene of daily demonstrations about the infamous cross.
Stare Miasto (Old Town) This is the Old Town, restored to its pre-war beauty after being completely destroyed. Naturally, nothing here would have changed in the past ten years – it’s as beautiful as I remember it! Every time I walk towards the Old Town, I just want to take a picture of the Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square):
Walk through the square and down one of the cobble-stone streets. They’re lined with restaurants, churches, stores full of amber jewelry or Polish folk art, galleries, and walk-up windows selling waffles, hot dogs or ice cream. Then you get to the best part – Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Square):
It’s difficult to capture in a picture, but the square is lined with colorfully-painted stone houses, with galleries or restaurants or stores at the ground level (including a tourism info office full of brochures in English). The square itself is filled with tables where restaurant guests can eat traditional Polish food (among other cuisines). Wherever there’s spare room, artists stand selling paintings of the square or other Polish landscapes. The square is also home to Warsaw’s symbol, the mermaid.
My trip from Rome to Warsaw was not uneventful. I ended up flying Wizz Air, some discount airline from Hungary. This time I gave myself plenty of time to avoid a repeat of the easyJet fiasco, and got to the airport more than two hours before take-off.
Wizz Air was organized just a little better than easyJet. But of course their counter was hidden somewhere around a corner, and there was no signage. So after standing in the wrong line for 10 minutes, I finally found the right line. Then, I waited. And waited.
About an hour later, I got to the counter, where there were only two attendants working. Once I finally got my boarding pass, I headed for the gate, which was of course changed after everyone had gathered there.
Then, the plane was delayed so we all had to sit and wait. In the meantime, kids are playing and screaming and running around and banging on things. I literally almost lost it. I had to put on my iPod and blast music to drown out all the madness.
When we finally got on the place, the pilot greeted us and made a little impromptu speech. These European pilots sure like to take advantage of their access to a mic and a captive audience. The pilot apologized for the delay and explained that the baggage handlers were late to load our luggage and then were taking their sweet-ass time. As a result, we lost our place in line to take off, so had to wait for a new time. BUT, apparently no one was picking up our pilot’s call in the control tower for 10 minutes! That’s always comforting to hear.
Anyways, we finally took off. Of course one of the annoying kids was sitting behind me and kicking my seat half the time.
Then, my eyes started itching so I go to the bathroom and see that my eyes are getting puffy and my face is getting a couple red patches! Awesome.
A little later, I start getting itchy, red patches on my hands and arms. By the time we landed, I was not looking too pretty. I’m not necessarily saying I was allergic to Wizz Air, but do you have a better explanation?
We land and get off the plane in Warsaw, and it’s pouring rain. Literally pouring. It was almost funny.
But the important thing is that I made it to Poland safe & sound! And with an allergic reaction…