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First impressions of Warsaw

Poland Days 13-14. It wasn’t love at first sight but after a few walking missions, Poland’s capital city started to grow on me.

I’m visiting Warsaw three times; book-ends to my side trips to Torun and Kiev. It’s a bit mucky and not an ideal approach to get to know a city but I’m working around the constraints of my Chernobyl tour dates and it does provide the benefit of staying in different parts of the city. This first and last visits I’m staying near the main train and bus station; in the middle I’m in the old town.

Here the street signs are blue which means this is south / south-central Warsaw.

Just around the corner from the hotel

Just around the corner from the hotel

I set off late morning, initially to a street in the neighbourhood which has a remnant of ghetto wall. Warsaw suffered horribly at the hands of the Nazis. Not long after they seized control of the city in 1940, 3.5m high walls went up around an area of 307 hectares into which 450,000 Jews were crammed.

This remnant was in the courtyard of an apartment building – which is locked. Two ladies happened to be exiting who had managed to get in to have a look and, showing me their photos, expressed disappointment about the relatively tiny bit of wall they found. Tempted to somehow see it myself, I nevertheless carried on with my mission for today.

I soon come across this: one of 21 boundary markers installed around the city, indicating the actual width of the walls.

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A little further on I arrived at the Warsaw Rising Museum, situated in a renovated power station building on the ghetto border. What I didn’t realise was that being Sunday, tickets are free… which was good in the sense that it cost me nothing; bad in the sense that there were SOMANYPEOPLE. Gah! I saw what I could but wasn’t really inclined to linger. Looks like an amazing museum, dimly lit though with a funny bitsy layout which was difficult to know where you were going especially with SOMANYPEOPLE.

Emblem of the Polish resistance during the Uprising

Emblem of the Polish resistance during the Uprising

One feature I was keen to see was a short 3D film clip called Miasto Ruins. Digitally created over two years with a team of historians, it takes the viewer on a flyover of the liberated but devastated city in 1945. Only five minutes long, I spent probably three times that queuing but it was incredibly interesting and realistic. Here is a trailer for it.

Memorial wall outside the museum

Memorial wall outside the museum

I set off to find the Jewish Cemetery and was lucky I didn’t leave it any later as got there 20 minutes before closing. One of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, it is just enormous which was certainly my impression as my legs hurried me around on a quick walk. There are more than 200,000 marked graves as well as mass graves for ghetto victims. Much of it is now forested which only adds to the atmosphere.

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I took the scenic route back to the hotel – which isn’t to say it’s a scenic part of Warsaw. There’s a lot of new high rise around my hotel district but my wanderings took me past run down areas with graffiti and plenty of very drab and worn apartment buildings, all dating from the same era. I realised I shouldn’t at all be surprised about that given the rebuild post-WW2 under a communist regime.

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All that remains of a prison used by the Gestapo which saw about 100,000 people held captive. It was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising

All that remains of a prison used by the Gestapo which saw about 100,000 people held captive. It was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising


A long strip of sunflowers appeared down the middle of one of the main arterials

A long strip of sunflowers appeared down the middle of one of the main arterials


I went searching for pre-WW2 buildings and was almost too late. A street near my hotel used to have red brick facades that made it through the war, albeit with the stucco blown off and shrapnel holes visible. Only one of those buildings is now left and it was under wraps so I guess it's on the way out - so this little man will be too

I went searching for pre-WW2 buildings and was almost too late. A street near my hotel used to have red brick facades that made it through the war, albeit with the stucco blown off and shrapnel holes visible. Only one of those buildings is now left and it was under wraps so I guess it’s on the way out – so this little man will be too


There are plenty of big empty spaces like this; I wonder how much is a legacy of what occurred between 1940-45

There are plenty of big empty spaces like this; I wonder how much is a legacy of what occurred between 1940-45

The next morning (yesterday in real time) I had a few hours until train o’clock so decided to venture toward the Old Town, specifically a street which marks the start of the Royal Route. The literature billed it as being historically very important and lined with palaces and whatnot, which kinda sold me.

There was an unexpected bonus find along the way.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier


It is located under the arcades of what was left of the Saski Palace after the Germans blew it up. Amazingly, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider survived

It is located under the arcades of what was left of the Saski Palace after the Germans blew it up. Amazingly, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider survived

This was Saski Palace! The next few photos are from Krakowskie Przedmieście street.

There are several black benches with a button that if you press 'play' broadcasts a short piece from Chopin!  (He studied music in Warsaw.)

There are several black benches with a button that if you press ‘play’ broadcasts a short piece from Chopin! (He studied music in Warsaw.)

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Freaky!

Freaky!

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The train to Torun took almost three hours. The main station here is on the other side of the Vistula to the main part of the city and I opted to make the half hour walk. I’m staying in the old town behind the city wall in a small hotel down one of the many small streets. Initially I thought I must be near a train track but later realised it was cars driving along the cobblestone road below my window. Blonde.

Hello Toruń!

Hello Toruń!

Distance walked: 10.85km and 10.38km

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Don’t know how you do what you do but all the pics are either fantastic or very depressing. Interesting city but the killing of the Jews is a terrible part of history.

    16 September 2015
    • I’ve thought about how to explain my interest in going to these sites. The subjects and back story are heavy but they’re not heavy on me. I have a burning curiosity to be able to see and feel these places and being there makes me reflective and occasionally aghast at the scale of what happened and the horrific loss of life – but not sad. Must just be how I’m wired.

      17 September 2015

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