Day 16 – Warsaw (10/5/23)

Bright, sunny and chilly start again.

We started the morning with a tour of bits of Warsaw in the coach, with commentary from Adam, one of the tour guides that were with us today. All very comfortable, but, although it was being explained very clearly, there was once again far too much information to make any real sense of.

Poland has had a very chequered history. It didn’t have much of a chance, squeezed as it is between two entirely different cultures – Germany in the west and Russia in the east. For 123 years,  it didn’t exist at all as a self governing country between 1795 and 1918, divided between Germany, Austria and Russia. It produced the first written European constitution in 1791, but that only lasted four years before it was taken over again.

Its history can be traced back to the mid 10th century, with a succession of kings including the aforementioned Sigismund III, arguably the best of a pretty mediocre bunch.

Poland regained its independence in 1918 as a republic, but came under Communist rule after World War II. It got its freedom in 1991 after the fall of Communism, and is today a flourishing economy of around 38 million people.

All of this means that Warsaw is a city of contrasts. Much of the greyness of the Communist regime has been replaced, but the wide streets preferred by that administration (so they could run tanks along them to suppress rebellions) are much in evidence.

Communist building. It’s huge. Now the Ministry of Culture or some such
Nike, the goddess of victory. Me neither.

Our first stop was a very pleasant park dedicated to the Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin, born 1810, died 1849, a tragically short life.

Monument to Chopin
A closer look. It’s very peculiar. Looks like some raptor is standing over Chopin, but apparently it’s a tree!

Our excellent guide, Agnieszka (I think), told an extraordinary story about Chopin that I did not know. He knew he was dying – he was always in poor health and was living in Paris at the time. He summoned his sister, Ludmyla, and asked that she take his heart back to Warsaw after his death. Appalled, she nevertheless sought ways to bring this about. How the heart was removed is unknown, but she preserved it in a large jar filled with cognac!

She managed to smuggle it into Warsaw underneath the vast skirts ladies wore in those days, and it is buried in the Holy Cross church in Warsaw.

In 2014, a clandestine group of scientists and church people dug it up, ostensibly to check the container. They actually found that the heart was in great condition, proving (of course) beyond doubt that alcohol is good for the heart! 🤣

This park is alongside Bellevue Palace, once inhabited by the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, who died in 1798.

Statue of Józef Klemens Piłsudski, Polish prime minister from 1918-22 and regarded as the father of the Polish Republic
Belvedere Palace

Back on the bus again. We ended up in the Jewish Quarter of Warsaw.

Poland had a very large Jewish population – over 4 million at one stage. The Nazis accounted for over 3 million of them – much the largest proportion of Jews murdered. The death camp at Treblinka massacred the biggest number.

Now only about 15,000 Jews live in Warsaw, a city of over 2 million people spread over a very large area.

Jan Karski, who is remembered for assisting the Jews and reporting their plight in the run-up to World War II
Memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 1943, when the Jews mounted resistance against the forced transports to the death camps. They knew victory was impossible, but wished to go down fighting. Unfortunately, the Nazis then enacted massive reprisals which just hastened the murders
The amazing Polin museum. Inside, there is an exhibition chronicling the whole history of the Jews worldwide. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit
Another memorial to the Warsaw uprising

Harrowing stuff.

A short bus ride, then, to the Old Town. This was a most attractive area.

Here we said goodbye to our coach driver, Michael, who has been with us since Prague and has been absolutely stellar, both in terms of his driving skill and his helpfulness. Top man.

City walls
House where Marie Curie was born
Old Town Square
Mermaid representing victory. Me neither.
Young lad carrying an owl. As you do.
This is a UNESCO World Heritage site
Showing some of the wartime devastation in this area

This whole area was completely devastated by the Nazis in 1944 when they realised the war was ending and the Russians were on the other side of the river. The amount of rubble was enough to have built a skyscraper more than twice the height of the Twin Towers in New York.

Miraculously, the Polish people have reconstructed this lovely area in an extraordinarily short space of time, using materials from the rubble and finance from the people of Warsaw, raised by additional taxation. The first restorations were completed by 1953, nine years after the war ended. Truly fantastic.

St John the Baptist Church with a picture of Pope John Paul II to the right
Reconstruction of a palace. Never used as such, it’s a museum today
King Sigi again

We were then left to our own devices, so we wandered off to find some lunch. Settled on an open air café in warm sunshine, where we had a nice snack and some nice wine.

Chicken salad

Back to the hotel to start packing as we fly home tomorrow, but we decided to investigate the enormous square directly outside our hotel, as it contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Prince Josef Poniatowski. Read about him at
Foundations of the Saski Palace, blown up by the Nazis. This is a major reconstruction project.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Information boards around the Saski Palace foundations
The tomb itself, with two guards. The guard changes every hour on the hour and the flame is kept alight
New guards on their way
The actual guard change

It was at this point we noticed a small park behind the tomb. We had a look around.

Polish flag. Highly appropriate.
Wonderful late tulip display

We then had a look at the information boards around the Saski Palace foundations. Interesting.

Our hotel. Excellent.
These are all lit, but you can’t really see in the bright sunshine. It’s in front of the monument described below
On 10th April 2010, a Polish Air Force jet crashed near the Russian Town of Smolensk, killing the President of Poland, his wife, and several senior military officers. There is a commemoration ceremony EVERY MONTH on the 10th – we got caught up in it this morning. Seems a bit over the top, but the Poles love a ceremony

Final act in Warsaw was to go out for a meal in a restaurant called Selavi. Geddit? C’est La Vie? Oh, never mind……

Anyway, it was very good, and there was a party of Americans on the same trip on the next table, who were in a good humour, despite the fact that some of them had to be up at 3 a.m. to get their airport transfers. A great way to finish.

Our transfer is at a reasonably civilised 9 a.m., so I’ll report on how that went. In the meantime, good night.

3 responses to “Day 16 – Warsaw (10/5/23)”

  1. warsaw looks so lovely and clean very attractive buildings

    1. Yes – I showed the best part of the city, but the citizens have done a lot to improve it after the drabness of the Communist regime. The Old Town was amazing.

      1. Yep – family get-together at a pub in Cambridge to celebrate Jean’s 70th and the birth of our new granddaughter in about 3 weeks or less.

        Next trip to south-west Spain in late June.

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