Warsaw wasn’t originally on our list of European destinations, but once we looked at how cheap the train tickets were, we decided to go for it. I am so glad we didn’t skip it. Warsaw’s history is fascinating, sad and uplifting. We learned more about the Polish people here, and found how resilient they are. Time and time again, Poland has lifted itself up from ruins and the evidence is in the city of Warsaw itself. Once referred to as the Paris of the East, Warsaw was completely destroyed by bombs in WWII and what didn’t get destroyed by bombs was destroyed by German military with demolition – leveling the city completely. Stories emerge of Heroes saving rare paintings, artifacts and more from museums, castles and places with cultural meaning. There is also stories of the uprising, underground armies fighting against German rule. Post WWII, efforts began to rebuild the city. When government said they didn’t have the funds, the Polish people rallied and volunteered to rebuilt sections of the city, including the famous Warsaw castle. We admire the city of Warsaw and the people who live here.
How We Got There and Around
We took a train from Berlin to Warsaw. We packed a lunch and a bottle of wine and enjoyed a relatively quiet 6-hour ride.
In Warsaw, we ended up renting bikes to get around for 95% of the trip. We rented bikes at the Veturilo stand. The stands are everywhere and everything is done through an app. At times we rode the bike for less than 20 minutes, in which case it was a free ride. If it was more than 20 minutes we had to pay a little bit. We believe that for the four days we were there we spent about $5USD on bike rental. The only problem we faced was at times not finding an available bike. Steve would use the app to find the nearest bike stand with available bikes, we would rush there to see someone taking the last bike, or that the bikes there had flat tires. The issue wasn’t a big one, but could be a bit annoying. The city itself is very bike friendly, with paths and lanes.
One evening we went to get a bike when the machine was having issues. It was actually a blessing in disguise because as we were messing around with it we felt a few rain drops. Not giving it much through we continued to mess with the machine and try and rent two bikes when seconds later hail emerged from the skies with full force. We had to run 50 feet to nearest metro station to seek shelter. We originally waited to see if the storm would pass, but we determined it would be a while. We decided to take the metro to our destination. The ticket machine was a bit confusing as you have to buy it in “minutes”. Rides less than 20 minutes, rides more than 90 minutes, etc. Not knowing how long it would be we picked the cheapest 20-minute ride. The signage was simple and the metro cars were very nice. The metro line is relatively new there, which is probably why they were so clean and nice.
Where We Stayed
We had an awesome AirBnb in the city center. It was a 15-minute bike ride to Old Town and close to many restaurants and grocery stores. It also had a washing machine!
Our Favorite Eats
Polish food is one of Steve’s favorite! Hearty food consisting of meat, potato’s, eggs and cream – whats there not to like? Did you know that bagels started in Poland – already, I am a fan! I have to call out one of our favorites:
Pierogi – This dumpling dish is so tasty. We often ate it Russian style, which meant with potatoes and cheese. We also bought them in the store and would pan fry them.
What We Did
Palace of Culture and Science – This iconic building opened in 1955 during Soviet rule over Poland. It was actually originally called “Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science”, but was the name was removed later after gaining independence. Although there are mixed feelings about the building (considering it was built under Soviet oppression), it serves as an office building, cinema and a science museum today.
Saxon Garden – A public park that opened in 1727. Two palaces once existed here including the Saxon Palace, but were destroyed by the Germans in WWII. Our highlights include the Fountain, the marble sundial and the various statues. The sandstone statues are quite interesting. They were made before 1745, 70 total. Many of the sculptures were sent to Saint Petersburg Summer Garden for safekeeping during the Kosciusko Uprising in 1794, with 37 remaining in the Saxon Garden. Today only 20 exist.
Tomb of the Unknown Solider – Technically still part of the Saxon Garden and like many other Tomb of Unknowns, was created after WWI. This is the only part of Saxon Garden that survived untouched by WWII. The eternal flame is constantly lit, as well as the tomb being guarded by the Polish Army with a changing of the guards every hour. Also quite fascinating is that soils from various battles the Polish Army have fought in have been added to the urns.
Presidential Palace – Built in 1643 and frequently remodeled, this is one of the few buildings that survived WWII. The Germans of course used it for their government officials during WWII. We weren’t able to get a look inside, but found it to be sophisticated outside.
Castle Square – A very popular tourist spot! Just outside the castle, this square is host to many local vendors and street performers. It also serves as a place where political functions happen, such as Bill Clinton’s speech welcoming Poland to NATO in 1997.
Sigismund’s Column – The column stands in the middle of Castle Square, and pays tribute to King Sigismund III Vasa who is credited to moving the capital of Poland from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596. The column was destroyed by the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising. After WWII, the column was replaced with a new one (although the old column currently sits next to the castle).
Mały Powstaniec Statue – A statue dedicated to the children who fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising (WWII). The statue is simply beautiful and hits the point hard about children fighting in wars.
Old Town Market Place – The center and oldest part of Warsaw. After a failed uprising, the German army destroyed the entire area with demolition. After the war, many people worked hard to restore it to the Pre-WWII look. In the center of the market place is the famous Mermaid Statue, which is the current coat of arms for Warsaw. Steve and I enjoyed eating and drinking at some of the many restaurants here. The area is beautiful and pleasant.
Warsaw Uprising Museum – This museum is dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising Movement and Polish Underground, all taking place during WWII. To be completely honest, I didn’t remember much about Polish history of WWII, so this museum was a great place to start. I had NO idea how really complicated the situation was. The uprising started in August 1944, and with no assistance from the Allied forces. Why didn’t the Allies help? Soviet Union did not give Air clearance to the British until much later in the uprising. By then, the damage was done, and Germans still remained in Warsaw. In fact, after the uprising, the Germans were ruthless and destroyed most the city including the castle – just to punish the Poles. What’s worse, after the war, most of the soldiers who participated in the uprising were prosecuted by Soviet forces for bogus claims such as fascism – and ended up disappearing or being executed.
The museum itself was pretty good, but I did have a few concerns. The English translation for some of the exhibits were pretty poor. The flow of the exhibits was a bit confusing and sometimes out of order. Other than that, the exhibits were informative and emotional. The museum had interactive areas too – such as a recreated sewer. Outside the museum was a memorial wall. Steve and I found someone with Steve’s family name (on his mother’s side) “Pasikowski” now we will have to do the research to see if he is related. If you are ever in Warsaw do not miss this museum and plan for 2-3 hours.
The Royal Castle in Warsaw – The castle was originally built in 1619, once the capital moved to Warsaw from Kraków. Even after royal rule, it served as the governing house for the President. During WWII, the Germans destroyed the castle after the Warsaw Uprising. After the war, civilians worked together to fund and rebuild the castle (and this was during Soviet rule). The castle reopened in 1984. Today, over 500,000 people visit the castle annually. The castle was built to replicate its original look, using a lot of the same stone and decorations. The self-guided tour included movies that discuss the history of the castle (pre WWII, during WII and Post WWII), artifacts from the royal families that ruled here (art, jewelry, fine china, etc.), and visits into the rooms of the castle. Most of the rooms looked pretty similar to how they were pre-WWII which shows just how talented the artists were in remaking the castle. We enjoyed our time here and spent about 2-3 hours.
Łazienki Park – A 17th century Baths park, that became a public park in 1918. Steve and I spent two hours exploring this park. We saw the palace on the isle, the stage on the isle (with a peacock), the old orangery, monument to King John III Sobieski, and the Chopin Statue.