We were on the train from Berlin to Warsaw and had the good fortune to be sharing our compartment with a very friendly German group. Not only were they friendly but that had mistaken us to be much younger than we are which, despite us trying and failing to correct them, was a nice bonus! They too were off to Warsaw and they were visiting for a week. Their views about Warsaw were similar to what I had heard from others; not as nice as Krakow, bit ugly etc etc.
I have never ever been to Krakow so I cannot comment about the merits of Krakow vs. Warsaw, but I can conclude after our very brief visit to Warsaw that we really liked it. Yes, it isn’t the prettiest city in the world and yes it is a bit “gritty” but somehow there was still an appeal to it. The streets are wide, the people are friendly and the city had a relaxed vibe to it. To top that it was also incredibly affordable and our costs plummeted from what they had been in Germany.
As I mentioned above it was a very brief visit indeed. We were there for only 2 nights but we managed to pack a lot in during that time. The first night we wandered along the river towards the old town. Along the river there were numerous bars and restaurants as well as people everywhere just relaxing on the steps soaking up the warm evening air. It was at this point I declared to Alan that I wished we were staying longer, the atmosphere was so relaxed and it felt good to be strolling through there.
Then we hit the old town. The old town is in fact all new. It was completely destroyed during WWII by the Nazi’s. Hitler was infuriated when the people of Warsaw attempted an uprising against the Nazi occupation in their city. He ordered that all citizens of Warsaw should be killed and the city destroyed. This resulted in the deaths of thousands of people which was only halted when the Nazi’s decided to deport the citizens instead to work camps. The old town was levelled. Post war the old city was rebuilt and the important buildings were reconstructed to look like they had pre-war. Again, walking around there was a really relaxed atmosphere and it just felt good spending time there. In fact we spent the whole of the rest of that evening wandering around, pausing to people watch and just taking our time over exploring the area.
The next day we went to the Warsaw Rising Museum. This excellent and very informative museum was opened in 2004 and if you are a history buff such as myself I would highly recommend going to see it if you ever are in Warsaw. I did find it quite harrowing to visit, the stories of the lives that had been destroyed not only by the war but also the post-war recriminations were moving. I do believe though it is important that we learn about such events, even if it is difficult to hear.
After the museum we were in serious need of something a bit lighter to do for the rest of the day. We headed up the Palace of Culture tower. This was a “gift” from the Soviet Republic to the people of Warsaw and it towers over the city as a Stalinist icon. The view from the top is amazing! It was even more amazing as our visit coincided with a thunder storm so we could hear the rumbles of thunder rolling around above the city intercepted with flashes of lightening.
Then we wandered back slowly to our hotel having had a really good day in Warsaw. Sadly our time was up as we had to catch a bus at 6am the next day to Vilnius. I definitely want to go back to Warsaw in the future to spend more time there and who knows, maybe our next visit to Poland we might squeeze in a visit to Krakow too…