Warsaw, Day 1

I just got back from a trip to Poland – Doug attended a conference and I went along to do tourist stuff. The conference actually arranges for tours, though I had plenty of time to explore on my own. (It’s was same conference that took us to Beijing two years ago). I didn’t have any sort of preconceptions about Poland, or Warsaw, which was nice. I mean, I think I’d have preconceived notions about how awesome places like Paris and London are. But not so much Warsaw. I was pretty open to figuring out Warsaw on my own and I think it worked out pretty well. It’s a city with a lot of heart and courage. It went through SO much during WWII. The city was 85% destroyed and they lost 80% of their population, largely because they tried so hard to resist Hitler and the Nazis. And then they went from Hitler to living under Stalin. The country itself has not existed several times throughout its history; it was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria in the early 19th century, for example. Poland only regained its independence (from the Soviets) in 1989 or 90. So modern day Poland is very young. That said, I found Warsaw to be a very pleasant city with lots of great restaurants. And there was a lot to see, since the city has been rebuilt. It did seem like every building had a sad story to go along with it though, and I found myself mimicking Jerry Seinfeld’s shaking of fists and saying “Newman!” – except with “Hitler!” Aside from generally being evil, Hitler was also just plain spiteful and dynamited much of Warsaw in punishment for their last attempted uprising.

Despite having so much sad history, the people of Warsaw seem to have kept their (black) sense of humor. The tourguides we had would say things like, “Poland’s soccer team isn’t bad. They’re very bad.” And then complained about losing to the Germans. “We can’t beat them at anything!”

In regards to the giant building (The Palace of Culture and Science) Stalin “gifted” to the people of Warsaw (which purportedly took them 50 years to pay off), “We were lucky – we only got one! There’s like 8 of these things in Moscow!” As we were driving by it one day, one of the tour guides pointed it out, sarcastically calling it “Stalin’s gift.”

Also, apparently after the War, one of the first types of businesses to come back were florists. The people of Warsaw considered flowers to be as important as food and clothing. In fact, there are flower markets all over Warsaw and when we rode out to the country, all the houses in the suburbs and the country had gorgeous flower gardens.

Other than flowers, the other thing Warsaw seems to take seriously is its Chopin. Chopin was born in the country just outside Warsaw and lived in Warsaw as a child and an adult. He later left and wasn’t able to get back into the country (because of the fighting going on). Though he died in Paris, he wanted his heart to be in Warsaw. And so it is buried in a Church near where he lived there.

Anyway, that’s the overview – I’ll be posting a bunch of blogs of all the things I did and saw. All told, we spent 7 days in Warsaw and took 1 day trip to Krakow.

We flew out on a Friday night, through Munich. The flight there went pretty smoothly and I managed to nap for a bit.

Here’s sunset.
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And sunrise. This is our first glimpse of England:
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This is the French coastline:
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We flew sort of near Paris:
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Munich airport was pleasant, though warm. The AC was not on, if they even have it. Unfortunately they were having a heat wave and though we had a hotel with air conditioning, I spent most of the week being warm. I’d been hoping to escape the heat here, but not so much. :-/

We’d been hoping to find a Starbucks at the airport since I’d been practicing my order in German – but sadly it was outside security so we couldn’t easily get to it.

Our second leg was on Lufthansa and it was fun listening to the announcements in German. The plane had two seats on each side, so we didn’t have to have an extra person in our row, which was nice. And we’d ended up in the last row, which ended up being pleasant, because our seats actually did go back and we had a nice amount of room.

Pretty soon we went from rolling German countryside with square fields, to the Polish countryside which had longer, rectangular fields. Everything looked nice and green.

We had no trouble getting our luggage and catching a cab to our hotel in Warsaw, the Westin. It turned out to be a pretty good place to stay because it was a tall building and there was only one Westin, so all the cab drivers knew it. They also had free breakfast and though the wifi was only free in the lobby, as long as your connection stayed connected, the wifi worked in our room. That was pretty nice. I only used it on my phone and that was enough to keep me in the loop on things. I was even able to use skype! Our room was really comfortable. And we had three stations of Olympics to choose from, one in Polish, one in German, and Eurosport, which seemed to mostly have British announcers. One of whom had an awesome Scottish accent. More on the Olympics later.

The elevator in the Westin:
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The view from our room:
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The hotel from the outside:
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The area around our hotel:
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There was a Starbucks a few blocks from the hotel. yay!
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We asked for restaurant recommendations and were told there were good Greek, Polish and Italian places near the hotel. (Actually, we never figured out which Italian place they meant.) We tried Greek for dinner since it was closest. They had the Olympics on!
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The food was amazing – we had a shrimp appetizer:
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I had moussaka and Doug had some sort of lamb dish with cheese:
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The food was terrific!

They are building a lot of new tall buildings in Warsaw:
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They’re also putting in a second subway line, so there was one whole street that was completely dug up.

Our hotel was pretty close to “Stalin’s gift,” the Palace of Culture and Science. I read in one tourbook that Stalin was really taken with the Empire State Building and actually sent spies over to study it. And that this building was influenced by it. Kind of funny that this monument to Communism was inspired by a monument to Capitalism.

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If nothing else, the Palace is so visible that it made a good landmark when navigating the city.

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Misc building:
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Pretty sunset:
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And that’s the end of our first part of a day in Warsaw!

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