Warsaw: One City with Two Faces
As Poland is located next to Ukraine, which is now battling the Russian invasion, I felt some skepticism about visiting the country. On the other hand, I was excited to see and experience firsthand the life of ordinary Poles.
Poland is a country with a rich and complex history. The country is a fascinating tourist destination with plenty of attractions to offer, from natural beauties and architectural monuments to vibrant cultural festivities and delicious cuisine.
Warsaw is named the European Best Destination in 2023 according to Polish Tourism Organization, as a major cultural, economic and political hub. It is located on the Vistula River at the crossroads of Central Europe. Known as “Phoenix City”, which generally refers to it reconstruction from ashes time and time again as the city was completely destroyed many times through history; but each time it was rebuilt from the ground up. After the World War II bombings, the revival of the city was based on the blueprints of the Renaissance era. Visitors will find the rebuilt structures fascinating, as they appear like magnificent mirror images of paintings on display in the National Museum of Warsaw. Every destination has a must-see significant charm that allures visitors.
Warsaw offers a compelling blend of past and future, with its reflections of East and West. The city has restlessly evolved with buzzing energy and optimism to transform into a vibrant modern metropolis.
With a population of under two million inhabitants, Warsaw gives the feeling of an open space and pleasant environment compared to other more populated European cities. Although nurturing cultural and traditional spirit, the city offers the convenience of a modern efficient and affordable public transportation system comprising buses, the metro and trams.
The city is a blend of ancient and contemporary designs, with modern high-rise skyscrapers to blend in juxtaposition to the historical Old Town. It seems the aged city poses two faces to be explored and appreciated. Most downtown skyscrapers were built in the 1990’s. The Vistula River runs through Warsaw, and a cruise following the riverside promenade offers a spectacular view of the city skyline.
The most significant place to explore in Warsaw has to be the Old Town. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, it is a must-see attraction. It features colourful buildings, charming cobblestone streets and the iconic Sigismund's Column. The Old Town Square offers a window into the golden days of the city and symbolises Warsaw’s rise from the ruins of World War II. The Mermaid of Warsaw stands in the square as a symbol of Warsaw, represented on the city's coat of arms.
A stroll down the Old Town’s memory lane offers interesting places to explore. The Warsaw City Walls still encompass the Old Town. First raised between the 13th and 16th centuries, and rebuilt in the 1950’s, the Royal Castle is a beautiful palace that served as the residence of Polish monarchs for centuries. Now it is a museum that showcases the history and culture of Poland. Another informative highlight is the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which tells the story of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, a significant event in the city's history. It features exhibits and multimedia displays that bring the uprising to life. First constructed in 1370 and rebuilt in 1957, St. John's Archcathedralis, a Roman Catholic church, is another highlight of the Old Town precinct.
For classical music lovers, a visit to the Frédéric Chopin Monument is to be appreciated. There is a large bronze statue of the master that stands in the upper part of Warsaw's Royal Baths Park (also known as Łazienki Park). There are 15 benches with button access to Chopin’s music spread around the park. His heart was buried in Warsaw although his body is interred in Paris. Free classical piano concerts run every Sunday in the park from mid-May to the end of September. The expansive 17th century park is one of Warsaw’s unparalleled highlights. With its vast area spreading over 74 hectares, the simple city park is a marvellous place for a walk. Visitors can choose to visit the palaces and museums within the compound.
One of the most recognizable landmarks in Warsaw is the Palace of Culture and Science. The building has an observation deck that offers panoramic views of the city. It was a gift from the Soviet Union before its demise. Poland was never a republic of the Soviet Union but was under its control Russia. In 1989, the first democratic election was held and a new standard of living was achieved in Poland for what was good for the country.
Polish cuisine has a rich and diverse history which dates back to medieval times. Throughout the centuries, it has been influenced by its neighbours. The food scene in Warsaw is vibrant with a variety of traditional and modern restaurants.
Polish cuisine is often mentioned by most visitors to Poland. In Warsaw, visitors can find Jewish restaurants, Ukrainian eateries and outlets that offer northern Polish dishes. One of the most famous is “Pierogi”, which are boiled Polish dumplings filled with different stuffing. The more popular ingredients are meat, cheese or vegetables. Other notable dishes include stuffed cabbage, “gołąbki”, when cabbage leaves are stuffed with “kiełbasa”, a type of sausage, and rice. Another popular dish is their Hunter’s Stew, “bigos”, made from sauerkraut, various meats and spices. Soups are featured in Polish cuisine, and a wide variety are on offer. An example is beetroot soup, or “barszcz”, often served with small dumplings.
There are a few Polish drinks worth mentioning. Without a doubt, the most famous alcohol is their vodka, or “wódka”, in Polish. Others include “Bimber”, a Polish moonshine, and “Mead”, made from honey.
For shopping, handicrafts and ceramics are popular souvenirs. Amber, often known as ‘The Gold of the North’ or ‘Gem of the Baltic’ because of its beautiful colour, has long ties with Poland.
Warsaw is a fascinating city with rich history, beautiful and monumental architecture and a vibrant culture. All visitors will not be disappointed as there is something for everyone.