Sunday, 17 March 2013

Day 3 - 7th March 2013

Today was our last full day in Warsaw, and as we had done the modern side of the city, we decided to concentrate on the Royal Way and the areas around the Old and New towns. Confusingly enough, in addition to the modern part of town as defined by the 'Śródmieście' (City Centre) and the areas around the Central Station, Warsaw also has both an Old Town (Stare Miasto) and a New Town (Nowe Miasto). Due to an unfortunate aberration in history, the New Town is actually older than the Old Town. Confusing, I know.

Old Town Square in Warsaw
This unfortunate state of affairs came about due to a certain Hitler's imperialist and territorialist ambitions over Poland (in addition to many other European countries) and resulted in Warsaw being completely decimated during World War II, such that there was nothing left of Warsaw's historic architectural legacy and what it once was, except for a bunch of photos. Fortunately, these photos were taken as historical reference points and through the 1950's right up and including to the 1970's, Warsaw was slowly put together to look exactly as it once had, honouring it's architectural legacy and pride as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Rather than making Warsaw a tragic place to visit, bearing this in mind only serves to make it more fascinating, and results in an attachment between the visitor and the city unusual in many other cities on the continent and overseas.
Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy) in Warsaw
Walking around the Old Town itself is a real pleasure, particularly when you get to the Main Square (Rynek Starego Miasta). It is much smaller than many other main squares in Poland, which is ironic given that this is the capital, but it is important to remember that this is a medieval square that was originally built in the 15th and 16th centuries. The fact that it has been built to almost exactly the same standards before is a credit to Poland's architects and to the sense of character and beauty that architects of the original period also had. The town houses and tall buildings will be immediately familiar to many people who have seen other European capitals, but those of Warsaw's old square are that much smaller as to be almost like a model village, yet one that is living and breathing in it's own right. That alone makes it somewhat special. Dotted by cafes, restaurants and a few tasteful souvenir shops, Warsaw's original town has risen from the ashes like a phoenix, both commemorating it's tragic history and looking to the future with passion and enthusiasm.

Traditional Polish crafts on sale in the Old Town
For me personally, one of the highlights of the main square is a man who sits in the centre, playing an organ with various tunes and ornaments dotted around it. He is quite clearly meant to appeal to tourists, but somehow he just fits, and you can buy a unique postcard from him and have your photo taken for the mere sum of 1zł each (20p). This simple yet pleasurable pasttime harks back to the past whilst reminding younger people of the traditions of yesteryear that still hold meaning for Poland now, and hopefully also in the future. Such a simple thing is often missing from squares in the centre of London, for instance.

Traditional Polish food in the New Town

Following a pleasant stroll around the main square, we made our way to see the New Town, by way of a detour of an exhibition of the Old Town then and now, showcasing pictures and videos of the area both before and after the war. This made an interesting aside on the way to the New Town, which is very similar to the Old Town except the streets are wider and there is more space, yet still with that familiar sense of evading the modern whilst still embracing it sufficiently to remain relevant in the 21st century. We stopped off to eat here in a restaurant called 'Zapiecek', where I was served with traditional Polish soup with grilled sausage in a silver bowl with a candle underneath to keep it warm whilst you serve yourself several times. This was accompanied by wonderful Polish bread that is very different to that in the UK, and in my opinion much tastier. Following this I enjoyed a coffee and traditional Polish apple cake - all of which came to the princely sum of less than £6.
A Metro stop representing modern Warsaw
As we had done some significant sightseeing at this point, we decided to take it a bit easier and gave Dad a ride on the Metro to the last stop, where there is a tram terminus and Dad could spend some time taking photos. Instead of taking the Metro back the way we had came, we got on a tram that took us through some of Warsaw's northern suburbs. It is here, unfortunately, that the darker side of Communism can still be seen in the uniform grey apartment buildings that dot the landscape. Undoubtedly, this is not the only side there is to Warsaw's suburbs, but it is here that the incidence can most keenly be felt. On the way back we stopped off at another modern shopping centre to pass the time before heading back to the hostel. I would later on meet my friend with whom we would share a drink and catch up on the time since we last saw each other. A pleasant end to a pleasant day.

Link to day 4:

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