May 01, 2013

Backpacking Europe Part VI: More Warsaw

My apologies for the SUPER late post; it seems that I have re-acquired the habit of procrastinating. :(
My last weeks onsite were spent walking around central Warsaw, trying to visit all the other tourist attractions and historical landmarks that I haven't gone to while living in Warsaw for three months.  Granted that Poland isn't THAT as magnificent when compared to its European neighbors, it also had its own share of rich history, both regal and somber.


Poland was ruled by monarchs up until the 16th century, when the country underwent various conquests and was divided up into different parts.  For at least a century, "Poland" as a nation ceased to exist, and the lands were claimed by neighboring countries.  Isn't that tragic?

There are two major castles-turned-museums that are open to the public; fairly easy to go to via public transport. These are the Royal Castle and the Wilanow Palace.

The Royal Castle

The Royal Castle was the official residence of the Polish monarchs, much like how Malacanang is to the president of the Philippines.  It is situated in the middle of Old Town, right next to a huge... well, in the Philippines we call it a plaza, but I think the correct term is a castle square.

Note that, as with the other structures in the Old Town, the Royal Castle is NOT the original castle as it has been rebuilt after Warsaw's destruction during World War II.  Still, there are a lot of artifacts that were preserved, worthy to view.  In these websites you can find information on the museum hours and ticket rates, and I think it will be helpful to note that admission is free (on certain areas) during Sundays.

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Left: One of the chandeliers in the Royal Castle.  Amazing how they are able to retain the details.
Right: Tourist viewing the paintings in the Royal Castle.  Artwork is impressive there, too. 

Wilanow Palace

Wilanow Palace was built for one of the Polish monarchs (I think).  This palace is larger in floor area than the Royal Castle primarily because of its courtyard, which supposedly is beautiful during the spring or summer.  Too bad I went there during late autumn, so what welcomed me is a depressing vastness of grey. Boo.

This palace is situated somewhere on the edge of the city center, but is still commutable by bus.  Museum hours can be found here, and ticket rates here.  The Palace is supposedly free of charge during Sundays, and the Park on Thursdays, but during my visit the palace was closed off (probably because of some renovation--a lot of those were going on during may stay, maybe because they were preparing for the Euro Cup) so all I got to do was to roam around the forlorn courtyard.

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Left: Wilanow Palace from the front.  That is one HUGE lawn,
and there are cherry blossom trees scattered, but none of them are in bloom. Boo.
Right: Sculptures in the courtyard.  Next to balding trees and shades of grey, the coutyard looks haunting. 


Warsaw was badly destroyed during the Nazi invasion that culminated in the Second World War, so it isn't unusual to see reconstructed structures of castles and forts erected within a stone's throw away from landmarks commemmorating the tragedy of the war.  I actually found it a bit fascinating to see the stark contrast between Poland's majestic past and tragic history, in forms of monuments and memorials.


This memorial was erected on what once was the northern border of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, where Jews were made to assemble themselves before boarding a train that would take them to one of the concentration camps (i.e. "death" camps) during the Holocaust.

From afar, this memorial looks like a railorad freight car.

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Left: This memorial is erected in ul. Stawki
Right: An ode to the unnamed Jews, who unwillingly sacrificed their lives, is written on the walls in different languages. 

Krasinskich Square

In this square stands the Warsaw Uprising Monument, erected near the former entrance of an underground sewage used by the local militia to go about the city.  The Warsaw Uprising is a courageous, albeit futile, attempt of the Poles to expel Nazi Germany from Warsaw.  Fought between August and September 1944, Warsaw eventually lost to the Germans when Hitler was able to send reinforcements.

As punishment, civilians were executed and the nearby Old Town was destroyed, block by block.

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Left: The monument is placed next to the Supreme Court.
Right:  Across the street is the Field Cathedral of the Polish Armed Forces, and nearby is the Old Town. 

Memorial to the Heroes of Warsaw Ghetto, Monument for the Fallen and Murdered in the East, and The Warsaw Ghetto Wall

There are numerous memorials and monuments scattered all over the city center, as tribute to the heroes of World War II and other post-war invasions.  A few I was able to visit stood merely a few blocks away from my apartment.  What I was most interested to see were the actual remains of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto.

In a nutshell, the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto is an area within the city spanning 3.4 sq. kilometers, where at least 400,000 Jews were forced to reside during the occupation of Nazi Germany in Poland.  A brick wall as tall as 3 meters was erected at the borders to prevent the Jews from getting out.  Here, Jews were forced to live under the most inhumane conditions--average food rations limited to 184 calories per Jew compared to the 699 calories for the Poles outside the Ghetto and the 2,613 calories for the Germans residing in Poland.  From the Ghetto, at least 254,000 of the Jews were *relocated* to the extermination camps.  The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto was established in October 16, 1940 and was destroyed on May 16, 1943.

Presently, there are about three sections of the Ghetto wall still intact (one of which is at ul. Zlota 62).  As for the remnants of the borders, markers can be seen throughout the city.

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Left: Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto.  The images depict the Jews marching to the death camp.
Middle: Monument for the Fallen and Murdered in the East.
This monument was erected for the victims of the Soviet invation, post-WWII.
Right: A piece of the Warsaw Ghetto Wall.  This gave me chills the first time I saw it. 

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The ghetto wall is perhaps the most compelling piece of history I've ever laid my eyes on. 


On a brighter note, Warsaw has been preparing for the UEFA EURO 2012 (the European Football Cup), where they are hosting (together with Ukraine).  Poland has offered Warsaw and Gdansk to host some of the games, and in preparation for this event, a brand-spankin' new stadium has been in the works since 2008.

The stadium has a seating capacity of 58,000, the largest in Poland, and is situated by the Vistula River (quick fact: Vistula River is the longest river in Poland that starts way up in the north and virtually cuts the country in half).  The colors of the stadium is, of course, the Polish white-and-red.

I wasn't able to go into the stadium during my stay, but I was watching the videos of the matches, I kept thinking to myself, "Kelan kaya magkakaroon ng ganito ang Pilipinas?" With the Pinoys enthusiasm for football starting to reach a fevering pitch (thank you, Azkals), I think it's about time we start planning to have a stadium of our own. Y/Y?

It's so bright and sparkly!!!


Yeah, I think I pretty much exhausted all of my last years' onsite assignment experiences in this six-part series.  Better late than never, they say. :)  So, what's next for me and my forsaken blog?

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