We almost didn’t make it out of England! If you’ve read our blog about London, you surely understand by now that we are the kind of tourists that always ask for directions. This is where a smart phone would have made our life much easier… Thanks to the poor indications at the London bus-train stations and the agent, eager to get rid of tourists, who we had asked for directions, we got on a train rather than a bus to get to the airport. Upon our arrival at Stanstead airport, we were trapped at the station as our ticket was for a bus and not for the train we took and the clerk at the gate asked us to pay again. So, we tried in vain to reason with him with no success. As we were really close to miss our plane, Simon talked to the manager. Either Simon’s charm made effect, or that she really wanted to get rid of us, but we managed to convince her to let us pass and arrived in time to catch our plane.
As soon as we landed in Poland, the stress dropped a notch. We were immediately charmed by the relax atmosphere of Poland, ease of transportation & the beautiful landscapes, we fell under the spell of Warsaw. We still had a little culture shock arriving in Polish soil, a mixture of letters we didn’t know about that formed words & a series of unusual consonants in French-English was waiting for us, worse yet nothing was translated to English. We had a very nice apartment near a University, the Metro and all the services. The rumor that the food in Poland is the least expensive in all Europe is well founded. A dinner for the four of us cost us less than $20 or $30 when we ate in a higher end restaurant while the pitcher of beer costs us only $5. The grocery store it is even cheaper, a 5 litres of water for $0.50, a big dark chocolate bar $1, 1 liter of Vodka for $7.50. Buying food in Poland, is like shopping in a fine food grocery in Canada, but at the price of the dollar store. We also found a few interesting articles not found in Canada (see pictures). To finish off with the food part of the blog, we have eaten plenty of pierogis, some pork knuckle, sauerkraut and Polish typical desserts that are actually a type of “New York” cheesecake and a kind of Apple Pie.
The Poles are really interesting people. For a reason still unknown to us, it felt like there was many young people (36 years and less) and “hum” older people:) (55 years and older) but very little in-between. The older Poles do not speak English and most of the younger Poles speak a basic English but were very happy to communicate with us and help us find our way. We believe this is caused by the fact that the Poles started to learn more English after 1989 at the end of the URSS. Young Poles are in general good looking, are biking a lot and we think they all smoke cigarettes (Simon has a theory that this is why they are all so thin). We appreciated people in Poland and they had nothing to do with the sad reputation of the girls from the East, cheap and desperate to marry Americans and Canadians to get their citizenship.
We have done a lot of activities and our few days in Warsaw were very busy. We learned a lot about this country that has been the one of the most affected country during the WW2. Between the Bolsheviks who wanted the assimilation of Poland (before, during and after the war) and the Nazis who worked toward the elimination of all Poles, this country has a history of resistance and incredible resilience. Which brings us to tell you about the Museum that we preferred and not to be missed if you are visiting this great city, the Uprising Museum. It is a very recent Museum which opened with the permission of survivors. It describes the situation of Poles during the war, without hiding or nuancing anything. Very well done, the Museum can be visited by people of all ages, more violents videos are easy to manage for the parents of curious children. Without telling you what everything of the museum is about, what we learned and that struck us the most was the story of the resistance in Warsaw. The Warsaw resistance which from the Interior have greatly helped to defeat the Nazis in Poland, or at least helped slow down the genocide committed by the enemy. We also understood how the fate of this country after the war was sealed on the sly by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, without even consulting the Polish representatives. How Stalin was continuing the assimilation of Poles and the elimination of the “influential” Poles and Polish heroes from the Insurrection (killed or sent in the Russian gulag). We have also been overwhelmed by the role of bravest heroes of the resistance, children, as young as 10 years old who helped pass messages between the pockets of resistance inside the ghetto. They had to sneak through the combat zones and crawl in stinking sewers to accomplish their mission. Too many were killed by the Nazis. Although we walked out troubled after this visit, the fact that a nice Polish outdoor bar was annexed to the Museum (and the micro brewery had $1.25 pint of beer) helped us to return to the more modern, young and dynamic Poland.
Warsaw was hit hard during the war and about 85% of the entire city was destroyed by the end of the war. Most of what we see today was built post-war under a Communist regime, so there are lots of block apartments and very few individual houses. In addition to the Uprising Museum, we visited a beautiful park, the Łazienki Park where we could see the Water Palace which was the summer residence of the last King of Poland. We spent several hours walking in this park with a magical atmosphere and observed dozens of scattered sculptures. We could even visit the old Orangery and the Royal Theatre. In that same park, we got a chance to spend time in beautiful gardens and contemplate the monument erected to the memory of their beloved child, Frederic Chopin.
We spent a day in the Old Town and visited the majestic Royal Castle of Warsaw which was completely destroyed during WWII but was rebuilt to replicate the old castle thanks to the work of eminent professors who studied & analyzed the drawings and paintings of the castle done before the war. Today, the castle houses again some magnificent works of art rescued from the war or recreated. Castle Square is in the heart of the Old Town, it’s very lively with street artists and musical performances for the pleasure of the tourists. It was very pleasant to walk in the pedestrian streets of the Old Town and we took the opportunity to let the boys have some fun in a little park we found. We had a great time walking in the remains of the streets and walls of this medieval town.
We visited the Art and Industry Museum (vestige of the Soviet era) that we have mistaken for the Sciences Museum, oops. Although this was obsolete as a Museum, we were able to see an exhibition on Enigma (cipher machine of German origin used during WW2) which has been deciphered by Polish mathematicians. Despite everything, we all agreed not to recommend this museum.
We can say that even though Poland went through the war and the Soviet years, it is a country that has given themselves the means of their ambitions by creating several beautiful attractions, offering a modern and efficient transport system, several bike paths and even bicycles to rent for adults and children (helmets not included). If your travels bring you in Poland, Warsaw deserves to be visited just as much as Krakow. You’ll find a great city with fewer tourists and where the cost of living is even a little less expensive than Krakow.