“In Poland? Why are you going to Poland? What’s there to see? But you are going to Auschwitz, so sad… “
Each spring I travel my yearly, I would say traditional, “solo” trip to East Europe (read about Montenegro in 2017), more or less misunderstood by friends and colleagues, that’s why even more full of surprises. Mine will be the “classic” tour: Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz / Birkenau and Wielicka salt mines.
A Saturday in Warsaw
With a very low-cost Ryanair flight (30 euros) I land in the late evening in Warsaw Modlin. Midnight has come but no carriages with horses are waiting for me, so I go to one of the ticketing machines and for 19 zloty I clearly buy the wrong bus ticket. First fun adventure: instead of the airbus crowded with Italian and Spanish tourists, I find myself on a bus with only locals! The driver is fantastic: speaking only Polish he is able to explain to me that, after reaching Modlin railway station, I will have to take a train on platform 2. On the train, a kind lady explains me where to get off, not before asking me if I had already made the ticket… first taste of the spirit of the place, gentle but iron in compliance with the rules!!!
My hostel, the Warsaw Downtown Hostel, is close to the Palace of Culture and Science, so my first friend with Warsaw is with the “Monster”, as the Poles call it, the hateful gift made by Stalin to the city in the Thirties. Close to it, a little jewel that I will visit the next day: the Fotoplastikon, one of the few stereoscopic theatres left in the world, which let you see vintage three-dimensional photos (I have seen Amazing photos of old Dutch cities).
The day after will be the only one dedicated to Warsaw: therefore, a tour de force in a city bravely risen from its ashes, sprinkling in the sun of April.
I start from the New City, completely destroyed and rebuilt after the Second World War, and I cross the first historical scar, the Warsaw Uprising Monument, commemorating the tragic revolt of the Polish National Army against the Germans, tragically failed in 1944.
Then I enjoy its many churches: from the Church of San Casimiro in Piazza del Mercato, where I meet a school immersed in a life drawing lesson, to the Church of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, attacked on August 31st 1944 by a German bombing, that killed the nuns and more than 1.000 civilians who had taken refuge in the crypt.
I reach the Vistula river and I can relax a bit at the Fountain’s Park, where locals and tourists are enjoying the sun (I will return in the evening for a beer and the show of the colorful fountains). I cross the Barbican and here I am in Stare Mesto, with its Castle and, above all, the amazing Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Market Square), surrounded by the characteristic Renaissance and Baroque style buildings, with the statue of the Little Mermaid, that is said to be the sister of the little mermaid in Copenhagen.
Also worth to see the Square of the Royal Castle: in the centre, the column of King Sigismund is standing, erected in honor of Sigismund III who played an important role for the city, since he moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596. Really amazing the crypts of St. John’s Cathedral, where the Dukes of Masovia, presidents and artists, including Sienkiewicz, the author of Quo Vadis, are buried.
Last stop of the day is the famous Jewish quarter of Warsaw (Muranow, so named after the island of Murano in Venice), that gathered here the largest Jewish community in Europe, more than 300,000 people, 30% of the city’s population. Here the Nazis established the Ghetto, separated by a 3 meter high wall, and here the famous revolt of 1943 took place, which ended with the total destruction of the neighborhood and massacre of the citizens. Today only a Soviet-style neighborhood remains, and the amazing POLIN, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews: a huge exhibition that tells more than a thousand years of Jewish history in Poland in a completely interactive way. There is even the reconstruction at natural format of a neighborhood street with shops, cinemas and bars, (see the photo below). It’s Saturday, unfortunately I have to give up the visit to the cemetery, but the adventure is going on…