From Vilnius, I headed south by bus towards Warsaw, Poland's capital. The distance is about 468 km (292 miles), the longest of the three bus rides that I took on this trip. Similar to the rides through the Baltic countries, the road condition from Vilnius to Warsaw is very good. Again there is no passport control at the border since Poland is also in the European Union. The weather continued to be warm, with a small chance of showers in the forecast for my first morning in Warsaw.
Poland is much bigger geographically and has significantly higher population than each of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Located in Central Europe, Poland's population is about 38.5 million people. Its official language is Polish, and its official currency is the Zloty. Warsaw, Poland's capital, is a sprawling city with about 2.8 million people.
After having spent about a week in the more relaxing Baltic capitals, I kind of braced myself for the bustling pace of an urban centre. Fortunately, I arrived on Poland's Children's Day, Friday, June 1, and most of the local residents were enjoying the long weekend so Warsaw was quieter and had less traffic than normal.
WARSAW'S TOP SIGHTS: Click on the photos to enlarge them.
Warsaw Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has suffered almost complete destruction during World War II and survived. Today it's a bustling tourism hub with its cobbled streets, reconstructed medieval buildings, and lots of Polish eateries and shops.
At the entrance to Warsaw Old Town, the Royal Castle, the former residence of Polish kings, is located in the Castle Square. This massive brick building is a copy of the original blown up by the Germans in World War II.
|The Royal Castle, Warsaw, Poland|
A covered walkway links the Royal Castle with St. John the Baptist Cathedral. Originally built in the 14th century, St. John's is steeped in history. The last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, was crowned and eventually buried here. The details in the stained glass windows are simply amazing.
|St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Warsaw|
|Stained glass in St John Cathedral|
The Old Town Market Place is the centre and oldest part of Warsaw Old Town, with a mermaid statue. This medieval square was blown up by the German Army immediately after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and was reconstructed after World War II.
|Mermaid statue in Warsaw Old Town|
|Warsaw Old Town Market Place|
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument dedicated to the unknown soldiers who have given their lives for Poland. It is open 24 hours, and the guard is changed every hour.
|The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw|
|Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier|
The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes is a memorial that honours those who died during the unsuccessful Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
|The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes|
|Green park space in former Warsaw Ghetto|
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a museum on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The Hebrew word Polin in the museum's English name means either 'Poland' or 'rest here'. Within walking distance from the museum is Umschlagplatz, the departure point for Jews transported to Treblinka, with a memorial to the more than 300,000 dead. I'd encourage visitors to spend time exploring this neighbourhood and visit the museum which has a beautiful interior design and excellent exhibits.
|POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews|
|POLIN words on the glass panes|
Lazienki Park is the largest park in Warsaw. Lazienki was acquired by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski in 1764 and transformed into a glorious park complete with palace, amphitheatre, and various buildings. Within the Lazienki Royal Gardens, there is a massive bronze sculpture of the famous Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, Frederic Chopin. It was here that the brief rain showers caught up with me and you can see the rain bubbles in the reflecting pond below the Chopin statue.
|Chopin Statue in Lazienki Park, Warsaw|
If you're a Chopin music fan, the city of Warsaw has brought Chopin to the people by placing fifteen musical benches at key sites connected with his life. Made of cast iron and polished black stones, these Chopin benches feature a button which when pressed play a thirty second of Chopin melodies. They also come equipped with a route map, brief explanations in Polish and English as to the site's relevance to Chopin, and a bar code which when scanned, you'll be rewarded to free access to Chopin music, facts, figures, and photographs.
Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Poland. It was constructed in 1955 as a Soviet 'gift' to the people of Poland. With 3,288 rooms, if one was to stay in a room each night, it would take about nine years to go through the building.
|Palace of Culture & Science, Warsaw|
In addition to exploring Warsaw historic centre, I also took a side trip to visit Wilanow Palace, known as 'Polish Versailles'. The Wilanow Palace is one of the most important monuments of Polish culture. It was built in the late 17th century in Baroque style as a summer residence for King Jan Sobieski III. It survived the two world wars that swept through Poland and has remained unchanged from the 17th century to the present day. I'd encourage visitors to spend at least half a day to visit the Palace, its lovely gardens, and surrounding park.
|Wilanow Palace, Warsaw, Poland|
POLISH CUISINE & UNIQUE SOUVENIR:
During my stay in Warsaw, I had delicious dishes at the various eateries. I remembered to take photos of the beet salad, soup, and dessert but forgot to take photos of the pierogies (filled dumplings)!
If you're into shopping for souvenirs, there are many shops in the Old Town. Something unique is the striped flint stone usually designed with silver. Amber is also popular here.
I greatly enjoyed my first visit to Warsaw, Poland. It's truly remarkable that Warsaw has not only survived virtual destruction at the end of World War II but thrived. As a result, there are many fascinating neighbourhoods and landmarks to explore. Although I chose to walk when I was there, Warsaw has two subway lines, an extensive bus and tram network, and some dedicated bike paths. Excellent museums are available to interpret its complex history, from the tragedy of the Jewish ghetto to the joys of Chopin's music. I hope you enjoy reading my trip recap and viewing my photos.
Did any of the information or photo surprise you? Would you add Warsaw to your list of cities to visit? I would love to hear your thoughts.