Here are some photos from my first-ever trip to Warsaw, Poland. I dropped in for two nights in mid-July of this year during a rather extended European heat wave. Happily, my Novotel room was nicely air-conditioned.
Here's a view of Warsaw's gigantic 1950's era Palace of Culture and Science from my 15th floor window. The guides usually say that one should begin any visit to Warsaw with a trip up to the Observation Deck of this so-called "gift" to the Polish people from Stalin.
Here's the view looking south-east, back towards my hotel and the city beyond! Not especially attractive, I'm afraid.
More evidence that the city in general is rather, well, ugly. This view looks west from the Palace of Culture and Science, with a large shopping mall and office complex in the bottom-left corner. Much of the area to the west was part of the Jewish ghetto set up by the Nazis during World War II.
Much of the border of the Jewish Ghetto has been marked for posterity with inlaid bricks as seen below, similar to the Berlin Wall outlines that one sees nowadays marking the old boundary between East and West Berlin.
There is very little of the original Ghetto wall left. This one section remains in the courtyard of a housing unit, and one sees the ever-present Palace peeking over in the distance.
My favourite part of Warsaw was the Kazienkowski Park, a former royal park now open and free for everyone to explore. I enjoyed the bits of forest, lagoons, sculptures, and pathways. It was a pleasant place to wander around on a hot summer's afternoon. Peacocks make their home here, and are fun to watch.
How can you resist a park that features a bust of Caligula? I guess he would have been an improvement on a lot of the folks who invaded this city.
My other Warsaw highlight was in the newly-rebuilt Old City, which had nothing to do with the buildings. It was a hose laid out as a sprinkler for folks to get some relief from the heat wave. It was wonderful! I'd love to see that sort of thing in other cities, especially my home town. Children would hop in, then run out squealing with delight. This little bit of Warsaw put a smile on every visitor's face.
I visited Krakow about five years ago, and I have to admit that it is a much more beautiful place to visit than Warsaw. It benefits, of course, from not being razed to the ground by Hitler's army. Although the apartment blocks, office blocks, and retail blocks of Warsaw seemed monolithic and charmless to me, there are still some nice places to explore in the city. The Nowy Swiat "royal route" is chock-a-block with high-end cafes, nice restaurants, and a brewpub or two. At the north end, the Old City features a number of rebuilt churches, public squares, and cobblestone laneways. The city appears to have a very good transit system. I enjoyed hopping on and off the trams that seem to form a web from the inner city, and Warsaw's single-line subway system is in the process of being expanded with the Euro 2012 football championships fast approaching. There is a lot of construction going on in Warsaw, and I do hope that the architecture of the next generation is more imaginative and attractive than that of the past few decades.
NEXT: Mid-Atlanticon! A Meeting of Curmudgeons!