The Russian Wedding Cake, Stalin's "gift" to the Polish people that they are still paying for
We got up this am to go and meet with a local guide who was going to show us around Warsaw. When I first met her I wasn't sure what to expect, she put me in the mind of Rosie O'Donnell with a mouth to match, lol. I don't mean foul just loud which was wonderful because at no time throughout the day did I have to be right at her side; I heard her from everywhere. She was amazing, if people were interfering with what she wanted us to see she definitely let them know; at one point she yelled at some kids who were sitting on the floor at Wilanow Palace for disrespecting the palace and shushed some other people who weren't listening to their guide.
You meet many guides on your holidays, local guides, guides of specific places etc, but she may have been the most knowledable guide I have ever had. She had such enthusiasm for teaching us about her country and Warsaw that I can honestly say it was probably her influence that made me have such a wonderful time in Warsaw and why it was absolutely my favorite city on my vacation.
That aside, Warsaw's history is crazy upwards of 85% of the city was destroyed during WW II but I couldn't tell what buildings were original and which ones were less than 60 years old. Evidently, they had paintings and pictures of the city before the war and they rebulit based on those. Warsaw is the capital of Poland but there are more Poles living in Chicago??? How crazy is that.
The red building was the only building that remained standing after the war in this section of the city.
We wandered all around Warsaw into the Jewish quarter or the site of the old Ghetto. Yolana, our guide told us about the 2 Polish uprisings one in 1943 in the ghetto which resulted in the ghetto getting razed. It is so hard to imagine what life must have been like when you could just be walking minding your own business and a Nazi comes by and shoots you dead. It is very hard to wrap your mind around this. Yolana went on to tell us that after someone was killed the families weren't notified until a pamphlet came out several days later with the names of those who had been killed. Inside the ghetto were pics of what it looked like before the uprising and after and there was nothing left except for one church that withstood all the bombings and fighting.
Another section of buildings that remained standing after the war.
Warsaw is full of monuments to things but the monument in the ghetto and the Warsaw Uprising monuments were very moving to me. The 1944 uprising lasted 63 days and resulted in 16,000 soldiers deaths and upwards of 150,000 civilian deaths. The Polish fighters would go into the sewers to try and escape the Nazi's and part of the Uprising monument we saw has a man lowering himself into the sewers. It didn't take long for the Nazi's to find them with disaterous results. Right outside our hotel is a memorial to 102 Poles who were executed by the Nazis in 1944, right outside the front door, I can't even imagine.
In amongst all of the WW II history I learned that day, I also heard much about Chopin and his legacy in Poland.
The pretty park.
We visited Tazienki Krolewskie a beautiful park to see the Chopin Statue. On a very light note there was a "grass policeman" patroling around who would scream and yell if anyone were to put a foot on the grass. This of course caused many giggles on my part and also made me think ot the " toilet police" who won't let you in lest you have correct change. Ah the memories, lol.
We then headed to the Old Town Square which was absolutely gorgeous!! Had an amazing chocolate/cherry torte and then did some shopping for my ever present postcards, lol. I also bought this really cool necklace made of leather for my friend's birthday.....although I still haven't seen her to give it to her so ...... lol. Later that afternoon we headed to Wilanow Palace and alas no inside pics which then just fed my fury to buy a postcard of EVERY room we visited in the palace.
Entering the park.
Yolana went with us and knew about everything inside, she even got us into a room they were getting ready to close so we could see this beautiful ornate desk. The palace was owned at one time by King John II Sobieski and (how cool is this) once the royal line died out the Polish people elected their king.
On the way back to hotel I was talking to Yolana about how she remembers everything and how long it took to become a guide etc. She said that to be a guide at Wilanow she had to take various classes and such for a year before she was able to get the license to take tours thru. She also said that she has to register and if you want to give guided tours at another facitily you have to follow that facilities rules for classes as well.
Why don't my pansies look like this??
She also said that growing up in Poland even tho the Russians left the city in 1989 they were actually still had barracks in the forest outside of Warsaw until 1997 but they didn't come into town and no one seemed bothered by their presence. She also said that many Poles can't tell you what was worse the Nazi occupation or the Communists, and in actuality Stalin killed more Poles than Hitler and it wasn't until years later that he admited that he had killed people and blamed it on the Nazi's. I was very sad to see Yolana go; she had sooooo much knowledge and you could tell she loved sharing it. Again, I truely belive that is the difference in how one feels about a place. Warsaw was by no means the prettiest of the cities we saw but there was something about it that I just fell in love with.
Inside the park and the heavily protected greens.
The Polish people as well, I mean in my opinion if there is a nationality of folks who could be just miserable it could be them. Poland didn't exist for 128 years or so before WW I because Austria, Germany and Russia decided to split it up, they regain their independence in 1918 and lost it again in WW II and don't become free of others rule again until 1989. But, the Polish people were so nice and pleasant, always willing to help you to pronounce something, always willing to answer questions you had (and they made change in the toilets :) Now I'm not saying everyone is like that but for the most part both Warsaw and Krakow were just filled with people who seemed to want you to enjoy their country and them.
Later in the evening we headed back out to the Myslewicka Palace to hear a Chopin recital, which was magical. After that we headed back to the hotel had some dinner a couple of beers and finally had to call it a night when I heard a bluse/jazz/ballad version of Come on Eileen in Polish, lol.