Poland, Travel, Warsaw

Old Town, World War and Chopin| Warsaw|Poland

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What makes Warsaw different from the rest of the Polish cities is the confluence of various events that have left their mark in the architecture, monuments, culture and language of this historically rich city. From the Polish monarchs to the rise of Hitler and the subsequent fall of the Soviet union, Warsaw has been through it all – making it an ideal location to go back in time and witness the tumultuous past that has scarred the nation for many many years. In one of my travels across Europe, I found myself in Warsaw, walking past the Saxon gardens, cobbled streets, pastel buildings and open-air cafes. It was March and Warsaw was enshrouded in the cold, dark and barren winter months. I knew this was going to be a different kind of experience and as it turns out, I was right.

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Saxon gardens
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Tomb of the unknown soldier

Walking my way towards the old town square, I crossed the presidential palace and stopped for lunch at a Polish dumpling joint. The faint notes of Chopin’s Fantasie impromptu could be heard all around the place and the entire town square was drowned in the prowess of his melancholic and passionate composition. Born and raised in Poland, Frédéric Chopin is heard in every nook and corner of the city and is still hailed as one of the most influential composers of the Romantic era.

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Towards old town

The Royal castle in Warsaw is one of the primary attractions of the city and lies in the premises of the old town. It served as a royal residence to the Polish kings from the 16th to the 18th century and is an open museum that was rebuilt from scratch at the end of the second world war. It houses a large number of invaluable artefacts that were hidden from the Germans during the invasion of Poland. At the centre of the town square, lies the Sigismund’s Column that marks the change of the Polish capital from Krakow to Warsaw. Much of the city was destroyed during the war and this charming old town bears witness to the Warsaw that is now bygones.

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Sigismund’s Column

Closer to the old town square lies the old town square market that is similar in colour, structure and gaiety to the other countries of central Europe. On a day with warmer temperatures, the market square is the centre of Warsaw’s activities and hosts a large number of restaurants, street arts and exhibitions throughout the year. In December, the square becomes a bustling little place for tourists and the famous Christmas market attracts visitors from all over the city. During my time there, I was not so lucky and was greeted with wind-driven rains and deserted streets; the unceasing winds and scattered showers lowered the temperatures and kept people indoors.

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Old town square market

Even in the midst of icy winds and bitter rains, someone was playing the Raindrop Prelude, Op 28 in the old town market square. I have heard the composition many times in the past but never have I heard it in the birthplace of Chopin on a freezing, wet and rainy morning. His music can bring out the best in almost any situation and those 20 minutes of rain, accompanied by the sweet melody of the prelude lit up an otherwise empty, cold and sombre town square.

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In Warsaw, the atrocities of the war can be seen and felt at large. Europe was at war and Germany, Italy, France, Britain and Soviet Russia made pawns out of the smaller nations of Central Europe. The Polish fought bravely against the German invasion of Poland in 1939, but was ultimately defeated which led to its capture and occupation by the more powerful German forces. Through war memorials, edicts, tombstones and the POLIN Jewish museum, Warsaw tells tales of the death, destruction and devastation inflicted on the lives of numerous Polish citizens during the war.

Close to the National Archaeological Museum lies a monument dedicated to the Battle of Monte Cassino erected in Carrara marble. A unique structure, this 12-metre column represents a headless Nike and honours the Polish soldiers who had fought with the Allied forces against the Germans. The five emblems at the bottom of the monument represents the five Polish units that took part in the battle. A Polish eagle, a figure of Mother Mary and an urn containing ashes of the fallen heroes also adorn this disfigured structure.

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Monument to the Battle of Monte Cassino

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The POLIN Jewish museum is constructed on the site of the former Warsaw ghetto and contains the possessions of the Polish Jews that were stolen from numerous families but were never returned to their rightful owners. If we are to believe the frightening reports, the holocaust resulted in the death of three million Polish Jews and exterminated 90 % of Poland’s Jewish population.

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POLIN museum

Walking through the Łazienki Park on a bleak and frosty winter morning, the bare and eroded trees took many shapes and the impending gloom gave rise to visions of the series of unfortunate events that befell the country, its land and its people. A city that has seen the rise and fall of various empires, Warsaw warns us of the repercussions of an ever increasing need for power, greed and ambition – lest we forget and repeat the horrifying occurrences of a brutal and unforgettable past.

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Łazienki Park
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33 thoughts on “Old Town, World War and Chopin| Warsaw|Poland”

  1. What a beautiful post! I felt like walking with you and history. Poland took the maximum brunt of ww2, that must be a real hell back them. But today its totally different and all physical ugli marks have been erased. I have been to Poland once and I like the people of Poland. Btw Great pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Raj,
      Yes, you’re right. The wounds of war are almost completely gone and the city is once again alive and welcoming to tourists. Contrary to the recent reports on Poland, I found the people very friendly and engaging.
      Thank you for reading and for your words of appreciation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Leah, wonderful write-up and images. It’s good to go back and read history of events like this; and being thankful for the recovery of the area. We sometimes don’t actively remember the sacrifice of so many who want their freedom and to live a peaceful life. I think back and wonder how many lives could have been saved had peace-loving countries risen to the occasion much sooner; although I don’t think Hitler would have altered his pursuit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ron,
      I totally agree with you. As for Warsaw, I noticed that it has been rebuilt from scratch but there are strong remnants of the war that makes the city melancholic at times. If you have time, do go over the article below. It talks of one of the smaller nations (then Czechoslovakia) and analyses the extent to which they could have stopped the war. It is titled ‘heroes or cowards?’
      https://www.radio.cz/en/section/special/heroes-or-cowards-czechs-in-world-war-ii

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How did I miss on all these insightful posts on this site for so long.
    Leah, you write about places in such an exquisite manner that one is but forced to travel on the roads about which you write. This post is amazing!!!
    Thank you for writing these posts. For people like me, who do everything but seldom travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the main reasons why I love writing is because I get to visit places twice! I am delighted to hear that you feel this way. Your appreciation keeps me motivated. I wish you many wonderful travels in your life ahead. Best. Leah

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If/when you have the time, visit Krakow too (if you haven’t already). Its a LOT like Prague, but smaller, more intimate, and in my opinion it preserves the wonderful old-town character better than PRG, as it hasn’t been yet conquered by the hoards of tourists as Prague is (unfortunately) experiencing. It almost feels like you are in some alternate universe there, one where time stood still a bit longer than it has for Prague.

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      2. Ah! Thank you for your recommendation. No, I haven’t been to Krakow and would love to go there someday. Prague is way too crowded for me and I try and avoid the maddening crowd as much as I can. Still, I like being here and the people are nice. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, the deluge of tourists and hustle and bustle, especially if you live or have to travel around the central area of Prague can be pretty frustrating – Krakow is no nest of tranquility either but it is a lot more “slow” than Prague, at least it was couple of years ago when I spent few days there.

        Happy travels 😊

        Liked by 1 person

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