Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

CAPITALIZING ON THE CAPITALS: Central Europe

CAPITALIZING ON THE CAPITALS: Central Europe

Old Oct 21st, 2015, 07:52 AM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Nov 2014
Posts: 281
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Very great report: loved your impressions of Krakow, which is very much on my list. And your context of your disturbing but important visit Auschwitz was very well done. It's probably not a place I would ever visit so I was grateful to get a portrait from your report.

Excited for Warsaw and Berlin, especially Berlin since I could have gone earlier this month but elected to visit Bruges and Brussels instead.
inspiredexplorer is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2015, 10:43 AM
  #42  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Inspiredexplorer, thanks for your comments on our TR! Although Auschwitz was definitely an emotional low point, overall we had great experiences on our trip. Krakow was among places we really liked.

Hope you enjoyed Bruges and Brussels!
tomarkot is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2015, 11:53 AM
  #43  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 10,318
Likes: 0
Received 21 Likes on 2 Posts
Great report. I've been to Dachau and Mauthausen-Gusen, so I know how you feel after visiting. Very sobering to say the least. That's why we opted for salt mines in Krakow instead of Auschwitz on our visit. Looking forward to the rest of the TR.
maitaitom is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2015, 01:42 PM
  #44  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 4,596
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
This is an excellent report, tomarkot. Impressive detail and clearly, moving experiences. I just saw an Anthony Bourdain show on Budapest and it looks lovely! I have never been anywhere in Eastern Europe but hope to see some of what you have described someday.
denisea is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2015, 03:03 PM
  #45  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,288
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Still enjoying your excellent report. I thought you did a nice job of writing about your emotionally difficult visit to Auschwitz.
Kathie is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2015, 03:22 PM
  #46  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Maitaitom, thanks for your feedback. In light of your experiences, we can see why you chose the Salt Mine Tour. Auschwitz was a one-off for us.

We especially liked Budapest and Krakow, and could see ourselves visiting those again. And the cities we visited going forward had their stimulating experiences and lighter moments! Stay tuned.



Denisea, so good to hear from you. Thanks for following along! Wish we could have caught that Anthony Bourdain show on Budapest. It is a great city!

One of the weirdest things on our trip was flying through Paris, but not visiting a city that we all love! But time constraints! We'll, no doubt, return before long.

We've really enjoyed following your wonderful trip to the AC! We have a couple of ideas for our next European trip. France, Spain, and Italy keep calling to us.
tomarkot is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2015, 04:20 PM
  #47  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 4,596
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Flip around on CNN and maybe you will catch it...better late than never. They showed New York Cafe and it looks so gorgeous and ornate...beautiful! My AC trip report is a mere sentence compared to this report!! I am surprised that you didn't bolt for the doors at CDG and into Paris....must be very strange to be there and not go into Paris.
denisea is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2015, 10:28 AM
  #48  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Denisea, thanks. I'll check out CNN videos of past shows!
tomarkot is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2015, 06:27 PM
  #49  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 3,769
Received 19 Likes on 4 Posts
Great writing, Tom, many thanks.
Adelaidean is online now  
Old Oct 29th, 2015, 02:01 PM
  #50  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
NOTE: Earlier in our TR, we noted that we had missed the beauty of the Tatra Mtns. while en route from Budapest to Poland, because of inclement weather. This past week-end more than made up for it as we experienced the brilliant colors in the Smoky Mtns. of Tennessee and North Carolina.

So. . .now we're back to our TR.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 10, 2015 WARSAW,POLAND EXPLORATION

Pt. 1 Overview of Warsaw; Historical background;
Lazienski Park; Old Town

Warsaw’s Sheraton was even nicer than the one in Krakow! It was very conveniently located in the area of many Embassies, the contemporary US Embassy being one of the more attractive. There were ample nice restaurants nearby. And it was just a few steps to the famous street, Nowy Swiat.

We felt energized for the day from that plentiful hotel breakfast spread. At 8:15, we joined Olga, our Warsaw guide, and were off to tour Warsaw, of which we had only scant knowledge.

We knew that it was home to such renowned people as Copernicus the astronomer, Marie Curie, a pioneer in radioactivity, Chopin the pianist, Roman Polanski, the film director, plus many others. But we were to learn so much about this important city.

Our morning with Olga began with a coach overview tour of Warsaw, the largest city in Poland, as well as its capital. It was much more expansive than we realized! And decidedly modern and clean. It was very helpful to enhance and expand what we knew about Warsaw’s background with Olga’s insights.

Warsaw stands along both sides of the same Vistula River which flows through Krakow, and empties into the Baltic Sea in the north. Its greater metropolitan population is almost 2.7 million, making it the 9th most populous capital city in the EU. Today Warsaw is considered an “Alpha” global city, a significant cultural, political, and economic hub, as well as a major international tourist destination.

Like Budapest and Krakow, Warsaw experienced the harrowing violence against its people by the Nazis, as well as the follow-up Soviet domination. Additionally, 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were bombed at the end of WWII. No wonder that the city was described as a “pile of rubble”.

Considering the widespread destruction Warsaw suffered, the re-building we witnessed all around was amazing. Warsaw’s economy has been growing rapidly. Industries such as metal processing, steel and electronic manufacturing, and food processing, to name but a few, along with tourism, are contributors to this growth.

Warsaw has become a significant center of research and development, and has a highly developed media industry. We learned that Warsaw, together with the cities Frankfurt, London, Paris and Rotterdam, has the highest number of skyscrapers in Europe. As we toured, we noticed the interesting architecture of the buildings; many very contemporary.

Warsaw boasts two opera houses, and multiple theatres, museums, libraries, restaurants, entertainment venues, a large sports’ stadium, and many educational institutions, including the Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Warsaw.

It has large, ultra-modern shopping malls. We learned that in 2012, the city was ranked as the 32nd most livable city in the world. Of course, we don’t know the criteria for the rankings, but even to be mentioned seems quite remarkable. Its suburbs are sprawling.

Warsaw’s history, which began in 1313, had seen an almost constant barrage of outsider attacks, take-overs by neighboring countries, partitions, wars, etc. Its topography is so flat that countries such as Russia and Prussia, and later Germany, have just barreled across it with ease. Over the years, Warsaw has had only short periods of independence from foreign rule. In the early 19th century, even Napoleon declared Warsaw a puppet state of the First French Empire.

In 1939, the German invasion included the massacre of the Jewish, as well as the Polish population, with untold numbers of deportations to concentration/death camps. All of these atrocities led to an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Though the Jewish people fought fiercely, they were ultimately crushed by the Russians.

In 1944, as the Red Army was approaching the city, the famous Warsaw Uprising was undertaken by the Polish. This fight for freedom also resulted in defeat and major losses. Thousands were killed in their attempts against the Soviets.
Several memorials and monuments throughout the city are dedicated to those gave their lives for freedom.

Warsaw gained the title of “Phoenix City” because it rose out of destruction and survived so many wars, conflicts, and invasions throughout its long history. Due to the devastation of the city by the Nazis, contrary to the end-of-war settlement terms, 8 out of 10 buildings were destroyed. Warsaw required massive, painstaking rebuilding. Although most of the city has been rebuilt, there are areas where vestiges of destruction are evident.

At the end of WWII, Soviet troops entered the ruins of Warsaw, and “liberated” the Poles from German occupation. The Soviets eyed Warsaw as an important “satellite” city for them, and began a “Bricks for Warsaw” building campaign. Many of the historic streets and buildings, and, we were surprised to learn, churches, were restored to their original form.

The citizens would soon learn that for them “liberation” following WWII meant something different than to the Communist regime; that is, the Soviets demanded total control and submission to the state.

Although life for the citizens was very constricted and restricted, the Soviets continued the reconstruction of the buildings. Large prefabricated housing projects were erected, along with other typical Eastern bloc (ugly!) buildings, a far cry from the former elegant styles reflecting gothic, baroque, or renaissance architecture. Some of these Soviet style buildings still exist.

The crowning glory of the Soviet reconstruction was building an impressive structure known as the Palace of Culture and Science. It was touted as a gift from the Soviet Union and was dedicated to Stalin. Designed by a Soviet architect, it was modeled partially on a building in Moscow. However,its height was required to be less than the grand model in Russia, so as not to compete with the capital. In the afternoon, we toured some of the interior of this massive building, and learned more about its use after Communism.

The heavily Catholic population of Poland, estimated at 98%, pushed back against Communism. The strong influence of the former Archbishop of Krakow, later Pope John Paul II, along with that of Lech Walesa, who initiated the labor union protests in the shipyards of Gdansk, encouraged the people to persevere in their cause of freedom.

A pivotal point was a “pilgrimage to Poland” by the Pope, during which he held open-air Masses in Warsaw, as well as in Krakow. At those Masses, attended by thousands, he encouraged the people to “Stay strong.” The Pope supported Lech Walesa in the early 80’s when he led labor strikes against Communism. The movement he began, called the “Solidarity Movement”, spread and received the support of millions of citizens.

The Communists feared this widespread growth of Solidarity as a serious threat. In reaction, they began to move small military units into towns and villages, under the guise of helping with food distribution. They pretended to be helpers to the people, but their purpose was to gather intelligence. University professors, among other professionals, were asked to declare their allegiance to the government or to Solidarity. The “wrong” answers brought imprisonment.

Late in the night, between December 12 and 13, 1981, tanks moved into the cities, and roadblocks were set up on bridges and intersections. Tens of thousands of Solidarity supporters were dragged from their beds, arrested and jailed. Some were killed. Martial Law was declared. Posters announcing it were everywhere. Solidarity was banned, although it continued to exist underground.

Olga described her experience as a child of waking up on that December morning in 1981 when, to everyone’s shock, the TV, radio, and phone did not work. Schools were closed. Parents sent their children to the church to find out what was going on. Unfortunately, they quickly learned the grim news that Martial Law had been declared! Great fear spread among the people at the increased military presence, and anxiety that many of their already limited freedoms would be removed.

Olga’s emotions became more intense as she described how this Martial Law declaration occurred just before Christmas. Even though her family had little money, their plans to celebrate the holidays with their relatives in a nearby town, were forbidden. Additionally, prices for staple goods rose. Poles became desperately poor.

Passports needed for travel outside the country were held at the police stations. The people needed to apply each time for permission to travel outside Poland. Often there was a 2-3 month wait for approval.

The news of the imposition of Martial Law by the Soviets unleashed international outrage and protests. A famous picture of a tank located near an important building in Warsaw was secretly smuggled out and the world was shocked.

For three years the Polish Communist leader, Jaruzelski, and his regime were shunned by the West. This caused their already failing economy to further decline. The Soviets were heavily spending on the military and policing, causing more great hardship on the people. They froze production of civilian goods. This period of Martial Law lasted until July,1983.

It was with all this as a backdrop that Mikhail Gorbachev was faced with the facts of a failed Communist system. He laid the foundation for a recognition of Solidarity leading to a gradual move toward elections. A few years later, Lech Walesa was elected President of Poland. The countries of Hungary and Czechloslovakia soon followed Poland in conducting elections.

The Soviet Union’s gradual collapse was between 1989-1991, but its official date is December 31, 1991. One historian described that the transition to democracy took 10 years in Poland, 10 months in Hungary, 10 weeks in East Germany, and 10 days in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

What Olga had conveyed to us from her own life experience as we toured the city helped us gain more insight into Warsaw’s tumultuous past, and made our visit to the present day Warsaw more meaningful. The thriving city we witnessed was an amazing contrast with what we learned of its past. We were impressed by its modern growth and development, experiencing that it is truly is a “Phoenix City.”

We learned that about 25% of Warsaw is comprised of grand parks or royal gardens. We felt fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day to visit the largest of them, the famous Lazienski Park. It is located in the wealthy, kings-of-past living area. Walking only a short distance from the busy road into the park, the sounds of traffic are muffled.

In the center of this beautiful city park is a huge statue of Chopin, fronted by a large pond, complete with shooting water spouts, and surrounded by a rose garden. The park is well-groomed, with nice pathways and beautiful flower gardens. At one end, a castle overlooks a lovely lake. Olga teasingly told us that the park had “royal” grass; very green and attractive, with signs all around amounting to, “Stay Off!” We had ample time to walk around the park and take in the outstanding gardens.

Did we mention “traffic”? Being such a large city, it was interesting to learn that only recently was a motorway built, the fastest way from cities east to get west, as to Berlin. However, there is no circle freeway, so all traffic goes through the heart of downtown Warsaw. No wonder that we stopped for an earlier dinner the previous evening before plowing through the worst of it! Plans are in the works to complete motorway around the city by 2019.

Continuing on our exploratory venture, we eventually reached the Old Town, which had been rebuilt from rubble following the Nazi bombings. We did some walking/touring of the area. Fortunately, paintings depicting panoramic city views of baroque Warsaw, done by a Venetian painter named Bernardo Belotto, were preserved. These were the main documents which showed the original Old Town, from which they could reconstruct it. It is amazing to see what an unbelievable job was done in restoring it. In 1980, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We first enjoyed a leisurely walk around Castle Square and saw the beautiful Royal Castle. In the center of the square is a tall columnar monument to King Sigismund III. We learned that he was an important figure for the Warsawians, as it was he who moved his court and the capital from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596.

In the reconstructed Castle Square is also a Cathedral, the large open Market Square, palaces, churches, and mansions all displaying a richness of color and architectural detail. Restaurants and cafes surround the Castle Square. There are homes with intricate woodwork and colorful facades. Stone masons were completing a cobblestone area. And something we thought unique: some granite benches surrounding the Castle Square with recordings of Chopin’s music imbedded in them, activated by just pressing a button. An instant concert!

After enjoying the Castle Square, we walked down a small connecting side alley to the Old Town Square, with its rebuilt Barbicon Tower, and the defensive wall. The Old Town Square is also surrounded by many small shops and eateries, with colorful umbrellas adding to the atmosphere. Erin the TD treated all of us to one of their famous jelly-filled donuts. (Tasty, but definitely heavy! The calorie count goes up again!)

Returning to Castle Square by way of another little alley, we passed something unusual: a pharmacy whose “sign” was cut-outs of white pills suspended like a mobile; no wording. All along the way were little shops selling their wares.

It was that time again: lunch! The only decision was the choice of one of the many little sidewalk cafés. Not all were open as yet. We settled on a restaurant with a nice patio. We chose a three-meat soup, which was quite good, especially after the waitress told us that the mushroom and Polish noodle soup, which was our original choice, was “not so good” and wrinkled up her nose.

At lunch, we experienced a strange incident: a homeless guy came by on the walkway. Our table was on the end, by a wrought iron railing partition. A man approached us, we assumed to beg for money. But he was apparently so hungry that when he saw Margie’s remaining soup, he grabbed the bowl and finished the rest of the soup…Wow! Talk about desperate! And a bit disconcerting for us! He quickly left before we could offer to buy him any more food.

Following lunch, we made our way to a coffee shop. Two cappuccinos, and we were ready to meet Olga for a continuing tour of Warsaw.

Stay tuned for Pt. II
tomarkot is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2015, 07:32 AM
  #51  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 10,318
Likes: 0
Received 21 Likes on 2 Posts
Excellent. I don't know much about Warsaw, so that was vey interesting. I like green spaces in a city, and it looks like with the parks and gardens (Tracy alert...must go), Warsaw fits that bill. Looking forward to more.

maitaitom is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2015, 07:51 AM
  #52  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,288
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
This is a wonderful report - thank you! Looking forward to more.
Kathie is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2015, 04:12 PM
  #53  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Adelaidean, Tom and I appreciate having you along in our travels.

Maitaitom, thanks for your nice comments. We think Warsaw appreciates its short window of nice weather to enjoy their colorful gardens. Their winters are apparently bitterly cold.

Kathie, appreciate your continued following along with our trip. We're wondering if your trip (is it to Burma?) is coming up soon? If so, have a great time!
tomarkot is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2015, 08:15 AM
  #54  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
To our readers: I apologize for the delay in completing Warsaw. Life happens! So on we go. We hope you continue along with us. Thanks!

WARSAW
Pt. 2 Palace of Culture and Education; Jewish Ghetto;
Life Under Communism
Evening on the Town

Sipping those cappuccinos on Castle Square allowed us one last enjoyment of this beautifully rebuilt area. The atmosphere was enlivened by a trumpeter, where quite a crowd had gathered around him. We could have chosen to stay around the Old Town longer, and explore more of Warsaw on our own, but having Olga as a guide was so worthwhile that we decided to hang with her.

We continued our tour of the city. En route to the Palace of Culture and Science, we saw the Jewish Ghetto. It includes a fragment of the Ghetto wall, where the Nazis had crammed 1 million Jews, before many suffered the horrific fates which befell those in other cities. We saw remnants of the Jewish Cemetery, with an estimated 150,000 tombstones, the largest collection of its kind in Europe.

In Ghetto Heroes Square there is large memorial dedicated to all the Jewish people who perished. It was touching to see that there are flowers laid at the base of the memorial.

Spread throughout the city of Warsaw are many monuments commemorating those who gave their lives fighting in defense of their country. Specific monuments were focused on groups such as pilots or heroes of certain battles. The Monument of the Warsaw Uprising, a bronze tableau, is described as one of the most important monuments in Warsaw. One side is a relief of a group of insurgents and the other shows the persecution suffered at the hands of the Nazi German oppressors. In the midst of a vibrantly developing city, with a hint of European style, the citizens pay tribute to those who made this present-day life possible.

After viewing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we moved on to the tallest building in Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science, which has come to be an international symbol of Warsaw. In recent years, it has been floodlit at night. In 2010, LED lights were installed highlighting the building with various colors, changed throughout the year.

Having been built by the Soviets, originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science, there was talk of destroying it after the fall of Communism. It was later decided that the city would remove Stalin’s name, plus all signs, pictures, and any reminders of the Soviets. The city would modify it, and change its usage.

Olga remembers her childhood experience being in the crowd for the “celebration” when the building was first completed. It was a “pull out all the stops” affair. All the people had to attend the opening and appear happy with it. Schools were closed, and the students were required to attend, lest their parents suffer the consequences. All were expected to exude happiness at the dedication.

The interior of the Palace of Culture and Science is beautiful, with monumental walls headed with decorative reliefs copied from Renaissance houses of Krakow, exquisite lighting fixtures and other architectural details. In 1967, he Rolling Stones made history there by being the first major rock group to perform behind the Iron Curtain.

After Communism, the building underwent interior renovation, and now serves as an exhibition center, an office complex, and contains such things as an Omnimax cinema, four theatres, two museums, a large swimming pool, and an auditorium holding 3000 people. Additionally, two floors contain an accredited university.

We took the elevator to the 30th floor observation deck. Olga pointed out the main buildings in Warsaw in all directions. From this high vantage point, one could view the skyscapers and other large buildings in the city, which are symbols of a modern and capitalistic Warsaw.

International companies, including financial institutions, could be seen throughout the downtown. Warsaw’s national sporting stadium, prominent on the east bank of the Vistula River, had been constructed for the European 2012 “football” (soccer) championships. Its colors, red and white, made it very promiment among the other buildings.

Being a clear day, it was interesting to see how flat the city and its surrounding areas are. To give a hint to its size, 13 bridges span the Vistula in Warsaw. It appeared that, looking north, with high powered binoculars, it would be possible to see all the way to Gdansk on the Baltic Coast. Nothing seemed to obstruct the view. But undoubtedly, that would not be possible, because 150 miles would be out of range!

Following this visit to the Palace of Culture and Science, our time with Olga focused on life under the Communists. We had learned a lot on our morning tour, but this afternoon we focused more on the daily lives of the people.

We visited the Life Under Communism Museum, which displayed living quarters and memorabilia from the Communist era. Part of the museum was a set-up as a typical very small living space in which the Communists “allowed” a family to live…sparsely furnished and equipped with old stuff like the US had in the late 40’s and early 50’s. However, they had this in the 70’s. Some had a TV, but had access to only two government-run stations that ran from 4 to 11 PM.

In order to secure such an apartment, the people had to apply, stating the number of members in the family. There was often a long wait, and then they were assigned an apartment. Getting a party-line phone also involved a long wait.

There were usually long lines in stores. Sometimes the government passed out “coupons” to buy special products, but they often weren’t available in the stores. They could buy soap, shampoo, chocolate, etc. but it was really poor quality. Coca Cola was banned, labeled as an “imperialistic drink”. Olga said that the drink they substituted tasted awful.

We saw an old drink vending machine, with a metal cup anchored by a chain attached to it. Olga explained that these machines were located on a few streets. People could insert a coin, and a drink, not at all tasty, would dispense into the metal cup. All drank from the same cup! (Yuck!)

The stock in stores was usually very low. . .many empty shelves. However, when the Communists had a celebration, like May Day, or another big event where there would be foreign visitors, the shops were full of merchandise as part of their “show”. It was a sham! Again, all the citizens were expected to be there for government-sponsored events.

Olga explained that people didn’t smile in public lest it be interpreted that they were making fun of the Soviets or a building or whatever. The children were frequently cautioned about this. We noted that the Soviet statues and pictures showed no expression. So too, the residents under repression.

Under Communism, everyone was required to have a job, even if it meant standing around all day in a factory doing nothing. We had heard this from guides in other cities. The meager salaries of all occupations were the same, so a doctor would be paid the same as a laborer. There were no incentives to work harder or to improve.

Everything was centralized by the Communists. They attempted to control all aspects of peoples’ lives. There was great fear among the people that if they would protest, or make efforts at freedom, the Soviets would crush them as they had done in ’56 in Hungary and ’68 in Prague.

When Communism finally fell in 1989, it was a sudden shock, as it happened so abruptly. Though life under this system curtailed personal freedoms, it offered security. The government proudly touted that their 100% employment. According to Olga, “the people pretended to work even though there was nothing to do.” In that sense, it was a secure, if very basic life, though lacking in motivation to improve one’s lot.

The factories were totally inefficient and went bankrupt. Workers had minimal skills. People had no responsibility for their lives…just follow the leader and don’t ask questions! Someone else made decisions for them. Olga commented, “It was easier to change the system than to change the way people think!”

Some of the older people felt that the Communist system was better as they all had security from “employment”, even though they maintained a very meager existence. The system did provide for free education and free medical care, which were about the only benefits for them. Post-Communism, without the security of the system, and with no training and no skills, they weren’t able to get jobs. The younger people were able to find employment, so they fared much better.

Olga said that the younger generation, including her daughters, do not know Communism; only what they may have learned from their families. And, she said, with a knowing grin, that they usually are not interested in hearing about it! Life today in modern, bustling Warsaw is far different for them.

By our choice, we had focused a lot on the history of Warsaw, as we’ve been interested in learning more first-hand about the indescribably horrendous evils suffered under the Nazis and the Communists. And, we were constantly amazed at the resiliency of a people who have not only survived, but now thrive, in a country which is financially and culturally western. It’s understandable why they want to be known as Central Europe, rather than Eastern Europe!

Having had a stimulating, if tiring day, enjoying the beauty of the city in such places as Lazienski Park and the Old Town, as well as the places of historical significance, we happily returned to the Sheraton. We were glad that we had chosen to stick with Olga, as our exploration was made so much more meaningful by her. However, we appreciated having time to catch our breath, and freshen up for the evening.

Our last evening was an enjoyable memory of Warsaw. We headed out to dinner on the famous Nowy Swiat Street; (literally "New Town"). From our hotel, it was just a short block to connect with the main street which blends into the Royal Route, partially called Nowy Swiat. Earlier in the day we had traveled down this 2 km. tree-lined route which passes architecturally beautiful buildings, the University of Warsaw, and eventually leads to the Castle and the Old Town Square.

To reach the lively area of Noway Swiat from our hotel, the “happening” center of the downtown, it was necessary for us to cross the main busy thoroughfare. Named Aleja Jerozolimskie. (in English, “Jerusalem Avenue”), it had apparently changed names many times over the years, depending upon which power was in control. Trams run back and forth almost constantly. It carries heavy traffic traveling east to west, making crossing the roundabout a bit of a challenge.

A unique marker for visitors like us in finding their way is a giant palm tree in the center of the busy roundabout. Apparently, in 2002 when a local artist visited Jerusalem, she was struck by the many palm trees and thought that one should stand in Warsaw. . . temporarily, of course. Palm trees and Warsaw winters would not get along! A vocal faction wanted to keep a palm tree at the location permanently, so a fake tree now graces the busy intersection all year, brightly lit at night. And, we must say, it was very helpful in negotiating our way back to our hotel in the dark!

We walked quite a distance along Nowy Swiat, lined with designer shops and boutiques, cafes, and restaurants and plenty of nightlife. Colorful flowerboxes lined both sides. Music was wafting through the air. For a weekday evening, there were large numbers of people enjoying the outdoors.

After milling around for a while, we set out to find the restaurant recommendation of the hotel concierge: Dawne Smaki. We thought that we’d like to have Polish cuisine, since this would be our last night in Poland. It turned out to be an excellent recommendation. Though the restaurant had a very attractive interior, since it was we chose to sit outdoors and imbibe the festive atmosphere on the pleasantly warm evening.

After relaxing with pre-dinner drinks, Margie ordered their pork special (looked like a wiener schnitzel) and Tom had the half-duck, both served with their traditional potatoes For a vegetable, the waitress encouraged us to try beet root, an item we had seen on several other Polish menus. We were curious as to what beet root was. In actuality, it was just what we call pickled red beets. And we did enjoy them.

After the waitress removed our plates, she talked us into sharing a dessert. Finally, when bringing the check she also presented us with a complimentary small glass of cherry vodka which, she explained, would help to settle the stomach. We’ll say it did, but it was something we probably won’t repeat. But the overall experience of dining there was perfect for our finale dinner in Warsaw!

Next door to our restaurant was a legendary place, Café Blikle, which had survived two world wars, and the challenges of Communism. Famous for its donuts, served earlier in the day, in the evening they offered only cake and coffee. We had intentions of having dessert there, but our filling meal at Dawni Swanke changed those plans.

We had enjoyed a very leisurely dinner, being entertained with all the activity on both sides of the street. Had we not been aware of our need of packing, and an early rising, we could have strolled down some of the little side streets off Nowy Swiat where the restaurants, and especially bars, including little jazz clubs, extend. But better judgment prevailed. Instead, we took a slow stroll back to our hotel. The lighted palm tree was a great landmark for directions!

Arriving back at the Sheraton, we made a determined effort to pack and get some rest. That meant shutting off the stimulating experiences of Warsaw, still swirling in our heads. In the morning we would be departing for Berlin. Reminiscing about our time in Warsaw would provide an enjoyable pastime as we began our traveling day to Berlin.
tomarkot is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2015, 11:01 AM
  #55  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 10,318
Likes: 0
Received 21 Likes on 2 Posts
Great installment as usual. Love all the history interspersed throughout. I forgot about the Polish "cherry vodka." I loved it and Tracy said it tasted like cough syrup, which was good, since she gave it to me.

Looking forward to Berlin, another spot on our bucket list.

maitaitom is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2015, 12:19 PM
  #56  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 18,175
Received 22 Likes on 4 Posts
Excellent report and we also were givencherry vodka, but in our hotel room. I agree with Tracy.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2015, 01:52 PM
  #57  
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 7,106
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I am continuing along with your wonderful journey. Thank you for providing so much history and insight, which really makes these cities come alive.
LouisaH is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2015, 04:28 PM
  #58  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 4,596
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Tomarkot, love your commitment to remind us of the history and the detail you are providing. Would it be wrong to say that cherry vodka was the first bottle of alcohol I ever bought (not a giveaway at all that I was not a legal purchaser, is it?)? Yep, cough syrup is an accurate description. Ah, memories!
denisea is offline  
Old Nov 4th, 2015, 05:32 PM
  #59  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 3,769
Received 19 Likes on 4 Posts
Great instalment Tom.
My parents were required to learn Russian at school in post war East Germany, so when my father escaped and eventually landed in Australia, he could speak German and Russian, not so handy
Of course, in those days you got allocated a job in a factory not needing to read English, a Health and Safety protocol, job description, or the like.
Adelaidean is online now  
Old Nov 5th, 2015, 06:39 AM
  #60  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,362
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks to all who continue to hang in there with this long TR!

Hmm!!! Maitai, Denisea, and HappyTrvlr, quite an interest in that cherry vodka! I prefer my Smirnoff in a cosmo! But, who knows, the next cold might be an excuse for Tom and me to resort to that cherry-flavored version!

Adelaidean, I'm sure your parents could tell you stories! As we ventured on to Berlin, we learned more about how the German people suffered under these cruel regimes. We're getting our notes from Berlin together now, and hope to get on with our TR soon.

Louisa H, glad to have you aboard!
tomarkot is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -