Traveling by train across western Poland we saw a lot of small
villages and farms that dot this mostly flat land. The closer we got
to Warsaw, the more snow on the ground and more fog.
The train station is in the center of the shopping district.
Thank goodness the station porters handled all our large bags.
We had to navigate through corridors and up an escalator and then
stairs to street level. Across from the train
station, shrouded in
fog, was the Palace
of Culture & Science, built by the Soviets.
We stayed at the Victoria (Sofitel) Hotel. It was located only a few short blocks from
"Old Town" and about a 20 minute walk
from the downtown central
shopping area. Across from the hotel was Sashi Park and the
National Theatre (rebuilt and opened in 1965). At that time it
had the biggest and most modern operatic stages in the world. Also across the street from the hotel was the
of the Unknown
Soldier Memorial with an eternal flame. The changing of the
guard was every hour.
That afternoon we exchanged our
Deutsche Marks for Polish Zloty (about 4 Zloty for 1 USD). We
used American Express offices in each city to exchange traveler's
checks for the local currency. It was easy to exchange one
currency for another - but only bills, not
We walked to a local "shopping"
street (Nowy Swiat) that had some very old churches, the
Warsaw University. We walked into the
of the Nuns of the Visitation where we witnessed a wedding, and
Church. That evening we had a welcome
dinner with all 30 members of the tour. The 13 new tour members
flew from Frankfurt, arriving after a few hours delay due to the dense fog
The next day was a
city tour conducted by Tadeusz Jedrysiak, the former president of the
Polish tour guides. He formerly did German tours but learned
English with the end of the Cold War in 1989. He mentioned under
communist rule that education was free - now it's competitive but still free.
Also jobs then were guaranteed, but now there is 18% unemployment. Health
care is no longer free, it's part of their social security system. The Polish people are being told it
takes one generation to recover and develop a free and open market
Some of the history he mentioned: Poland, as a
country, did not exist from 1795 until 1918. In 1795, the
Kingdom of Poland was divided by Russia, Prussia, and the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. After WWI, Poland was again a
country. Their legislature is composed of 100 senators and 460
"deputies" - very similar to the US.
Warsaw suffered heavy damage during WWII. The rebuilt city
wide streets and sidewalks. Visited the area of the Jewish Ghetto (95%
destroyed in 1943 after the "Warsaw
Ghetto Uprising"). In the
heart of the ghetto is the Heroes of the Ghetto Memorial
and the Holocaust Memorial which is a
simple slab of granite. There was a Warsaw
Uprising in 1944. Much of the city was
destroyed after this
revolt under German rule. We were told
24% of the entire Polish population died in the war - 6 million in labor and
concentration camps (1.3 million were Jewish). Currently the Warsaw
population is 1.8 million and Poland is about 38 million.
Warsaw University (founded in 1816) and a grand
statue of Copernicus was close to the hotel. Also close by was
the home of Fryderyk Chopin, the famous pianist. One of the
first stops on the bus tour was the 18th century
Lazienski Park (one
of the largest city park's in Europe) with a huge statue of
Chopin. Next to the park was the Bellevedre Presidential Palace
(now used for visiting dignitaries). On the same boulevard was
embassy row, with many magnificent buildings.
The Old Town and Royal Castle were completely rebuilt using old
pictures - very authentic looking. Some of the 14th and
15th century walls still remain. In
is the King
Sigismund Column. Having some free time in The Old Market
Square, instead of shopping, we went to a
nearby restaurant to get warm. We were
directed to the basement which looked like an
soups were delicious.
After visiting the Old Town, we existed through the
gate, one of the largest in Europe.
After crossing one of the bridges over the
we saw the Mermaid Monument. In
the middle of one of the boulevards was the
That evening we again visited the nearby shopping
street that was now closed to traffic. A stage was in place for a
children's show and the arrival of St. Nicholas. It was fun
listening to children singing Christmas songs in Polish.
The next day (December 1) we visited Wilanow Palace - a
grand residence that the Germans officers used during WWII. It is commonly called the
Polish Versailles. It was built in the last quarter of the 17th
century by King John III Sobieski, one of Poland's most famous kings. It
is now a National Museum. As in other museums, we had our own
English speaking guide.
That evening we went to the suburbs to a
home of a local family
to have a
traditional Polish meal of pierogi, potatoes, mushroom soup and wine.
The hosts were both chemists, Peter (the son) just graduated from
law school and is now taking courses in public administration (wants
to be a judge or politician), and Joanne (the daughter) is studying sociology
in an undergraduate program. Both spoke excellent English. Neither
of our hosts did. Overall we had a great evening eating,
drinking, discussing politics, education, jobs and unemployment, and
life in Poland during and after the Cold War.
Taxes are high - the VAT (Value Added Tax) is 22% plus
national tax. We were told that both Germany and Poland are broke from
rebuilding after the end of the Cold War.
with a stop in Czestochowa