Warsaw is a colorful and interesting capital city with government buildings scattered throughout the old and new parts of town. There are distinct neighborhoods including a modern downtown filled with international companies in glass towers alongside post-war Soviet concrete buildings. There are an amazing amount of parks, green spaces and multi-use paths scattered throughout. Each is filled with statues, fountains and even some benches that, with the touch of a button, play short segments of Chopin pieces (Fredrick Chopin is a local hero; there are nightly concerts if the benches are not enough).The Vistula River cuts through the city and edges the Praga district, a hip neighborhood filled with cafes, beer gardens and shops. The gem of the city is the old town, Stare Maisto. World War II destroyed most of the city leaving the oldest part of the city in rubble. Luckily, paintings depicting the buildings survived and beginning in 1949 the old town was meticulously restored. It is a little like a Disney replica of a cleaned up pre-war city. Nearby towns sent the bricks from their destroyed buildings to the capital for the accurate reconstruction.First stop…pierogi (already plural!) and Polish beer. They are served at almost every restaurant and one called Zapiecek seemed the perfect place to start. There are all types of fillings from savory to sweet; yum. Fortified from a satisfying and delicious treat, it was time to explore. CThe watchful gaze of King Sigusmund III atop his column is a popular meeting place in Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy). There are colorful historic houses, a nice view of the city and the river and of course, the Royal Castle, now a museum.The wishing bell is a large bronze bell that lays behind a beautiful church just off of Castle Square. There is a legend that a jealous suitor of the bell-maker’s daughter, who was also an apprentice bell maker, tampered with the casting of her bell. The bronze bell cracked at its first ring and was placed in the square never to ring again. Broken heart and broken bell, the legend continues that any wish made while circling and touching the bell will be granted. One other version suggests your wish will only be granted if you hop on one foot as you circle the bell.The old town is not very large and is filled with many shops and cafes. Eventually all roads lead to the Market Square. Syrenka, a sword-wielding mermaid is a statue in the center of the square. As you might expect, there is a legend about fishermen saving her by cutting her of of a net. She now protects the city with the shield and sword she was given. Along with fire twirlers and strolling musicians, Market Square is home to the Basilisk, now a touristy restaurant. This mythical creature terrorized the locals back in the 10th Century until a clever tailor used a mirror to turn the dragon to stone. The little sculpture of the basilisk marks its lair and his eyes glow red after sunset. At the border of the Old City is the fairytale-looking barbican. It is an impressive fortification of the historic city wall that survived the bombings of the war. It is easy to imagine and appreciate the defensive barrier it once was.In the shadow of the wall, next to the ramparts of the old city, is a statue of a little boy soldier (Maly Powstaniec). This commemorates the young children who fought and died during the Warsaw uprising in 1944.The Palace of Culture and Science dominates the skyline of the new part of Warsaw. It is home to museums, libraries, theaters and even a pool. Commissioned by Stalin, the building deviates from traditional Soviet communist architecture. The building was completed in three years as a palace for the people. Stalin did not live to see it completed. It is an imposing structure that is a bit controversial. Many locals would like the Soviet era symbol demolished, others consider it a reminder of how far Warsaw has progressed and flourished since its construction. There is an elevator that goes to the 30th floor and offers a 360 degree view of the city. Some call it the best view of the city because you cannot see the palace itself. On a hot afternoon, I captured some nuns eating ice cream (lody).Vodka production has a long history in Poland and in particular, Warsaw. There is a museum in an old vodka factory which has displays of labels, photographs, bottles and glasses from many of the Polish vodka producers. There is also an opportunity to sample three shots of Polish vodka at the museum. I chose horseradish, pepper and carmel. I left in high spirits, but prefer plain vodka with a splash of cranberry juice!There is much to explore in this capital including the history of Polish Jews dating back to the 10th Century. There are museums, synagogues, and the ghetto which detail how Jews have been, and will continue to be part of the fabric of Poland.
Warsaw is a resilient city. It has survived and emerged from the rubble of the past. I saw Warsaw but merely scratched the surface of the capital.