In December, after much convincing and procrastinating (Chris convincing and me procrastinating), Chris and I decided that it was be fun to go to Warsaw and see the Christmas markets. Its a favourite tradition of ours to go to Christmas markets. This year was bound to be a little different since we were officially separated, but we were looking forward to spending time together exploring Poland. We got a flat in the town centre which had a great view. It was in a good location that was pretty central to everything.
Since it was nearly 6 months ago, I don’t remember a lot of the finer details (you’ll have to use Chris’ blog posts for that). But, I didn’t want to go without writing about it so I decided I’d do a Top Ten of the trip.
Warsaw, Poland Top Ten
1. Wandering the streets of Warsaw
I quickly learned that walking in Warsaw was A LOT safer than driving (its crazy there!!!!). There were so many things to see that it was hard to take it all in. I really had the motivation to walk around a bit more during this trip. The sites seemed to be quite close together (or relatively close depending if you as me or Chris). It was really nice to take in the sights. You definitely get a different perspective when you are walking in and out of alleys and parks and its a bit easier to take detours and find a way out on foot instead of by car.
2. The crosswalks in Warsaw Town Centre
I guess when you’re visiting the birth country of Chopin, you get street crossings of piano keys.
3. The Jewish Ghetto
During the war Warsaw was divided and there was a wall put up to keep the Jews in one place. The conditions in the ghetto were horrible. We found that there was a place in Warsaw where that wall was still standing so we went to search for it. When we finally found it we were surprised, although we probably shouldn’t have been, that it was through a block of flats. Very inconspicuous and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t know it was there. There was a reverence here that I’ve found at every WWII memorial I’ve visited. It was quiet, except for the occasional resident coming or going. Chris and I wondered what the people there think about it, if they even do. Through the whole city there were markings of the border of the Ghetto. To me it was a constant reminder of the past.
4. Christmas market in Warsaw
One of my favourite things is to go to another country, explore their traditions, and take in the culture. I think one of the best places to do this is the Christmas market. It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me anymore without visiting a market! The atmosphere is one that you cant get anywhere else. You get to see the locals – the local food, toys, gifts, music, clothing, and traditions. At this market we discovered some yummy squeaky cheese and delicious chimney cakes, A lot of the markets are in log cabin style stalls, but this one almost looked like it was straight out of the desert.
5. Driving in the country
While it can be VERY overwhelming to drive in a different country, there are so many advantages I cant pass up the opportunity to get out of the city and dive into authentic countryside. Poland wasn’t a disappointment. Once I got out of the mayhem that is Warsaw, we were treated to beautiful countryside and a taste of the country. The houses were very worn down and you could tell that it wasn’t a very affluent country. But, there was still a certain charm. The traditional houses, coupled with the antiquated churches make for a very nice drive. The only problem we had this time was the lack of sunlight in December.
Driving in Downtown Warsaw vs. driving through the countryside
6. The home of Chopin – Zelazowa Wola
Luckily we got some beautiful sunlight for the visit to Chopin’s home. The gardens were lovely to walk through and a good opportunity to get some pictures. The house on the other hand…. well, lets just say it wasn’t worth it at all. It isn’t even the real house that he was born in (its been rebuilt a few times), they definitely don’t put that in the tourist pamphlets! If fact, when we went there were zero tourists at all, and we felt it especially when we walked into the house feeling full of excitement to learn more about him and leaving feeling like common criminals. The FOUR ticket takers (surely that isn’t the right name for them) accosted us upon entry and as we travelled room by room we were followed, not so stealthily by a security guard. Very awkward. The gardens were well worth it – the house, not so much.
The fake/real house.
A very photogenic garden – even in winter!
Making being “Just Friends” look easy!
7. Treblinka II – Nazi extermination camp
One of the biggest blessings of living in England has been the opportunity to see a different side of WWII. Poland was no exception. Poland was devastated during WWII and there is still evidence of the horrors of the war. We were going to go to Auschwitz, but it was too far for the short time we had. As I was looking through my many, many brochures from the tourist office (Chris always gives me a hard time about how many I collect) I read a little about Treblinka II. We decided that it would be a pretty interesting place to visit. As we were driving we were running out of daylight. When we finally got there (no thanks to the Sat Nav for taking us up a bike path at one point) it was dusk and it really added an eerie atmosphere. There was no one else there and it was set in the middle of a dense forest. The Nazi’s built a railway right to the entrance, but when you walk up you only see the skeleton of the rails. Then you walk a bit further to see stones with different countries names on them. Then you look up to a large stone memorial – the Jewish Tombstone. This is surrounded by 1700 stones to represent just some of the nearly 800,00 people who died in that very spot. The crematorium is marked by a large rectangular pile of stones. It is hard to comprehend, impossible really, what devastation occurred where I was standing. It was a sacred place. I wanted to stay longer but unfortunately it was getting too dark so we tried to find the visitors centre. It was closing just as we pulled up so we missed out on that, but the feeling of standing among those stones – I will never forget. Good thing I picked up that brochure!
8. Nozyk Synagogue
Its a silly thing to say, but if I wasn’t LDS I would want to be Jewish. As cliché as it sounds, I decided this the first time I watched Fiddler on the Roof. I admire their faithfulness and traditions. I am very interested in their religion and so I was happy to get the opportunity to visit a Synagogue while in Warsaw. It was the only Synagogue that was left standing out of 400 during WWII. It isn’t overly decorated like a lot of old churches are. When we went in Chris had to cover his head. There were men in a back room learning and singing which only added to the atmosphere and my admiration for their dedication and faith.
9. Warsaw Uprising Museum
This was one of many WWII museums in Warsaw. It was a very large museum and after 2 hours we felt like we didn’t spend the time to see everything and read everything. The thing that impressed me the most was that in the middle of the exhibit when you walked in there was a wall that spanned the ground and first floor. It had bullet holes in it and it had a constant heartbeat when you put your ear up to it as a reminder of the sacrifices during the war, both of the people and the solders. The museum is set up as a walk through-time line with A LOT of memorabilia. There are also videos which are pretty hard to watch, I had to walk away several times, about what the Jews of Warsaw suffered through.
10. Warsaw Town Centre
The “Old Town” of Warsaw isn’t too old at all. It was completely destroyed in the war but was rebuilt just 60 years ago – and you’d never know from looking at it. It was full of Christmas decorations and had a unique atmosphere. At times it felt like Italy, Germany, Russia, and several other countries. It was quaint and really fun to explore.
Warsaw was unexpectedly wonderful. It is a place that I’d love to go back to and explore more – not only because it is very inexpensive. I’m glad Chris talked me into going.