I’m writing to you now from my postage stamp sized room in Krakow and I wanted to sum up my impressions of our first week in Warsaw. Warsaw is a beautiful city, first and foremost and I’m really glad it’s going to be our home base while we’re in Poland. Sure, we’re traveling all around the country, but at the end of the day (or at the end of the week), we return to Warsaw.
I can’t say I spent much time just wandering around the city during that first week we spent there. Our hotel was outside of the city and it took almost an hour each way by public bus to get to the city center. After a long day of classes, sitting on a hot bus for an hour isn’t very appealing.
I wrote all about our trips and travels to Rakowiecka Prison and the Warsaw Uprising Museum so I’m sure you can imagine how tired we all were the next day. It mainly just consisted of class and some well-deserved rest time. On Saturday, we had a afternoon party with some students from Warsaw University. Our hotel has a high ropes course on it’s campus, so us Americans took to the ropes while the Poles were smart and stayed on the ground.
After what can only be described as a very terrifying, adrenaline pumping 90 minutes we were safety on two feet again and all I had to show was a very bloody finger from an unplanned collision with some obstacles and a lot of pictures that don’t quite capture the feelings that were felt by all.
We had a nice dinner chatting with the Polish students, comparing college experiences and how college students live in our two countries. Even though we’re halfway around the world, college seems pretty similar.
This brings me now to Sunday – free day! We all decided we definitely wanted to go explore Warsaw since we had nothing to exhaust us that morning and we really did want to explore the city on our own.
Another Jewish girl and I wanted to find the only synagogue left in Warsaw and so we set off on our trek to find it. Even with the address and someone who could ask for help in Polish, the trip was to no avail. People on the streets had no idea what we were asking about when we asked for directions. I don’t think I could point to a specific church in Boston if asked by a tourist on the street, but I do think I could point in the general direction of at least one historic church. You’d think with only one synagogue (and a historic one at that), the people of Warsaw would have an easy time pointing it out, but nope. Nothing. We ended up giving up without finding it, but we will try again next week when we’re back in the city.
We took a nice stroll through the Old Town in Warsaw and ended up at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is a monument dedicated to soldiers who have lost their lives in battle and is guarded 24/7 by national troops. Behind it is a big park with a beautiful fountain in the middle.
This was one of the most surprising parts of Warsaw to me – it is a very green city. Not only are there trees, bushes, shrubs and flowers everywhere, but there are large, open spaces that seem out of place with the hustle and bustle of the big city. You can sit by the fountain next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and forget for a moment you are in a capital city.
Another thing that struck me about Warsaw was how big of a city it is and the big city vibe it definitely gives off. If you think about it, 70 years the entire city was destroyed during the war and up until about 25 years ago, the city was occupied by the Soviets. And yet, if you didn’t know any of this, it wouldn’t be evident in the slightest as you walked around the city. The buildings all have a fresh coat of paint, the public transportation is very nice, the landscaping is beautiful, modern buildings are constantly being constructed and you don’t see ruins of buildings anywhere.
Warsaw has done a beautiful job rebuilding it’s heritage and recreating the old feel of the city while still adapting to the 21st century. It really is a wonderful city and I can’t wait to get back there again next week!