Around the world in 125 days
Among the Eastern European countries Poland is the largest. Also if you look at a map, you realize that it borders on a large number of countries, including Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, and also on the Baltic Sea. What puzzled me a bit is how it could border Russia when Russia is north of Belarus and Lithuania. Turns out Russia owns a piece of land, stuck between Poland and Lithuania, separated from the rest of the country. And it has a large seaport now called Kaliningrad, providing it access to the Baltic Sea.
Poland is very Catholic. Someone claimed that you can actually see the thick atmosphere of Catholicism. Pope John Paul was from Poland. Chopin was also Polish. Besides these famous people, you often hear about names like Warsaw Pact, Warsaw Convention, and the Treaty of Warsaw and so on. So we always wanted to visit Poland.
From Prague, we entered Poland and our bus stopped at the city of Wroclaw for lunch before continuing to Warsaw. The city has a beautiful central square, Like most of the European city squares we visited,it is surrounded by colorful churches, outdoor cafes, and offices. Apparently this place is sitting on the tributaries of the Oder River, so it has many canals and waterways and is also known as the Polish Venice. The city consists of 12 islands and has hundreds of bridges. But we were only at the town square and did not get to see any of this.
We had lunch at an outdoor cafe, watching other tourists and local office workers enjoying their lunch breaks. Afterward we wandered the square, admiring the splendid Gothic buildings
Apparently the buildings at Warsaw are much newer than those of Prague because they were all destroyed during the war. The heavy fighting between the German and Russian armies pretty much turned the whole city into a ruin. After the war, the Polish people started rebuilding and did their best to make the new buildings look exactly like the old ones. They must have reused most of the old stones. So all buildings are more or less around 50 years old but still all looked very old. We wondered around the old town square and visted their museums, churches, and various landmarks.
According to the tour book, there is a museum for this Polish lady who all Poland is very proud of. Her name is Marie Curie and she won two Nobel prizes, once for physics in 1903 and then again for chemistry in 1911. She was an amazing scientist who discovered Radium, and Polonium, which she no doubt named after her homeland. Unfortunately the people in Warsaw did not bother to put signs up to its location. Finding it was not easy. Eventually we found it at a side street, and not surprisingly, we were the only visitors. It is a multi-story musesum with old photos of various things, and of experiments she did. Chemistry students would be interested in this place.
We also visited the Jewish Ghetto. After the Nazis split Poland with the Soviets, they herded thousands of Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto. The people in the ghetto managed an uprising, fighting off the Nazis for a whole month before they were all massacred. There is a cobble-stoned square with a rectangular structure as a memorial of the event.
Next we went to Park Lazienki where you could see charming botanical gardens and an astronomical observatory. They are part of the Botanical Garden of Warsaw University. At the main entrance there is a historical monument to Frederick Chopin, Poland's greatest composer. The statue appears to be made of shiny black granite, sitting on top of a stone platform, showing him sitting under a tree with his head to one side, not the usual pose you see with other statues. From certain angles, it looks a bit weird. During the summer months, Chopin piano concerts are held here everyday at noon and 4PM. Before we left, a photographer came over and took a group picture of our group.
In Warsaw, we stayed at a big downtown hotel. I guess it may be safe there, because we often saw policemen patrolling in pairs. They look very Western, wearing American-style baseball caps plus neon-yellow colored vests. That made them highly visible and maybe a good deterrence to crime. We bought yellow cherries from a street vendor and they were delicious.
© Dave Cheng 2000