Warsaw Old Town (Poland)

I have this fantastic app on my phone called izi.travel. We weren’t sure what to do in Warsaw but it contained a fantastic free audio tour of the Old City (which isn’t actually old because it’s been lovingly recreated post-WW2). Included in the tour was a map with GPS connectivity and audio files describing each of the key sights along the way.

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The tour started in the Castle Square so we walked there from our hotel. Along the way we came across a changing of the guard ceremony at the Presidential Palace. The drums captured our attention and the pencil straight soldiers with stern faces held us there. It’s always fascinating to watch soldiers from different military forces march because they are all slightly different. These men marched with the high foot straight knee style that is often mocked in movies.

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Down at Castle Square we were greeted by colourful buildings arranged in a seemingly higgeldy piggeldy style. It’s difficult to believe this is a recreation because the atmosphere is old but bright. Sigismund’s Column in the middle of the square is the oldest statue in Warsaw and one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1644. It was destroyed in WW2 during the Warsaw Uprising (more on that in tomorrow’s post) and some of the original columns are visible nearby. We went into the Royal Castle but decided against paying for the museum because it was still early and we wanted to see more of the streets in the Old City, rather than being side tracked by the museum. Besides, it didn’t look that interesting at the ticket counter so it didn’t call us in.

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The tour took us past many old churches from various historic periods. The nice thing was that all the churches were open to the public. All you had to do was push or pull on the heavy church doors to open them. Inside every church there were people praying. So we were discrete and respectful when taking photos so as not to disturb them. Most of the churches had side chapels dedicated to individual saints or Mary or the Holy Sacrament. We’re still not sure why there are these side chapels but they exist.

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Each church was totally unique. This was the door handle on the Church of Our Lady of Grace. This church was built in the first half of the 17th Century. Owned by the Jesuit Order, this church has a very interesting door with Mary’s face embedded into soldier ghosts’ hearts.

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The Church of Holy Ann contrasted sharply with the Church of Our Lady of Grace because the Church of Holy Ann is more playful. There are smiling cherubs throughout, including these ones that are playing near the pipe organ.

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The one thing each church had in common was the presence of the confessional. Some were simple boxes while others were elaborately decorated. Some stood quietly at the edges of the church or cathedral while others dominated the main walkways making confession a more public experience. In one church we saw a priest walk into a confession box and a nun almost sprinted in to give her confession.

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The tour didn’t only take in churches though. We also explored other parts of the Old Town including the Market Place. Here there was an ice skating rink and some small market stalls as well as a man feeding the pigeons. This would make a lovely place to sit and drink coffee or juice in the warmer months. Today we just enjoyed taking in the colourful buildings bordering the square. Some have been turned into museums but we not really museums that seemed interesting to us (for example, we have little knowledge or interest in Polish literature). But a museum buff could spend hours just in the Market Place.

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We also stopped by the Barbikan, which is a rounded turret area in the old castle wall. It dates to the 16th century. The area around the Barbikan hadn’t been de-snowed so it was so lovely to stand there and take in the white crust on and shape of the naked trees.

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We paid our respects at the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army with it’s memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Poles killed at various battles, particularly during and since WW2 during first the Nazi and then the Soviet occupations. The wall of memorial is breathtaking. We followed this with a visit to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier where two serving soldiers stand on guard duty at all times, their bodies exposed to the weather but their feet kept warm by heaters. I bet they’d probably keel over otherwise. Behind the Grave of the Unknown Soldier is a huge beautiful park that must be amazing in summer and was pretty in white today.

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It was dark by the time we ended the tour. The Christmas lights were turning on and changing the world from white to bright. We went out for some dinner and then Paul had another Ayurvedic massage while I did some work at the hotel.

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