Old habits die hard, they say, so our first day in Warsaw starts off with a visit to the Tourist Information office, located at the base of the monumental Palace of Culture and Science, on the side facing the station. Here you can get a free map and useful information about the museums.
After that, loaded with folded leaflets, we head towards the Jewish ghetto. The area surrounding the station is designed for cars so it can be quite challenging to cross Aleja Jana Pawla II, however walking towards the zebra crossing at Śliska is rewarded by the view of the puppet soldiers graffiti, by BLU, covering a whole side of a building.
Ghetto and Uprising Museum
The first step of our memorial tour is in a modest backyard, reachable through an unassuming gate at the number 62 of ul. Złota (here): here you can find what’s left of the ghetto wall. So well integrated in the modern buildings architecture lie a piece of history, so real, so intense.
Walking further west we’ll meet the Uprising Museum, finest piece of Warsaw cultural portfolio, delightful for not only the history freaks, but for everyone. This brilliantly structured museum leads the visitor through the events of the Warsaw uprising: from the Jewish oppression to the rebellion of the whole population, to the final destruction of the city by the hand of the Nazis, under the impassible look of the Soviet forces. Being there on Sunday we managed to get free entry. This museum is very informative and rich of material so touching that you won’t be looking at Warsaw with the same eyes again. We visited it on a Sunday, which is free entrance but, consequently, very busy. If you need to take a break there’s a bar located after the communist corridor (you can’t miss it: it’s all red with a huge sickle and hammer), and it offers more than it displays: ask for a toast or a soup.
At some point now, it must be time for lunch, if you’re not too shocked by what seen so far. To lighten up the tone with a humorous take on the soviet era, you should head to the red-army-themed restaurant Oberża Pod Czerwonym Wieprzem (the Inn Under The Red Hog). Nothing like a commercial operation, the restaurant sits in a building rich of history, tightly tied with the communist party, evoking that era with a touch of irony and serving dishes like Bresniev’s Dumplings and Capitalist Norwegian Salmon… all for reasonable prices.
A stone throw from the restaurant there’s the Nożyk Synagogue, the only one to survive World War II. A relatively little building partly hidden behind an unattractive office block. Closed and vandalised during WWII has been officially reopened for religious functions in 1983.
Check the Synagogue website for updated visiting times and cost (the ticket is just 6PLN at the time of writing).
Palace of Science and Culture
Maybe it’s because we visited Warsaw in the dead of winter but at this point it’s about time to head back home. Not before visiting the imposing Palace of Science and Culture: built by Stalin (not literally, I guess he hired a few builders) as a”gift” from the Russians the Polish people, is the most representative building in Warsaw. Turned from terrorizing symbol of soviet domination to a cultural centre with museums and cinemas, is now surrounded by modern skyscrapers covered by flashy lights and bright adverts.
The entrance is free but only the hall is accessible whereas the most interesting point must be the terrace on the 30th floor. The access to the terrace is 18zloty, check their websites for other info and discounts. We didn’t go as we preferred to have a view of Warsaw including the Palace itself. For this we went back to our apartment and its wide windows on the 7th floor.
A Night out in Praga
Before that though, we headed to one of the coolest bars of Praga, our local area, which is a place called W Oparach Absurdu: four rooms located to defy any architectural rule and a creaky loft filled with kitsch objects, from vintage furniture to religious icons and ancient Singer sewing machine. They have a vast choice of Polish beers and serve very good Pierogi. They also have live music events, that you can find on their facebook page, if you can learn Polish first.
This club is totally worth a visit even if you’re not living nearby.