We weren’t really planning on being in Warsaw on this trip, we had intended to hire a vehicle from Berlin and then drive our way to all the destinations we wanted to see in Eastern Europe, but as luck would have it you can hire a car in Ukraine and take it wherever you want (Crimea excepted) but you can’t hire a car in Berlin and take it east for insurance purposes. We were only in Warsaw to basically hop a cheap flight to Kiev, but we found ourselves with a free morning so we head off into the Old Town to have a bit of breakfast and have a look around.
I have to share yale’s super healthy picked Rueben sandwich that he had for breakfast – I had a boring old omelette (that cost about $5 – gotta love the exchange rate here compared to Iceland!)
The Warsaw opera house that was built in1825 to 1833, is known as the Grand Theatre in Warsaw or Teatr Wielki w Warszawieis. It is actually a large theatre complex consisting of spaces for the national opera company and the Polish National Ballet. It is one of the largest theatres in Europe can seat over 2000 people. Warsaw’s Castle Square, Zamkowy w Warszawie, is located in front of the Royal Castle and a seriously picturesque and popular spot. It’s surrounded by historic townhouses and cute little cafes.
In the middle is Sigismund’s Column, which sounds much better in Polish: the Kolumna Zygmunta. Originally erected in 1644, it is for obvious reasons one of Warsaw’s most famous landmarks. The statue commemorates King Sigismund III Vasa, who moved Poland’s capital from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.
The column used to be of red marble and was only 8.5 m high, with a 2.75-metres high statue of the king. However, on September 1, 1944, the monument was completely demolished by invading Nazi Germans and the bronze statue was severely damaged. In 1949, the statue was repaired? recreated? and set on a new granite column so Sigismund’s Column now stands at 22 metres. The Royal Castle in Warsaw, or Zamek Królewski w Warszawie, is a castle residency that formerly served for several centuries as the official residence of the Polish monarchs, including Tsar Nicolas of Russia when Poland became part of Russia after the Napoleonic wars. The complex has been the primary residence of the Dukes of Masovia since the 16th century and has been the seat of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, being for the King and for the Parliament, with fancy Chambers for the Deputies and Senate. In its long history, the Warsaw Royal Castle was repeatedly looted and devastated by the invading Swedish, Brandenburgian, Prussian and Tsarist armies. Seems everyone wanted a piece of this Castle at some point.
Looted and completely razed to the ground by the Nazi Germans following the Invasion of Poland in 1939, it was left in ruins and then almost completely destroyed in 1944 after the failed Warsaw Uprising. The Castle has completely rebuilt and reconstructed with fundraising efforts to complete the project starting in 1949. Many of the Castle’s curatorial staff took great pains to try and move as many of the more important elements of the Castle’s collection and design elements to the National Historical Museum before the advancing Nazi armies could loot and subsequently destroy it entirely. Their heroic conservation and documentation efforts are the only reason the castle has been able to be rebuilt to its original splendour and contains any of its original artefacts today. The inner courtyard:
The Great Assembly hall is the biggest and grandest room in the Castle. This is where royal audiences, state banquets, ball and concerts were held. Audience chamber where the most important visitors were granted an audience with King Stanislaw August, including foreign ambassadors, papal legates etc. The Throne Room has been restored with much of its original decorations and furnishings, including doors, furniture and wooden panelling. The Polish eagles in hand embroidered silver bullion over the back of the throne’s canopy were all ripped off the original embroidery by Nazi officers in October 1939. The 86 copies here were modelled on one of these original eagles that was retrieved from the US in 1991. Beside the Throne Room is the Conference Room or Monarchs’ Portrait Room, which was used as a parade chamber. Dedicated to the seven monarchs of Europe at the time, it is decorated with portraits that were commissioned of their likenesses. The portraits were painted by Jan Bogumil Plersch between 1983 and 1786. The parquetry is amazing! The King’s bedroom as part of the residential King’s Apartment. Some pieces of the room were preserved before the Nazi destruction allowing the room to be recreated accurately. Ceremonial sword of state late 1700s. The Small Private Chapel off the Kings Audience Chamber.
The Marble Room was designed in 1640-1642 during the reign of King Wladyslaw IV and was little used until King Stanislaw August commissioned it’s restoration to famous architect, Jakub Fontana. It served as a second antechamber to the Throne Room. Thankfully most of the painting in this room were removed before the Castle was bombed in September 1939, and saved from the great fires that followed.
As luck would have it – the Castle is having an exhibition of fine arts that included some famous Rembrandt works. Our entrance ticket included entrance to the exhibition (suck that piecemeal ticketed Krakow Castle!). My photography sucks, but it is lovely to be able to see these pieces in person.‘Girl in a picture frame’, Rembrandt, 1641 (and detail below). ‘Johann Baptist Lampi the Younger’, Antoni Jozef Lanckoronski, 1817 (and detail below). ‘Still Life with a Celestial Globe’, Carstian Luyckx, 1660s (and detail below). ‘Francis I, King of France since 1515’, from the workshop of Joos van Cleve, ca 1530 (and detail below).‘Adam and Eve’, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1520-1525.
‘Mystic Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria’, Flemish School, c.1605. (and detail below)
‘Prince Wladyslaw Zygmunt Vasa’s Kunstkammer’, Antwerp School, 1626 (and detail below). Polish Organ c. 1640. All up we had a much more positive experience at Warsaw Castle than we did at Krakow Castle – no restrictive timed ticketing, more than one person actually selling tickets, staff were helpful and interested in making sure visitors found their way around okay and even pointed out seats to us in dimly lit rooms. They allowed us to take photography AND they had exceptional books in their gift shops. Bonus.
As we were heading out of the castle, I saw this small child playing the accordion in the street busking for money. I am always conflicted when I see things like this – especially at midday on a school day. Has the child been put out here to beg money by the parents? Is he in a position of some sort of servitude. I gave him 1 Zolty and leaned down to take his photograph while he played. I gave him a friendly smile and he looked right through me like I wasn’t there. Completely validating my concerns – that poor kid didn’t want to be there playing for tourists :/ The Old Town and Castle Square is just gorgeous little area to stroll around. But alas, we had places to go and borders to cross!
From here we hightailed it to the airport headed to Kiev. Thankfully our experience dropping off the rental car was much easier than in Dresden – you could actually find the place which is a good start, but because of our low expectations, we found ourselves all raring to go nearly an hour before our check-in opened, which made for some excellent chilled out time for people watching.
We saw many travellers losing their shit at check-in staff and even though we couldn’t understand a word, we could definitely tell at which point the guy was demanding to see the manager. It was hilarious… in a pain + distance = humour, kinda way.Flight was uneventful. People cheered when we landed, and some were doing that Chinese thing where you run down the aisle before the seatbelt sign was off to try and get off the plane first, only to be told they had to wait for a bus to take us off the tarmac. yale looked quite confused, he’d never seen that before. Then when they did get us all packed into a standing only space bus, someone had left their passport back on the plane so we all had to wait another 10 minutes.
Queues looked dreadful at check-in, like chaotic and way too many people, but the staff cleared the hall quickly – turns out the rope lines were no where near as long as I thought. We got picked up by a hotel driver and whisked to our hotel. So far I have noted that driers in the Ukraine seem far more steady than those in Poland… so far.
Quick dinner of beef strog and honey cake and early night sleep. The honey cake was a disappointment, no where near as nice as I remember from Moscow.