Having legged it all over Warsaw’s key sights yesterday, it’s with some relief we plan a slower pace today.
First stop is the Warsaw Uprising monument, spotted on our way home last night.
It, like the other monuments in the city is strewn with flowers and candles in memoriam of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. It’s here, on the 50th anniversary of the Uprising, that Germany’s then President apologised to Poland for the Third Reich’s actions and the “bloody suppression of the Warsaw Uprising”.
The monument shows a group of soldiers defending the barricades, with others going down the sewers – that was how the insurgents moved through the city.
Beflowered as it is, with the story of the Uprising, detailed in tragic clarity nearby, it’s incredibly moving. But it’s the sight of an elderly couple solemly lighting their candle that tips the lump in my throat over the edge. For that generation the loss was, and no doubt still is, intimate.
We’ve planned to spend the day touring the Royal Castle, but lunch needs to be first port of call. We pick a family run restaurant, with outdoor seating on the city walls.
It’s a good choice. Himself tackles a huge serve of melting tender duck,
whilst I opt for my old faithful, pierogi and a cucumber salad.
It’s a delightfully calming spot: the food is homemade and delicious.
Emotions back in control and duly fortified, we tackle the Castle. Its history commences in the late 1500s, when the ruler Zygmunt III Vasa (he of the tall column in the square) decided to move the capital from Krakow to Warsaw, building the Castle in the process.
Designed by three Italian architects, the Castle held the seat of royal then political power across generations and centuries.
WWII effectively ended 500 years of history. On Hitler’s orders, the Castle walls were drilled, filled with dynamite and blasted into rubble. It was completely destroyed.
Eventually cleared to bare ground but held up with endless Soviet red tape, the rebuild didn’t commence until 1971, taking until 1988 to complete. Incredibly, the rebuild was paid for by the people of Warsaw. Think about that for a moment. Volunteers prepared the site and people living under a communist regime, not known for salary largesse, took money out of their very limited funds to pay for it. Clearly, today’s going to be a day that plays with my emotions.
By any measure, the Castle is beautiful. The rebuild reignited and honed ancient skills, untested for centuries. It’s truly a credit to the people of Warsaw and a fine symbol of the freedom it’s come to represent.
The formal rooms are divine: there’s the glorious ballroom with its impressive gold interior,
the Marble Room with finshes that reflect the period of the Castle’s creator,
the Senators’ Chamber,
the Knights’ Hall,
and the Throne Room.
It’s a mere fraction of the rooms on show.
We see the King’s private chambers,
endless halls filled with portraits and depictions of historically significant moments and even a collection containing works by Rembrandt. When the original Castle’s fate was sealed, the Curator quietly went about the business of secreting its treasures. He died in the process of protecting it.
There’s a museum of artefacts from the Castle’s history,
the royal gardens and a series of films detailing the Castle’s history from inception, through WWII and finally, its rebuild.
Finally, we see the Tin Palace. So named for being the first building in Warsaw built with a tin verus a tiled roof.
Somewhat annoyingly, our tickets don’t cover the latter, despite being the only tickets on offer. If I have any criticism of travels thus far, it’s that ticketing needs work in places. Tourists are quite happy for sites to take their money, it’s the annoyance of realising, hours into a tour, that you can’t get into a place you really want to see. At that point, you’re disinclined to stand in another line, at the start, to collect a second/third set of tickets. There was a display of royal jewels this applied to too. As Himself keeps reminding me, “you can’t see everything”. I will say though, tickets to the Castle are excellent value. There’s just so much to see.
By day’s end Himself begs relief. “I’m done” he’s says, “we need to go home”. And no entreaties will convince him otherwise. I do convince him to have a last icecream, taking in the Zygmunt Square as it awakens in the late afternoon.
Well done Warsaw. You’ve moved me from elation to tears, to elation and back to tears again. You and your spirit, your ability to survive, refuse defeat, and be defiant in the face of insurmountable odds then challenge, are a lesson for the the ages.