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The Polish capital Warsaw was heavily damaged during the Second World War. Not that it shows, because the reconstruction of the city after the war was addressed profoundly. Using old photos, paintings and postcards as a guide, houses and other buildings were reconstructed. Even a part of the city wall (which was already demolished before the war) was restored. So Warsaw is a city that feels old, but in fact isn't. In addition to these 'new' historical buildings there are memories of the Soviet era too. The most eye-catching piece is the 231 meters high Culture Palace. It was a gift from Stalin and therefore the building is built in typical Stalinist 'sugar pie' style. All references to Stalin have been removed later on - during the so-called destalinization. From the thirtieth floor you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Polish capital.
The heart of the old town (Stare Miasto) is the Rynek, the market square, where - incidentally - no markets are being held anymore. However, there are many cozy restaurants and terraces around this square. In the middle of the square stands the statue Mermaid Melusine. According to the legend she lived in the Vistula River and commanded the Duke Boleslaus to found a city at the river. Located near the market square is the Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski). This too was virtually wiped out in the war, but rebuilt between 1971 and 1984. The castle was not restored to its state just before the war, but as it was in the eighteenth century. Much of the furniture was stored into safety at the beginning of the war and so a large part of the furniture, tapestries and precious porcelain are therefore part of the original furniture.
Before World War II many Jews lived in Warsaw. The Nazis closed the Jewish quarter off from the rest of the city. The Jews rebelled en masse against the ghastly circumstances in that ghetto in 1943. It took a lot of effort to suppress this insurgency. The Monument to the Small Rebel (Maly Powstaniec) reminds of that revolution and the messenger role children played at the time. Right after the war, in 1948, the Ghetto Hero Monument was unveiled. A part of the three-meter-high wall that stood around the ghetto remains standing, as a reminder of the horrors during the war.
In 1944 a much larger, armed revolution followed from the Polish resistance army. The Poles lasted 63 days, but there resistance was eventually broken. Out of revenge, the German army destroyed most of Warsaw. At least three quarters of the city was in ruins after the war. The Warsaw Uprising Museum is dedicated to Poland's courageous struggle. In 1989 the Revolt of Warsaw Monument was revealed at the Krasinskich Square. It depicts how the Polish resistance army reached the inner city of Warsaw: through the sewers.
The oldest church of Warsaw is the St. Johns Cathedral, originally from the fifteenth century, but continuously adapted over the centuries. The church was rebuilt in Gothic style after the war. Apparently, the crucifix in the church can perform miracles. The Visit Church (or Jozef Church) came out of the war unpunished. Inside are paintings by Polish artists and also note the richly decorated pulpit, in the shape of a ship.
Located in the outskirts of the city is the Wilanów Palace, built in the seventeenth century as a summer residence for King Jan III Sobieski. The interior is full of splendor and beauty, in particular the exuberant Scarlet Hall. The Poster Museum (Muzeum Plakatu) has been housed inside this palace too, boasting a huge collection of art prints. The palace is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped park.
The composer Frédéric Chopin only lived in Warsaw until his twentieth life year, after which he left for Paris never to return to Poland. He is buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, but his heart is preserved in the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. Next to it stands the former home of the Chopin family and in the Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina are objects, letters, music pieces and photos on display from the life of Chopin. You can find a sculpture of the famous composer in Lazienki Park, the green lung of Warsaw. Incidentally, this is a copy of the original sculpture from 1926, because Chopin's music was banned by the Nazis and the sculpture was destroyed by them.
The Kampinoski Park lies to the north west of the Polish capital, a swampy peat area with striking sand dunes. Walking routes have been marked throughout the area.
Further northwest, about 200 kilometers from Warsaw, lies the historic town of Torun. This walled, medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the birthplace of Mikolaj Kopernik, better known as Copernicus. The house he was born in has been turned into a museum to this famous astronomer. Also in Torun, a special gingerbread is made, baked with a secret recipe using medieval moulds.
In recent years, traffic has become increasingly busy in Warsaw and finding a free parking space on the street is therefore difficult. There are only a few parking garages which are often full. Most hotels in the center have parking spaces for their guests. Furthermore, there are some P+R sites where you can park your rental car and then travel to the center of Warsaw using public transport.
The city's international airport is fully named Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport and is situated ten kilometers south of Warsaw. Outside the peak hours the airport is easily accessible by rental car. From the center of town, follow the Zwirki í Wigury road (road number 634), which leads directly to the airport.