Trip Start Apr 04, 2007
Trip End Oct 22, 2007

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Flag of Poland  ,
Friday, August 17, 2007

We woke up slightly grumpy on our first morning in Warsaw, due to a broken night in a stuffy dorm. We left the window open for a while, but the noise from the bar next door was a bit loud, so we choose to put up with the heat instead - the joys of communal living. It was well above 30 degrees C by mid-morning, and we were starting to feel a bit travel-weary after almost five months on the road and somewhat unmotivated, so when we happened to stumble upon an outdoor cafe in a beautiful old square surrounded by cathedrals, we figured it was meant to be. We had a fabulous brunch of chilled fruit juice, fresh baked bread with homemade jam, and scrambled eggs with fresh herbs, served by a waiter in a bow tie. After several straight weeks of sandwiches and pasta, it was a lovely change - it's amazing what a bit of luxury can do for your state of mind!

Feeling better, we meandered through Praga, one of the only districts to remain mostly intact after the bombing in World War Two that levelled the remainder of the city, and watched the local bears swimming around the moat in their enclosure to try and cool off. We sympathized.

We spent the afternoon at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a new and brilliantly well done museum dedicated to the events of World War II in Poland, and more specifically the 1944 Uprising in Warsaw, which saw 18, 000 resistance fighters and 180, 000 Warsaw civilians killed in pitched battles with the Nazis spanning several months. When the fighters eventually realised that the infrastucture of the city had been destroyed, they had no food or water, and that the Allies were not coming to their aid, they were forced to surrender. Under the terms of the surrender, all of the remaining partisan fighters were sent to labour camps or concentration camps, and the remaining civilians driven out of the city, with the provision that what remained of the city would be left intact. Shortly after, the German forces bombed what remained into oblivion, almost literally wiping Warsaw from the face of the map.

In the years since, the city has done an incredible job of rebuilding. Ancient cathedrals, municipal buildings and private homes have been rebuilt to their original designs, and carefully aged to look authentic. Signs of construction are all around, and the Soviet-era concrete skyscraper known as the 'Palace of Culture' towers above more modern glass and steel constructions. There were plenty of parks, filled with statues and fountains, and Polish flags hung from almost every lamp post and public building on the day we arrived to mark the Polish equivalent of Remembrance Day. Given their grim history in the previous century, it's no wonder the Poles are so diligent in marking their military and historic milestones.

All our best from Poland,

Dan and Gabrielle
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