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If you want to learn some of Poland’s history and gain some insight into the Polish people and their culture, the Warsaw Rising Museum is the best place to start. The Museum documents the grassroots uprising of Polish citizens to free their country. The museum is free if you decide to go to the museum on a Sunday but be sure to get there in line about 30 minutes prior to the doors opening. On any other day, a student ticket is 20 zloty (almost $6). It’s truly amazing how many people, both tourists and locals alike, flock to this museum, it’s almost a tribute to their strength as Polish people. As an outsider, is interesting to ask and ponder about the uprising and the Polish spirit - any Polish person, no matter their English language skills, are happy and willing to tell you about their country and the brave women and men who struggled through the both the Nazi and Soviet regime to create the country you’re visiting today.
Another set of historical markers a visitor should make the point to see is the Jewish Memorials scattered around the city. If you walk around the former Jewish ghetto of Warsaw, you will see multiple different memorials and markers to remind residents and visitors of the tragedies that occurred within their own neighborhood, honor victims of the Holocaust and to aid in the prevention of repeating history. The most notable of the memorials located in the neighborhood is the Umschlagplatz monument. This monument symbolizes the train station that once stood at the same spot that would send Jewish Poles to concentration camps. Now there stands a quiet yet powerful place where all the family names of those sent to camps from this station are engraved. This monument may be a little out of your way if only have a few days to spend in Warsaw, but the lasting impact of visiting the monument is worth it.
The majority of the Old Town was destroyed during Nazi regime and then rebuilt to be almost identical to how it before World War II. With that in mind, your wanderings around the old town are just that much better. Here you can walk into churches, cafes, and small shops. On the weekends there are a plethora of small stalls to sell their goods. Look at these stalls, you may find a tasty snack or a fun item to bring home. One great and unique souvenir to bring home is Polish painted pottery – no matter on your budget or free space in your bag you will be able to find something to fit your needs. They make nice gifts without screaming “my best friend went to Poland and all I got was this painted spoon rest!”. If you have the pleasure of visiting Warsaw during the summer, you will immediately notice that everyone seems to have an ice cream cone glued to their hand. Take a cue and enjoy a tasty Polish soft serve ice cream cone while walking around the city.
There are some everlasting reminders of the Soviet era on the Polish culture but some of the most obvious to a visitor are Milk Bars and The Palace of Culture and Science. Milk bars are cafeterias where patrons pay based on the weight of the food they piled on their plate. Here you will surely find some great new favorites in Polish cuisine for a low price. The Palace of Culture and Science was built in 1955 and dedicated to Josef Stalin. Now the building houses a movie theater and concert venues and ironically a large shopping mall was built directly across the street from the former communist symbol in Poland.
The best place to try many different types of pierogi is Zapiecek, which is a local chain enjoyed Warsaw-locals and tourists alike. They have about forty different types of pierogi! At the restaurant, you can order pierogi in groups of three. The ones filled with local cheese, then fried and served with strawberry jelly for dipping are so worth all the calories.
Another tasty treat is paczki, a traditional Polish donut normally filled with rose jam. They are so delicious and popular that they ran Dunkin Donuts out of business – literally. A really great place to buy them is Cukiernia Pawlowicz (Chmielna 13, 00-001 Warszawa) where you can buy one for a few dollars.
E. Wedel Chocolate is the national brand of chocolate in Poland with its home found in Warsaw. There are Wedel Cafes across the city if you are looking for a cup of hot chocolate or a bowl of gelato in addition to enjoying their chocolate with a cup of strong coffee. A wonderful souvenir is a box of Wedel chocolate covered marshmallows – if you can resist eating them!
If you are looking to taste some Polish craft beers (and you should have at least one), go to the Old Town and find the bar, Same Krafty. There are two locations right across the street from each other to accommodate as many new drinking buddies as you can find!
The city of Warsaw has immense green spaces and Łazienki Park is a wonderful example of just that. At one end of the park, there is a grand palace while at the other end the Chopin memorial stands with lots of places to sit and picnic in-between. The gardens seem to always be crowded with those enjoying the nature of the gardens. If you’re lucky, you may see the peacocks who reside around the palace. This is an awesome place to spend a few hours if you are blessed with good weather during your trip to Warsaw and if you want you can rent bikes to explore the park from a different angle.
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