On our third day in the Polish capital, we decided to kick start our day of sightseeing by visiting one of the city’s top attractions; Pałac Kultury i Nauki, or the Palace Of Culture and Science as it’s known in English. As it is the tallest building in Poland, the eighth tallest building in the European Union and that there were clear skies as far as the eye could see throughout the morning, we knew the views were going to be awesome.
Originally built as a gift to the Polish people by Joseph Stalin, the building now houses containing cinemas, theatres, museums, offices, conference halls and even an accredited university, along with a terrace on the 30th floor that is a well-known tourist attraction that offers visitors the chance to see a full panoramic view of the city, and with our student discounts it was relatively cheap to go up. However, what me and my friends thought was a truly gorgeous building, the Poles don’t agree. Bojan, our tour guide from the day before jokingly told us that the finest view in all of Warsaw can only be seen from the top of the tower, because it’s the one place in the city where the building does not obscure the view. Because of this, locals have various nicknames for it, including the ‘Russian Wedding Cake’, ‘Stalin’s Syringe’ and even ‘The Elephant in Lacy Underwear’…and no, I’m not to sure about the last one either! Most of these derogatory names comes from the fact that the Palace was controversial from its inception, with many Poles still viewing it as a symbol of Soviet domination, past and present, while others believe that the the building destroyed the traditional rustic aesthetics of the old city. Many of the people in the city would love to tear it down, however the Poles have a saying, which literally translates to “you don’t return a gift”.
The views from the top were pretty spectacular, and as Poland is a relatively flat-lying country you are able to see hundred of miles in every direction, including the football stadium build for the UEFA Euro Cup in 2012, the Old and New Towns, the Chopin-inspired piano key pedestrian crossings on the road next to the Palace and the historical boroughs of Praga-Północ and Praga-Południe in the distance. If you’re planning on heading up, it’s definitely a job for a good set of hat and gloves, as even though there was no wind it was incredibly chilly. After half an hour or so admiring the views, and another 15 minutes of brisk walking around the inside of the Palace in an attempt to warm up and find some of the treasures it holds, we ventured outside for another bit of exploring.
We happened across this unusual looking building near the Hard Rock Cafe, which I’d originally thought to be the train station, but it was, in fact, the Złote Tarasy shopping centre. It’s sandwiched between a couple of buildings, and from any entrance it gives the illusion of cascading water which has frozen solid. As the sky was so blue due to the clear weather, the whole place looked awesome. I ended up venturing back here later on in the night by myself to do a little bit of late night shopping, mainly because I discovered that there was both a Bath and Body Works and a Douglas inside, as well as an Inglot shop and a variety of other stores that we don’t have back home in the UK.
Our next stop was the Nożyk Synagogue, which is the only surviving pre-war synagogue in Warsaw of the 400 that were once standing. Bojan had informed us that the only reason the building had survived destruction at the hands of the Nazis when it became part of the Small Ghetto was that it was used as a stables for their horses during their occupation of the city, which enraged our entire group, and rightly so. Thankfully, it has now been restored as a place of worship for what remains of the local Jewish community. It’s a beautiful building with rich traditional architecture, made even more beautiful with a backdrop of fresh snow and icicles hanging from the Romanesque detailing.
The synagogue is located near to Grzybowki Square, which joins onto Próżna Street which I talked about in detail here. It lies on the site of numerous old buildings of residence that once stood in the Warsaw Ghetto, although very few that still stand remain in the condition that they were left in. The Square is dominated by the All Saints Church, one of three Christian Churches to have fallen within the confines of the Small Ghetto. The church was damaged in 1939 during the Warsaw Uprising, which saw aerial bombings and German-led artillery attacks cause part of the roof to collapse, completely destroying the eastern tower. Along with numerous human casualties, various valuable epitaphs and paintings were also destroyed. The parish priest at the time of the war, Monsignor Marceli Godlewski, sheltered and helped Jews escape the Ghetto at the rectory of the parish. Now, the church is in the final stages of its restoration, and to me is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, especially with its large assortment of prayer candles lining the steps even though it no longer dominates the landscape due to all those naughty skyscrapers!
Again, we ventured over to Próżna Street. where we sat in the square, striking up conversations with locals who were curious with what we were up to and to investigate the walls of the building. In December 2012, a controversial statue of a kneeling Adolf Hitler was installed in the courtyard of the Ghetto building, created by Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan. Entitled “Him”, it receive mixed reactions worldwide, and much debate as the whether we was kneeling for forgiveness, for his crimes, praying or even surrendering to a fate that so many of his men had bestowed on the Jews; a firing squad. Many felt that it was offensive, while others, like myself, found it thought-provoking, or even “educational”. Sadly, it had been moved shortly before our visit, although this is what it looked like.
Food and drink is not hard to come by in the city, and all of it tastes utterly amazing and costs next to nothing, coming in at about £4 for a 3 course meal in most places, and £2 for a litre of the local beer. One of my favourites has to be the Zapiecek chains for some traditional and gloriously cheap mushroom pancakes and pierogi, which they serve boiled or fried with a variety of different fillings and sauces. They’re speckled throughout the city and some are much larger than others, but the one on Nowy Świat seemed to be the largest and, ironically, the quietest!
After dinner we headed off in different directions. i decided to head back to the shopping centre we’d visited earlier, stocking up on all the Bath and Body Works candles I could carry, including a 3 wick French Baguette which I know for a fact I’ll never bring myself to burn because it smells incredible,as well as enough Handibac hand sanitizers to last me a war and some mini body sprays to max out my liquid allowances on the flight home. Comparatively, everything was quite expensive compared to what they’d be stateside with what they currency exchange rate was, and almost fall into the luxury category because of it. But you only live once, and beautifully scented candles are pretty much a basic human right, right?