“The destruction of Poland is of utmost importance. There can be no question of sparing Poland, and that is why we stand on our decision to attack Poland at the first opportunity.” – Adolf Hitler
The destruction that was caused by these words is well known, and Warsaw was the epicenter of the brutality. I wanted to realize, first hand, the toll that war takes on a country and its people. Being in Warsaw and seeing the progress that the Polish people have made considering their tumultuous history rekindled my faith in humanity. It showed me that peace and harmony are much stronger than fear and hatred.
Our trip was a strange mixture of mundane everyday sights, with frequent flashbacks into a violent, humbling past. We reached the capital in the wee hours of the morning, since we booked a midnight ‘Polska’ bus. The fabled Polska bus didn’t cease to amaze me throughout my stay in Poland. I strongly recommend it for inter-city travel in Poland. It is comfortable, reliable, economical, and even has free WiFi.
The sun had just started coming up, warming up the crisp chilly morning to the perfect temperature. Public places were deserted, which provided the perfect setting to walk through the city’s alluring streets. Exploring the city like this was a special treat. We were also lucky enough to witness a change of guard duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is a monument that commemorates forgotten soldiers that were martyred in wars that Poland fought. Four guards came marching from seemingly nowhere, a salutation followed and the old guards marched away, supposedly to get some sleep. We stood there in silence as the outgoing guards marched away, and there was a palpable sense of loss.
Walking around Warsaw Old Town when the day was still in its infancy and cafés were either shut or just opening up, the roads completely vacant with statues aplenty, felt like a dream. One trend I noticed not just in Warsaw but almost all the city centers in Poland, was that each adjacent building is painted in a different colour, which added a magical dimension to the city. By this time, our stomachs had started growling and we found a café just opening up at the city center. We gorged ourselves on picturesque waffles and refreshing coffee.
Perhaps the only blimp on our otherwise perfect trip to Warsaw was our choice of accommodation. Thinking economically, we chose a hotel almost 8 kms away from the city center, thinking it would be easy to travel to and from the hotel. This turned out to be difficult as we had to plan our time and it took almost half an hour to reach the center. An effort to find something close to the hotel also backfired.
It was nearing sunset time and we were looking for a café in the vicinity. We found one on Google with a decent rating and the pictures seemed nice. So we set off on foot looking for this café, with Google Maps guiding us. What we found was more of a dump yard/backhouse which was filled with huge bald tattooed men in leather jackets with large beards and a shabby appearance. When they saw us, everyone stopped what they were doing and started staring at us, as if we were their next meal. We all pretended that we were lost, started looking into our phones and walked away in unison. So yeah, we explored the shady side of Warsaw as well. We spent our only night in Warsaw sitting at a café by the roadside in the city center, taking in the nightlife and wishing the night would never end.
Even though I generally have limited patience for museums, The Warsaw Uprising Museum was like no other. The city’s turbulent history was described in an informative and engaging way. The museum describes the resurgence of Warsaw after the pummeling it got in WWII. It was the target of unrestricted aerial bombardment by the Germans, and it is truly a miracle that the city has been able to recover so well. The Warsaw Uprising was an operation by the Polish Home army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. It is said that nearly 84% of Warsaw was totaled and 200,000 people lost their lives. Walking through the museum and seeing the havoc that was wreaked and the conditions that people were put through gave me goosebumps.
By the end of the trip, I was silent and the general mood of our group was solemn. Places like this Museum and even Auschwitz leave me bewildered about how humans can commit such horrendous crimes and how important it is to be wary of extremism of any kind. Visits to such places render me speechless and leave me in a general state of despair. The realization that this isn’t just something that we read in history books, millions of innocent people were bombed mercilessly, hits me hard. The resilience and passion for freedom of the Home army gives me hope and makes me optimistic. It also makes me grateful for being born in such a peaceful time, where information is at hand and individuals of all ages have the power to make well informed distinctions between what is right and what is wrong. The visit made me think that ‘War-saw’ is an apt name for the city, because it has truly seen its share of wars.