Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trip to Warsaw, Poland (July 2015)

Palace of Culture and Science

We loaded our luggage at 6:45am, ate breakfast at 7am and departed the beautiful city Vilnius for Warsaw, Poland.

Like many Eastern European countries, Poland also has a complex and somewhat sad history. Among them was the genocide of Polish Jews, particularly at Auschwitz where millions of Jews were massacred.

Poland had a peaceful and prosperous time for 2-3 centuries while it maintained an alliance with Lithuania until the end of 19th century. Poland came under the occupation of the Russian Empire and had been under the Russian influence with on-going struggle with the Nazis. During the World War II, six million Polish people died. In 1944, a Soviet-backed provisional government was established and later it became a satellite state under the Soviet Union ruling. The community party was overthrown in 1989 and Poland became a democratic nation.

When you hear Poland, one of the first image that comes to your mind is Auschwitz concentration camp. Along with its satellite camps, it was not only concentration camp where prisoners were put in jail, but also a labor camp where the prisoners had to do hard labor and an extermination camp where people were executed. The most notorious extermination was the killing of 3 million Jews were murdered, primarily in gas chamber. We did not get to visit this historically tragic place. Next time. Among all Jews, Polish Jews went through more severe suffering because 90% of Polish Jews in Warsaw were killed by the Nazis.

Despite this sad history, Poland now is one of the fastest growing nations in the world. Its economic growth continued while its neighboring countries were going through contraction. Also, Poland is now considered one of the safest nations to live in. What a change! There still are some Jews in Poland, approximately 50,000, and they hope to revive the thriving life in Poland like in the past when they thrived under no discrimination.

On the day we arrived in Warsaw, we took a tour combining the bus and walking. Among many sights and sounds we saw, the Lazienski Park where the royal residence is located stood out. The royal residence was not fancy but modestly solid. Several peacocks were freely walking around and the park was covered with a lot of trees and ponds.

We also walked around the old town plaza where many old buildings were located, including the Royal Palace, Cathedral and many restaurants and cafes. The streets were packed with people and street musicians were playing Chopin music. We briefly passed by the Polish Rising Museum.

We indulged ourselves with ice cream

Poland is also known for its famous musician Fryderyk Chopin. Chopin was a composer and a pianist. His short life of 39 years produced many music pieces that people still enjoy. We were able to visit his museum and also attended a piano concert that took place right at the Chopin statue. For one musician, the museum was well built and resourceful. It evidenced how much the Polish people love Chopin. At the open air concert, more than 1,000 people gathered and listened to the Chopin music played by the admirers of his music.

Chopin Museum
Chopin's last piano
Chopin's statue and open air concert
People listening to Chopin music at the concert
A statue outside the Polish Rising Museum

We also visited the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews that had been newly opened. The museum carried a lot of historic information and resources that vividly showed how Polish Jews came to Poland, how they prospered without discriminatory treatments in early years and how they had to suffer under the Nazis. On the way to Warsaw, we watched a movie "Pianist" that showed part of the sorrowful life of Polish Jews under the Nazi rule. It was heart-breaking. All in all, we walked probably 23,000 footsteps.
New POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
An ancient form of Synagogue
Polish Jews memorial monument

The following day, we stopped over at a brewery, called Lech, which was part of the same business group that produced the famous Polish beer Tsyskie.

Before we crossed the border to Germany, we stopped over at a Polish town called Poznan. It was a small town but with a cute plaza. We had lunch over there and took a group photo.

Overall, our experiences of Poland were somewhat limited, but I could sense that Poland had a strong resolve to become a strong nation again. Their customer services may be a little behind, blaming the Soviet or Russian influence, but their strong resolve may transform themselves to become a nation of hope and prosperity. We did not have time to visit Auschwitz and Krakow, two famous places in Poland. - Jeffrey

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