Tag Archives: Palace of Culture Warsaw

Valentine’s Day in Warsaw

warsaw-poland

On arrival in Warsaw it was most noticeable was that it was very, very busy indeed and this turned out to be on account of the fact that this was February 14th, Saint Valentine’s Day.

Apparently this is a very big big day in Poland with lots of street entertainment, so many free roses distributed on the pavements that most girls were carrying an overflowing bouquet and bars full to capacity as families and lovers dawdled through the old town streets in the unexpected sunshine.

After completing a circuit of the old town just to get our bearings and to identify some potential restaurants for later we found a bar with a vacant table and ordered our first Polish beers.  The waiter tried to persuade us to eat but we said it was too early.  He was persistent and told us this would be a good time because later everywhere would be full.  In retrospect he clearly knew something that I didn’t.

Kim wondered if we should book a table somewhere but I passed this off as opportunist salesmanship and persuaded her that there was no real need.

This was a decision that I was going to regret later.  Life is like that, sometimes you miss an opportunity that you will never get again, rather like putting £100 on Leicester City to win the Premier League at 5000 to 1.  I didn’t of course.

Warsaw Old Town

So we made our way back to the Polonia Palace Hotel stopping off at a mini-market on the way to get some essential supplies and then we squandered a couple of hours enjoying the room and a glass or two of wine as there was no dining problems ahead at all.

Finally we made our way out at about eight o’clock and the place was heaving with people, the pavements were jammed and there were queues at the burger bars and pubs and that was when I first started to grow concerned.  We tried a restaurant but were turned away because it was fully booked and then a second with the same result.  At a third the waiter told us that everywhere was certain to be fully booked tonight for Valentine’s night and that without a reservation we had almost zero chance of securing a table because every restaurant was sure to be full to capacity with misty eyed lovers exchanging gifts and carried away by the occasion making ill-considered marriage proposals.

Slowly that “I told you so” look started to creep over Kim’s face like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.

We had a debate and Kim decided that there was little point walking all the way to the old town just to suffer multiple rejections and my complete humiliation so we walked back to the hotel in the hope that there would be a spare table there.  My fingers were so firmly crossed that the blood circulation was slowly being cut off.  We passed the Palace of Culture which was bathed in Valentine crimson light and as I glanced across I noticed that Kim’s face was a similar colour, flushed in her case with irritation rather than passion.

Luckily the hotel restaurant could accommodate us for a special Valentine’s Day buffet and we enjoyed a fine, if rather expensive, meal and a glass or two of wine.  The day was saved!

One thing that intrigued me was that although this was Valentine’s Day with a special menu there were a number of people around us who seemed preoccupied with their mobile phones.  A young couple at the next table barely spoke a word to each other as they endlessly scrolled through their digital lives rather than attempt a conversation with each other.  I wondered if they had booked a table for four, him and her and their two tablets.  It seemed like a waste of money to me to pay for an expensive meal and spend so much time on Facebook!

Warsaw Palace of Culture

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

Palace of Culture Warsaw

Victory of Democracy

At two hundred and thirty-one metres high the Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is one of the most notorious examples of Soviet Realist architecture of the 1950s and you can’t miss it because it is the tallest building in Poland and the eighth highest in the European Union.  It was commissioned by Josef Stalin as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union and was supposed to be symbolic of the victory of communism over capitalism.

Next to it are the gleaming structures of the modern business quarter of Warsaw which represent the victory of democracy over tyranny, of free market over central planning, of capitalism over communism.

Read the full story…

Warsaw, Reflection and Assessment

Palace of Culture Warsaw

After a couple of circuits of the viewing terrace the penetrating chill of the wind forced us back inside but there was nothing else of interest inside the thirtieth floor so we waited for the lift and the yo-yo attendant took us swiftly back to the ground floor.

It was one of those places where I couldn’t help thinking that there must be more to see, but there really isn’t, a couple of souvenir shops and a café and that really is it so we made our way to the exit and left the Palace of Culture and Science and walked along a wide boulevard and back to the Old Town.  We probably wouldn’t have bothered going to the centre for a third time except for the fact that the sun was shining and we wanted to get some blue sky pictures.

We took a different route this time, which suited me just fine because it missed out all of the shops and surprisingly Kim didn’t seem to notice.  Eventually we came to a green park, Saxon Gardens, chilly and empty today but I imagine rather vibrant in the summer with fountains and classical statues lining the walkways.  The route took us past the site of the missing Saski Palace and on into Saxon Square, now renamed Piłsudski Square after one of the heroes of Polish independence in 1918 and where a brooding statue of him looks out over a vast empty concrete square where the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral once stood and which he probably had a say in demolishing!

So we walked to the Old Town which was strangely subdued this morning, the weekend street entertainers and the souvenir market stalls had all gone and the men in costume trying to persuade people to visit their bars and restaurants were having a very hard time of it.

Around the walls we walked and through the Barbican gates and then looked for new streets that we hadn’t discovered but there was no real reason to slow down and although we dawdled as best we could within twenty minutes we were back out of the streets of the pastel coloured Old Town and considering the prospect of a slow walk back towards the business quarter and the hotel.  I liked the Old Town, they have made a very good job of the restoration but for me, I have to say, it seemed to lack heart or soul.

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

Kim had plans to now to visit a coffee/cake shop that she had seen so we wandered along trying to relocate it.  We thought that we had found it but after we had gone in and selected a table she realised that this wasn’t it so we put our coats back on and promptly left.  After a few minutes we again thought that we had found it so we went inside into the warm and sat and chatted and reflected for a while.  As it turned out this wasn’t the one either and we walked past it a few seconds after leaving.

This was our third city visit to Poland and we were keen to make a judgement.  One thing that had surprised us was the size of the place and just how much walking was involved.  We agreed that Warsaw needed more than three days but we were not sure that we needed more than three days of Warsaw, if you know what I mean!

Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

And so rather earlier than planned we made our way back to the Polonia Palace, Kim made a detour to do some shopping and I went straight back to  the room to do some reading.  I have to say that I found Warsaw to be a little bit of a disappointment.

As afternoon turned to early evening we considered our dining options. This didn’t take long.  We just headed straight back to the restaurant that we that enjoyed the previous night, Na Brackiej (which simply means – on Bracka Street).  This is silly I know but once we find somewhere we like we get in the habit of going back even though there are others to choose from.  Once in Barcelona we went to the same place four nights running and I think we had paella every night as well (different varieties of course).  Well, the place didn’t let us down and we had a second excellent meal.

This was our final night, so, although it was cold we walked the streets for a while and then returned to the hotel.  Next morning we had breakfast with a vodka shot and then made our way to the bus stop for the return journey to the airport.  It was a pleasant journey back alongside the west bank of the River Vistula and soon we were at Modlin and waiting for our return flight home!

 

Warsaw, The Palace of Culture and Science

Palace of Culture Warsaw

There was a happy return to glorious sunshine this morning so we took breakfast early and stepped out to complete our sightseeing.  However, although the sun was out there was a stiff breeze and it was quite cool so once outside the door we turned straight round and went back in to get our hats and scarves.

It was the sort of blue sky that you could feel fairly confident that it would be there all day but just in case we went first to the Palace of Culture and Science with a plan to visit the viewing platform almost at the top.

On the ground floor the Museum of Technology wasn’t open and I sensed that Kim wasn’t desperately disappointed by that.  In fact Kim generally likes Monday sightseeing in Europe because as a general rule most of the museums are closed for the day.

At two hundred and thirty-one metres high the Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is one of the most notorious examples of Soviet Realist architecture of the 1950s and you can’t miss it because it is the tallest building in Poland and the eighth highest in the European Union.  It was commissioned by Josef Stalin as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union.  What a great gift!

You can’t say that the communists are always inefficient because construction began in 1952 and was completed in 1955 in a total of two years and sixty-six days, although to put that into context the Empire State Building in New York is 65% higher and was completed in less than half that time – one year and forty-five days.  Five thousand Russian builders were moved to Warsaw for the construction project which used forty million bricks and the completed building has almost three thousand, three hundred rooms.  Most of these are offices so visitors are entirely restricted to the ground floor and a maze of marble corridors.

It might have been free to go to the top on Sunday, I’ll never know, but it cost twenty Zlotys each today, that’s about £4, so nothing really to complain about.  We made our way to the lift and waited and soon the doors opened and we stepped inside.  It was gloriously old fashioned and sat on a stool in the corner was the lift operator whose only job was to close the doors and press the button for the thirtieth floor.

Power to the People!

This has surely got to be one of the worst jobs in the World, sat in a windowless box and taking people backwards and forwards all day.  I bet it takes some mental preparation in the morning before setting out to work.  We went up in complete silence, it didn’t seem appropriate to attempt conversation, I can’t imagine what you could say that she hadn’t heard a million times before.  She had a severe demeanour which said ‘don’t bother me’  and being stuck in the lift with her if it broke down would have been a hundred times worse than when I was stranded in an elevator with a turtle!

It was a fast lift, it took less than twenty seconds to get to the top so if the attendant is working flat out that is about one hundred and eighty times an hour or one thousand four hundred and forty times for a full eight hour day.  I imagine that when she gets home at night and someone asks how the day went then the only appropriate response is “oh, you know, up and down”.

It was cold on that observation platform I can tell you as we wandered around the edge and looked over the city.  Not a beautiful city I have to say and from this position it was easy to see how the modern city was reconstructed with the long straight boulevards flanked with communist style buildings and structures.  Despite the brutality of the architecture it is however easy to look out and simply admire the post war determination of the people of Poland to rebuild the broken city.

A lot of people in Warsaw don’t especially like Stalin’s gift but it looks set to stay.  This is unlike a previous Russian building gift that was built in the city centre during a previous period of Russian occupation.

Warsaw Alexander Nevsky Cathedral 1

It is said that the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky* Cathedral, completed in 1914, was the grandest building that ever stood in Warsaw.  Constructed of Finnish granite and clad in finest Russian marble it had five gold plated domes, and a seventy metre high bell tower.  By all accounts, inside the cathedral proved even more dazzling and copper and oak doors led to a lavish interior exhibiting oil paintings and icons, mosaic panels decorated the cavernous structure and the entire building was heavily adorned with precious stones.

Despite its grandeur it was not a popular building and when Poland gained temporary independence in 1918 the decision was quickly made to demolish it and in 1922 the tower was dismantled and between 1924 and 1926 fifteen thousand detonations were set off to reduce it to rubble – I suppose it saved the Nazis a job twenty years later!

The Russians built quite a lot of these things as gifts and whilst we clearly unable to visit the lost cathedral here in Warsaw we have previously visited the similarly named Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (there is also one in Sofia) when we visited Tallinn in Estonia but the best was the restored Cathedral in Riga which I imagine may have looked very similar to this one.

Riga Orthodox Church

* Alexander Nevsky was a thirteenth century Russian military and religious hero.

In 2005 the Russia TV Channel ran a poll to identify the Greatest Russian.  The competition was plagued with controversy and not unsurprisingly for a Russian election accusations of vote rigging and irregular block voting but at the end of it Alexander Nevsky emerged as the outright winner.  But it was a very odd result with Pyotr Stolypin ( a staunch monarchist prime minister of the last days of the Romanovs) coming second and Josef Stalin who is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of as many as sixty million people coming third!  At about the same time German TV ran a similar poll but votes for Adolf Hitler were not allowed.

Warsaw, Red Faces on Valentine’s Day

Warsaw Old Town

The flight landed ahead of schedule which was good but then we had to wait nearly an hour for the the express bus service to leave the airport for the city centre. To make matters worse it then waited twenty minutes after scheduled departure time to wait for passengers from a delayed flight!

Rather selfishly I didn’t care about the delayed flight I just wanted to get to our destination.  It took about forty minutes to take the forty kilometre motorway journey into Warsaw and thanks to what seemed to me to be a very efficient transport infrastructure with big wide double carriageway boulevards there were no real hold-ups and we arrived at our destination in the car park of the soaring monument to the communist era, the Soviet built Palace of Culture and Science.

Apparently the roads in communist cities were built straight and wide so to accommodate tank advances and troop movements should they be necessary!

We had dressed in anticipation of a sub-zero Warsaw winter so it was rather a surprise to find blue sky, a blazing sun and temperatures well into double figures and we didn’t want to waste this so we walked the short distance to the Polonia Palace Hotel, checked in, found our room, shed a layer or two of unnecessary clothing and stepped straight back out onto the street in search of the famous old town.

To get there we had to negotiate a couple of busy road intersections which required using a network of confusing underpasses, underpasses that were so big that there were shopping arcades and street entertainment down there.  Being underground we became disorientated and surfaced a couple of times in the wrong place but at the third attempt came up on the right exit.  I really don’t know how animals like moles who live permanently underground manage to navigate around so easily!

As I mentioned before (and will do so again) Warsaw was completely destroyed in 1945 so the entire city was redeveloped in the 1950s in the Stalinist style of architecture and the streets here were lined with buildings built in the modernist, what architects call Socialist Classicism style.  Personally I find them charmless, brutal and ugly and they are probably going to be here for a very long time so I suppose we will have to get used to them.

One of my first impressions was that there were a lot of shops here, far more shops than I am really comfortable with so with Kim stopping off every few steps to stare at shoes and sparkly things it took us rather longer than I had anticipated to reach the old town and by the time we arrived there the sun was beginning to drop towards the horizon and the photo opportunities were rapidly disappearing.

The other thing that was most noticeable was that it was very, very busy and this turned out to be on account of the fact that this was February 14th, Valentine’s Day and apparently this is a very big thing indeed in Poland with lots of street entertainment and bars full to capacity as families and lovers dawdled through the old town streets in the unexpected sunshine.

After completing a circuit just to get our bearings and identify some potential restaurants for later we found a bar with a vacant table and ordered our first Polish beers.  The waiter tried to persuade us to eat but we said it was too early.  He was persistent and told us this would be a good time because later everywhere would be full.  Kim wondered if we should book a table somewhere but I passed this off as salesmanship and persuaded her that there was no need.  This was a decision that I was going to regret later!

So we made our way back to the Polonia Palace stopping off at a mini-market on the way to get some essential supplies and then we squandered a couple of hours enjoying the room and a glass or two of wine.

Finally we made our way out at about eight o’clock and the place was heaving with people, the pavements were jammed and there were queues at the burger bars and pubs and that was when I first started to grow concerned.  We tried a restaurant but were turned away because it was fully booked and then a second with the same result.  At a third the waiter told us that everywhere would be fully booked tonight for Valentines night and slowly that “I told you so” look started to creep over Kim’s face like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.

We had a debate and Kim decided that there was little point walking all the way to the old town just to suffer multiple rejections so we walked back to the hotel in the hope that there would be a spare table there.  My fingers were so firmly crossed that the blood circulation was slowly being cut off.  We passed the Palace of Culture which was bathed in Valentine crimson light and as I glanced across I noticed that Kim’s face was a similar colour, flushed with irritation.

Luckily the hotel restaurant could accommodate us for a special Valentine’s Day buffet and we enjoyed a fine, if rather expensive, meal and a glass or two of wine.  The day was saved!

One thing that intrigued me was that although this was Valentine’s Day with a special menu there were a number of people around us who seemed preoccupied with their mobile phones.  A young couple at the next table barely spoke a word to each other as they endlessly scrolled through their digital lives rather than attempt a conversation with each other.  I wondered if they had booked a table for four, him and her and their two tablets.  It seemed like a waste of money to me to pay for an expensive meal and spend so much time on Facebook!

We had had a good first day so after the meal we returned to the room and looked forward to our first full day in Warsaw tomorrow.

Warsaw Palace of Culture

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symmetry, The Palace of Culture in Warsaw

Palace of Culture Warsaw

One of the most notorious examples of Soviet Realist architecture, at two hundred and thirty-one metres high, the Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Poland and the eight highest in the European Union.  It was commissioned by Josef Stalin as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union.

You can’t say that the communists are always inefficient because construction began in 1952 and was completed in 1955 in a total of two years and sixty-six days, although to put that into context the Empire State Building in New York is 65% higher and was completed in less than half that time – one year and forty-five days.