I Saw Warsaw

This item appears on page 44 of the November 2017 issue.

Warsaw was the topic of our latest essay contest, and it is notable that everyone who wrote in was struck in the same way by a particular dynamic aspect of that city.

From the entries submitted on the topic “I Saw Warsaw,” ITN awarded three prizes. The top-ranked essay was that of ELLEN RADO of Hollis, New York, who will receive a 3-year extension to her ITN subscription (or she can pass her prize along to friends). In second place was the essay of AMY ROMANO of Glen Cove, New York, whose subscription will be extended two years, and in third place was the essay by DIA GARY of Portland, Oregon, earning a year’s subscription.

In judging essays, ITN staff ask certain questions. Did we get a feeling for the people, a sense of their culture or outlook? Put us in your shoes; what did you experience or what encounters did you have? Could we picture various locations, and did we want to go there? ITN essay contests are open to subscribers only, and the next topic on the list created by ITN’s founder, the late Armond Noble, is “I’m Sweet on Sweden.” If you have been there, try to evoke — in no more than 300 words — a sense of the atmosphere, culture, people and attractions of Sweden.

Email your essay to editor@intltravelnews.com or send it to Essay Contest, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the address at which you receive ITN. The deadline is December 31, 2017. A prize will be given for the winning essay, which will be printed in ITN.

Here, now, are this month’s winning essays.

Every person has a story, as every city has a story. The streets of Warsaw unveil not only the past but the future of a city layered with historical significance as well as futuristic vision. Warsaw’s story is dramatic, one with terror, tremendous grief and resurrection. 

Warsaw is a magnificent city, restructured from a tumultuous past, rebuilt with energized vigor. It has much to offer its explorers. 

A visit to Warsaw would be remiss without viewing the Palace of Culture & Science. It rises above the treetops in a stance of superiority and extremism. The behemoth structure was a somewhat unwelcome gift from Stalin after World War II, the initial cornerstone erected in 1952, seven years after the end of a horrific world trauma. At the time, the construction resurrected the cities’ workforce, employing many Polish laborers — an apparition of what would come next. 

When walking around Old Town in Warsaw, I envisioned a population in 1939 scurrying for food and shelter, with huge bombs falling from the sky. I was cognizant of the bleakness, the loud bursts and the flames, engulfing mankind with the intent of stripping the nation’s soul. The Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto reminded me that in a time of war, no one is exempt.

Transitioning from Old Town to modern Warsaw began with the delight of a mime emblazoned in shining gold attire. He brought me pleasure as I looked upward. Toward the horizon, I scanned the sky, not for Luftwaffe bombers but for reflecting glass shimmering through the sun’s rays. A multitude of skyscrapers watch over the city, announcing that a new era is at bay. 

Warsaw is a city of great historical wealth and great beauty, a city so historically complicated that only the rocks can give testimony to its greatness. 

Dia Gary
Portland, OR

Although “I saw Warsaw” as a modern city, with upscale malls and restaurants and, as in any major city in the world, people rushing to work and children on their way to school, I couldn’t help but notice the ongoing construction wherever I went.

Warsaw is still being rebuilt after the destruction of WWII. It is interesting to see Gothic, contemporary and drab Communist-era architecture side by side.

Old Town Market Square, surrounded by ornate buildings housing shops and restaurants, is a lovely place to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing. The Royal Castle, now a museum, with the elaborate king’s apartment, ballrooms and 18th-century paintings, is a feast for your eyes.

Milk bars are interesting places to visit, although some have lost the look and feel of their original purpose. Opened post-WWII during the Communist era and subsidized by the government, these cafeteria-style restaurants served inexpensive home-cooked meals to workers. You can still find authentic milk bars throughout Warsaw where you can order soup or traditional pierogi.

I found it particularly moving, as I walked through the Jewish ghetto, that only a few markers, monuments and small portions of the ghetto wall are all that remain. The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews was disturbing but a must-see experience.

One cannot visit Warsaw without appreciating its revival while remembering its past!

All of this and more is what I remember from the time I saw Warsaw.

Amy Romano
Glen Cove, NY

The first time I saw Warsaw was on November 6, 1981. My husband and I were there, thanks to the Polish National Tourist Office, for a “fam” (familiarization) trip for travel agents. Poland hoped to bring tourism to Poland.

We were questioned intensely and unpleasantly on arrival. “How much money? Any furs? Any diamonds?”

The trees were bare, and the people were dressed for winter. There was a long line for gasoline, lines for food, clothing, everything. Stores had very few goods. Black marketeers offered money changing. There was a 10-year waiting list for new housing. Sugar was rationed. People we met in streets, shops, restaurants and hotels were not friendly.

The sights shown included churches, the Palace of Culture & Science, Chopin statues in parks, monuments where people died at the hands of Nazis, a monument to the ghetto uprising, Old City walls, the house of Marie Curie, Roman ruins, museums…. The weather was gray and rainy. It was the last throes of Communism.

The second visit to Warsaw was in March 2009 on a Central Europe tour by Cosmos. It was like a completely different place. Everyone was pleasant and friendly and seemed happy, including guides and drivers, in hotels, restaurants, shops and museums and in parks, where children played.

The same sites we saw before were more accessible and cleaner, like they had been spruced up after a disaster. We appreciated them much more — the churches, museums, Old City walls, parks and theaters.

We were impressed that everyone was crazy about Chopin. We enjoyed the food and the shopping (lots to buy!). I particularly liked to talk to people in parks, especially if they had children, but old folks too.

I saw a new Warsaw, and we wouldn’t mind going a third time!

Ellen Rado,
Hollis, NY