This was our last day in Warsaw to take in all of the remaining sites, and our first stop was to the Old Town Market Square. More than 85 percent of Warsaw’s historic center was destroyed by Nazi troops during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, but thankfully the Old Town was restored and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There is a statue of a mermaid in the middle of the square, which happens to be Warsaw’s symbol. “Many legends exist that describe how the mermaid came to symbolize Warsaw. A popular version of this story tells of how the mermaid named Sawa was rescued from capture by a man named Wars. Because of Wars’ kindness, Sawa vowed to protect the city. Warsawa (Warsaw) became the name of the city and the mermaid is shown with a sword and shield in recognition of her promise to protect the city. In another story, a peasant man named Wars was directed to the location of the future city by Sawa, the mermaid. A related version of this tale explains how a prince, guided by a mermaid, traveled to a small village where he was given food by a mother with two children he named Wars and Sawa. The prince bestowed land to the family and the mermaid rose from the water to bless the future of the city that was to become Warsaw.” Regardless of whichever story one may choose to believe, the mermaid symbol can be found incorporated into some of the architecture throughout the city.
As we explored the surrounding area by the Old Town Market Square, we came across a museum dedicated to the discoverer of polonium and radium, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Marie Curie—who also happened to be born in Warsaw. We then came across a beautiful church, followed by a second church with an especially tragic history. During the Warsaw Uprising, the church served also served as a hospital, which was located in the crypt of the church. The church itself provided shelter to the civilian population during the bombing blitz. In Mid August, the church was bombed and destroyed, killing approximately 1,000 people. The hospital managed to continue to function in the ruined building until it was taken by the Germans in September 2nd. The invaders firstly executed the whole medical staff and blew up the hospital burying about 500 people alive under the rubble. After the war, it turned out to be impossible to exhume the remains of all the victims. Therefore, the ruined crypt was completely covered with a new marble floor with the remains entombed underneath.
After our brief exploration during our free time, we stopped at a small cafe for lunch, where I had a tuna sandwich and an incredible berry merengue pie. (Not to bore you with minute details, but I had to include this as well as a picture because it really was great). When we finished lunch, we headed over to the Wilanow Palace, a Baroque-style royal residence built between 1677-1696, and has been consistently changed and modified ever since. Each time a new generation took over the Palace, they either remodeled or added onto it in a personal favorite style, which is why parts of the palace may look different than others. Nevertheless, every aspect of the Palace is truly magnificent.
When the tour of the Wilanow Palace concluded, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. As we walked outside our hotel and continued down the street, my sister and I saw a crowd gathered outside a hotel. We asked a local what everyone was waiting for, and they told us that the Real Madrid soccer team would be leaving the hotel any minute. They had been in town to play against Fiorentina, and stopped at the hotel to pick up their belongings before returning home. With high hopes of seeing celebrities, my sister and I decided to camp outside the hotel with other fans of the team. When three hours passed by and no one left the hotel yet, my sister and I decided to return to our hotel a few blocks away so that we could change for dinner. Just two blocks before arriving to our hotel, a motorcade consisting of police cars and police motorcycles passed by, along with the busses filled with the players of Real Madrid. Had we stayed in front of their hotel for ten extra minutes, we would have seen all of the players…
We went back to the Old Town Market Square for dinner, and ate in a fifty-seven year old Kosher restaurant, with hopes of tasting traditional Jewish food from the area. I ordered a steak that tasted like it was fifty-seven years old, but even so, the traditional Jewish pictures throughout the restaurant and its long-standing history in the community was still impressive. After dinner, we stopped for a drink at a bar a few stores down and walked back to our hotel as soon as our tiredness kicked in. On the way back, we passed The Church of the Vistandines, a Roman Catholic Church from the 1700’s, and even made it in time to watch the changing of the guards at the country’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The picture below is a little blurry, but the guards were just changing shifts at the top of the hour. With enough excitement for one day, it was time to go to sleep for the night, and prepare for our trip to Krakow in the morning.