What I Saw In Warsaw

January 17, 2016
Neon Museum Warsaw, Poland

What I Saw In Warsaw (now repeat that 5x as fast as you can)
For a city whose buildings get lower than Shorty in her apple-bottom jeans (save for that divisive Soviet monument colloquially dubbed 'Stalin's syringe') my expectations of Warsaw didn't fall nearly as flat her skyline. Frankly, I wasn't expecting much from the capital that often is overlooked for her more scenic cousin, Krakow. Perhaps it was the snow she wore like a cape of feathers that made Warsaw that much more enchanting, but I thought Warsaw was very charming in a rough-around-the-edges way (much like Romania was) yet refreshing with its juxtaposition of industrial-gothic-socialist realism (in the same way that Riga was so modest about being the Art Nouveau capital - oh, this ol' sphinx? It's just something I've had in my closet for ages).

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What to See in Warsaw, Poland in 24 Hours




Museum Of The HIstory of Polish Jews

Museum Of The HIstory of Polish Jews


Museum of The History of Polish Jews
& Warsaw Rising Museum

The first, and absolutely mandatory, stop is the core exhibition at Polin: A 1000-year history of Polish Jews. Allow yourself at least a few hours for this in-depth, interactive journey through the annals of Polish history - more than just incredibly detailed, there were moments when the intensity of it all made me step outside to compose myself. The exhibit culminates with the Holocaust, by which point I was absolutely reeling and ready for the defiant spirit of the Warsaw Rising Museum. The poignant words "We wanted to be free and owe this freedom to nobody" can only try to prepare you for the hopeful, if ultimately ill-fated outcome of Warsaw's most melancholy chapter. Combined, the experience of visiting the Museum of The History of Polish Jews and Warsaw Rising Museum in turn - for which I suggest devoting the better part of a day - is not one of brevity but it is absolutely essential: if not as an introduction to Polish history then also to understand the resilience of her people which in turn will make you both question yet reaffirm your faith in humanity.

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POLIN MUSEUM OF THE HISTORY OF POLISH JEWS

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WARSAW RISING MUSEUM

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Warsaw Rising Museum


If, as per my suggestion, you began your first 24 hours in Warsaw with POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and followed up with the Warsaw Rising Museum, you'd find that the better half of the day is gone. Especially so if you visit in winter, when the sun sets just after four in the afternoon. Take advantage of this figurative and literal darkness of the skies and spirit and make the journey off the beaten track to Soho Factory to visit the Neon Museum. 

Neon Museum Warsaw, Poland

Neon Museum Warsaw, Poland

Neon Museum Warsaw, Poland

The Neon Museum
You could visit the famous Neon Museum for a much-needed uplift of illumination after the thought-provoking darkness that is your study of Polish history. One might even be here just to enjoy the documentation and preservation of Poland's cold war era neon signs. Or, you could come to feel like you've fallen through the looking glass into a warren of tunnels, which while relatively un-complex, feel that much more disorienting and fascinating for the dozens of oversized neon lights: some mounted with pride of place, others almost haphazardly propped up against walls like some forgotten work by an absentminded craftsman.
Be warned, you will want to come away with everything. The vintage dealer in me couldn't help pointing and asking "How much for this?!" and texting photos to fellow antique lovers back in London - a decision I immediately regretted, having to return their enthusiasm with the disappointing news that nothing is for sale. Rather the equivalent of walking into the Victoria & Albert Museum and pointing with £50 notes saying "One art, please!"

THE NEON MUSEUM
(open Wednesday - Sunday, 12:00 - 5:00pm)

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Afterward, treat yourself to an early supper/late lunch (lupper?) with the eight-course tasting menu at nearby Warszawa Wschodnia by Mateusz Gessler


Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw Poland

Don't leave it till too late, as you want to get to the Palace of Culture and Science before the observation deck closes at 6:00pm.

The Palace of Culture and Science, also known as Stalin's Syringe, is literally the building that tore Warsaw apart. When it was first gifted by Stalin to the people of Warsaw by Stalin, the high-rise behemoth was especially awkward among Warsaw's flat skyline. Many Varsovians hated it (as a symbol of Soviet oppression) and certainly everybody had an opinion on it namely because you couldn't not notice it. While it 'created dissonance' and interrupted the harmony of the city's architecture, The Palace of Culture and Science was too large and its absence would be too noticeable to be torn down, so it stayed. It's the tallest building in Poland, the eighth-tallest in the European Union, and I love it: not just because I don't have to live with it, but also for the unique architecture - a mix of Art Deco, gothic, and Stalinist.

The view from the observation deck at Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw Poland

The view from the observation deck, or the Viewing Terrace "XXX Floor" (who names these things?) is something else, too.

PALACE OF CULTURE 
AND SCIENCE
Plac Defilad 1 (you can't miss it!
It's the rainbow elephant in the room)

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Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw Poland

No doubt by now you'll be knackered from racing across town to take in these four sights. I have one more stop for you (two, for the truly intrepid) - pop over to Old Town for a romantic, candlelit dinner at U Fukiera, then if you've any stamina left, to the Warsaw Marriott for drinks at Panorama Bar & Lounge. Read my list of 4 Restaurants in Warsaw to Try for my recommendations

Thank you for reading and for coming with me to Warsaw. Next stop...Brussels!

WARSAW BLOG POSTS ON POSH, BROKE, & BORED
The Wolf Of Warsaw
H15 Boutique Hotel and Apartments
Polish-ing Off Warsaw, one restaurant at a time

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