WARSAW: HOW THE CAPITAL OF POLAND SURVIVED COMMUNISM
It is no secret that Poland has some very tragic history. Even though I learned about the World War and how it destroyed my motherland in history classes, I felt I learned so much more about this country while being here and visiting the museums/doing tours. It is amazing to see a country that was ripped apart, put back together, ripped apart again, and put back together once more, survive and turn out strong and unified.
As I’ve grown into an adult, I’ve been more intrigued by my past and my own history. There is only so much you can learn from history books. I’ve gone back to Poland several times as a kid but have never had my interest piqued with “war stuff”. My most recent trip to Poland was different. I felt it was time to learn more about my roots, and what better place to do so than the capital of Poland, the city that was literally destroyed to the ground during World War II. So I decided to do two separate tours that concentrated on history, communism, and fun. These are my experiences:
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Off the Beaten Path with Adventure Warsaw
Tour length: 4 hours
Tour cost: 183PLN / 52 USD / 43 EU
Includes: Detail guided tour with Adventure Warsaw, traditional Polish lunch in a milk bar, Museum of Life Under Communist entrance, minibus from communist era transportation, hotel pick up and drop off at the meeting point.
This was the first tour that I did in the capital of Poland. I was picked up in a Pink Nysa van with a huge Adventure Warsaw sticker placed on it. I didn’t know what much to expect when I had to literally hop into the back of this car and sit on a small bench in the back seat that faced a family that was doing the tour as well.
The tour started driving around the remains of the Communism at Constitution Square then headed to pre-war Warsaw streets that survived World War II and headed to the Jewish Ghetto. Próżna 'empty' Street is known to be the miracle street of Warsaw. Most of Warsaw was completely demolished in WWII. Próżna street is unique though, it is the only street in the historic Jewish part of Warsaw where the buildings have been preserved on both sides. It is the only street that fully survived and locals cherish it very much. You can still see some of the bullet holes from the uprising that give you a sense and feeling as if you were still there.
We continued our tour in the Nysa van while or lovely tour guide drove and explained the history of Poland thoroughly. He was extremely knowledgeable and answered all of the questions we had. He touched on the cultural diversity of Warsaw back then vs. what it is now, pointed out the old and new architecture and how it affects the people living there today, and we talked about how communists rebuilt the city with propaganda. We continued our stories and journey and stopped at the Warsaw University of Technology where we talked more about how communism affected the Institute as well as a bit more broad history of Poland. The university is truly remarkable and worth visiting even if it isn’t on a tour.
We finished off our tour in the Praga district. This is a district that survived the war but was known to be a place that was dangerous and forgotten until a few years ago, today it is up and coming and transformed. Many artists live here and it has a bohemian feel to it. Many modern restaurants and housing have been added to this district that adds a good feel to the area. This district also houses the Museum of Life Under Communism. A museum owned by Adventure Warsaw, it is a collection of old communism memorabilia that include an apartment with toys, propaganda music and movies, sporting equipment, communist party member’s office, and old polish money (which I personally found the most fascinating seeing the evolution of).
After exploring all day we headed to a milk bar that is a Polish form of cafeteria-like restaurant that was very common in the communist times. We tried various Polish dishes and chatted amongst ourselves one last time.
Overall this was a fantastic tour. It gave me a lot of insight into the history of my country, and the capital of Poland. I grew up in a city fairly far in proximity of Warsaw so it was nice to see and hear about the country from a city that suffered severely.
Evening Warsaw Tour with Warsaw Behind the Scenes
Tour length: 3 hours
Tour cost: 157PLN / 44 USD / 37 EU
Includes: Warsaw Behind the Scenes guide, one beer, two vodka shots, minibus from communist era transportation, hotel pick up and drop off.
The second tour I did was slightly different than the first. It was an evening tour that included history but we also talked a lot about what is going on in modern Poland. Since the tour, I have been living in Poland for a few months so it was nice to be fully aware of what is going on in this country with some lighthearted cocktails to brighten the mood of the past and present. The tour was much smaller as it was just one couple and me but it was still very thorough and entertaining.
This time around I knew what to expect when I was picked up in a communism van (which also played communist propaganda music throughout the ride). The tour started off at the Palace of Culture and Science where we admired the architecture of the building and talked about the communist neighborhoods. Our tour guide had a great ability of not only describe the events that happened in the past but also put them into perspective for us. He really helped us to understand the severity of the history with analogies, perspective, and photos. We also talked about modern architecture and the buildings around the Palace and how they affect the current residence.
After the Palace of Culture, we walked over to a nearby pub where we sat on the patio and chatted about the current situations of Poland. It was nice to get insight into this country from a local and not the media. Our guide was very open and provided awesome perspective to my native country and also the country I would be living in for a few months.
We continued out journey into the Praga district, which was much more alive and hip in the evening hours than during the day tour. We had difficulties getting into the actual district because there were protests going on in the capital of Poland and roads were closed. It was actually a really amazing experience to be driving in a communism van playing propaganda music and there being protests on the street. Seemed a little surreal and an unforgettable experience for me. When we finally made it to the district we stopped at two local bars where we had a shot of polish cytrynowka (lemon vodka) and a shot of homemade moonshine at the other.
Overall this tour was very enjoyable. I loved that we talked about what modern Poland as well as some history. I really enjoyed that it was a small tour and the tour guide was curious to ask what we’ve already seen and learned. The uniqueness of the tour was also very special, it took us to sites that I wouldn’t have gone to outside of a tour.
The two tours were very different and they didn’t seem repetitive. I love that they brought what I learned in history classes into perspective for me. The first tour was very into the history of Poland whereas the second was more lighthearted and we talked about culture and current affairs. I would recommend both tours depending on your personal preference, budget, and time.
Is there a moment in history you learned about in school but didn’t fully understanding it until you went to see for yourself?
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xoxo Ania Travels 💜
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