After Riga, I took a bus (an overnight bus) to Warsaw, Poland. I was last in Poland in 2000-2001, the year after graduating from high school, when I lived in Olsztyn as a Rotary International Exchange Student. That time in Poland marked my very first trip outside of the USA, and the first time I'd seriously studied a foreign language--out of complete necessity. In 2000, Poland wasn't a member of the European Union, not too many people spoke English very well (at least not outside of Warsaw), and, let's face it, the world was a lot less technologically developed. I used an AOL email address, and loading a single email (when I went to the internet cafe in town) took about 7 minutes. It was a different time and place, wherever you were.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect in Warsaw in 2012. I also wasn't planning on staying for too terribly long, since it's a place I've been to before. I was missing Sam and wanting to get on to Vienna to see him (it had been over a month, after all!) and to see Vienna (a major world destination, after all!). In fact, I probably should have stayed in Warsaw longer. All I can say is, if Warsaw isn't on your list of top 10 cities to visit in the world, it should be. I'll give you a minute to adjust your lists.
Now I'll go on to showing you some photo evidence to back up my claims.
First, this was my bus from Riga to Warsaw:
Individual monitors, Wifi, cappuccino, comfy seats... it wasn't too rough a journey
Warsaw's Old Town (made famous in the first unit of my first Polish book, entitled "Co to jest?", or "What is this?" when we learn how to say "Co to jest?-- To jest columna Krola Zygmunta.", or "What is this?--This is the column to King Sigismund.")
The Euro Cup 2012 Stadium was a very new addition to the Warsaw skyline
This store is called the "Sugar Owl". Just thought it was a cute name and a cute sign.
The Old Town, including this main square, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, despite being completely destroyed by the Nazis during WW2 and rebuilt after the war
The mermaid symbol of Warsaw
The Warsaw History Museum was closed, but had posted fantastic multi-lingual signs all over town about different historic things. In the main square, they had an overview of Poland in the olympics. I really liked the picture of the pole vault in the early 20th century, which looks to be over a lower bar than high jumpers clear nowadays
The Warsaw Uprising Monument. I was glad to see this, even though I mistakenly came here when my intended destination had been the Warsaw Rising Museum. This is a fantastic museum, probably one of the best I've been to and a good enough reason on its own to go to Warsaw. Seriously. Go to Poland.
...But the uprising failed, the Germans destroyed the city, the Soviets came in and "liberated" it, and Warsaw's skyline still includes a big Soviet building
The Warsaw Rising museum has a cool video of Pope John Paul 2's speech in 1979 when he visited Poland, where he talked about this statue being destroyed during the uprising. I think it might be from this speech, but I can't remember now. Regardless, watching the videos and the crowd reactions was incredible.
Another cool statue in Old Town
I happened into St. Anne's church just in time for an organ concert
The restored organ sounded incredible
During my wonderful visit in Warsaw, my stay was made all the more memorable and pleasant in that I was able to stay with some friends. In truth, Stephanie is my sister Jenny's best friend from high school. Stephanie and her husband, along with their three adorable kiddos, have been living in Warsaw for two years and very graciously invited me to stay with them.
K, playing with the best $2 gift I could have ever possibly bought, some bendy building block thingies
S was not to be outdone by his big sis
M was a little too little for the building block things, but I'll be gosh-darned if she wasn't about the cutest living thing that crawls
K likes to write stories on the bus
Stephanie and S playing a quiz game on the bus
M was content with a "Bah!" on the bus
The kids really got into self portraits!
In the end, my short trip to Poland was way, way too short. Sam has never been, though, so I'm hoping to make it back with him again sometime in the near future. And, to all of you who have now added Poland to your must-travel-to lists--LET ME KNOW when you go! I'd love to go with you!