Warsaw is an interesting city. Apparently it was like many other stately European cities - full of parks, lovely architecture from a span of centuries, walkable, and, as they're saying now, "human-scale." At the end of World War II, after Hitler had invaded Poland and forcibly relocated (and almost totally exterminated) Warsaw's 300,000 Jews, as well as numerous Poles (with a focus on the clergy and notable intellectuals), the Poles' resistance, especially the Warsaw rising, inspired him to particular rage. Already losing the war on multiple fronts, with a crisis of morale, and supplies needed on active fronts, he diverted men and munitions back to Warsaw, where he evacuated those remaining in the city and then began to level its empty buildings with explosives. He destroyed almost every building in the city. An empty city. That he had already captured. (The Poles, typically, continued to fight while this went on.)
Warsaw made post-war Dresden and London look like Stepford. The Poles managed to rebuild more or less exact replicas of the center city and most of their main streets. They put the top halves back onto their historic churches, but many ornate baroque churches, which very obviously were once covered in gilding, marble, mosaics, and frescoes, are now simply painted white on the inside. The beautiful architecture remains, but the decorations are gone. There are exceptions...as you will see.
Stalin then took over where Hitler left off, plunging Poland into decades of economic depression and social repression as a result of oppressive and economically insane statist policies. As his "gift" to the city, he built an enormous neogothic tower, the Palace of Arts and Culture, in the center of one of the city's plazas. It was intended to be the largest and most imposing structure in the city - a demonstration of Russian superiority. I generally think neogothic architecture is beautiful, but the building has a palpably menacing appearance. It is no longer the tallest building in the city - where Warsaw's historic buildings were not rebuilt, contemporary architecture has arisen, including a smattering of skyscrapers, malls, and hotels. We took pictures at dusk from the tower's overlook:
The city's castle (at one time residence of the last king, now a historic site) is on the right; a snippet of the historic main square (rebuilt) is on the left:
We trooped through the forest (that's the brother and sister in the center) to see the former royal summer palace.
It's a modest affair compared to, say, Schoenbrunn (in Vienna). It's very pretty, though:
We also toured a beautiful historic cemetery:
And enjoyed some Polish food, went to the largest mall in Poland, took the trams a lot, drank tons of hot chocolate, had some excellent baked pierogi (need recipe), got the odd souvenir, and hung out. And walked around with wet feet in the snow. (Note: visit Warsaw in May.) We also saw a lot of churches (and that was the abbreviated list), including St. Anne, in which our parents were married in 1976 (they began their divorce proceedings twelve years later). That one doesn't lack for any ornamentation (with misfit and brother):
This church (I forget the name) has a very unusual design on its high pulpit:
I said prayers for you all in front of the statue of St. Maximilian Kolbe, and offered my Sunday Mass for you as well. My father always told the joke about the Pope running all over the world trying to get in touch with God in an emergency - nobody can help him out, but when he gets to Poland, they say, "No problem." "What, He's in Warsaw?" says the Pope. "Well, no," they respond - "but it's a local call from here."