Our last day in Vilnius took a surprising turn for the different. When we were in Riga we met a great bloke who told us Ukraine Visa’s were surprisingly easy to get, you could arrange them at the airport. So we proceeded to verify this information that was correct and planned a holiday to Kiev.
We arrive at the airport go through the usual rigmarole and patiently wait at the gate. As we got to boarding we were suddenly told that we were not allowed on the flight. A little detail that we were flying into the wrong airport and there was no chance of getting into the country. This was a considerable problem, and there was no chance of us getting in. Unfortunately, this meant that we were going to lose all of the cash paid for our flights and hostel booking.
Still, things could have been worse we could have been deported from the country which would have created far greater issues for us as we tried to move around the different countries in the world. We also were presented with a conundrum on where do we go now and what do we do. 10 minutes of brainstorming presented Poland as the most logical option that wouldn’t interfere with some of our plans booked further ahead.
So we headed to Warsaw, unfortunately on the 9-hour bus from Lithuania. But when we arrived in the city we were greeted with an incredible modern beauty of this city that was 85% destroyed through the war. I was amazed that the city was so modern, but despite this it has recreated so much beauty. Arriving so late forced us to have a quieter night that truthfully was probably needed.
We welcomed our first day in Poland with a walking tour and discovered a lot of the city. Warsaw is a remarkable place, with zero expectations I didn’t quite know what to expect but it is incredibly developed and modern – resulting from an almost total destruction during the second world war. 85% of Warsaw and 95% of the old town we completely destroyed, in retribution for the Warsaw uprising when the Polish started to rebel up against their Nazi occupation during WW2.
The city of Warsaw is a European gem, beautiful, rich with history and monuments, and a rich, rich history – our walking tour took us through all the key attractions and monuments in the city, hearing the history of some of the key monuments, including one of the last King Sigismund III who was responsible for starting a number of wars with Polish neighbours, and being ruthless as a ruler, however his endearing act was moving the capital from Krakow to Warsaw, for that he was ever endeared to the people there.
We wandered through the streets of this amazing city, learning about the history, how it was rebuilt based on Bernardo Bellotto’s paintings to create a similar feel to the city before the start of the war. I mentioned above that the city was almost entirely destroyed – this was as punishment for the Warsaw uprising late in 1944. This uprising was widely regarded by most of the Polish people as a mistake given the proximity to the end of the war, and the punishment that was dealt in retribution, however it remains something that the Polish are extremely proud of – highlighting their deep sense of patriotism.
Another highlight along the tour was the Marie Curie museum, and hearing the story that was told of her works. Marie was famously the first woman to win a Nobel prize and the first person to win one in different categories, most notably she is credited with discovering the theory of radioactivity, essential in modern x-rays.
The tour wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the market square, famous for hosting the merchants of the city of Warsaw, and now a popular tourist spot. Also a chance to learn about the story of Marie Walewska, the wife of Napoléon Bonaparte. This story is a fascinating one of how Marie married to gain Napoléon’s favour in fighting the Habsburg, Russian and Prussian Empires to reclaim Poland as its own sovereign country.
This wrapped up quite literally a whirlwind tour of Warsaw, and after a bite of perogis for lunch it was straight to the train station where we were headed for our next stop – Krakow.