The meeting point of two of Warsaw's major streets, Gen. Charles de Gaulle's Circus cannot be overlooked. That is where Jerozolimskie Avenue crosses Nowy Swiat (the New World), a street of elegant shops but also of a number of institutions: editorial offices, educational institutes and many more. The street was carefully restored after the war and hides real treasures, like the building one wing of which you can see in the background - the Branickis' Palace. If you happen to be walking that way, even if you are feeling fine and don't need any medicines, drop in at the pharmacy (apteka) situated on the corner there. Moved here from the Old Town Market in 1851, the place has kept its original furnishings and decorations in the Gothic style, and is one of the best preserved 19th century pharmacies in Poland.
The circus itself has recently been adorned with a rather unusual feature, for Poland anyway: an enormous palm tree in the middle. A weeping willow or something of the sort would certainly have been more appropriate in our continental climate, though it might impair visibility on the roundabout. And that would have been a disaster. Deserted as it may seem at this early hour, normally the circus is packed with cars, buses, trams, their horns blaring as they block one another's way. Often there is the additional attraction of a convoy of government cars passing, with a police car in front flashing its lights and its siren blaring. After all, it is part of the Royal Route leading from the Presidential Palace to the government offices near Belvedere and Lazienki. But I suspect the royals of the past did not make that much noise.
It's a cosmopolitan district of chaotic, mostly ugly architecture, also of wide, busy and noisy streets. It's a business district of top worldwide companies and high-end stores but also of beggars, pickpockets and poor street bazars.
It's a district of fast food and bad, over-prized restaurants. The only good "restaurant" I found was a poor kiosk put on a street where smiling Vietnamese boys cooked rice, meat and vegetables for me. But it was in late 1990' and I guess their kiosk has been already removed from the capital city downtown in the country of the 26th world's largest economy.
My top 5 things to do in Warsaw downtown/centre:
1. Take a deep breath and... watch for pickpockets. Anyway, always keep smiling and do enjoy :-).
2. Go to visit what most Poles hate even to look at that is Stalin's skyscraper called quite funny the Palace of Culture and Science and in case of good visibility take a lift to the viewing platform on its 30th floor.
3.See Warsaw skyscrapers and skyline (best at sunrise and night). Take a bus/tram or taxi to Rondo ONZ north of the Central Railway Station to have a better look at them (look here). Warsaw Trade Tower (43 floors, 208 m; 1999), Rondo 1-B (40 floors, 192 m; 2006), and TP SA Tower (30 floors, 128 m; 2001) look quite interesting in my opinion.
4. If you don't have metro/subway in your town, region or country go to see what's that like I did once. Metro station Centrum is located southeast of that Stalin's skyscraper (corner Marszalkowska St. and Jerozolimskie Ave.).
5. Go to Cepelia gift store (there are 4) or one of crowded in weekends shopping malls. Warnings:
- they serve mostly over-prized fast-food-like meals
- prices for good and top quality clothes, shoes, electronics etc. are the same or almost the same in Warsaw as in Western Europe. Look for discounts though. Good luck!
Plac Trzech Krzyzy or the Three Crosses Square is not a place you are likely to miss if you don't limit your sightseeing to the Old Town. Situated along the Royal Route, where eight streets come together, in the 18th century it used to be called the Crossroads of the Golden Crosses, taking its name from the three gilded crosses on top of stone columns standing there. When one of the crosses fell down in 1752, it was replaced by a statue of St John of Nepomuk.
St Alexander's Church, situated in the middle of the square, was designed by Christian Piotr Aigner and built to commemorate the visit to Warsaw of Tzar Alexander I in 1815. Greatly altered and added to in later years, it was bombarded in September 1944 and, later, rebuilt, getting back its original classicist appearance.
The square boasts some charming pre-war tenement houses, the most interesting of which is probably the House under the Gryphons at the corner of Bracka St, dating back to 1884, then the property of the Fuchs family.
But the place is important not only for its history: its buildings house ministries, the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, a number of restaurants, cafes and elegant shops with exorbitant prices. The recent additions to it are seats of banks, the Sheraton, and very close to it in Ksiazeca St the new high-rise building of the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
The square has always been important to me as my grandmother worked there when I was a child, my mother worked in a beautiful little palace in Aleje Ujazdowskie nearby pulled down years ago to build the American Embassy in its place, and I have worked there too for years in one of the pre-war tenement houses there.
You are almost sure to pass the place on your way to the Lazienki Palace and Park or to Wilanow. If you do, try to be there at the weekend to avoid the constant traffic jam made worse by the passing columns of privileged cars using their sirens, and not just ambulances heading for the nearby hospital but mainly government cars, for some unexplained reason in as much of a hurry. Don't even think of parking there except at the weekend. Pulling in just for a moment for me to get out has always been tricky, although most of the time we could count on being stuck in the traffic jam to make this possible. Let's hope you don't come across one of the demonstrations on their way to the Seym (Polish Parliament) or to the ministries in Ujazdowskie Avenue, contributing to the general havoc and blocking the area completely.
There is a huge boom for tours back to communist times in Krakow now. Why not to do it in Warsaw?
Great idea, but again, there is something wrong with Warsaw business. To my dissapointment I didn't find any Warsaw tourist office offering such tours in 2006. The places and buildings related to the communist past don't look attractive in contrast to both sad and funny stories which are hidden behind them. In other way, an alive guide (prefferably an older one who remember well those times) and some knowledge is needed to make such tour an interesting and unforgettable experience.
This building in my picture was the headquarter of Polish communist party called Polish United Workers' Party which ruled People's Republic of Poland (de facto a colony of the Soviet Union) from its creation in 1948 until the regime's electoral defeat in the first not falsidied elections in 1989. This huge and ugly building aroused a lot of negative feelings that time. And its exterior didn't change (look here) except that red flags and communist slogans were replaced by commercial advertisements.
It's not a coincidence that it houses the symbol of the market economy - Warsaw Stock Exchange since April, 1991. That's why it stopped to arouse negative feelings in my mind. It's the largest stock exchange in Central and Eastern Europe. I remember unbelievable boom in 1992 - 1993 when shares of ALL (not that numerous that time) companies went up 10 - 20 times! It'll never repeat :-(. Silly me, instead of bying a new car I should buy any shares and a year later... a comfortable house haha. But like many Poles first I desperately wanted to replace my funny, small Fiat 126 with a real car Japanese Nissan Sunny haha.
There is an artificial, 15 m-tall date palm tree in the middle of busy roundabout in downtown Warsaw (rondo Charles de Gaulle). It was put by the city under the motto: "Greetings from the Jerozolimskie Avenue" in 2002 and from the beginning arosed a lot of emotions.
There is a Polish slang idiomatic phrase: "palma komus odbila" (palm injured someone) which means someone has got a screw loose. And when the palm tree was put on the roundabout in downtown Warsaw the first reaction of numerous mass media both in Warsaw and all over Poland followed by many people was that "palma Warszawie odbila" that was that Warsaw had got a screw loose. Futher some folks complained that those "rich and famous" rulers wasted time and money for surrealistic and crazy ideas instead of focusing on help to millions of poor and unemployed families, that they mocked at common poverty etc. etc.
Hmm... still quite many folks don't understand that giving those poor (sometimes ill, rarely drug/alcohol addicted, sometimes just too lazy to study anything) money for nothing in longer perspective increases poverty by promoting non-creativity and laziness (at least in countries of market economy). My reaction for the Warsaw palm was somewhat like: "What a kitchy and... great idea!" Haha, for me and many Poles palm tree is a symbol of long travels, of prosperity and wealthy as well. Why not to liven up gray Warsaw by adding the palm tree?
When the palm tree was about to be removed Gdansk wanted to buy it and put close to the railway station or even build an island on the Baltic Sea to put the palm there (follow the link below to see it). In Warsaw the commitee for keeping the palm was founded and finally Warsaw decided to keep the palm which already became a new landmark of the city. For visitors it's one more place to take a picture :-).
Pilsudski Square is located in downtown Warsaw, Poland. It has been called successively Saxon Square (Plac Saski, after Poland's Saxon kings' `Saxon Palace`, destroyed in World War II, that used to stand adjacent to the square), Piłsudski Square (after Jozef Pilsudski), Victory Square (in honor of the victory of Poland and her allies in World War II) and now is again called Piłsudski Square. It is the seat of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located in the remnants of the Saxon Palace.
The Square has been the scene of many historic events. It has been the place where military parades were held since 19th century. Most important guests of the city and state authorities were greeted officially there. Pope John Paul II addressed throngs of his countrymen there in 1979 during his first visit to Poland following elevation to the papacy in 1978. In April 2005 people mourned his death there, together with cardinal Jozef Glemp (whom Pope John Paul II had appointed cardinal on 2 February 1983). Pope Benedict XVI celebrated an open-air Holy Mass there on 26 May 2006, during his first Pastoral Visit to Poland.
From 1890s to 1920s the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was located there.
Warsaw lost its old charm and pre-WWII style. The city was completely demolished and rebuilt from the ruins. It's not the same city as before WWII, it's dominated by Palace of Culture and Science, it's full of ugly places in downtown. However it's been being changed since 1990, changed for better but I do hope the best is still to come. More Singapur with its vast green space than over-crowded stone desert of Hong Kong, please.
Now (2006) Warsaw is said to be, together with Frankfurt, London and Paris, one of the "tallest" cities in Europe. The Palace of Culture and Science, is the 4th tallest building in the European Union and the 6th tallest in Europe as a whole. New skyscrapers grow every year. That's why Warsaw has replaced Berlin recently in being called "the biggest construction site in Europe." As for January 2006, 191 high-rise buildings, mostly in downtown, have been already completed, 10 are under construction, next tenths have been approved or proposed.
Go to see Warsaw skyscrapers and skyline with quite many cranes which is not the best picture of the city in my opinon but looks quite impressive at sunrise and night. Take a bus/tram or taxi to Rondo ONZ (United Nations Roundabout) a bit north of the Central Railway Station to have a better look at them (look here).
My favourite three Warsaw skyscrapers:
1. Warsaw Trade Tower, corner Chlodna St./Jana Pawla II (John Paul II) Ave., close to Warsaw Uprising Museum - 43 floors, 208 m = 682 ft; built in 1999.
2. Rondo 1-B by Rondo ONZ - 40 floors, 159 m = 522 ft; almost comleted in January 2006.
3. TP SA Tower in Twarda St., a bit east of the Central Railway Station - 30 floors, 122 m = 400 ft, built in 2001.
Downtown Warsaw gives the visitor a sense of history and a glimpse into the future. Next to Stalin's gift, the Palace of Culture and Science, you'll notice new construction going up faster than you can spell M-a-r-s-z-a-l-k-o-w-s-k-a (one of the main streets in Downtown). Among the communist era, low-rise, cement behemoths, you'll see some slick new glass, and modern looking buildings, shopping malls and some new transportation hubs being built.
Warsaw reminded me of New York City in some weird way. It looks like it is an up-and coming city. It really impressed me and was my favorite city while in Eastern Europe. It has old aspects mixed with the new, and modern skyscrapers downtown mixed in with old buildings like the Palace of Culture and Science.
Warsaw, like all the big city has their living statues who adorn the streets to enjoying the walkers who stop to see them and take pictures like me.
Varsovia, como toda ciudad que se precie de serlo tiene sus esculturas vivas como son los mimos que adornan sus calles para delicia de los transeuntes que no solo se detienen a mirarlos sino a tomarle fotos como hice yo.
The Square of the Three Crosses is dominated by the Church of St. Alexander. It was built as a Neo-classicist copy of the Roman pantheon between 1815 and 1825. It was built on order of Tsar Alexander I. (who obviously had a choice in the patron saint). In 1886, it was re-designed in Neo-Renaissance style and enlarged. The current building is a smaller reconstruction of the original church, the first building was destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It comes close to the original Neo-classicist building and was rebuilt betwen 1949 and 1952.
The square was once a major traffic point, but now traffic goes mostly through the roundabout at Aleje Jerozolimskie (Rondo Charles'a de Gaulle'a). The name - not Charles de Gaulle's one - comes from the two crosses standing on the square. The third cross is the one the statue of St. Nepomuk is holding or the one on top of the church - whichever legend you believe. Today, it is just a nice place with a couple of cafés, a little spoiled by a handful of high-end designer brand shops.
Most of Warsaw doesn't look like Nowy Swiat and the Old Town, unfortunately. This photo was taken at the intersection of Marszalkowska and Jerozolimskie streets, the center of modern Warsaw. There are plenty of new buildings, but in general the look is pretty Communist.
There are several scyscrapers in Warsaw. Some of them in the picture with one of the first - Hotel Marriott and the headquarter of LOT Polish Airlines in it.