Tag Archives: history

Discovering Warsaw’s History on Foot

In recent days, I managed to take in some free walking tours that took me around the city and discussed a variety of topics. With several tour companies offering similar services, you simply select the tours that best match your schedule. These tours have something for everyone whether you’re into World War II history, the Jewish experience, modern-day alternative Warsaw or a foodie trail.

Personally, I took the alternative Warsaw tour, Jewish tour and the World War II historical tour. My knowledge of history is seriously lacking, so these tours combined education with sightseeing. Being able to see firsthand what’s inside history books is an experience you can’t forget.

Many stops on the tours took in memorial sites and monuments raised in the name of the fallen. Etched in the pavement where a Jewish ghetto wall once stood are dates so that no one forgets what happened there. Parks in the middle of the city have raised hills of grass under which lies the rubble of fallen buildings. Reminders of the past stand stoically amidst the hustle and bustle of this modern city.

Yet it seems that despite all the hardship the people of this city and nation have endured in the last century, they continue to look forward. Houses of worship and pillars of education stand with open doors for people seeking wisdom. The educated are no longer persecuted. Thought leaders aren’t dragged from their homes and shipped away. People are free to pursue their interests. It’s an incredible thing that I’ve just taken for granted. It’s only when listening to the stories of the past that I really understand how lucky we are today.

After spending more than eight hours a day on foot discovering Warsaw, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. A second, in-depth visit is definitely warranted as I haven’t really been able to get out of the city or even experience what it’s like to live here as a local. To be honest, I haven’t even had time to taste the local delicacies or check out the nightlife. All I’ve had time for between tours is a quick bite at a café and an early night in so I can get up and do it all again in the morning. All too quickly, it’s time to move on to Krakow.

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Filed under Attraction, Culture, Poland

Trakai Island Castle

Not sure what to do with myself, I asked the hostel staff for suggestions and they recommended a visit to the nearby Trakai Island Castle. This required a bus ride to Trakai, and despite not having any maps or fully knowing where I was going, I was up for the adventure.

When I arrived at Vilnius bus station, it was easy to find the correct bus because of the huge signs as well as the other tourist-like people waiting around. The bus arrived and we paid the driver as we boarded. It was a nice drive through town and out into the beginnings of the countryside.

When the bus pulled into a station in the middle of nowhere, the driver said something in what I thought was Lithuania. Everyone on the bus looked at one another like, “Is this the place?” The driver indicated we should get off, so most of the passengers disembarked. I found a map nearby and Trakai Island Castle was a fair walk into town. Even if I didn’t find it, the town seemed like a good place to explore.

I passed many churches, a few restaurants and a couple of schools along the way. It didn’t seem like there were a lot of people here, even though Trakai is a big tourist resort town these days. I continued along and finally spotted a pathway down toward the lake that revealed Trakai Island Castle in all its glory.

From across the lake, the castle looked very impressive with its red-brick construction. The dark clouds created an ominous feeling around the place as I crossed the wooden bridge from the mainland. The closer I got to the structure, the more I entered the Medieval period.

The castle functions as a museum in which visitors can learn about Trakai and Lithuanian history. Many of the rooms contain chain mail, swords, helmets, tapestry, gold and other remnants of a time long past. With admission, you’re allowed inside the castle and climb century-old steps (although I’m sure the castle has been refurbished throughout the years) and walk through age-old doorways.

As I wandered from room to room, I avoided the rowdy groups of children on school trips with their tour guides and tried to find pockets of solitude. It felt like the castle could talk to you if it was given the chance. Maybe it’s the ghosts from battles fought in the surrounding regions?

I spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits and trying to picture what it would be like to live in a place like this. Of course, only Lithuanian leaders called this home. Normal people lived in normal houses as they do all around the world. But still, it’s a wonder that these cold, brick walls housed real families and servants, soldiers and cooks, stablehands and ironworkers. It boggles the mind.

As the day went on, the weather didn’t let up. The wind was cold as it blew across the water. It was definitely time to go. I headed back to the bus station and made my way back to my temporary home in Vilnius.

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Filed under Attraction, Lithuania, Transportation

London Parks and Museums

On another beautiful day in London, I managed to explore two parks and a museum and still squeeze in time for a buffet dinner in Chinatown. Nice!

I started the day in Hyde Park, entering somewhere near Marble Arch and heading toward the middle of the park before hitting the Serpentine. It was lovely to sit along the water and watch the ducks and other water fowl squawking happily and swimming along. The blue skies and bright sun overhead warmed up the chilly air making it a perfect place to spend the day. Even though it was the middle of the week, I noticed many families were out for picnics on the green. I suppose if you live in a place like this, you learn to take full advantage of the good weather, even if it means calling in sick to work.

After walking around most of the Serpentine, I found South Carriage Drive, which indeed appeared carriage worthy. The ground was a mixture of dirt and gravel that I imagined was nicer on the horses’ feet than concrete or pavement. I waited for a while, under a canopy of trees, hoping to see a carriage go by (I don’t know if it’s used in this way but surely some enterprising soul would capitalize on tourists wanting to ride around the park in a carriage?) but left disappointed.

I continued on Brompton Road and quickly nipped into Harrods, the famous department store for the uber-rich. After trolling through a few rooms and not seeing any other patrons, I decided to move on. Why tease the bored sales staff with my presence when we all knew I wasn’t here to make a $1,000 purchase?

After a short walk, I arrived at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses just about every type of art you can imagine – sculptures, paintings, photography, metalwork, fashion, design and more – from all over the world. It’s truly an example of what the creative world has to offer. Like all London museums, you could easily spend an entire day here taking in the exhibits, lounging in the café or sunning in the garden.

By the time I left V&A’s, lunchtime was definitely over and dinnertime was a bit too far away for my liking. I decided to hump back to Chinatown for I was craving a bit of Chinese food. An hour later (as I refused to pay unnecessarily for public transport when I had two good, though slightly sore, feet to use), I was ravenous and willing to eat anything the Chinese could offer up. Still, budget-conscious backpacker that I am, I trekked up and down a few streets before finding a good deal on a Chinese buffet. Once inside, I happily scarfed fried noodles, fried rice, roasted pork, egg rolls, orange chicken and anything else I could find. It’d been a long day and skipping lunch hadn’t helped at all. While I’ve definitely had better Chinese food elsewhere, nothing was appreciated more than this meal.

Pleasantly full, I left the restaurant and headed back to my hostel. When I arrived, there was still an hour or two of sunlight left and I didn’t feel like being cooped up inside so I decided to walk around Regents Park. I took my time and noticed that even as the weather turned cool, people were out enjoying the night. But all too soon, the chill got the better of me and I returned to the hostel. All in all, not a bad day out in London!

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Filed under Attraction, Culture, England