The Secret Life of Warsaw

Posted by - October 14, 2014 | Category: Escapes, Europe, Poland

A Walking Tour of Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw City Walking Tour guide -- old town (2)

The beauty of taking a guided walking tour in any city is not only seeing the major sites up close, but also in uncovering the secret history that may be not be so readily apparent. 

On my recent trip to Poland, our guide Kuba gave our group the low-down on some secret tidbits that many don’t learn if they just do a self-guided hop-on hop-of bus tour of Warsaw.

Nicolaus Copernicus Monument in Warsaw

Our guided walking tour of Warsaw begins in front of the monument to one of Poland’s most famous sons — Nicolaus Copernicus. He’s the chap whose idea is credited for one of the most famous shifts in science – the model of the universe that had the Earth revolve around the Sun and not the other way around.

What You Didn’t Know: There are two identical Copernicus monuments around the globe. One sits in front of the former Montreal Planetarium, a gift to the city from the people of Poland for the opening of Expo 67.  The other statue greats visitors in front of Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. It was erected in 1973 to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of dear old Copernicus.

Holy Cross Church (Kosciol Swietego Krzyza) Church where Chopins heart is buried

The Holy Cross Church was heavily damaged during the November Uprising of 1944, so what you see today is a toned-down Baroque version of the more ornate original.

What You Didn’t Know: The heart of composer Frederic Chopin is encased in one of the pillars at Holy Cross Church, fulfilling his wish to return to his beloved Poland. His sister, sealing it in a jar of cognac, smuggled it into Warsaw from Paris after his death from tuberculosis. She hid it under her skirt.

Solidarity Monument, Warsaw Poland

A temporary exhibit celebrating the 25th anniversary of first free democratic elections in Poland graces the outside of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.

What You Didn’t Know: That’s American actor Gary Cooper portrayed on the left. His image, taken from the classic western High Noon, was widely used to encourage voters to head to the polls. Look closely and you’ll see he’s wearing a Solidarity badge instead of a Sheriff’s, and he’s carrying a voter card instead of a gun.

Warsaw City Walking Tour -- Sofitel Hotel

The Sofitel Hotel looks like just any other hotel in any other city.

What You Didn’t Know: One of the Palestinian organizers of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games was gunned down here by Mossad agents. He was shot 5 times, but survived.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Grób Nieznanego Żołnierza) -- Warsaw

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square was dedicated in 1925.

What You Didn’t Know: The archway that surrounds the tomb is the only remaining piece of a palace that took up the entire square. It used to be a walkway from the west to the east wing and although the entire palace was destroyed by the Germans in 1944, the tomb and walkway itself miraculously suffered little damage.

Getting to Warsaw:

Norwegian Airlines offers daily non-stop flights from Gatwick Airport to Warsaw. They are consistently your cheapest option out of London to Poland. 

What’s the most interesting secret bit of info you’ve learned on a guided walking tour?

My visit to Poland was organized on behalf of the Polish Economy Promotion Program in Canada. Its aim is is to promote the  Polish food sector and encourage business contacts between Polish and Canadian companies in the industry.

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12 comments - add one
  1. I loved this! Warsaw has long been on my travel list. While I’m living in Spain this year, I’m hoping to make it there at some point. I really enjoy learning small, “secret” facts about most famous monuments and locations. Great post!

  2. Wow … these tidbits definitely give meaning to a bunch of pretty buildings that are just sights without the historical context. I’ll have to go on a guided walking tour soon!

  3. The most usual “walking tour” I have ever taken was in Atlanta with a homeless man. I was taking some photos a few blocks away from my hotel when this man approached me asking if I wanted my photo taken. I didn’t, but he seemed trustworthy enough that I could have a brief conversation with him for a couple of minutes.

    After exchanging pleasantries, he ended up walking me through Martin Luther King Jr.’s neighbourhood. If you’ve never been to Atlanta, then I can tell you that Sweet Auburn – MLK Jr.’s neighbourhood – is a very rough, destitute looking area either at day or night.

    Even though we spent a couple of hours checking out all the main sites of MLK’s life, I will remember more about this man’s life story of hitting rock bottom with alcohol and his plans to get out of his situation more than anything else from this trip to Atlanta.

    It ranks as one of my most memorable travel experiences of all time as I learned you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Had I not listened to my gut feeling that I could trust that this man would take good care of me, then I may have missed out on a really importance piece of Atlanta to tell you the truth.

    1. What an excellent experience that must have been. I love random encounters with locals like that — those memories will definitely last a lifetime. Thanks for the comment!

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