The Royal Castle in Warsaw

The Royal Castle served as the official residence of the King of Poland starting with Segismundo starting in the 16th c, before that serving a ducal palace since the tower was built in the 14th c.  The lower part of the tower still stands.  The Nazis destroyed the rest subsequent to the uprising of 1944.   Segismundo was Swedish and a Catholic in what was then a Protestant country, and his statue remains with us today at the top of the new column in the palace square.  The Nazis collapsed the original column, the remains of which sit at the side of the castle today.

The Poles rebuilt the palace and its sumptuous rooms starting in the 1970’s.   They did a superb job of it, and are proud of the accomplishment.  There is a substantial film about the works just as you enter, which the bossy guards make sure you see.  I’d never seen how they did the wall and ceiling appliques, which they showed in detail.  While it’s not the most impressive palace I have ever seen -Versailles, Hermitage and the Palacio Real in Madrid both outrank it – but there’s certainly much to be proud of with regards to the workmanship.

Royal Castle throne room



Royal Castle marble room










In addition to the interior there is a good collection of paintings, including two Rembrandt portraits.  

Oak, 1742, Bavaria
Girl In Picture Frame


WW2 in Warsaw

July 30, 2018

Today we took our 3rd walking tour of Warsaw. In the first we went to various locations in the Stare Miasto, Old Town. The second was about Communist Warsaw, led by a woman who grew up during that era.  She had to stand in line for everything,  and witnessed the suppression and growth of Solidarity, leading to the downfall of the Iron Curtain.  This afternoon we took the tour of WW2 Warsaw. It takes you to the Jewish ghetto and the location of some of the sites of the uprising in October 1944.

Memorial to Jewish victims of the Nazis

The ghetto was set afire by the Nazis to defeat the 1943 uprising. Today its location is marked on the pavement- they speak to you of the nightmare the Nazis created. Rations were a mere 200 calories a day for Jews, and 500 for Poles. Jews were allowed no medicine. If anyone helped a Jew, the penalty was death for that person and the entire family.

Memorial to resistance fighters
Memorial to children who helped fight the Nazis.
Statues of resistance fighter entering the sewer system

The resistance used the sewers to move from several areas in and near the old town.  The sewers were in use at the time, unlit and required one to walk bent over.  Movements had to be in complete silence.  Eventually these were closed down by the Nazis.

In preparation for the 1944 uprising, the underground raised money for weapons and supplies by robbing a bank.  Money was transferred from the Polish central bank by armored car.  They raised the about $10 million in today’s dollars.  The uprising took a heavy toll on the city and the population.  The Nazis killed 200,000 people, destroyed about 90% of the old town and 65% of Warsaw as a whole.

The bank from which the resistance stole $10m. You can still see wartime damage to the brick

These two uprisings were the largest of occupied Europe.  The 1944 uprising not only hoped to help defeat the Nazis but to keep Poland out of Soviet hands, whose invasion of Poland made no friends in the county.  The result of the Yalta conference as well as their defeat in the uprising, while the Soviet army watched from across the river, led to post war deportations and murders by the Soviets and 50 years of bad governing.

Wroclaw: Complex history, rich culture

July 2018

The train carried us for a bit over two hours in a full six person compartment, my 20 kilo suitcase perched precariously above our heads.  We are going from Poznan to Wroclaw.  Wroclaw has a complex history.  It was born in Poland, later controlled by the kingdoms of Bohemia, Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire,  Prussia. and  Nazi Germany.  It was founded circa 950, like Poznan on an island in a river.  Also like the other cities we’ve visited  it was a member of the Hanseatic League (1387), which helped make it a wealthy city.  Among its famous inhabitants are a director of the Clinic of Psychiatry, Alois Alzheimer.  A professor named William Stern developed the concept of IQ in the same turn of the century era.  

During the war there was no fighting until February, 1945.  The Germans decided to hold the city and did so until after the fall of Berlin.  About 50% of the city was destroyed, some by the Nazis who did so in their efforts to fortify the city and the rest by Russian carpet bombing, with 40,000 civilians killed.  By that time refugees from Germany and elsewhere had increased the population to nearly one million, including some 50,000 slaves and 30,000–60,000 Poles relocated after the end of the Warsaw Uprising.   After the war the German population of 190,000 was forced out.  Poles ejected from its eastern territory, mostly around Lviv now in Ukraine but then in the Soviet Union, then moved in.

Wroclaw, called Breslau when it was in Germany,  is jam-packed with notable architecture of various styles including the predominant Gothic, some significant examples of the Baroque, at least one Bauhaus (the bank building in the Rynek), Art Nouveau, and of course some Soviet era concrete block.  

.   The Rynek is spectacular, a large open space surrounded by fabulous buildings in various styles

The Brick Gothic Old Town Hall in the Rynek dates from the 13th c.  You can visit the original council chambers, with period furniture.

Old Town Hall

Also in the Rynek is the Gothic style St. Elisabeth’s Church (Bazylika Św. Elżbiety).  It has a 91 meter/300′ tower. St. Mary Magdalene Church (Kościół Św. Marii Magdaleny),  dating from 13th c, is not far.  

St Elizabeth Church
Rynek, Wroclaw


The city was founded on an island now called Ostrów (island) Tumski (Cathedral) in the Oder River.  Wroclaw Cathedral dates from circa 950.  There are several islands and altogether there are hundreds of bridges making it among the highest number in the world, just barely behind Venice.  


Cathedral, rebuilt after the war

We paid the extra to see the chapels, rewarded by the superb sculptures of the Giacome Schianzi chapel.  I later learned that the St. Elizabeth is by Ercole Ferrata, a student of Bernini, and that the cardinal’s tomb is by another Bernnini student, Domenico Guidi.  Bernini!  No wonder I was so floored.  

Detail of sculpture, chapel by Giacome Schianzi
St Elizabeth in the chapel by Giacome Schianzi

The unemployment rate is just 2.2%.  People from around Europe come here looking for work as a result.  This is inflating wages and prices generally, although it is quite inexpensive still compared to France, UK and even less than Spain.  We have had lunches for two with a beer for from $10, in Valencia lunches start at $12 with wine, in Paris closer to $18 plus wine. 


Poland’s Enigma in WW2

We ran across the sculpture and exhibit concerning the breaking of the German Enigma code while walking in the downtown area of Poznan.    I’d heard both that the Polish a Brits broke the enigma code.  There is an excellent movie called “The Imitation Game” about Alan Turing, (see ) 

In late 1932 Marian Rejewski broke the code of the German Enigma machine.  Without knowing how the machine was wired, he was unable to read the messages. Hans-Thilo Schmidt, a French spy obtained information including the daily keys used in the fall of 1932.  They put these materials into Polish hands. With that information and actual coded messages Rejewski was able to turn the coded messages into understandable text.  Later the Germans added two more rotors.  The Poles did not have the resources to break the code again, and thus passed the baton to the UK in July of 1939.  Rejewski, and cryptanalysts Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski in the interim developed extensive materials which they gave to the UK as well.  Thus Turing was not starting from scratch.

Churches of Poznan

There are three outstanding churches in Poznan.  The most important and oldest is not the most beautiful although in its setting it is quite charming.  The other two rank as among the best Baroque churches anywhere, which I say having been in all of the great ones in Rome, Palermo and elsewhere in Italy.  I have every reason to believe that they were both done by Italians using Italian marble and other materials.

Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul is on Cathedral Island which is also shares with two excellent museums.   The first church on the site was built in 968.  The remains are still visible in the basement.  Starting in the 1300’s the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style, renovated into the Baroque style after a fire in the 1600’s.  The damage in 1945 led to its reconstruction in the Gothic we see today.  Pope John Paul II visited and is honored in the church.  The setting is a amidst lovely trees and buildings, some church owned, on the small island where Poland was founded.  The site was at one point a palace.   Archaeologists have excavated the area, which is in front of the cathedral.


my pen and ink of Poznan Cathedral

St Stanislaus 

This stunning church was built in the 1600’s.  Along with it is a Jesuit college.  For interesting details see St Stanislaus 


Church of St Anthony

For more information click on the link above




Murals in Poznan

Poznan has some excellent murals.  The largest and most fabulous is in the  Śródka district, one of the oldest towns in Poland, now a district of Poznan near Cathedral Island.


ul. Kantaka 8/9

ul. Kantaka 8/9,  Created by Italian street artist Blu, who has also painted murals in Wrocław, Gdańsk, and Kraków

Upside down tower

Strolling Torun

Torun is small and thus easy to walk.  It is full of remarkable architecture, with many restaurants, bars and cafes to add to your enjoyment.   The buildings range from the brick structures daring from the 14th century Teutonic Knights to the Gothic to Art Nouveau and Art Deco.   The town was not damaged in WW2, so the buildings are not newly rebuilt.

One of Toruń ‘s fabulous buildings in the small old town

Toruń is another of several Polish city members of the Hanseatic League.  The prosperity led to the three main styles, Gothic (dating from 1200’s) in brick, Mannerism and Baroque.    The city walls and the now ruined castle are from the Gothic period.    

Torun old city walls
City Hall, Toruń , Gothic, 1274










The Cathedral of SS. John the Evangelist and John the Baptist (14th century) has some wonderful sculptures and paintings from the era, including a  Moses and St. Mary Magdalene.  The multiple altars are ourstanding.


Altars in the Cathedral


Copernicus was born here and, if you will allow just this one pun, the city revolves around him.  There are two museums that deal with him at least in title, this statue in front of city hall, and lots of reproductions of famous portraits.    

Street sculpture
Street sculpture
Ulica Szorka, Torun

While you wander about you are tempted by the lody – ice cream – which is very popular in this comparatively warm weather, with temperatures as high as 28c, 80f in generally partly cloud skies.  Donuts are elaborately presented,  a variety of calorie rich cakes.  The city is most famous for its gingerbread, which fortunately for my waist line I do not like.  There is very good cappuccino, espresso and macchiato (small cappuccino) —  be careful about the latter as there is a small macchiato espresso and a the very large latte macchiato.    There are waffles with real whipped cream and cherry jam.    Gone are the pretzels, hard and soft, found in Cracow and the multitude of fruit stands and street markets from everywhere we have been.      Remaining is the ever-present beer, with wine still an expensive alternative, and I hope you do not like sugar-free colas as they are harder to find if not impossible.  Pierogies are everywhere in Poland so here as well, but I could not find latke, potato pancakes.  Since our 1998 visit the Italians and Turks have moved in, so pizza and donor kebab are popular, as well as hamburgers even.

With our flat located within blocks of the Rynek (central square) we had the shortest possible commute.  This turned out to be not the case in our next destination, the historical city of Poznan.    On the other hand, we had two flights of these stairs:

Our staircase

It’s impolite to stair!

It is impolite to stair! Our place for a few days in Torun. It’s two flights up, a piece of cake for us without baggage, a puffer with my 20 kilos. The exterior and staircase both need renovation, but the flat is beautifully done with some odd things left out, such as towel racks, soap holders for the shower, soup spoon and coffee maker of some sort — we travel with a hand-held cloth filter, having run across this more than once.  And really crappy kitchen knives, also a common problem, and one for which we  prepare.


stairs at 42 Kopernika (Copernicus)

Malbork Castle

Teutonic Knights built Malbork Castle in the 13th century.  At that time Malbork was in Prussia, shifting in and out of Polish control, changing into Polish control in 1945.  It is the largest castle in the world by the land area it covers and when built the largest brick castle in the world. Sitting along the Nogat River, it has been a Polish royal palace, later to become a Nazi fortification in the waning days of the Third Reich, subjecting it to Russian bombardment.  Heavily damaged and afterwards faithfully restored, today you see a structure in fine condition and a great place to wander around, through narrow passages and steep winding staircases.

I’ve included some of the interesting artwork you find there.  The walls were beautifully painted, judging by the remains.  There are many interesting statutes and a few paintings.


There are 6 or 8 of these finely painted panels.


The castle also has a mill.  Here is a pen and ink of the mechanism:

Mill at Malbork Castle