Our quest for Warsaw's Old Town led us to follow a part of the so-called Royal Route. In old times, Polish kings built palaces in Warsaw that were connected by a series of roads. Today, this route is a popular way for visitors to stroll and in the process take in a bit of Warsaw's long history.
We start off on Krakowskie Przedmieście, one such historic road that's part of the Royal Route. It has seen many improvements through the years but the old charm do remain. One walks here without ever forgetting that this street leading to Old Town saw a lot of intense fighting during World War II.
Our eyes gaze up at the monument of Copernicus, the Polish astronomer who helped propel modern astronomy. It stands in front of Staszic Palace which currently houses the Polish Academy of Sciences. The monument, just like the building behind it, was damaged during WWII and attempts by the Nazi Germans to completely destroy it was fortunately unsuccessful.
Just a few steps away is the Church of the Holy Cross, a Baroque masterpiece that, as seen in the same angle as the photo above, was painted in 1778 by Bernardo Bellotto. Sunday mass was ongoing as we went inside, celebrated in Polish of course. One of the church pillars on the left side contain the heart of Poland's pride, the composer Fryderyk Chopin (the rest of his remains is buried in France where he died).
The University of Warsaw, established in 1816, is one of Europe's leading academic centers. With about 17,000 students enrolled every year, this is Poland's largest university. During WWII, the sprawling campus was turned into military barracks and education was banned, spawning underground schools that became known as the "Secret University of Warsaw".
Anyone who listens to classical music will undoubtedly have heard of Fryderyk Chopin, the Polish virtuouso pianist. Right across from the gate of the University of Warsaw where Chopin studied for three years, he and his parents lived in this annex of the Kazimierzowski Palace. The family salon where Chopin used to play his early compositions is now a museum open to the public.
A fine example of rococo architecture, the Church of St. Joseph of the Visitationists was built in 1761. It was here that a teenage Chopin used to play the organ church during services for school children.
Still reeling from that fatal plane crash that killed the President and First Lady of Poland earlier in April this year, Poles gather in front of the Presidential Palace offering prayers, flowers and candles. It was also in April that the Icelandic volcano erupted, causing a disruption of air travel for foreign dignitaries wanting to attend the state funeral.
A little further on, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and of St. Joseph, or in short, the Carmelite Church, is an eye-catching neoclassical beauty that has been around since 1761. What makes it unique are its twin belfries shaped like censers. The church thankfully survived WWII with minimal damage.
Our stroll along the Royal Route almost ends as we caught a glimpse of the burgher's houses up on the Old Town part of Warsaw. This is one area that saw a lot of damage during WWII. But as they say, this one triumphantly rose like a phoenix from the ashes. We'll see.