Warsaw

Being placed in the centre of Poland, Warsaw is the third country's capital indeed after Gniezno and Krakow. For a capital city, though, Warsaw entered history quite late. Let's a have a look on the timeline: the first written record on anything resembling a town dates back to the mid-14th Century. Its initial rise to power is ascribed to the Mazovian prince Janusz the Elder, who made Warsaw his main residence in 1413 and developed it as a heart of the whole region. But the town owes its present status to the king Sigismundus III of the Swedish Vasa dynasty, who, according to the widespread gossip, was too lazy to travel between KraKow and his homeland too often, so decided to move the capital closer to the Baltic coastline making his distance shorter to reach. Believe it or not, in 1596 Warsaw became the new Royal seat. Needless to say that this radical move brought prosperity, but on the other hand, provoked new problems. Since then, Warsaw has experienced many cataclysms including partitions, uprisings, foreign influence and military conflicts. Totally destroyed by Nazis during World War II, the town was rebuilt almost from scratch thanks to the original plans and photographs of buildings that survived the wartime period. The present architectural style ranges from early Baroque to Neo-realism imported from the soviet Russia, being gradually superseded by the latest excesses of the construction industry.

So now let's take a tour, shall we? Yeah, great, but where to go for the start - The place that certainly deserves taking your first steps is the so called Warsaw's Royal Route that stretches from the Castle Square through Krakowskie Przedmiescie, Nowy Swiat - a neo-Classical representative street of Warsaw, Three Crosses Square with St Alexander's Church in the middle and Aleje Ujazdowskie up to Lazienki Park and the Belvedere. Along the whole route you will pass numerous palaces, churches, university, seat of the Government and the President, galleries, art shops, cafes and other buildings of historical and artistic importance.

The charming Old Town provides the historic focal point of Warsaw. The quarter consisting of the magnificent Royal Castle, ancient St John's cathedral and the Old Town Square are the most striking examples of the capital's reconstruction.

After an exhaustive 'history lesson', we are moving on to downtown, starting from Marszalkowska Street, the town's main thoroughfare, lined with department stores and cloth shops. High-rise office blocks seem to be shooting up almost everywhere along the nearby Aleje Jerozolimskie. In the very heart of Defilad Square, there is the Palace of Culture and Science, a gift obtained from the Russian nation, regarded as the greatest architectonical achievement of the Stalin-era, today housing offices, a cinema, a theatre, a swimming pool and a nightclub. Despite being hated by majority of Warsaw's inhabitants, it still remains the outstanding feature of the downtown skyline. Its greatest attraction is the viewing terrace on the 30th floor with magnificent city panorama.

Trying to escape from the noisy city centre, pay a visit to green Zoliborz which, as its gentle nickname suggests, abounds in green areas, parks and squares. It is also said to be a home to artistic elite including famous actors, directors, poets and singers. Worth a stopover is also the Old Praga - the right-bank Warsaw's historic district, almost intact by war destructions. Its wonderful tenement houses in Zabkowska street attract attention even of the greatest art laics especially as they served several times as a scenery of many worldwide-known films among others 'The Pianist' by Roman Polanski. The district is also known for the expansive Decade Stadium, once the city's largest sport arena, later turned into a sprawling outdoor market, probably the greatest one in this part of Europe.

Heading for the outskirts, it's impossible not to notice the Baroque-style palace of Wilanow the summer Royal residence with rich interiors, housing portrait galleries, a library and a lovely garden. Only a few steps further, there is the Recreational Park of Powsin - a beloved place of weekend-family strolls, situated close to the Kabacki Forest - the last oasis of peace in the area with nearby botanical garden

Warsaw, like any other great city, is best seen on foot, firstly because some areas of the town are closed to motorized traffic, secondly that's the only way to keep from missing the main sights. If you are not very fond of walking everywhere on your own, taking a sightseeing tour with a specially-provided municipal bus line is at least recommended. It will bring you to all the attractions mentioned above as well as to some other, but equally interesting nooks and crannies that you will never find on your own. Without any doubt, a one-day stay is not enough to admire the beauty of Warsaw, but it will certainly give you the better understanding of Poland as a trendy European country and will reject all the false Polish-related imaginations and stereotypes describing it as a faraway and secluded spot of ex-USRR with the famous polar bears walking down the streets?