Even though I have lived in Warsaw since the day I was born, Praga has always been for me just a working district. For walks and sightseeing I preferred not to go there. Lately, by chance, I discovered that this was a big mistake. A few days ago I went walking along the unique streets of the Szmulki District. This disreputable part of Praga turned out to be a treasure. I found there remote and recent history, relics and some elements of modern architecture.

 

The name "Szmulowizna" comes from the owner of the local grounds Szmul (Samuel) Jakubowicz Sonnenberg, alias Zbytkower – a Jewish merchant, banker and protégé of the Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski. This rich Warsaw Jew made big money from deliveries for the Russian army. In the beginning Zbytkower's farm name was Bojnówek, but later on, together with the surrounding parts (village and tavern), he adopted the owner's name, Szmulowizna. With the passage of time, the Szmulowizna grounds developed and industrial and residential buildings were built. Jewish families made up a significant part of the population living there.

 

After World War II, the flats left by Jewish families were taken over by poor people from Warsaw's suburbs, and the Praga neighborhood, Szmulki in particular - despite industrial and transport development - gained notoriety.  Today, after many years without proper care, the old houses have started to regain their old appearance. New housing estates are being built on Szmulki. Here you may find the longest building in Warsaw. The 508-meter-long apartment building is located near Kijowska street.

 

In the years 1907-1923, following Łukasz Wolski's design and with the support of the Radziwiłł family, a church was built, which was given the honourable name of Basilica. Accordingly to its founders wishes, starting from 1931, Salesians would take care of this building and do all the priestly work. Basilica was the biggest church in pre-war Warsaw. The temple is 65 meters in length, with a width of 30 meters, and is 22 meters high. Its size makes a really huge impression. Pope Pius XI used to say that this temple was the most beautiful church in Poland. Today the inside of the renovated Basilica is used as a concert hall.

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Summer is a mental state, not only a season. With this slogan we were welcomed by an extremely outgoing and pleasant barmaid in a cocktail bar on Krucza Street 16/22. Though it is a typical place for drinks, the presence of children doesn't marvel anyone. Cocktail Bar Max promises fruity dizziness. Close your eyes, imagine exotic fruit, what does it look like? How does it taste? And now ... try it!.

 

Our order was short: non-alcoholic drinks, colorful and intensely fruity. After a moment the master of fruits brought before us four huge glasses. On the edge of them were big pieces of watermelon and this was only the beginning. The many fruits were presented as fabulous fully edible decorations. When it seemed that nothing more would fit on the glass, the barmaid added another layer of fruit. I didn't know their names and I ate maybe three of them. Some of the fruits were sweet, the others so sour that I was not able to swallow them. One of them was less decorative, whereas the others looked like exotic birds of paradise: starfruit, grapes, rambutan, watermelon, pitaja (sometimes called 'dragon fruit' or 'strawberry pear'), kumquat, cherimoya (aka pudding apple) are just some of them.

 

Then each of us got a different cocktail. Depending on whether we preferred more or less sweet, yellow, orange or red, the barmaid skillfully created a combo in a mixer choosing from countless frozen food storages and fridges: mangos, pineapples, persimmons, papayas, passion fruits, pomegranates and watermelon, but also our domestic fruits: strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

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For as long as I can remember, every school kid from Warsaw and its neighbourhood had to visit Żelazowa Wola. A similar duty was to visit the Royal Palace or National Museum. From early schooltime visits in museum halls I mainly remember races in famous felt slippers and the gloomy faces of museum staff trying to shelter museum pieces from the groups of bratty kids. In general, I do approve of the idea of showing to the youth our cultural and historical heritage, but a few years ago the way the knowledge was presented did not comply with the interests of young visitors. Fortunately, our world is changing and visiting boring museums is changing as well. Even last year my daughter's class' visit to Łazienki Palace was a very exciting event due to the engagement of a professional youth leader. From my visit to Żelazowa Wola almost 30 years ago I remember only the very sad and completely empty inside building, high-soundingly named 'the manor house'. I remember a tatty park surrounding it as well. The one and only dubious advantage of this trip was that we could get out of school. It was a very boring experience and what's more we were obliged to write a report of the visit.

 

2010 was the 200-year anniversary of Fryderyk Chopin's birthday. It was full of concerts festivals and artistic events popularizing the composer's work. Many Warsaw and neighbouring places connected with his life gained something from it. After modernization, the Fryderyk Chopin Multimedia Museum in Ostrogscy Castle was opened. In stylish interiors were gathered museum pieces documenting the composer's life and works: letters, personal remembrances, photos, paintings, jewellery, drawings and graphics. Even though there is a kid's hall in the museum, I recommend that older school classes and teenagers visit the museum.

 

In 2010 there was placed a special marking at Warsaw Chopin airport as the airport of the composer's city. On Królewski Trakt were placed 15 multimedia benches playing parts of Fryderyk Chopin's compositions, and there was also a pedestrian crossing with a clavier motif on Emili Plater street close to The Palace of Science and Culture and Złote Tarasy shopping centre.

 

I visited Żelazowa Wola with my whole family 3 years ago.

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Therefore, we should appreciate places where time has stopped and in which you may see the past in a realistic environment. One such place is Wielkopolski Ethnographical Park (colloquially called heritage park) in Dziekanowice. The majority of the buildings placed there are original. They were relocated from many villages around Poland, where they were taken apart, secured and built once again in the new place. Thanks to this, a new village has been set up where you can find everything you need to live. There are buildings constructed in many different architectural styles, including outbuildings, a church, a presbytery, a smithy and even an inn.

 

It is amazing how well cared for the place is, and the attention to detail is stunning. Interiors are decorated with folk paintings, furniture creaking from old age and kitchen equipment that looks like somebody just finished cooking.  To make the village even more realistic, behind the houses there are fields, a bee-garden, cabbage beds and orchards. Walking thorough the park, I sometimes had the impression that Kargul and Pawlak might emerge at any moment from one of the houses and start knocking pots off fences and cutting up the sleeves of shirts drying in the wind.

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There are places which tell us about their history on their own. To this group belong castles ruins, palaces, military fortresses and heritage parks. If the people who care for them are also engaged and full of passion, these places become even more enjoyable for tourists.

 

When we went thorough the brick-built gate into the Boyen fortress, we were welcomed by a guard with a very serious facial expression and a small squadron of Prussian soldiers. All these minor details made the Boyen fortress look more realistic and very attractive for children.

 

The Boyen fortress in Giżycko was built between 1843 and 1855 as a strategic construction to control the pass between Niegocin and Kisajno lakes. The Fortress is an example of Prussian Fort building knowledge from the mid XIX century and is one of the best remaining relics of defence architecture from the XIX century in Poland. It is difficult to believe that this huge fortress, which occupies around 10 hectares, was built so fast. The attention to detail and aesthetics of many elements is remarkable, even though this is a military fortress. The biggest surprise for me was seeing one of the best remaining openwork buildings, which in its prime served as a pigeon loft for almost 700 carrier pigeons.

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