Category Archives: Historic Sites

Warsaw from the viewing deck of the Palace of Culture and Science (PKiN)

There are few buildings in Warsaw, Poland that are more controversial than Pałac Kultury i Nauki (Palace of Culture and Science), also known as PKiN (pronounced Peh-keen).

As it’s a symbol of Soviet Union’s communist oppression of the country, some would like to see it demolished and gone from the landscape. Others say that even though it’s part of painful history, it’s history nevertheless and should not be touched.

Until recently, it was the tallest building in Warsaw, but it has been eclipsed by the Varso Tower, which is now not only the tallest building in Warsaw but also in all of Europe. 

“The Controversial Story of Stalin’s Palace in Warsaw” by Wojciech Oleksian published in offers a very thorough history of “Joseph Stalin’s idea of building a skyscraper over 200 metres (650 feet) tall in the middle of Warsaw’s post-war ruins” complete with photos from the early 1950s showing how out of place this gleaming white building looked like in the middle of bombed ruins of post-WWII Warsaw.

Continue reading Warsaw from the viewing deck of the Palace of Culture and Science (PKiN)

Walking around Gdańsk, Poland

“Where would want to live, if you had to (wanted to) move somewhere else, and why?”

I was recently asked this question in a networking group that was supposed to help the participants get to know one another better.

My answer? “Gdańsk, Poland.”

It’s not where I grew up (that would be Warsaw, Poland), and I’ve only spent two days in Gdańsk proper, once in 2016 and once in 2019, but I know I would love to live close to the Baltic sea and beaches, and also within short distance of this charming, historic town.

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German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin

Berlin’s German Resistance Memorial Center (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand) is a 13-minute walk from the nearest  subway and train station at Potsdamer Platz, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting. There are two other interesting museums nearby – Modern Art Museum (Neue Nationalgalerie) and the Gallery of Paintings (Gemäldegalerie), though you likely won’t be able to visit all three on the same day, since you should set aside at least three hours for the Resistance Center, more if you plan on being very thorough and read every single display and story about those who stood up to the regime of Nazi Germany.

If you think the museum looks like a nondescript office building from the outside, you are correct – it was built in the early 1900s for the Naval Office, and since 1933 it housed the General Army Office in the Army High Command.

It was in this building that Adolf Hitler announced to the leaders of the German Military (Reichswehr) that he would “conquer new living space (Lebensraum) in the East.”

This building was also the center of an attempted coup against Hitler on July 20, 1944, and a place of execution of the conspirators shortly thereafter. Continue reading German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin

Museum of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland

Visiting Collegium Maius

May 12, 1364 – Polish King Kazimierz III (Casimir) the Great issues a royal charter establishing a university in Kraków, the capital of Poland at that time.

While there are already some thirty universities in operation in Europe, this is the first university in Poland, and the second oldest in Central Europe. Charles University in Prague was founded some twenty years earlier, in 1348.

The university has no buildings, the lectures are held in various buildings around the city. After Kazimierz’s death in 1370, his successor Louis I of Hungary has no interest supporting the Polish university, so the few professors and students move to Prague or other universities. The kings change, however, and in 1390s, the new king and queen – Władysław II Jagiełło and Jadwiga of Anjou – decide to revive the university and succeed. Jadwiga even bequeaths part of her private wealth and estate to the university.

The following year, 1400 King Jagiełło donates to the university a house he bought near the edge of the city, and inaugurates reopening of the university on July 26, 1400, with 206 students enrolled.

Continue reading Museum of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland

Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visiting

After a few minutes in the full sun you can almost feel your skin sizzle, and your hair nearly burns your fingers as you run your hand through it. The area is vast, but the tourists surrounding the guide crowd under the sparse trees, seeking shade from the oppressive heat.

This is what visiting Chichén Itzá feels like in April. In short: it’s ungodly hot.

We saw Chichén Itzá in 2013, when we vacationed in Cancun on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. That over was two years ago, but I don’t suppose the area has changed much since then, though some of the excavation work has probably moved forward.

A Bit of History (as always)

“Chi” means “mouth” and “chen” means “well” in Mayan, thus Chichén Itzá means “at the mouth of the well of the Itzá tribe.”

I’m afraid I found conflicting information as to who the Itza were and when they arrived in the region, so I’m not going to say anything about that.

The well mentioned in the name is the nearby cenote, a naturally formed round, deep depression in the ground filled with water, and pretty steep walls. This particular cenote wasn’t actually used for fresh water, however, but rather ceremonial purposes. When the cenote was dredged at the beginning of the 20th century, the archeologists found not only hundreds of objects at the bottom, but also human remains that showed signs of human sacrifice.

Chichén Itzá was a large city, which archaeologists think started gaining importance between 700 to 1,000 A.D.

At the beginning of the 10th century the region saw the arrival of outsiders from the Central Valley, the Toltecs (or people influenced by the Toltecs according to Encyclopaedia Britannica), who made the locals accept their own gods. The main Toltec god was the Feathered Serpent called Quetzalcoatl in Aztec, which was translated to Kukulkan in Mayan.

The most spectacular structures in Chichén Itzá were built during that period – 11th to the 13th century, but the whole area of Chichén Itzá includes both Toltec and earlier, Mayan structures.

panoramic view of the temple of Kukulkan
panoramic view of the temple of Kukulkan

Continue reading Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visiting

In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

Right past the wide open massive iron gates, the vast courtyard is full of tourists eager to catch a glimpse of imperial splendors of the past.

In the times of Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 till 1916, on Mondays and Thursdays any subject of his empire could supposedly ask for an audience with the monarch in his opulent Walnut Room.

What did it feel like, I wonder, to approach the Schönbrunn Palace, crunching gravel underfoot and petition in hand?

Schönbrunn’s size must have must have impressed even the wealthiest of the emperor’s subjects, not to mention the simple city dwellers, if they were in fact ever allowed to see the Emperor.

The grand entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace up close
The grand entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace up close

Continue reading In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria