Sunday, September 8, 2013

Toronto-Tel-Aviv Via Warsaw (Part 2)

I flew back to Tel-Aviv from Toronto via Warsaw on Lot Polish Airlines.  I wrote a review of the first leg of my flight a few weeks ago here.  I thought I would add some comments, since this time I stopped in Poland for a longer time.

The connection, travelling from Toronto to Tel-Aviv, is less than ideal.  You leave Toronto at 8:30 p.m. (we were delayed about an hour, but that could happen on any airline...) and you arrive in Warsaw at 10:30 a.m.  The flight from Warsaw to Tel-Aviv leaves Warsaw at 10:55 p.m.  There are no earlier connecting flights.

So if you take this route, you have to make a decision.  Either you leave the airport and spend the 10 hours or so that you have free in Warsaw - or you sit in the airport for about 12 hours.  You have to decide when you first arrive since  you are either sent to a "connecting flights area" or the passport control/ arrivals area.  If you first go to the connecting flights area and then change your mind and decide to go and see Warsaw (that's what I did), it is a bit complicated to get out of the airport.

The flight itself, from Toronto to Warsaw was fine.  Lot uses the new Dreamliner 787s for this route.  The planes are very quiet and very smooth.  You barely feel that you are taking off.  This time I was seated in economy class.  Lot has personal screens but many of the movies, TV shows and music require payment of an additional fee.  The free selection is very limited.  Even the paid selection did not look very enticing.  The flight is just over 8 1/2 hours and it was quite uneventful.  I watched a movie that I had on my own device ("Sarah's Key" which was quite a suitable selection for this trip).

When I arrived in Warsaw, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to travel to the city or stay in the airport.

I stopped off at the lounge (which is available for Star Alliance members).  It is a decent lounge with clean washrooms, showers, drinks, coffee (including a funky cappuccino machine) and some other light food offerings.  The lounge also has Kosher sandwiches which are under the supervision of the local Polish Kashrut council.

Right across from the lounge, there was a duty free shop with terrific prices.  The interesting thing is that the Chopin Airport in Warsaw has several duty free shops, all with varying prices.  The main shops, upstairs, are quite pricey.  The duty free shop downstairs (across from the lounge) was about 20-30% cheaper than upstairs.  So I managed to pick up a bottle of Scotch whiskey to contribute to our upcoming Simchat Torah festivities at our shul...(a Jura 16 year, in case you are wondering...at less than $35 - about 40% of the price at the LCBO in Ontario).

No┼╝yk Synagogue

I decided to head out and see a bit of Warsaw.  I had looked up some sites of Jewish interest and decided I would start with those.  I took a cab from the airport to the only operating Orthodox synagogue in Warsaw, the Nozyk Synagogue.  This beautiful shul was built in approximately 1900.  It was apparently the only synagogue in Warsaw to survive the war and it is now the only active Orthodox shul in Warsaw.  I wandered around and had a look.  Just outside the shul, there was a small, Kosher falafel shop, run by an Israeli.  I decided to patronize it, even though I wasn't too crazy about having a falafel.  It certainly wasn't the freshest or the best tasting falafel I have had but it was worth the experience.  The cab ride from the airport to the synagogue was about 45 Zloty - or about $13 (Cdn).  I had taken some money out of an ATM in the Polish airport.  Considering that this was about a 20 minute ride, the cab fare seemed quite reasonable.  I think a similar distance in Israel would easily cost  5 or 6 times that amount.

Museum of Jewish History- Warsaw
From the synagogue, I grabbed another cab and went over to the site of the new Polish Museum of Jewish History.  The museum is not open yet and will only open in early to mid-2014.  It promises to include an enormous collection of information and exhibits relating to the history of the Jewish community in Poland.  For now - you can see the building and the monument that has been erected but you cannot go into the building for a tour. 

From the Museum, I decided to walk over to the Old City - the historic parts of Warsaw - which feature cobblestone streets and old buildings, many of which have been renovated after being destroyed during the war.  I walked for about 20 minutes using my phone GPS (I had pre-loaded a full map of Warsaw from Google onto my phone) over to the old section of Warsaw and wandered around in that area for a while.

Old Warsaw
There were many historical sites and it was an interesting area to visit.  I couldn't help but wondering how the city must have looked in the 1930s or earlier.  After all, pre-war Warsaw had a Jewish population of close to 400,000.  It rivalled New York at the time, as one of the cities with the largest Jewish populations in the world.  The Jewish community comprised close to 1/3 of the entire population of Warsaw.  Now, wandering around Warsaw, a handful of Jews live in the city.  Most of the population was, of  course, murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.  There is a little evidence that this was once a vibrant, thriving Jewish community with hundreds of synagogues, Jewish schools, shops, theatres and other important community landmarks.  While there are certainly some remaining sites of Jewish interest in Warsaw, the overwhelming feeling is one of amazement and sadness at the annihilation and disappearance of an entire community.

Nevertheless, I stopped for a latte and then continued wandering through old Warsaw before taking a cab back to the airport.
I took a panorama shot but this blog has only saved it as a jpg file - for some reason, so you have to imagine that this is one continuous photo...

I had thought of trying to make it to some more important Polish historical sites, but the camps were more of a distance and would have required a longer time period.  It would probably also be more suitable to get to those sites with a group.

Nevertheless, if you are travelling to Tel-Aviv through Warsaw (which could be hundreds of dollars cheaper than some other flights), you may want to try to see some of the city.  It is inexpensive, interesting and it seemed to be reasonably safe. 



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