In conjunction with Euro 2012, David Bowden highlights things to do in the various Polish and Ukrainian cities hosting the tournament, starting with Warsaw and Kiev
FOOTBALL fans have been eagerly anticipating the best of the best European nations battling it out to determine the winner of Euro 2012.
The biennial event is one of the sporting highlights of the year. It will be staged in the central European nations of Poland and the Ukraine from June 8 to the final on July 1.
Poland and Ukraine are two countries that aren’t generally well known to Malaysians, so Life & Times Travel will, over the next four weeks, reveal the best that these two nations have to offer.
With other Polish cities like Gdansk, Wroclaw, Poznan and Ukrainian cities like Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv being venues for the matches, it’s safe to assume we have a lot to learn about world geography.
This week’s focus is Warsaw and Kiev, the capitals of Poland and Ukraine respectively. While several games are being contested in both cities, Euro 2012 boots off next week in Warsaw on June 8 and the final will be played in Kiev on July 1.
Central Europe isn’t as expensive as the rest of Europe and while there won’t be too many travel bargains during Euro 2012, Poland and Ukraine offer good value.
While much of central Warsaw was razed to the ground during WW11, its rebuilding closely resembles how it once looked. Here are five exciting things to do in Warsaw.
Brush with royalty
Warsaw’s Old Town (Stare Miasto) adjoining the Vistula River is the best place to start exploring. The castle was meticulously resurrected with impressive interiors which can be seen on a tour. While there’s no royal family anymore, the ochre-coloured Royal Castle dominates a central square and is a focus for tourism. This square and the Old Town Market Square featuring a mermaid sculpture (Syrenka) are lined with outdoor bars, cafes and restaurants. Dine on Polish cuisine in the atmospheric U Fukier Restaurant and enjoy local delicacies like pierogi.
Once the site of WW11 persecution, the Warsaw Ghetto is a place to visit to be reminded that such horrors should never occur again. The Warsaw Rising Museum is a celebration of people under adversity rising up against oppressive invading forces. A visit to the site of the Pawiak Prison is chilling and moving.
One of Poland’s most famous sons was the classical composer Fryderyk Chopin. Free concerts are performed during the summer months (May to September) every Sunday afternoon in one of the city’s green areas — Lazlenki Park. Chopin is celebrated in other parts of the city and in his birthplace of Zalazowa Wola, 50km from Warsaw. His house is a museum and summertime concerts are performed here too.
Once part of the Communist Bloc, Poland has leapt ahead in leaps and bounds since Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement brought democracy to Poland. For something a little kitsch, hook up with Adventure Warsaw (www.adventurewarsaw.pl) for a nostalgic tour in an old socialist car to places like an old vodka factory, pre-war bazaar in trendy Praga District and to an old socialist flat.
Visit Poland's famous chocolate house of E. Wedel at 8 Szpitalna St (T: +48 6 9607-6200) where things haven’t changed much since it was established in 1851. Try the hot chocolate and ptasie mleczko (chocolate marshmallows). There are 16 Wedel cafes in Poland under the name of Pijalnie Czekolody E. Wedel.
Ukraine capital Kiev (also known as Kyiv) is a beautiful city on the banks of the Dnipro River which flows to the Black Sea. It started as a 5th Century trading post and has now developed into a city of some three million residents.
Land-locked Ukraine has been occupied by various nations over time with the Russians the last to leave at the end of the 20th Century. Now Kiev is the largest city in Ukraine in terms of both population and area, and is the country’s business capital.
The modern city has many monuments, 100 museums, 33 theatres and many libraries. Its football fan zone, located in Independence Square in the heart of the city, will feature four giant screens and will open for the duration of the tournament. It is free to enter and will broadcast all 31 matches live, though at other times there will be plenty of entertainment such as football skill tests, five-a-side pitches, live concerts and DJ sets, as well as offer a full range of food and beverages.
Around the corner from the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium, Khreshchatyk Street runs through its heart and is the place to promenade especially at the weekend when it is a pedestrian zone.
Here are five city highlights:
The magnificent St. Andrew’s Church was designed by the same architect responsible for St Petersburg's Winter Palace. Known as the Montmartre of Kiev, it includes the Bulgakov Museum and an artists’ alley which becomes an outdoor art gallery at the weekend.
Down by the river
Dnipro River becomes a summer playground in the middle of the year with people swimming and sun bathing along the banks. Two botanic gardens and many parks including Victory Park also attract residents who come out to make the most of the sun.
Kiev’s own Goldent Gate
The replica that is now on display is based upon the original built in the 11th Century. As no accurate representation of the original existed, the 1982 reconstruction was based upon the best available evidence. Kiev’s original Golden Gate demarcated the entrance to the settlement as a deterrent to its enemies.
Schevchenko National Opera House
What is simply as the National Opera House is just one of many grand buildings in the city. The original burned down and an international competition was held for its redesign. This was won by St. Petersburg architect Victor Schroter with the reopening in 1901. It has a Neo-Renaissance interior and a Viennese Modern style interior.
Another architecturally impressive building is Vydubychi Monastery on a hill above the city. It is one of the oldest sacred sites in the Ukraine and has medieval foundations.
How to get there
There are no direct flights from Malaysia to Poland or the Ukraine. Royal Dutch Airline (KLM) offers the best connections to both countries. Late evening departures from Kuala Lumpur arrive at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport in the early morning and from here, there are several flights daily to both Warsaw and Kiev.