Warsaw, Poland: an up-and-coming European museum destination

As an EU member with a good exchange rate and low prices, Poland is becoming a popular tourist destination in Eastern Europe. Most of the love goes to Krakow, with its original architecture and “new Prague” charm, but capital city Warsaw has plenty to offer as a European museum destination. While much of the old town was leveled in World War II, the restorations have been painstakingly done and the tumultuous history makes for a great basis for museum exhibitions.

Like Berlin, Warsaw has embraced its past and given the visitor plenty to learn from and new investments mean state-of-the-art attractions and exhibitions.

Given all of the places to see, Warsaw could easily fill a week (or two) on a Europe trip. Here’s a look at some of Warsaw’s best museums.

Warsaw (Up)Rising Museum – Warsaw’s proudest museum is a hi-tech interactive experience detailing the events of the two-month rebellion of the Polish people against the German forces as well as what preceded and followed. It borders on being overly comprehensive, the hundreds of artifacts can overwhelm, as can the crowds who line up daily. Be sure to follow museum signs as you walk through, as the chronological exhibit doesn’t necessarily follow the logical path.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison – Two of the city’s most unassuming buildings were once the most feared. Not as flashy as the Rising Museum but equally effective, the former Gestapo HQ contains a few stark cells that once held prisoners to be interrogated and often tortured before being taken to the prison, along with very professionally-done interactive displays telling the experiences of the poor souls held there. Most of the prison in the former Jewish ghetto has been destroyed, but dozens of artifacts and exhibits explain the prisoners’ conditions and attempt to describe the horrors that happened there.

Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Another hi-tech, multimedia extravaganza, this brand new space dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer goes beyond the usual exhibition with a fully customizable experience. Sample sounds from a rare score, read letters to the important women in Chopin’s life, and see a recreation of his Paris drawing room.

Palace of Culture and Science – Not so much a museum as a gift Warsaw can’t hide away, the tallest building in Poland was a gift from Joseph Stalin and it’s hard to go anywhere in the city without seeing the Soviet beast. Though the building is enormous, not much of it is open to the public. It’s worth a trip to the terrace for panoramic city views (see above photo) or spend an afternoon making sense of the bizarrely curated Museum of Technology.

Want more history? There are also museums dedicated to the Polish People’s Movement and Polish Independence, plus the many churches and monuments of the restored Old City and Krakowskie Przedmiescie street. Warsaw’s Jewish culture is also well-documented at the new Jewish Museum and Wola district historical museum.

Well-done in Warsaw

Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle – A few blocks away from the Gestapo Headquarters, the building has a history as a royal residence, medical hospital, and now modern art museum. Some of the most innovative artists in Poland and Europe are showcased here: November saw a show focused on Internet-shaped culture such as a scrolling display of Twitter results for the phrase “Best day ever.”

Warsaw Zoo – In addition to being a nicely-maintained habitat for animals, this zoo has a fascinating and heroic past. Diane Ackerman’s book The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the story of the zoo director who aided in war efforts and saved many Jewish Poles from the Nazis by hiding them in the animal cages.

Royal Castle and Wilanow Palace – Just outside the Old City, the Royal Castle was also rebuilt from scratch and houses a slew of antiques and artwork, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and other treasures from other museums. If you visit in good weather, it’s worth a day out of town to visit the grand Wilanow Palace and gardens, the Polish Versailles.

Not exhausted yet? Small museums also specialize in collections of cars, trains, military weaponry, horse-riding, caricatures, and Polish physicist Marie Curie. See the In Your Pocket Warsaw guide for more info.

Scottish prisons come through with travel perks

The notion of free travel is always an issue out here in the blogosphere. So if you’re looking to hit the road without spending a dime, skip my chosen profession and head out to Scotland. Work hard in the Scottish Prison Service, and you’ll find yourself relaxing in places like Thailand and the Cayman Islands … which is so much better than listening to the clanking of cell doors ever day!

According to The Sun, executives at the Scottish Prison Service dropped £92,777 on travel over the past three years, including a six-day trip to Barbados for the top dog of one prison with a price tag of above £7,000 back in October. Another hit Malawi, at a cost of £6,000.

Do you think this sounds frivolous? Well, keep in mind there’s another side to every story. Said a spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service: “The contacts we have created through attendance at international events ensure we remain at the leading edge of reform.”

Yeah …

[photo by amandabhslater via Flickr]

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant is sent to prison for sexy texting

Recently someone said to me, “I travel on international flights all the time to visit family and I’ve noticed that the women who work for the airlines are getting older. Is this okay?”

Is this okay? Is this okay! I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or throw whatever was in my hand at the time. Instead I took a deep breath and replied, “Of course it’s okay! Women age. So do passengers.”

I mean really!

After it hit me that the man was probably a foreigner and not used to the ways of airlines in the U.S., I added, “I plan on being one of those flight attendants who use the beverage cart as a walker. Because in the United States flight attendants are allowed to age. We’re also allowed to gain weight, get married, and have children.”

Crazy, I know!

Wanna know what else flight attendants are allowed to do? Send sexy text messages. It’s true! Not that I’m a sexy text-er or anything, but if I wanted to send a sexy text I could, and I could do so without worrying about getting sent to prison for three months. Ya see here in the good ole US of A life is pretty darn nice. Especially if you’re a flight attendant.

What in the world am I talking about? In case you haven’t heard, an Emirates flight attendant and supervisor were recently sent to prison for three months for sending sexy text messages to each other. MSNBC reported that “the pair were convicted of ‘coercion to commit sin’ over messages and were initially sentenced to six months in jail”


MSNBC also reported that there is grave concern about the rapid growing population of foreigners in the deeply conservative area which may be threatening their social and religious identity.

So how did the sexy texts even come to light? The husband of the flight attendant. He’s been battling her for a divorce since 2007. I guess it only makes sense he would turn her in so she could be sent to jail.

Nice, eh?

Flight attendants aren’t the only ones getting thrown into the slammer for sexually related activity. “a British pair caught kissing in public in Dubai is appealing a month-long jail sentence handed down after an Emirati mother complained her child had seen their indiscretion,” Cynthia Johnston, the MSNBC correspondent covering the case, wrote in the article Airline workers face 3 months in jail over texts. Then she goes on to discuss three more cases involving British couples either going to prison or narrowly escaping prison for similar actions.

When I mentioned this story to Bob, the singing pilot, he asked, “What is considered a sexually explicit text in that part of the world?”

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not so sure I even want to know.

Photos courtesy of Telstar Logistics and Jrodmanjr

Coupling couples cuffed for “close proximity” in Malaysia

Unmarried couples were awoken to a surprise on New Year’s Day. Fifty-two coupling couples were detained by Malaysia’s Islamic morality police, according to USA Today, because they were suspected of having … get this … sex despite not being married! These 104 people could spend up to two years in prison, not to mention fines. The Selangor State Islamic Department chose this particular day of the year because it’s known to be celebrated with the offense of marriage-less sex.

The authorities — you can’t even call them the “sex police,” because they’re so much more than that — busted in before dawn, looking for people violating the rule of “khalwat,” also known as “close proximity. So, even if they weren’t caught in various back-bending and spirit-breaking positions, participating in any number of acts either common to a booze-soaked night of revelry or rich fantasy informed by adult cinema, the fact that they were in confined areas was enough to get them in hot water under Malaysia‘s Sharia Law.

So, what would have happened if this door-busting scene played out in the Hard Rock Hotel’s Provocateur Penthouse master suite? Well, if you’re flying solo with the ceiling hottie, you’re bound to have at least an uncomfortable moment.

[Photo by Mark Coggins via Flickr]

Uganda: the latest not so gay-friendly destination

While every city council and national tourist board seems to know the equation gay + traveler = big bucks, the central African nation of Uganda wants none of it. A controversial bill may soon pass that would not only outlaw homosexuality, but would also impose the death penalty against certain “offenders” and make it criminal to not report known homosexuals.

Whence in Africa, most gay travelers know to keep it on the down low, however the new legislation would be sure to sniff them out by criminalizing anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality”. If convicted, people who know gay people would face seven years in prison. That includes hotel owners and landlords who rent rooms to homosexuals.

So forget Utah, the gay witch hunt of the century will occur in lovely Uganda, land of gun-toting child missionaries and toxic breasts.