Ed Leahy's world tour resumes...

I have taken many a city tour over the years on arriving at a new destination, and I find the best ones always appear to complement the surroundings. 

Whether bicycling Barcelona, exploring Huntington Beach in California aboard a Segway, or eating my way around the capital city of the Bahamas, Nassau, with seven food and drink stops along the way.

So what would Warsaw throw at me as I arrived to spend an early summer city break in the Polish capital?

How about a communist-era police vehicle, which would best be described as a cross between a police paddy wagon and an old-style fire truck?

So in we piled and off we sped. Well, not really sped, but bustled down the street in the bright red vehicle - known locally as a Zuk - gaining many admirers around every corner of this historic Central European city.

We drove out along the majestic Vistula, Poland's longest river, across to the National Stadium, which hosted the final of the EURO 2012 football championships. We came back through the sprawling city, passing war memorials and communist era landmarks, before arriving at the recently opened Jewish Museum.

A relief to escape the wooden bench seats of the Zuk, we made our way across to the Old Town where this part of the city is much better appreciated on foot.

Entering the Stare Miasto (Old Town) on the stroke of 11, we were greeted by a lone trumpeter performing a fine rendition of the Warsaw anthem from the tower at King's Castle, the residence of the last Polish king. 

It's difficult to fathom that this entire area was razed to the ground during World War II and has been painstakingly restored to its former glory over the past 60 years using photographic references or pre-war paintings.

A carefully constructed cultural project is not something you might associate with a communist regime, but the main reason that the rebuild took place was not for aesthetics, but simply because they could.

You could spend endless hours strolling around the Old Town from the bustling market square - full of bars and cafés, where you will discover Warsaw's own version of the Little Mermaid - to the remains of the city walls, which date back to 1548. 

According to legend, a mermaid was resting on the riverbank near the Old Town when local fishermen heard her song and fell in love with the fabulous creature. 

When a rich merchant trapped and imprisoned the mermaid, a young fisherman heard her cries for help and released her. By way of thanks, she promised to provide all fishermen with help if needed. Since then, the mermaid, armed with a sword and a shield, has been ready to protect the city and its residents.

Warsaw was located on the main trade route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Many wealthy tradesmen and craftsmen took up residence as the city changed over the centuries. 

A town hall was built in 1429 (which no longer exists), along with a parish church (currently the Cathedral of St John), defensive towers and a barbican. 

But 1944 brought almost total ruin as 90 percent of the Old Town area was destroyed. The reconstruction took many years, and ended with a place on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Adjacent to the Old Town, the most elegant houses in Warsaw line the Royal Route, which links the three royal residences: the King's Castle, Lazienki Palace and Park and Wilanów Palace.

Of the numerous neo-classical buildings in Royal Lazienki Park, the most impressive is the Palace on the Water, which is on a picturesque island, while the Frederic Chopin Monument sees celebrated pianists perform every Sunday in summer.

And Wilanów Palace is an outstanding example of the Baroque style in Poland. It belonged to King Jan III Sobieski, who is remembered for his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. 

This young and vibrant city takes on a whole new character at night. We took a short hop across the river to the once no-go area of the Praga district. It is now home to the city's artists and creative types and we dined at the very popular Warszawa Wschodnia Restaurant at the SoHo factory.

The open plan restaurant allows you to sit and watch some of Poland's best chefs in action, reviving the best of Old Polish cuisine. It proves to be one of the leading lights in Warsaw gastronomy.

After dinner, we ventured back towards the Old Town where the nightlife was starting to get going. It was momentarily resisted to enjoy another stroll around Warsaw's oldest district to appreciate the city by night.

Everything is illuminated around the Old Town, from the churches to the government buildings to the many monuments dotted about the city. 

You will encounter characters like King Sigismund III Vaza, sitting atop a 22-metre column, bedecked in football scarves in the colours of local side Legia Warsaw; shoemaker Jan Kilinski, a Warsaw hero who fought the Russians in the uprising in 1794; poet and patriot Adam Mickiewicz, considered the greatest figure in Polish literature; and not forgetting one of Poland's most famous sons, Nicolai Copernicus.

The New Town's modern glitz and glamour would be sampled much later that night, but first there was time for some storytelling with our Polish friends and tasting of local beers in one of the many quaint Old Town bars to get the true taste of Warsaw.

Golfing Warsaw
I added a few days to my city break to explore some of Warsaw's local golf clubs, as the sport is really gaining popularity with Championship courses under development throughout the country.

We started at the First Warsaw Golf Club and enjoyed a beautiful parkland track, which proved a tough test in a superb setting. We moved on to the top quality Sobienie Królewskie Golf Club, which was as good as many around Europe, and where the staff and local pro couldn't do enough for us.

Another tricky test, the Sobienie Królewskie was reminiscent of some of Ireland's resort courses and we enjoyed an overnight stay at its local hotel, which is a converted manor house from pre-communist Poland.

The final stop on the whistle-stop tour of Warsaw's golfing options took us to the excellent Lisia Polana Golf Club. It is ideal for tourist golfers as it is located close to the airport and proves an easier test, which can often be more enjoyable when you are playing a new course for the first time.

Lisia Polana Golf Club also includes accommodation options and would be the ideal place to start or finish your golfing trip due to its proximity to Modlin Airport.

And a special mention must go to the golf course restaurant, which served up some of the best food that I tasted on my extended city break in Warsaw.

Where To Stay
I stayed at the ultra-stylish Polonia Palace Warsaw, which is in a fantastic location in the new part of the city centre. It is a stone's throw from what the locals call Stalin's Gift, a sort of miniature Empire State Building that houses the Palace of Culture and Science. The hotel is a modern four-star with friendly staff, fine food and bedrooms offering excellent views of the aforementioned palace, which is also Poland's tallest building.

Getting To Warsaw
Ryanair offers daily direct flights from Dublin to Modlin Airport with the flight time being approximately 2.5 hours.

For more information about Warsaw or golfing in the region, visit: www.poland.travel/en-gb.

Ed Leahy
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