The Little Insurgent Statue in Warsaw’s New Town is the statue of a little boy wearing a helmet which is too large for him. This symbolizes the bravery shown by children who fought against Nazi oppression. While Warsaw can’t distance itself from the horrors of the World War and Communism, it cannot help but reconcile to the fact that it has been shaped by both.

The art of persistence is very typical of the Polish spirit. Regardless of the misfortune that befalls them, they never give in. Ravaged by the Nazis. Later the Soviets. And now rendered invisible by the free-marketers of globalization.

A compilation by the MOdb shortly after the Second World War estimated the number of buildings damaged and destroyed in Warsaw close to 20,500. That’s almost 80 percent of the building stock, covering 120,000 cubic yards worth 2.9 million Zlotys. I recalled from a number of history texts that Hitler’s objective had been to erase Poland from the World Map, and reduce Warsaw to the status of a market town.

After the fall of communism, post 1989, Warsaw retains a flavour of both Moscow and Paris, while capitalist colonization of the country now has seen Warsaw’s architecture bastardized by a western style that its history has never held. There is also an unceremonious gift from Stalin – Palace of Culture and Science – that resembles the Seven Sisters (skyscrapers) of Moscow.

While the Chopin impressionists play their music, the tunes are intertwined by the sounds of the clicks of the digital cameras, the ringtones of mobile phones, clucks of the horse’s hoof transporting tourists, the cry of men swaying passer-bys to come in to their restaurants claiming “very good food, very delicious”. Perhaps today was meant for capturing the sounds of Old Town Warsaw.

I noticed the uncanny similarity having visited Moscow before. As my friend Piotr articulately put it: we hate it. Many Poles feel that it symbolizes Soviet communism, and that it looks out of place in Warsaw’s skyline. I recall tales narrated by my mate Michal, a floor mate of mine from University, who now lives in Dublin, on how the communist regime and the now-phoney-capitalist regime had erased most of Warsaw’s history by renaming streets, and redesigning the city and its old buildings.

The violence of war is man-made, and its tremors are felt in every corner of the world. People visiting the museums of Warsaw are transfixed by the images depicting the horrors of the war, the sense of helplessness faced by many for no fault of theirs but the selfish, mindless vengeance of one man. Or an institution.

The Warsaw Uprising saw soldiers crawl through miles of sewer to escape the chains of death. The European Medieval dark ages saw men being burnt at the stake for siding with logic and science that defied the Catholic Church’s belief.

In a way, the war isn’t over yet for across the city still lie large monuments or small plaques on streets commemorating the lives lost, casting a long shadow.

A man riding a tricycle offering Rickshaw tours around Old Town gets my attention. A few tourists approach him with the intent of taking a picture alongside him, rather than availing his services. He sportingly nods with a smile, unmindful on the lack of a business outcome.

To his background, shades of blue, pink, green and yellow characterize the buildings in Old Town Warsaw, most of them rebuilt several times over the last thousand years along the cobblestoned streets. The Royal Castle in Old Town Warsaw is now a museum which was rebuilt using the parts that remained after the bombings. I was told that the paintings of Bernando Bellotto depicting 18th Century Warsaw proved extremely invaluable while the city was being reconstructed.

Like most UNESCO World Heritage sites, Old Town Warsaw is best explored by foot. The place is filled with tales that have passed on from one generation to another. In front of one of the many churches in Old Town lies a stone bear. A legend tells that the bear is actually a prince who can be disenchanted by a woman who truly loves him.

Or another tale about the legend of a Basilisk that “once lived in the dungeons of one of the buildings in Old Town. Anyone who saw it was turned into stone. Many brave men tried to kill the creature, but no one could match the sight of the Basilisk’s sight. Finally, a young man came up with an idea. He decided to use a mirror as a shield. The Basilisk turned himself in to a stone, and the people of Warsaw lived happily ever after.

I walk further towards the Old Town Market square that adorns every travel catalogue relating to Warsaw. Once a public square for festivals, meetings and executions, today, as a tourist hub, it is filled aplenty with cafes, artists and musicians playing Chopin. Who would have ever thought that in such a setting, the world would have seen people shaping its own future in music and science? Chopin, Copernicus, Curie.

While the Chopin impressionists play their music, the tunes are intertwined by the sounds of the clicks of the digital cameras, the ringtones of mobile phones, clucks of the horse’s hoof transporting tourists, the cry of men swaying passer-bys to come in to their restaurants claiming “very good food, very delicious”. Perhaps today was meant for capturing the sounds of Old Town Warsaw.

Separating the Old Town from the New Town (and ironically, the New Town is in fact older than Old Town) is a Barbican, which had once fortified the city from attacks, surrounded by a moat. Advances in artillery soon made the Barbican obsolete, and I learnt that it had been used to defend the city only on one occasion.

The rash of new developments exacts a deep cost. Until recently, Warsaw was a backpacker’s paradise. And it still is. The city has undergone a paradigm shift in the last decade, and that Poland co-hosted Euro 2012 is a testament to how things have changed. Or progressed.

However, with many educated Poles still living outside the country, the “corrupt politicians still run it like the country is their own family property,” says Piotr. Poland is expected to replace its currency Zloty with the Euro, but he believes it won’t happen for the next few years because it requires that the country exhibit trends of low inflation, debt and deficit – none of which seem probable under the way the governments function.

Later that evening, I summon a taxi to take me back to the hotel. The language barrier exists for many don’t speak English. I take a look at my hotel key and attempt to pronounce the neighbourhood: Srod-Mi-Eski. The taxi driver doesn’t bat an eyelid.

I hand over the key. He grins widely and says “Sródmieście”. I nod sheepishly and get into the car. I make it a point to tip him generously when I get down, for there’s no way I would have been able to guess the pronunciation.

“Thank you,” he says, clearly delighted. “Thank you very much.” I do a quick math to convert the tip to my local currency back home. It isn’t much.

The Zloty remains a largely depressed currency.