Just like partaking traditional perogi and vodka at Radio Cafe, a visit to Warsaw would not be complete without a tour of the grounds surrounding the "Muzeum Wojska Polskiego" or Museum of the Polish Army, where the best part of the museum is actually free.
A decree issued by the Polish Marshal Józef Piłsudski helped found the Museum in April 1920 with its first director being Colonel Bronislaw Gembarzewski.
Since then it has grown its exhibits related to Polish and foreign military to more than 250,000 to date through numerous gifts and purchases, making it the largest collector of military objects in Poland.
It is still collecting as we speak to populate its various permanent and temporary exhibitions which illustrate a thousand years of Polish military history, from the 10th century to World War II.
The Museum is the second largest in Warsaw and is also an excellent research and conservation facility, known for its iconographic archive, library and specialized professional conservation labs.
The nature of the collections and specialized staff, make it an important center for information and consultation. It also plays an educational role by offering lessons for children and school students.
The Museum will be moving to new premises scheduled to be completed in 2013 in the historic Citadel located in Warsaw's Żoliborz district.
The new Polish military museum designed by Warsaw architects WXCA who won the international design competition for the new premises is expected to be a modern multimedia institution comprising of a large square leading through to the museum's open-air lobby, an open air exhibition of military vehicles, and restaurants, cafes and clubs to attract more visitors.
I'm not a military history enthusiast but the free access to a wide variety of heavy weaponry, mostly from World War II, is tempting especially when you can come face to face with 20th century Soviet, western and Polish heavy military equipment including tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, planes, helicopters, missiles and rocket launchers. Some of the interiors of the vehicles can be accessed for a mere PLN2 fee. The grounds are popular with families and kids who enjoy the leisurely wander around and touching the exhibits.
I did not managed the time for the Museum interior but military enthusiasts will be very pleased with the sizable collection of firearms from personal weapons to big guns, blades, soldiers' uniforms, riding equipment, flags, stamps, musical instruments, military medals, jewelry and decorations. They reflect Poland's military history since the 10th century with emphasis on the 17th century of military greatness.
There is also a permanent exhibition of oriental arms and armour from the Museum's own private collection from Ottoman Turkey, the Crimean Tatar Khanate, Mongolia and Japan. Its Hall of Oriental Samurai armor sets, rarely seen in Eastern Europe amazed the Japan's Ambassador to Poland.
Another interesting display are the items such as ID Passes, portable radios, torches and holsters retrieved from the Smolensk's aircraft crash that claimed the lives of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in April 2010.
As majority of the explanations are in Polish, you'll need to make sure you have an English-speaking guide or driver to enjoy all the Museum has to offer. As the Museum is operated like a department of the Polish armed forces, it is not allowed by law to offer goods to the public on a commercial basis hence the encase of a proper giftshop or bookshop on the premises.
I enjoyed the 30 minutes of wandering the Museum grounds with Tomasz, my English-speaking driver, who was tremendous help with the explanations. As snow fell on Warsaw, the open-air exhibition area took on a somber note befitting the relics that now spend the winter of their lives at the Polish Army Museum.