The main reason for visiting Poland was to go to Krakow to visit the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. We hadn’t planned on going to Warsaw initially, but when Ryanair offered flights from the UK for 9 Euros each, we couldn’t resist.
We navigated our way through customs, purchased a simcard and found our way to our apartment quite easily, considering the language is very foreign and very few people speak English.
The weather was a ‘balmy’ 9 degrees, considerably warmer than the UK but the skies were overcast and the rain started to fall shortly after we arrived. Snow was still lying everywhere.
Warsaw is a city with a difficult past and it shows. Signs of cold war communism still remain – the buildings are grey and utilitarian; the architecture, austere.
In retaliation to the ‘Warsaw Uprising’ in 1944, the Nazi’s completely obliterated the city, leaving behind desolate ruins. Himmler’s words were to leave “no stone standing”. Prior to the bombing, there were 900,000 people living in the city, post this date just 1,000. Due to the fortitude of the Polish people, the old town was completely rebuilt to look identical to how it did prior to the bombing. This was ‘remembered’ through the use of photos, paintings and historical records and only completed as recently as the 1970’s. It has been rebuilt so accurately that is has been listed on the UNESCO heritage list. Despite it looking quaint and historical, the old town lacks ‘soul’ – perhaps it’s because we knew it wasn’t really old, or perhaps there really is something to be said for the saying, “if walls could talk”.
Carl and I were convinced we were the only tourists there, which was quite unusual and perhaps slightly unnerving. The atmosphere wasn’t always welcoming, at times we felt like intruders.
Food is very heartwarming in Poland and the portions are enormous. We both ate our bodyweight in pierogi (potato dumplings), Bigos (stew), borscht (beetroot soup) and other local soups. Beer was good there too, as were the warming spicy heated wines (grzane wino) quite often enhanced by a little vodka!
Time in Warsaw: 3 nights
The best things about Warsaw:
- The delicious food.
- The Warsaw Uprising Museum, very informative and well presented.
- The town square, has a lovely atmosphere, and people watching is always fun there.
- It’s cheap!
- Warsaw is sometimes referred to as the ‘phoenix city’, having completely rebuilt post its unmitigated destruction in WWII.
- Its most famous inhabitants have been Marie Curie and Frederyk Chopin.
- It is worth staying within walking distance of the Old Town as that is where it all happens! However, trams are easy to catch and they go most places!
- Do not jaywalk in Poland, you will be fined (even as an ‘innocent’ tourist)
- Remember to validate your ticket when you get on the tram/bus – undercover ticket inspectors patrol regularly and are unforgiving. Trust me, we learnt the hard way!
- We found the “In your pocket” tourist guide for Warsaw very useful, you can pick it up at the airport for free or download it online. It gives you the pronunciations for basic words, details on tipping as well as useful maps, eating options and sightseeing info.
- Some of the museums are not always that well signposted and can be quite tricky to locate. Make sure you know exactly where you are heading!
- English is not spoken a lot, be prepared to sign-language your way through a conversation if necessary or take your phone with ‘Google translater’. It helps to know a few local words, that and a smile can get you quite far!