As you can tell by the title of this post (as well as the opening greeting, “hello” in Polish, by the way), I went to Poland this past April holidays! For ten days, I found myself roaming all over the country, famous for all sorts of things from its WWII history to its hearty pierogis and kielbasas. From the Baltic north in Gdańsk to the Polish-Slovak border of Zakopane, I saw as many of the highlights as I could with the time permitted. All the while, I had a lot of fun, as it was a much-needed break from staying at home.
Any case, I started off my Polish adventures in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. I’d booked plane tickets from France for pretty cheap almost two months prior, and before I knew it, I was going! Left my town Friday morning (requested the day off from work, which was fine) to take the train to Paris and from there catch a BlaBlaCar ride up to the Beauvais airport, where I would be flying with Ryanair.
My flight took off around 15h45 and it arrived two hours later at Warsaw-Modlin airport, which was actually quite far from the city center, but there was a *really-affordable* shuttle that took passengers over. I took it for 45 minutes, arriving at the Palace of Culture and Science in the very heart of the city. Lovely lit up at night, the high-rise building is the center for cultural venues and performances; it also has a terrace on its 30th floor where one can get views of the city. Admittedly, a very industrial view (in contrast with its Old Town across the city), but nevertheless a profound one that reflects Warsaw’s history of socialism and democracy.
The hostel I would be staying at was about a 15 to 20-minute walk from the Palace of Culture and Science; I’d taken a screenshot of the directions, as well as used Google Maps, but I still got a bit lost trying to find it; didn’t help that I was at a very busy intersection, with a roundabout so huge that it required people to go underground (metro-style) to get to the other side of the street! I went under and over several times before I finally got on the right street to make it to my hostel where I arrived close to 21h00, sweaty and tired. Checked in and was shown to my room where I got settled in. There was a raucous party going on that night in the commons- apparently, it was a group of Belgian guys on a bachelor party, so they were really yukking it up and being crazy loud. Thankfully, my room was further away from there, so it wasn’t too bad- they were still at it the following evening, but later left to go out. Oof, thank god for peace…
After getting settled, I turned in for the night, resting up for adventures the following day. I woke up around 8h00, had breakfast (sadly, the hostel’s was not complimentary, so I just ate what I’d brought with me- no big deal), and headed out towards Old Town; it would be about a 40-minute walk from where I was, but considering that I had the whole day, I was fine with it. Again, like last night, I got a bit lost trying to orient myself to Old Town for about 15 to 20 minutes, but eventually I headed in the right direction, passing by and popping into the Holy Cross Church where musical composer Frederic Chopin’s heart is buried. A fan of Chopin’s works while growing up playing the piano, I knew that I had to go inside and check it out, even though it was only a plaque to recognize it.
Continuing towards Old Town, I passed by the Presidential Palace (where the Polish president resides) and St. Anne’s Cathedral, which I visited later for the city views. I finally arrived in the Old Town, bright and cheery with multi-colorful buildings on one side and the grand Royal Castle. Interestingly, all of the buildings in Old Town (the Royal Castle included) aren’t that old, considering that almost 80 percent of the city was destroyed during WWII; much of the area was rebuilt in the 1950’s and 1960’s, so really, the buildings are no more than fifty, even sixty years old. All the same, it gave off a really quaint, historical atmosphere to it- helped that it was beautiful, blue-sky kind of day!
Decided to visit the Royal Castle, paying 20 zloty (~5 euros) and spent the rest of the morning there. I wasn’t expecting much from the inside, but it turned out to be a lovely surprise with bright, extravagant chambers and ballrooms that were on-par with some of the châteaux I’d seen in France. Glad to have visited!
By the time I finished the visit, I made a quick stop at St. Anne’s Church, where I paid about 4 zloty (1 euro) to climb the tower for views of Old Town from above. Granted, it wasn’t the highest one I’d climbed, but nevertheless, it wasn’t a bad view.
Soon enough, it was time for lunch. I was hungry, but I also wanted to find a restaurant which served pierogis, which are Polish dumplings that I wanted to try whilst in Poland. Stumbled upon a small joint in Old Town and popped right in, ordering a plate of nine pierogis in three different flavors (“the Russian,” aka potato-cheese, mushroom and cabbage, and blueberry). Opted for cranberry sauce on the side, which worked well! My favorite one was the mushroom and cabbage, and I found myself quite full after eating nine of them. They’re quite hearty!
Once I finished and paid for lunch, I decided to make a quick detour to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is a small, gazebo-like monument which commemorates those who’d sacrificed their lives during the war. I happened to come across the Changing of the Guard ceremony when I arrive, and boy, there were so many people! Just got in my photo quickly, and headed off to Łazienki Park.
Łazienki Park is the largest park in Warsaw and is home to the eponymous palace on the lake, as well as the Chopin statue, a surrealist-abstract monument representing the famous Polish composer himself. As mentioned, it was a very nice day, sunny with blue skies: it made for the perfect opportunity to take a stroll through some of the nature that the park had to offer. Despite the tourists, it was still quite peaceful by the water, or on the bench. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city outside the park’s grounds.
By 15h00, I was getting tired, having walked around all day (plus, my right foot was starting to hurt quite badly; I think a bunion was forming. It would remain there for the rest of the day I was traveling, but I had no choice but to continue exploring). Decided to return to my hostel; along the way, I popped into a grocery store and a small bakery for beer and bread rolls, respectively, as a sort of light snack for the afternoon until the evening. In total, it cost me less than 0,50 euros, which was mind-blowing! Seriously, things were crazy cheap in Poland, and I definitely took advantage of that every night with a bottle of beer (even though I’m not a huge fan of it).
Any case, made it back to my hostel where I relaxed for the rest of the day. Later that evening, I participated in one of the hostel’s daily night events, and that day, I made pierogis with one of the receptionists and another hostel-goer, a friendly French guy with whom I ended up translating for, since he didn’t know English. Making pierogis is super easy (flour, hot water, salt, filling), and I had a good time. Plus, got to eat them in the end!
Soon after, I turned in for the night, waking up the following day to check out of my hostel and check out a few more things in Warsaw before I had to catch my train. I took the tram to Old Town this time (didn’t have time to walk), visiting the Barbican, an old fortress, and the Warsaw Uprising monument, which of course recognizes the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 by the Polish citizens against the Nazis, although in the end, they were defeated and utterly destroyed. Very moving piece, and made even more so profound by visiting the Warsaw Uprising Museum across town (took the metro over). It was free on Sunday, and I spent some time wandering around the exhibitions which had plenty of information and artifacts from back then (guns, uniforms, letters, etc.). Definitely a sad history for Poland, but nevertheless an important one to remember.
Left the museum around 12h00, making my way over to the main station to catch my train. Along the way, I passed by the Palace of Culture and Science, as grand and as imposing as ever. At around 13h20, I boarded my train, and was off to my next destination in Poland.
While many people who’d visited Poland told me that they didn’t like Warsaw too much, for being too “industrial” and “not much to see there,” I would have to disagree and say that it turned out to be a pleasant time. Rich in history, I learned a lot from the monuments and places I visited whilst there, and I thought it was a good way to start off my travels for the next few days.
More to come soon. Next up: Gdańsk, Poland!
— The Finicky Cynic
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