It is (or at least it was when I started writing this) the start of January in Mexico, and I’m thinking about things from the last year, etc. Not exactly an existential crisis but just a little bit of quiet contemplation. That includes the people we have met and the places that we have been, and I feel like I need to offer an apology to one of them.
I don’t visit Warsaw often. Apart from a few journeys from the airport to the train station or to a car hire desk, the last time I actually really visited the city, until last year, was more than a decade ago and that was just fine with me. I don’t like the Warsaw that I remembered, it was more expensive, more pretentious, less pretty and just generally more ‘meh’ than almost every other Polish city I have been to. Actually I spent the last decade giving anyone I spoke to about the city the advise to pretty much skip it. Telling them to visit Gdansk, Krakow, Poznan or Wroclaw instead.
Today though, I would like to offer an apology to the city of Warsaw. I am sorry for I have done you a disservice. Also to my friend, Serhat, for misleading you a bit with my travel advice.
I would like to add in my defense that Rima, who had also not visited the city for a long time, agreed with me that Warsaw was not a place that she would particularly want to visit again, but it turns out that we were both wrong.
The Warsaw that we spent a week visiting last year is not the place I remember. It’s an exciting modern city with plenty of great places to eat and things to see, it is cleaner, more beautiful and somehow just feels much more welcoming and like a place that you would want to spend time in.
Things to see
There are plenty of things to do, historic sites and places to visit. Let’s not forget that Poland, like the Baltic States, is a part of the world with a lot of interesting history, not all of it too happy.
Of course you should go for wander around the Old Town and the remaining parts of the city walls and you should also take a walk along the river. Then, if you are in the mood for a bit of science, culture, history and fun combined then you might like to visit the Copernicus Science Centre. It’s an amazing museum with a lot of interactive exhibits that it is easy to lose track of time in.
If you are feeling the need for a bit of greenery in the city then go for a stroll or sit for a while in Ogród Saski, a big park in the centre of the city full of trees, baroque statues, monuments and a couple of great fountains. It is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to the unknown soldiers who have given their lives for the country, which has a guard changed hourly all day every day of the year and is home to a burning ‘eternal flame’.
Back to the Old Town, most of the buildings in Stare Miasto actually are not so very old at all. After the Warsaw uprising in 1944 the German army blew up pretty much everything. After the Second World War ended the Old Town was completely rebuilt using as many original materials as possible and based on old blueprints and paintings. Today this ‘new’ old part of the city has been standing for about 70 years and feels real and worn in. We arrived by bus from Kaunas at some ridiculously early hour in the morning and went for a wander around, accidentally discovering that this is maybe the best time to explore the Old Town, sharing it only with the pigeons and a few early delivery drivers instead of masses of tourists.
and things to eat
It’s pretty possible that when you think of Polish cuisine your mental images are of lots of cabbage and lots of meat and in some parts of the country that probably isn’t unreasonable. It might come as a bit of a surprise then that Warsaw seems to be full of interesting vegan and vegetarian food options. They are plenty of nice veggie places but also lots of other ‘regular’ food places have good options on their menus too.
If you are in the mood for a plant based burger then you could definitely do a lot worse than dropping into a branch of Krowarzywa. They have a choice of really tasty food made with seasonal ingredients, they support some great causes and they also have really good prices. This is nice because low prices are one thing that aren’t so easy to find in Warsaw. There are also branches of Krowarzywa in most other big cities in Poland, so you should check them out even if you aren’t spending time in the capital.
The tricky thing when trying to write about somewhere seven months after you’ve been there is remembering details. I’d written myself a note saying ‘place we had breakfast‘ and just spent about half an hour on Google Street View trying to match up a photo I took at breakfast one morning to an actual location in Warsaw. It turns out that it was To Lubię on Ulica Freta. I’d like to tell you more about it but I really can’t, the cakes on their website look pretty great but I don’t remember eating cake, whatever we had I remember it being yummy and that they had pretty decent coffee.
One thing that struck me as a bit unusual for a European capital city, in stark contrast to London, Berlin or Lisbon for example, is that there really isn’t a lot of interesting street art around. Or, maybe there is but it isn’t anywhere you would notice it while just wandering around the city.
Also for a seemingly modern and progressive city, there is a very conspicuous lack of recycling bins and no bottle deposit and return system. It’s a sharp contrast to neighbouring Lithuania, or the Scandinavian countries that are just a short ferry ride away across the Baltic.
Don’t get me wrong, this is probably never going to be my favourite city in the world, it still has a lot of flaws but it is well worth a visit, is a nice place to spend some time and definitely doesn’t deserve the mental image that I had tagged it with.