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Surprised by Warsaw


Adventure travel tales in North East Europe:
Berlin, Germany
Vilnius, Lithuania
Sigulda, Latvia
Tallinn, Estonia
St Petersburg
Other European Tales:
Prague, Czech Republic
Sighisoara, Romania
Peloponnese, Greece
Venice, City of Water
Cappadocia, Turkey


Main square in Warsaw old city center

The capital of Poland is World famous for the pact that had its name for so long: the Warsaw pact. But other than that, no highlights spring to mind thinking of this city. On our way to Russia, we spend 2 days here, enough to explore the lovely old city center.

The night train leaves Berlin at 21.30 PM. We arrive at the station at 21.00h so we can take it slow to install ourselves in our cabin. When we’re all set, the conductor arrives and. He takes our tickets and indicates we should lock our cabin. We decide to do just that and try to go to sleep, you never know what the night may bring.


Warsaw city center

Both the old and new city center of Warsaw are rebuilt after the Second World War. Both are renovated to the situation it was before the war. New and old actually are relative terms, old means within the old city walls, new means outside those walls.

Highlights in the old city center include the monastery and Royal Palace. The latter was bombed in the war, and only rebuilt between 1971 and 1984. Highlights in the new city center are lined along the Royal Route.


At 23.00 PM, we are waked by load banging on our cabin door. Apparently, we have reached the German-Polish border. The German Customs-officer doesn’t need much time, but the Polish one has a device to check whether we’re not on a black list or something. Anyway, all’s fine and we can get back to sleep.

After several stops, the conductor bangs our door again and gives us back our tickets. They are stamped numerous times and we assume we will soon arrive in Warsaw. We pack are bags and indeed, a while later the train enters the railway station.

At the platform we first take a look around. We search for a change office but at 6 AM, they’re not open yet. We decide to head for a place to stay instead. We have a small list of youth hostels and cheap hotels but no idea how to get there. The kiosk doesn’t sell a map of Warsaw and the map at the bus station is very unclear and contains no index. We decide to take a taxi, not very cost effective but easy. We arrive at a cheap hotel and take a nap at our simple room.

The beautiful old city

Old city walls WarsawAround 11 AM we wake up and check the information booklet we find in our room. We decide to take a walk to the old city center, just a few hundred meters away. The city is surprisingly nice, surrounded by an old city wall. There are narrow streets with colored houses around a central square. Apparently, this is the tourist zone, there are a lot of souvenir shops and restaurants as well.

Contrast

Although we quite like the old city, we don’t want to stay here very long, and so we ask how to arrange bus tickets to Vilnius, Lithuania. It appears we need to go to the central bus station for those, and so we leave the old city. Bus, tram and another bus lead us through the busy streets. We see large western buildings between old, grey Soviet blocks. We also see a lot of beggars, merely old people who sit on the cold streets, sometimes carrying a child in their arms. We also pass the “Royal Route”, with a lot of monumental buildings, churches, statues and a luxurious shopping street. A lot of contrast in a city that is transforming from a communist system into capitalism.

Royal Palace WarsawBack in the tourist center we walk along churches, old streets, the city wall and we have a foggy view over the river Wisla. We flee from the wet cold into a small café, but when we get out, dusk already sets in. The sun sets at 15.42 PM and that’s a bit early we think. We still want to take a stroll in the park near our hotel. When we arrive there we enjoy a romantic, yet cold and eerie walk.

Polish food

In the evening, we search for a restaurant. A drawback of not sleeping in a backpacker hostel is that you are not informed about cheap good places to eat. We are in the tourist area so we assume everything is expensive. But, to western measures that’s not the case: we end up paying 20 zloty (6 Euro or 8 dollars) for a 3 course meal. We eat at the Polienska restaurant and the Polish food tastes very good, especially the “Bigos Polski”. After dinner, we head for an early night in.

Poland and Warsaw have surprised us positively. The tourist center is very nice, and the rest of the city is turning into a modern city. But there is a big contrast between rich and poor, which can be measured to the amount of beggars on the street. The move from communism to capitalism is not good for everyone.

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