What to do in Warsaw in less than a day
I accompanied Tomek on a business trip to Warsaw on Monday and apart from managing adult matters we took some time to walk through the capital. We enjoyed a great eatery, a beautiful park, a war memorial, the best patisserie in Poland, had a bit of folk art in old town and saw the monumental gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland.
We did dwell a bit in nostalgia, for the last time we have been here it was 1999, we were 21 and starting our passion to travel while getting a tourist visa to Thailand (this procedure for Polish citizens is thankfully not required any more).
We also happened to give an interview for Pin Radio, who were talking about travel to people on the street. They came to the right folks. We had plenty to tell (I can sense a lot of cutting).
Arriving in Warsaw by train at 11 and leaving at 4 pm didn’t leave much time so we decided to just stroll around the centre and to do some sightseeing by foot.
Here is what to do in Warsaw:
EAT. Looking around town you will notice that it has been largely dominated by Kebab places.
The young Varsovian faces of Kebab.
You will also find many traces of public drinking and a tendency to obesity. This Varsovian restaurant poster proclaims: ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger – survive a heart attack with pleasure!’. Thank you very much.
But no worries. We did find a very nice eatery with fast but healthy dishes:
DU-ZA MI-HA (sounds Vietnamese but means ‘big bowl’ in Polish). This Vietnamese restaurant had delicious, authentic and cheap Vietnamese food. Staff was speaking Vietnamese, the kitchen was resembling a Vietnamese food stand, dishes were prepared fast and the food was just like the culinary favourites we had during our travels from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
Pho is Vietnam’s all day every day dish. A hot soup consumed for breakfast and throughout the day.
Tomek’s big bowl with tofu.
I had Pho soup with crab meat.
Then we had fried spring rolls (called ‘Saigonki’ in Polish after Vietnam’s capital ‘Saigon’, which is actually called ‘Ho Chi Minh City’) and fried tofu with the typical addictive sweet and spicy chilli sauce found in Asia.
WALK. To burn calories we walked down to Piłsudski Square to visit Grób Nieznanego Żołnierza, which is the tomb of an unidentified body of a young Polish soldier. The monument is dedicated to all unknown soldiers who have died for Poland and also commemorates many battlefields on black plaques.
The tomb was established in 1925 within a colonnade-topped arcade that was once part of the magnificent Saxon Palace – blown up by the Germans during World War II as part of the planned destruction of Warsaw. This arcade somehow managed to survive.
Just to get an idea of what the Saxon Palace looked like before 1944. The arcade joined the Palace’s two symmetric wings.
Adjacent to the tomb is the Saxon Garden, the first public park in Warsaw, inspired by beautiful French baroque gardens.
In this picture I am actually holding the fountain which looks like a huge Empire style dish.
EXPERIENCE ARCHITECTURE. When you walk around Warsaw you will see a lot of post war communist architecture. Warsaw was turned to dust and crumble after Germany’s mad attack on Poland and basically had to be rebuild from scratch. The Soviets installed communist rule and socialist realism in urban design after World War II.
The Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki imienia Józefa Stalina) constructed in Warsaw between 1952 and 1955 was to project a picture of socialist power and stability. You can take the lift all the way to the top for a grand view.
LISTEN TO CLASSICS. Of course there is Chopin, the famous composer who was born in Poland. Chopin’s father was a teacher at Saxons Palace in the 1820s. You can listen to Chopin’s compositions for free at this self playing bench.
The bench is standing right next to the Carmelite Church which was luckily only slightly damaged by war and rebuild using the painting of Bernardo Bellotto, a Venetian painter. I took this picture in case of World War III.
VISIT A MUSEUM. We were ready to visit some museums but learned the hard way that on Mondays ALL museums are closed.
I read about the rigorous and often ridiculous censorship agenda of Facebook (such as not allowing caricatures showing off nipples). Hence my interest in Warsaw’s Caricature Museum (Muzeum Karykatury). But it was… closed, obviously.
The National Museum is a great place to look at paintings and think about the unresolved issue of WWII loot. The museum’s most famous painting returned to Poland only a few years back. The ‘Jewish woman selling oranges‘ is an oil painting by Aleksander Gierymski. The painting was stolen by the Nazis from the National Museum during the war and recovered in 2011.
Tomek’s brother lives in Warsaw with his wife and two kiddos, which regularly receive their fair share of cultural activities from my mum in law. To educate her older kids, she brought me a postcard of the picture after her last visit to Warsaw.
DISCOVER STREET ART. Another unresolved issue is the Polish dres-subculture. ‘Dresy’ are the reason why it can be scary to walk alone at night. The stereotypical dres is a young lad with its only purpose in life to make other’s lives miserable, loaded with testosterone-on-steroids, a lot of anger, an inexplicable love for track suits worn outside the gym, shaved heads and mainly other people’s possessions and getting into trouble.
Here is a scene of dresy in action. The writing says: ‘My name is Adam and I am not talking to dicks.’
There is more street art, a mixture of the contemporary and the traditional.
Traditional role models re-evaluated in the capital.
BUY SOUVENIRS. Visit the Starówka, the capital’s old town with its endless tourist traps. It is listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an outstanding example of reconstruction after its total destruction by the German Army during second world war.
Folk art is one way to spend a lot of money for gorgeous and unique gifts in Warsaw.
All souvenirs are hand crafted. The little wooden doll encloses nine even more tiny wooden figurines. Amazing. I have to remind myself that I will part with all those precious items in Japan which we got for our Japanese friends in Tokyo. While we will celebrate Hanami in Tokyo and marvel at all the things decorated with pink petals, Poland will be decorating eggs to celebrate Easter.
GET A CAKE. The best place in town to get a sugar-high is the renowned Cukiernia Sowa (‘sowa’ means ‘owl’ in Polish).
Tomek and I shared one cake – which turned out not to be enough and I stocked up on faworki – a typical Polish treat, only compulsory on the fatty celebrations of Fat Thursday.
GO HIGH STREET SHOPPING. There is this big retail and entertainment complex called Złote Tarasy just next to the central train station. It features Poland’s first Body Shop, Mark’s and Spencer’s, a two level Hard Rock Cafe, the Empik bookstore, a multiplex cinema and restaurants. We just passed this mall on our way to the train station but we were heavy loaded on folk art, so no regrets on missing out on this one.
EVALUATE. Warsaw. Without a defined city centre, its cultural life is spread out across the city. Hate it or love it. This is a good site to check on events, exhibitions, concerts in the capital: http://www.warsaw-life.com/
It took us 5 and a half hours to make 500 km each way by train from Szczecin to Warsaw and back. We did take the fastest train. While I was repeating Japanese basic vocab I couldn’t help but to think about the differences in speed. The Shinkansen takes two hours for the same distance.
Time is such a luxury. It felt like it took me double the time to learn those Japanese phrases, too. Thank you for the present, Monia and Wojtek, for now I am truly struggling.
I am so excited to be in Tokyo – this Sunday – stay tuned for some Japanese style posts!
And purikura posing.