On Monday night another night bus took us from Berlin into Poland, and we arrived in Warsaw at 6am. Our lovely couch surfing host Ewelina met us at the coach stop and took us to her place on the metro (thanks Ewelina!).
We were pretty tired (again…), and the weather was fairly terrible. So we spent the whole of our first day in Poland playing with science at the Copernicus centre (Centrum Nauki Kopernik — Copernicus was Polish dontcha know). It was basically us and a couple of hundred 5-11 year-olds running around making things go bang.
The rest of our time in Warsaw we mostly wandered around taking in the sites, and ate. Ewelina and her flatmate Julia gave us loads of recommendations for places to see, and places to eat, so we managed to pack in lots of good stuff in three days.
The old town in Warsaw was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis in retaliation for the uprising of the city in 1944, so most of the ‘old’ buildings are actually reconstructions. These have been around since the 50s, so they’re getting worn enough to not look too disney, but it was a little odd walking around an ‘old town’ which isn’t old.
The Uprising museum that we visited had a 3D film of a ‘flight’ over the ruins of the city in 1945 (created from aerial photos), and it was a wasteland. Most shocking was the former ghetto, which was huge, and clearly demarcated because it was razed to the ground, whereas the rest of the city had lots of walls partly standing. We overheard a guide telling his group that it was destroyed by Jewish forced labourers, who had to do this more or less with their bare hands.
The Uprising museum was really interesting, if overwhelmingly huge, because we didn’t know anything about the uprising before we arrived. This is partly why we went to the museum – you don’t hear so much about resistance against the Nazis. As a potted summary, the government in exile initiated the uprising, and chunks of the city were ‘won back’ from the Nazis. This went on for a few months, but was eventually defeated.
We thought that given this history the desire to reconstruct the old city rather than replace it with something else was understandable. There were some old buildings which had survived, and they didn’t stand out too much from the new-old ones, so it’s quite successful in that respect.
My favourite place was Łazienki Park (which was full of red squirrels).
We also went up on the roof of the university library, which is a park with views over the city. The library building is pretty cool; it has maths on it.
The most noticeable building in the centre of town is the massive ‘cultural palace’ (a ‘gift’ from Stalin). We went inside thinking it would be huge and grand, but just found ourselves in a warren of swimming pool entrance halls being stared at disapprovingly.
There’s a smaller version of this tower in Riga, also from Stalin. We wondered if it came in kit form. Perhaps they thought they’d finished the Riga one and then turned around and found a pile of bits they hadn’t used.
Despite the landmark tower we struggled to get our bearings in central Warsaw at first, so spent the first evening failing to find anywhere recommended to eat. Eventually we stumbled across a Yugoslavian themed place, which we obviously had to try.
It was fun having Shopska and Cevapi and reliving our trip to Bosnia — the first travelling we did together.
And finally, we had giant vegan burgers (which were delicious) at a place called Krowarzyva (which is a pun… I think it means cow vegetables, and is also close to ‘the cow lives’). We’d never have found this place without the tip, thanks guys!
Aside from all the excellent recommendations, we really enjoyed chatting with Ewelina and Julia and hearing their thoughts. We’d begun to feel we were passing through places without meeting people or really connecting, so staying with them was really great. It was interesting to hear that Londoners seem friendly to Polish people (this isn’t how it seems when you go there from up north!). Ewelina even tried to teach us Polish, in between bouts of laughing at our terrible pronunciation. They really made our stay — lots of people had told us not to bother with Warsaw, but we’re really glad we didn’t listen!