Warsaw, April 2019
and family reunion 10 years on!
It has been over 10 years since I visited Warsaw. I admit I had reservations, as I remembered it is a busy, dark, dirty city. I also had an excuse to always visit family back home in Olsztyn and Wroclaw, where mum and dad live. Based on limited time I get when travelling to Poland, I have never seen Warsaw as my priority. This time I decided to fly to Warsaw Chopin airport. Since the airport is right in the middle of the city and it would take over 3 hours for my dad to drive there, I decided to combine capitol visit with family reunion and some good, old city sightseeing. I have stopped with my auntie and god mother (mum’s sister) and got to see my cousins too. Last time I have seen them, they were still teenagers! How embarrassing!! Ok, I have seen what Iza was up to, since I follow her on Instagram – see, social media can be useful in bonding with your family 😊.
We had couple days to see what Warsaw has to offer. I did some planning beforehand, as I normally do before going on short breaks. There are plenty of fantastic museums and galleries in Warsaw which I wanted to see – but I have not had chance this time. That was purely based on lack of time. I would still like to recommend these to you based on my family and friends’ reviews, who have been there and even worked at one of the centres. I will for sure be coming back to see those places, possibly in winter, as I didn’t want to sacrifice the weather on this occasion.
Must see museums include:
Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego – Warsaw Uprising Museum
Muzeum Historii Polskich Zydow Polin – Polish Jews History Museum Polin
Centrum Nauki Kopernik – Copernicus Science Centre
Please bear in mind each of those museums could easily take half a day to a full day visit, if you wanted to be thorough. These are also top three on my list, but Warsaw is full of museums, galleries and centres and I am sure, even if you were to spend a month here, it would not be enough to see all of them.
Back to my visit. Straight after landing at Chopin airport I got very excited, as I have run into two Polish actors at the arrivals - Marek Kalita and Aleksandra Poplawska. I suddenly felt slightly embarrassed to even approach them and ask for a photo. Where has my confidence and inner charm disappeared when I need it the most? No one else have seemed to be bothered. I wasn’t sure if it is common occurrence to approach celebrities, or maybe no one else approaches them because they are used to seeing them a lot? I have lost my opportunity on this occasion, but am sure there will be more in future.
My cousin Ala was kind enough to pick me up from the airport and to take me to my auntie. I quickly realised why I would NOT want to live in Warsaw, or any other capitol for that fact. Traffic was just horrendous, unbearable, slow, people driving like maniacs and not concerned about any rules nor etiquette. I think it is another one of the examples, why growing public transport infrastructure is so important in big cities. About 50 mins later we reached our destination, where my auntie and my mum were already waiting for us. It was great to see my auntie, she has not changed at all and still looks great. We had pizza for lunch, with all toppings imaginable, since my aunties husband owns a pizzeria. Yummie!
My other cousin (my aunties son), came soon after to greet me as well. God 10 years was too long! Rafal looks so well, so grown up, he is now also in his thirties (even though I am still oldest on paper from my group of cousins). We all had a lot to talk about, but weather was to good to stay at home. Short drive later we got to Park Lazienkowski which is the biggest and most grand park in Warsaw, with a palace on water and where each year Chopin Recitals take place. Perfect place for a family stroll, photoshoots and enjoying sunny weather. I got to see the palace, amphitheatre, Belvedere, Chopin Monument and a peacock. Yes, park is full of free running peacocks but also red squirrels which are used to human presence and will even eat from your hand.
From there we walked down to Presidential Palace, passing by Jozef Pilsudski monument. Very important person in Polish history. 1918, 11th of November – thanks to this man we got our independence back after I World War and who served as Chief of State. Belveder Palace is currently standing empty, as the president decided not live there, due to political beliefs (but let me not get into a nitty gritty of Polish politics that become very controversial in current times). Last president to live there was Bronislaw Komorowski. I was taking photos through the gates, until guards have spotted us and asked where we have travelled from. My auntie was quick to shout London!
Well, I did correct my auntie since UK has more to offer than just London (😉) but never the less, those lovely guards were quick to open the gate and let us in! Unbelievable, we had an opportunity to take some great photos right in front of the building. That was a lovely gesture and we appreciated that muchly.
As the evening was approaching quickly, we decided to grab quick ice cream and rest for a bit, overlooking beautiful old buildings, great architecture of Warsaw. Unfortunately, there isn’t many of those original buildings left in comparison to for example Prague. Warsaw was so badly destroyed during the II World War, when first Nazis bombarded the city and then communists added their bit at the end of the war.
We grab a metro to our final stop of the day. Bulwary Wislane is a must go – starting at the Warsaw Mermaid monument. This was a symbol of Warsaw and present on Warsaw’s coat since 1390. Overlooking Swietokrzyski Bridge and the National Stadium, the long promenade allows you to ride a bike, you can also ride one of the many electric scooters (make sure to get a Lime app to fully enjoy those) while enjoying views on other side of Warsaw. This place is right on the Wisla (Vistula) River, plenty of bars, restaurants and all of the local hipsters gather there in the evenings. People can also legally drink their own alcohol here, so in the summer you can barely find a spot to sit and enjoy a glass or two of favourite drink. Great place, great vibe to finish the day. We grab a drink and quick snack of potato pancakes before heading back home for rest and sleep.
I’d like to say I started day two with a lot of energy and smile on my face. Ok, I did smile, but it was a smile of tragedy. Feeling like a zombie after about hour of sleep, I do not know how I managed through the day. And all this thanks to the “evil” nature of cats. I should know this having lived with one for past 20 years. Each time it was a boy though. This time, I came across most mardy bitch I ever met in my life! And supposedly she was neutered! Oh really, how come all night long, I felt like I was in a torture chamber, where my executioner was using meowing and whining, on highest level possible without a single break. If you thought your noisy neighbours on Friday night caused you sleepless night, you clearly have never heard a cat in oestrous cycle.
Somehow, excitement of being here, managed to minimise my frustration and exhaustion. Day two started with a trip to Palac Kultury i Nauki (Palace of Culture and Science), which to some is a symbol of Warsaw and to some still a symbol of previous communist dictatorship. Our current government even tried to get this building demolished, but the city would be the same without it, after all it is a symbol, but of how strong we are as a nation. I have never been to the top floor before, so this was pretty special to me, to get to see the panorama of the city. Great views on clear and sunny day. You can choose to take a lift or walk 30 plus floors. Iza (Instagram cousin) joined us on this day, my aunties daughter, now at her final year of university, yet I last saw her when she was about 12 or 13. Unfortunately for her I picked an attraction that couldn’t be further from her comfort zone. Unbeknown to me, she has really strong fear of heights! Hands down, she is a brave woman to even take a lift with us upstairs, bless her she was shivering, but waited patiently for me to go around the whole walkway and take all the photos I wanted.
After enjoying views over Warsaw, we walked about 25 mins, enjoying the city and got to Hala Mirowska and Hala Gwardii. An indoor market and indoor eatery. You can spend hours in here, so be prepared. Plenty of fantastic eating places to choose from – my suggestion would be for you to pick smaller portions and try few things. From great home-made dumplings (pierogi) with traditional fillings like cheese, potatoes or cabbage but also more fancy like goats’ cheese, and even Bolognese style dumpling. Try pancakes made of buckwheat flour, with choice of different fillings. Try vegan burgers, good old Polish sausage or Thai food. There are many more choices. There are also stalls with local produce – the best choice of sour dough bread, locally made cheese, organic cosmetics and so on. I didn’t even want to leave this place, I will be coming back for sure.
My auntie left us from here, since she had to head home and start preparation for Easter holiday (Polish traditions = MANY hours in the kitchen). We on the other hand, took a tram to the Old City. One of the busiest places in Warsaw, you can hear all languages around you, busy with tourists but it’s definitely worth it. Walk around little streets, enjoy the colourful architecture, have an ice cream, sit down and watch the world go by (that’s if you can find a spot to sit on). Old Town has a lot of old churches to see, The Royal Castle (for centuries official residence of Polish monarchs, almost completely destroyed by Nazis in 1944 during Warsaw Uprising but later rebuilt), few squares and Barbican (outer defence to castle and remains of old city walls).
Final destination of the day was a walk towards Plac Pilsudskiego (Pilsudski Square), biggest square in Warsaw and where the Tomb of the Unknow Soldier and Saxon Garden are based. Pleasant walk from Old Town, which doesn’t take more than 20 mins. Square is very impressive. The Toms is the monument, build on the only remains of Saxon Palace and dedicated to soldiers who have given their lives for Poland. Guarded 24 hours per day with an eternal flame constantly lit.
Saxon Palace history is very interesting as well. It was an impressive and one of the most distinctive buildings in Warsaw, yet again destroyed during the war. Germans occupied the place during the II World War, but after suppression of Warsaw Uprising, they blew up the whole building as part of their planned destruction of Warsaw. If you get a chance look it up online, as it is very interesting story and make sure to check out the old photos of the palace – it was GRAND!
We paid our respects at the Tomb and headed to Saxon Gardens. Beautiful and colourful in the spring, with thousands of flowers in bloom, fountains, children playing, people enjoying rays of sun. I sat there with mum for couple hours and just allowed my body and feet to rest after walking about 20 miles in 2 days. It was a short visit, but it opened my eyes even more on what I am missing out on and what I am missing living away from my country.
I hope you get to visit Warsaw and Poland one day, it is a fabulous place with a lot to offer, long history, many traditions, colourful culture and tasty food. Remember to check gallery section for few snaps from the Polish capitol.