45 and a half hours in Warsaw

45 and a half hours in Warsaw

“What are you going to Walsall for?” asked a colleague in the office listening in to a conversation.

“Not Walsall…Warsaw,” I answered.

Warsaw

“What are you going to Warsaw for?” came the follow-up question. I sighed…

I’ve been to Wroclaw a couple of times and Poznan once before. However this was my first trip to the Polish capital. Poland always represents great value for money and I’ve really enjoyed my previous visits – there are many tales to tell!

It’s all about the money

Firstly, a quick travel tip if you haven’t been to Poland before. If you are looking to use cash, take your Sterling over there. You can change it at one of the many Kantors across the city. If you make sure that they display different rates for buying and selling you should be fine. On this trip, Mr T (my travelling companion) and I pooled our pounds. Exchanging £200, we received £16 more Zloty than if we had used a decent online currency ordering service in the UK. We both returned to UK with more than £30 left. An ideal start for our planned trip to Gdansk in spring 2017!

Getting there

The flight from Liverpool by Ryanair was pleasant and landed at Modlin Airport ahead of schedule (fanfare…surprise, surprise). We got straight on to our express bus service to the centre. Make sure you book these tickets online in advance – cheaper and it guarantees you a specific seat.

After 40 minutes or so you arrive at the extremely imposing Palace of Culture. I try to make it a rule that any transfers over an hour rule out a two night break! There is a strong Gotham vibe going on here. The mix of older buildings and modern, interestingly shaped skyscrapers provide for some excellent photo opportunities.

Palace of Culture

I did get a photo over to the Old Town. You can just about make out the River Wisla in the background. I do prefer cities with strong water features of some variety. I got the feeling that Warsaw could make a lot more of it’s riverside. It was pleasant enough but could be so much more than a simple divide between east and west.

Warsaw

 Sightseeing

After dumping our minimal luggage at the nearby Novotel Centrum we set out to explore. We took the opportunity to take the lift up to the top of the Palace and admire the view. At less than £4 this was excellent value for money. I have to say that I’m not blown away by the interior of the building. It also houses a couple of theatres and other arty venues. But the view from the top is excellent and a great starting point for understanding the geography of the city.

Warsaw skyscrapers

You will know by now that these trips are a real mix of exploring, photos, food, drink and people watching. If you thought that most of the trip was spent in bars, you might be correct. But we also walked over 21 miles in our two days there.

Throughout Warsaw there are some beautiful buildings and a number of imposing statues and monuments. Having been out of the pub quiz scene for a number of years I must admit to having forgotten that Marie Curie was from the city. The place certainly seems proud of one of it’s most famous inhabitants with both a museum and a statue of the radioactivity pioneer. There are a few more pics of monuments at the end of the blog.

Marie Curie

Bierhalle, Warsaw

We wandered towards the Old Town for a bit more exploration. We made a strategic detour via Bierhalle on Nowy Swiat (we did give it a slightly more rude English equivalent), home of the University and one of the principal thoroughfares to the Old Town. With a window seat we tried our first local brew. We also decided that we would try the burger to provide a lining for the activities ahead of us. £11 for two pints and burgers with fries hardly made a dent in our bulging kitty. But it went a long way to provide much needed fuel.

Smoking Bars

Poland, like Germany and other places in this area of Europe still have bars which allow smoking. Not just in one small area but right across the venue. Pub Nora was no exception.

Found by chance by Mr T we ventured cautiously down the steps. We opened the door and saw a solitary punter at the bar. Dark and slightly foreboding, the rising smoke from around the corner indicated the presence of other customers – a table of kids who looked barely out of primary school, all quaffing and puffing like professionals.

We really enjoyed Nora. The table football was a great 40p distraction and the wall art was both plentiful and varied. It looked like it had been created with a mix of Sharpies and Tippex!

Wall art

Craft beer and hipsters

Warsaw seems to have seen an explosion in bars selling craft beers from across the globe. It was usually served by hipsters who all seemed both extremely knowledgeable and able to describe the merits of each tipple in English with impressive detail.

Mr T seemed to be intent on selecting brews with a base of chocolate. I tried to explore a range of ales, lagers and anything else that had a particular outstanding name.

Craft beer

The Old Town

Warsaw’s Old Town is not the prettiest that I have ever visited. However, when you understand that the Nazis completely flattened it in 1944 as a punishment, you start to appreciate the character of the Poles and the breathtaking effort that must have gone into restoring the centre brick by brick. You can tell that it has been put back together but there are still some charming buildings and streets with some lovely-looking restaurants. There is a great view from the Old Town over to the National Stadium which was built for Euro 2012 – more on that later.

Old Town

Public transport

Warsaw is another city with an integrated transport system that is excellent value for money. You can get a group ticket which runs from 7pm on a Friday night until 8am on a Monday morning. And it’s less than £8 for up to five people! Needless to say, we used it on the tram, bus, metro and train making sure we got our money’s worth. At each major road intersection there seems to be a public transport hub.

A subway system allows you to cross the road both safely and remaining dry. These subways all appear to contain mini-shopping centres contained within. Think St John’s rather than Liverpool One! And on the subject of relics from the 1970s and 80s, the obligatory European outlet of C&A made an appearance.

Shops

I did pick up a public transport map from the Tourist Information Centre which was mostly helpful. However it contained a major factual inaccuracy regarding the route of the number 7 tram line. This resulted in a couple of confusing trips back and forth. You know that you are going the wrong way each time. You’re just not quite sure why or what to do about it.

Fortunately Mr T spotted that we were approaching Warsaw East railway station. This would provide a fifth different transport option for the weekend. It was also a surefire route back to the city centre.

Tram

The Polish obsession with pool

Pool halls are very different in Poland when compared to the UK. In Blighty they are very much the preserve of males, often fairly sinister in looks. In Poland you still get the blokes, but also plenty of couples and dare I say even quite obviously on a first date. Incredibly cheap at £5.50 per hour (or £3 if you are practicing alone!) 147 Break was typical of my other Polish pool playing experiences – 20 cracking tables, wonderfully polite pool etiquette and a collection of trophies adorning the walls that would leave Usain Bolt pointing and nodding in appreciation.

Pool

I’m something of a pool maverick combining the occasional outlandishly brilliant pot with an ability to send the white-in off with worrying regularity. I’m sort of a British version of Earl ‘The Pearl’ Strickland, minus the propensity for arguing with opponents and threatening to take audience members out into the car park. The cheap beer, large screens and relaxing mezzanine level meant that we stayed here longer than expected to take in the Southampton-Liverpool game.

The National Stadium

The National Stadium was built to host Euro 2012 and is an impressive structure. For any Soccer AM viewers reading this, our visit coincided with a spot of ‘light drizzle’ which soon became a more persistent and heavier affair. With a retractable roof which was in a closed state, we thought about going on a guided tour in English for the princely sum of £4, but given the pitch had been overlaid with an ice rink for the winter, we decided that the two hours required would eat in to our relatively short stay. We took some decent photos from the outside, and of a couple of ‘interesting’ statues adorning the surrounding concourse. Caption competition anyone??

Stadium

Statue

Nightlife

As mentioned earlier, Warsaw seems to have a thing about craft beer and the sheer choice of draught refreshment on offer in some establishments is nothing short of mesmerising. Piw Paw, a particular favourite had around 50 to choose from alongside three fridges of bottles. It took a full 10 minutes to make our choices and then you spend the next 20 wondering what to have next! Being a capital though, Warsaw does have a cosmopolitan feel to it and there are more glamorous spots made for people watching.

Piw Paw

Against my better judgement, Mr T took me along to the Panorama Sky Bar on the 40th floor of the Marriott Hotel. After previously having a rather expensive pint (for Poland) in the cavernous Champions Sports Bar downstairs I wasn’t sure that a £9 cocktail was what I envisaged from my trip away. However, we arrived during Happy Hour, ridiculously under-dressed. Miraculously they let us in alongside the suits and cocktail dresses. The view was spectacular although a design fault meant that it was about 90 degrees out from allowing the best possible view across the city. The £5 Saski Garden cocktail with homemade gin, served in an iced tankard was a feast both for the eyes and the taste buds.

Cocktail

James Brown and Steps!

At the other end of the sophistication scale is Pijalnia Wodki I Piwa, a cross between Wetherspoons and the Spanish 100 Montaditos, but altogether a little less refined. With shots and halves of lager for 80p across the board, your pennies can last you a good few sessions – unfortunately the shots seemed to taste of cough medicine, or at least the ones we sampled. There is a dance floor downstairs at the back with the walls adorned with brightly coloured vinyl. I also took this rather intriguing photo which could indicate that the music played was an eclectic mix ranging from ‘I Feel Good’ to ‘Tragedy’ but given the time of our visit rather late in the evening, we can’t really remember and I feel I may have just made that up to justify the inclusion of the photo.

Late night scoffing

As is usual after a day that starts with a Guinness at 5.30am in Liverpool Airport, late night munchies got the better of us. Kebab King was the obvious choice:

  • 50 yards from our hotel,
  • a more than adequate seating area,
  • the availability of a final beverage for the evening,
  • a 4 out of 5 rating on Tripadvisor with 78 reviews!

Mr T went for an alternative choice and looked longingly at my King Kebab (no that is not a euphamism) – the quality of the food was actually rather good and the clientele all seemed relatively sober, a far cry from similar establishments back home.

Street art and local life

Having known Mr T for 40 years now I’m always prepared that an active first day of a trip will provide me with the opportunity to ‘go solo’ at some point. Following a rather pleasant, varied and filling buffet breakfast (for me anyway), I let him retire to the room for an additional 40 winks while I went out for a further exploration of the Old and New Towns. I probably didn’t have enough time to really do the place justice but I managed to get some interesting snaps which give a feel for the city. There wasn’t that much graffiti compared to other cities, not that I mind it – in fact sometimes I think that done well, it can add to rather than detract from an area.

Feet

I also love watching people go about their business and wonder what their life is like, where they live, what they are doing and whether they have the same outlook on life as me. Probably not! By the way, why is it that every time I go on a city break, I come face to face with some kind of protest? 50,000 teachers and parents in this case protesting about educational reform and demonstrating their anger by constructing a 1 metre high pile of chalk outside the parliament building to make their point!

Protest

Warsaw in a nutshell

Warsaw is definitely an intriguing city, blending old and new, seamlessly in some parts, less so in others. Our short journey certainly whet my appetite for more and I’m sure that Mrs L will be dragged there at some point in the future.

Warsaw at night

Despite the big city feel and a few unsavoury-looking characters in the usual locations, I didn’t once feel threatened which can’t be said of some other cities I’ve visited. Overall, we had a thoroughly entertaining time and leave with a whole host of new travel memories.

Dzięki/Thank you Warsaw!

Additional photo gallery

Warsaw Palace of CultureWarsaw Old TownWarsaw National Stadium as viewed from the Old TownDumb and Dumber at Champions sports barThe disappointing Wilson PlaceWarsaw Rynek or Market PlaceAnother Old Town viewLegia Warsaw graffiti in the New TownGovernment buildingsWarsaw street art

Church of the Visitation
Nice church in New Town
Sigismund's Column
Statue outside National StadiumAirport express bus anyone??A Warsaw local at workThe wartime destruction of Warsaw

 

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