I arrive in Warsaw on a grey Thursday afternoon, and am surprised by my first impressions. What stands out to me the most initially is the urban landscape scattered with fantastic architecture. I’m not sure if Warsaw is famed for this or not, but it certainly drew my attention, and intrigued me to what other gems the city might have to offer. My hostel was right in the centre of the Old Town, next door to a very traditional looking Polish restaurant – Zapiecek – with waitresses (no male waiter’s – slightly sexist) dressed in rather comical fancy dress style red floral frocks with navy corsets (gorsets) and a big red flower slapped subtly in their hair. (See more in penultimate paragraph.)
The hostel itself was good (bar the funky (used negatively) smelling toilet which one did not become accustomed to), and the series of aforementioned events did not commence until the following morning…
Equipped with my Lonely Planet guide for Warsaw, a city map from the hostel and maps.me at the touch of a button (tap of a screen), I planned my first full day with fervour. The ‘alternative’ Praga called to me; the ‘gritty’, ‘bo-ho’ and ‘up-and-coming’ district, home to the ‘artistic’ Soho Factory. Sounds great. Waking up to a super sunny morning, I decided to walk the journey rather than take the bus (half true…half because I didn’t have a clue where to get the bus to and this conundrum of which bus to get and where to alight stresses me out, mightily). The walk was actually very pleasant; along it I topped up my tan and listened to the WHOLE latest Ed Sheeran album (it was quite a walk) (but I do love Ed Sheeran). As I arrived into Praga I realised the tantalising description of the suburb was a little…optimistic. More hobo than bo-ho. I reasoned perhaps this was just the outskirts, and that the fabulous Soho Factory would well and truly knock my socks off. As I entered the factory complex things did begin to improve. I tracked down Kofi (a pre-existing pin on my map after my research session) the ‘cool cafe’ at which I was going to refuel following my trek. Approaching the counter it looked very much like a cool (don’t get me wrong) cafe, but serving coffee and only coffee. “Do you serve food?” I asked tentatively, after ascertaining that the guy in charge of the coffee beans spoke ‘a little’ English. His answer? “No.” Fabulous! “Apart from sandwiches and cakes.” Phew! Talk about making me sweat. I chose my sandwich (teeny tiny filled roll), egg mayonnaise, and ordered a flat white – the first time I had seen this on a menu since departing from St Pancras. While he was making my coffee I tried to engage in a little conversation, you know, to get some local tips about the area and the best places to visit. “So where are the best places to go around here?” “ONE MOMENT!” came the curt reply (clearly the heating of my milk required such a depth of concentration that any small talk was totally out of the question). This better be a bloody good flat white. Once he had artfully (and arrogantly) poured my coffee, creating a nice, but not spectacular, milk leaf, he was ready (able) to talk. “So where are the best places to go around here?” “There is nowhere around here worth going to. Except us.” Fabulous take two! I can’t believe I had just walked an hour for an egg roll.
As I savoured my morsel of lunch, I went back to the drawing board. There must be something worth seeing in this district. I had already planned a visit to the Neon Museum (a few buildings away), but wanted to see if there was anything else to make this trip worthwhile. After a quick Google I found, relatively nearby, the artistic centre Fabryka Trzciny and the vodka factory Koneser. Aha! Screw you coffee guy.
I visited the nearby Neon Museum (receptionist – unwelcoming; exhibition – quite interesting) and then headed to my newly found spots. Well. The Fabryka Trzciny? Couldn’t find an entrance for the life of me. And Koneser? I’m not sure if it was yet to be built or recently demolished, but I’m pretty sure you weren’t allowed on site without a hard hat and fluorescent jacket. (I didn’t have either.) So I made my way back to the hostel, another l e n g t h y walk, cheering myself up with a Magnum (almond) for the road. First series of infuriating events: complete.
The following day was a bit of a write off (starting the previous evening with Beer Pong was never going to end well). I attempted the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews but my brain wasn’t really in the right gear to make the most of the exhibition, although I did appreciate the craftsmanship that must have gone into its creation, and I would recommend a visit (after a good night’s sleep). In the evening I attempted a sunset wander along the river but – now maybe I was just having a very off day on the navigation front – I couldn’t work out how to bloody get there! So after a noisy wander along a very main road, peering hopefully towards the water, I decided to call in a night. Second day of infuriating events: complete.
My last full day in the Polish capital was full of…yet more infuriating events. I walked all the way to the central station (again half good weather / half foreign public transport anxiety) to buy my ticket for Kraków and exchange some more money. Both cashiers were exceedingly unfriendly, which improved my upbeat mood no end. I then got totally ripped off buying a smoked salmon baguette in the station, and I wasn’t even freaking hungry. I was determined to improve my day, and set off for Łazienki Park (by foot – lol) for a free open air Chopin concert at 4pm. How very civilised. I arrived at three and set myself up on the lawn, now peckish and ready to embark upon my extortionate baguette. It turned out to be pretty damn tasty – things were finally looking up. After lazing in the sun for half an hour or so, I sat up and prepared for my afternoon of classical piano. But as soon as I engaged those abdominal muscles and peeled my dusty pink cap adorned head from the grass my hopes of a nice, peaceful, relaxing (read: non-infuriating) afternoon were dashed. The most infuriating couple had placed their backsides on the most infuriating fold up seats infuriatingly right in front of me, scuppering my view of the piano ahead. (Now let me just set the scene: the park is HUGE and there was ABUNDENT seating provided around the ENTIRE area, with grass in the middle for people to SIT OR LIE DIRECTLY ON THE GROUND). Why would you do that!!!!! I gave their infuriating backs evils for the entirety of the recital.
For my last night I decided to treat myself to my first solo evening meal out on this European escapade. I was keen to try pierogi (traditional Polish dumplings) and so where best to go but the traditional ‘Grandmother’s country cottage’ pierogi kitchen next door to my hostel. I went for the spinach and cheese pierogi with warm blue cheese sauce and a local beer on the side. The beer was good. This was promising. The pierogi arrived and I had high hopes. But, unfortunately, and maybe controversially after all the recommendations I had received, I wasn’t that taken! They were slightly overweight versions of the gyoza you get from Wagamama, but not as tasty, and, unlike being served as an appetiser, here they are the main event! So my dinner was a pan full of stodgy dumplings with a seriously over-seasoned sauce with which to wash them down. A little infuriating. Kind of appropriate for my last memory of the city.
Kraków is my next destination (in approximately 90 minutes), and during this stop I promise I will not: walk one hour for an egg roll; try to absorb any hard-hitting historical knowledge on a hangover; order dumplings for dinner.