First impressions of Warsaw? BIG. I’ve lived in big cities before, but Warsaw feels like it goes on and on. We settle in a smaller area to the south called Wilanow, still in the city, but with a neighborhood feel. Right away, you definitely feel like you can get to know your neighbors here.
Our first few days are spent getting to know getting around. We figure out the city busses. Ubers are very cheap here, but we want to do it like a local. Which in Warsaw, must also involve scooters. If you think downtown Indy was littered with Lime and Bird, think again. Warsaw has you beat. In fact, if you use Google Maps as a transportation guide to get you from point A to point B in Warsaw, it will often have you picking up a scooter or bike share for a leg of your route to make a walk to the bus or tram a bit shorter. The biggest hardship in our transport efforts to date has been our American credit cards. Even after we had called the companies letting them know of our journey, they cannot successfully buy bus and tram tickets, many things online, and they usually fail in other places as well. Priority number one will be getting a local bank account, or figuring out this issue.
Back to Warsaw. Much of Warsaw was wiped off the map by Hitler during World War II, so much so that lots of it has been rebuilt, and so the architecture is a blend of old and new. We visit the Old Town first to see the historic area of the city, which dates back to the 13th century. Look for the mermaid statue, which is a symbol of Warsaw. Much of the Old Town Square had to be rebuilt after the war based on historical photographs, and artisans spent years on this effort. It was so precisely done, that in 1980 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This may make it the only place that has been reconstructed this this extent (85%) on this prestigious list. Do not miss the Royal Castle, to see The King’s Apartment, The Armament Collection, and various Rembrandts. The square is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes, and is a fun place to wander on a weekend.
Take a walk down by the Vistula River and eat at one of the various cafes, have a latte, again take a scooter if you haven’t, or just enjoy people watching on a nice day. People in Warsaw really enjoy the weather when it’s nice, as I have a feeling it’s going to change and be cold for a while once it does. There’s plenty of outdoor dining, coffee shops abound (my personal favorite), and so far, the food has been spectacular.
A couple Sundays ago, we happened to wander into a celebration of the Polish military of sorts. I later found out it was Poland’s Armed Forces Day. Lots of streets shut down, and something on the stage. We missed a morning parade. I wish I could tell you more; however, since we had only been here two days, we were not prepared. Maybe next year I can have a better perspective? Stay tuned!
Another landmark in the center that bears mentioning is the Palace of Science and Culture. It was originally built for Stalin in 1955, and then later his name was removed and revoked from all places. It now houses a few theatres, cinemas, a sports club, two museums, bookshops, a swimming pool, an observation deck, a large auditorium, and university facilities. Standing at nearly 800 feet tall, it’s the 2nd tallest building in Poland and the 6th tallest in the EU, so you really can’t miss it. At night, the building lights up with LEDs. Some say its controversial, given its beginning, but others appreciate that it has been repurposed for good, and practically speaking, it’s a good use of space. I hear there is ice skating in winter, which sounds fun to explore.
All in all, we’ve had a great three weeks, it only took me five hours to buy the wrong train tickets (more on that later), and for the most part, things have gone mostly according to plan, and when they have not, we have rolled with it!