Who would have thought I would be calling Warsaw one of the best long weekend budget destinations in Europe?
Not me that’s for sure.
It began as a random Skyscanner search. It wasn’t an intentional trip we merely had a 4 day gap in-between housesits and were determined not to pay for another expensive English B&B. With one quick search it seemed we could reach Bulgaria, France, Poland, Lithuania, Spain and half a dozen other European countries for under £50pp return. My feet started itching. Within an hour I had narrowed my decision.
Arriving in the darkness at this impressive and illuminated city hall we had no idea what to expect. We’d googled the way to our hotel but the rest we’d have to find out on our own. Our first instinct was how modern and alive the city felt. Huge glitzy shopping malls lined the 4 lane bustling streets, trams buzzed alongside the road and skyscrapers dwarfed us. Gucci and Dior signs lit our way as we rolled our carry on bags down through a marble-lined underground pedestrian crossing. Exiting up the escalators on the other side we headed down a cobbled pedestrian street bursting with life and the smell of beer and cheesy bread. Bars overflowed outside bringing 20 somethings out for a dance and a ciggy, or for those needing an extra lift, to the Belgium Fries stand up ahead. I was excited. Warsaw felt energetic, it felt like it had something to prove and I was ready to be captivated.
Bailing out of a buffet breakfast of a few sausages we followed our footsteps from the night before back toward the cobbled alleyways. The sun was the most radiant I’ve seen in months and within minutes we had taken off our outer layers to reveal (*shock horror) our arms. Winter has been sadistically consistent back in England and Poland was having a 22 degree scorcher! Full of beans we spy a tiny little enclave to a bagel shop. A very tall, elderly man in high wasted funnel jeans and a dough-stained white top greets us in Polish. Tentatively we ask if he speaks English. Apologetically he initiates he doesn’t and heads out the front of the shop only to drag a university student back in to translate. We all must have looked very goofy to the student with our big grins and eager nodding. In the end we did buy something, not a bagel mind you but a cheesy olive bread. It was a really special little moment sitting alfresco taking in our first breaths of Poland with our unnamed bread and little intricate glasses of tea.
I won’t continue writing as detailed as I have but I couldn’t resist. It was in these moments that Warsaw let us in and during the days that followed the city only tightened it’s grip.
The vibrant and bustling Old town was where we spent most of our time and why not? Hordes of Polish and foreign tourists alike relished in the sunshine, choosing beer gardens, mezzanines and alfresco dining. Ice cream stalls selling 1 foot spiral soft serves couldn’t keep up the demand and every park, step or bench was claimed by cheerful city-goers. We just soaked it all in. The biggest surprise was the impressive late renaissance architecture that unified Warsaw’s old town. Candy floss, peach, custard and pea, not food stalls but colours of the buildings that line the cobbled alleyways and grand squares. Looking dated and often crumbling around the edges I was surprised to learn that Warsaw’s centre was severely damaged in the Polish uprising at the beginning of World War 2 and later abhorrently flattened by the German army in 1944. After the War the Polish worked tirelessly and patriotically to rebuild their once great city to reflect what it one was. The builders and craftsmen even sifted through the rubble collecting the remains of any ornaments, tiles and anything remotely re-usable. Unsurprisingly this Old town was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century.
In amongst all this colour are sumptuous smells and delights in every direction and I gave in. Those Belgium French fries I spied on the very first night went down a treat after a few German beers, there was this baguette that conquered any foot log subway and this start from scratch Nice Cream Factory which whipped milk and whatever add in you could possible dream up (including booze, sours cherries or ginger) on the spot into a frozen delight. And these were just the street food. As vegetarians I’m sure we missed a lot of traditional Polish dishes but we didn’t notice. With cheese and potato pierogis, spinach and white sauce rolled pancakes, Borscht (a sour beetroot soup) and mushrooms in a creamy stew, needless to say I rolled home more than once.
Digging a little deeper into the city, behind the rebuilding of Warsaw’a colourful facades we embraced a rather darker side to the city. If you try you can still find remnants of the old “Warsaw Ghetto,” a walled “village” in which Jews were segregated into, then crammed into, only to be released for transportation to a death camp. This was the largest Jewish Ghetto in all Nazi occupied Europe and in fact Germany’s persecution of Jews in Poland devastated its status as the most Jewish country, which had stood for 800 years. Poland was far from being a comrade of Nazi Germany but was easily overpowered. Once Warsaw’s people saw a gap their uprising took place and they fought for the people that had once been neighbours. To teach the local people a lesson Hitler, despite beginning to lose the war, ordered for Warsaw to be flattened, which I’ve already mentioned.
You cannot visit Warsaw without looking at it’s full circle of life, it’s original prestige, its loss/incarcerations of a third of it’s inhabitants and its destruction. Only to rise from the ashes and reign beauty on us once again.
From Modlin Airport to Warsaw city centre we pre booked a return ticket with Modlin Bus, the local airport bus transfer for £26pp. It’s a 45min bus journey and was a super easy process.
Warsaw was cheap to fly to (£60p/p return from East Midland) had mid range double rooms for £23/night and a main dish in a city restaurant would cost £5.