This blog post was written by our co-president, Priyanka Kumar. You can check out the original post here.
“Didn’t you want to escape the British weather?! Poland is probably way more colder than it is over here right now!”
Choosing to go to Poland was more of a spur of the moment decision to be honest. Me and my housemates were debating on destinations, and after seeing a YouTube travel video on Morocco, I happened to see a video on Poland and clicked it.
Obvious to say, nothing would ever be the same again.
However, I’ve always believed that all places in the world are worth seeing and Poland was no exception. Where it lacked in sunshine, it made up for in history. So much history, that it was almost painful to come to terms with, even as a foreigner.
On a lighter note, I soon realised that as well as being a historical adventure, our trip to Warsaw allowed us to meet some very interesting characters.
After collecting the keys to our room in the youth hostel, we opened the door and saw a Polish middle-aged man sitting quietly at his desk. This desk was filled with religious pictures, pantry items and stationery. I could see canned food lined up against the windows, lots of shoes, a stereo system blasting ABBA music. This man was obviously planning on staying for the long term.
At that moment, I had some very bad motion sickness during the bus ride from the airport to the youth hostel. I just wanted to lie down and rest. I put my head in between my knees and tried rocking myself to control the waves of nausea. After some time, I went outside to put my things in my locker and came back to the room to discover that there was a chocolate on the bed!
I looked at my friend on the opposite bed and she was also holding a chocolate bar in her hand. It seemed that our new roommate was giving us welcome gifts! Later on, he became more animated with us and began to speak to us in Polish. Obvious to say, we didn’t understand a single word. However, this didn’t faze him one bit, despite the fact that he knew no English. Personally, I was a bit weary of him at first. My mum’s “never talk to strangers” rant kept ringing in my head for the first day, but soon we discovered that in reality, this man was an honest, kind-hearted Pole who was trying to look out for us. My friend went one step further by giving him the name ‘uncle’, which all of us ended up adopting! Honestly, our trip wouldn’t have been the same without him and his quirky character.
Meeting our Korean friend
We also had the opportunity to meet a Korean guy who had been travelling in Europe for 100 days. 100 days! Apparently he had taken a semester off university to travel and had literally drawn a circle around Europe as his ‘travel plan’. Lucky guy. We all had Term 3 and exams to go back to after the trip. However, after speaking to him, he mentioned that travelling alone can be challenging and lonely at times. From the impression he gave me, I felt that he deeply missed his friends and family in Korea. I think he was happy and surprised to meet us – after all, we weren’t exactly the typical guests you’d see in a Warsaw youth hostel! Overall, we had a fun night out exploring Warsaw and chatting about life.
What really stood out to me in Warsaw was the people, more than the places we saw. I didn’t expect to meet so many people from different walks of life; it really opened my mind.
In terms of sight-seeing, we saw some truly breath-taking places, from the famous Old Town to the beautiful Lazienki Park. The weather had also turned in our favour. We were blessed with crisp, sunny mornings, blue skies and no rain at all. Of course, it was still freezing, that goes without saying. But it was a bearable kind of cold.
1. Food in Warsaw
There’s no way I could do a blog post on Warsaw without mentioning the delicious Polish food we had here:
We got quite a shock when we were introduced to ‘milk bars’ by the guy running the youth hostel. Milk bars initially served as public canteens in the Soviet days when food was in short supply. Nowadays, the government subsidises food for students and the homeless….. for this reason, we decided to risk the continuous stares from the locals as everything was very very cheap, despite all the menus being in Polish. Thankfully there were some really nice people who helped us order by translating to the dinner ladies and gave us some recommendations for food. Like the youth hostel guy said, it literally did taste like ‘grandmother’s cooking’. The food was very wholesome
Despite being starving students, we managed to step up from milk bars to an actual restaurant the next day. This was what we had for brunch – I fell in love with the blueberry and vanilla dumplings!
2. Praga district: Jewish quarter
Here are some pictures of the Praga district – the less developed part of Warsaw, as 80% of this district was bombed during World War 2. On the top left picture, you can actually see some bullet holes on the buildings of the jewish quarter. These bullets are the legacy of Hitler’s invasion of Warsaw through Praga. The whole district seemed to be deserted and it had an eerie atmosphere throughout. It was a far cry from the glitzy city and bright lights we saw near Warsaw’s city centre.
The tour guide told us that the locals in Warsaw call this district ‘Asia’ – I wasn’t sure what to make of this!!!
3. Old Town
Warsaw Old Town is the oldest part of the capital city, established in the 13th century. Thankfully, it was a lovely clear day so we got to take a lot of pictures and look around the area. There was a lot of cute souvenir shops and restaurants tucked away in small alleyways, so overall it had a real touristy feel.
4. Lazienki Park
We spent our last day at the famous Lazienki park. We did get lost on the way (getting lost was a regular thing in Poland for us), but we managed to get to the park after a good hour (or two). We weren’t let down – the park was massive and the scenery was really breath-taking. I honestly don’t think that the pictures do justice to the park, but it was a great way to wrap up our stay at Warsaw.
I won’t be returning to this city anytime soon, but I had an amazing time here nonetheless. To anyone who is thinking about making the trip, I highly recommend it! These pictures are just a brief snapshot of our time there, but we saw so many other things (my highlight was the Frederic Chopin museum and learning about the history of the Praga district). I’d say that you should give yourself at least three days to see the city completely and make use of the walking tours around the city.
Go for it!