Warsaw, Poland May 6-7, 2018
Leaving Vilnius on May 6, we got a ride to the airport from our Airbnb host, Vitas. The 1 hour 10 minute flight from Vilnius to Warsaw on Wizz Air wasn’t bad (164 Euros for both of us, $190). We prefer ground transportation but we couldn’t find anything that worked so we opted to fly. The train or bus would have been cheaper but taken anywhere from 13 to 28 hours (keep checking though if you’re traveling between these two cities since things are constantly changing but make sure you have the latest information). Warsaw was a late addition to our itinerary as well. We knew we wanted to visit Krakow but didn’t know what to expect in Warsaw since it had been so devastated during WW2. However we’re glad we spent a couple of days there.
We took Uber from the airport to Zofia’s Airbnb apartment at 4/6 Elektoralna Street (21 zloty, about $5.50). Once again the entrance to the apartment complex was a bit scary. Another Soviet style housing block with a small arched entrance off the street onto a large courtyard. There was roof construction going on in the adjacent wing so there were building materials and equipment scattered about. Our apartment was on the top floor of the wing right next to the street entrance. We were a little early and our hostess was still there cleaning and getting the place ready for us so we dropped our bags and headed out to find some lunch. We didn’t really know where we were in relation to the old town/historic district area but we ended up walking past the Ratusz Arsenal metro station to New Town Square where there were lots of places to eat (‘New Town’ dates back to the 14th century). The weather was sunny and just a little cool so it was a pleasant walk. Along the way we passed the Warsaw Uprising Memorial – an impressive tribute to the resistance fighters who took up arms in a desperate revolt against the German occupiers. In New Town we had bigos (cabbage and meat stew), mixed pierogies and a couple of beers at Polski Pierogarnie Zapiecek restaurant right off the main square. We especially enjoyed the bigos. The first few pierogies were good but we kind of got tired of them after that. The beer was good. The cost was around $25.
We grabbed a couple of soft serve ice cream cones in the square and walked through the Barbican towards Old Town but didn’t do much exploring. Just a quick look at the wall and the shops along the narrow pedestrian zone street then back to our Airbnb. Our place was ready by the time we got back so we unpacked and did a little research for the afternoon. The apartment was small, clean, nicely decorated, but complete. The only problem we had was that one day we came back and the door was wide open (fortunately nothing was missing). It was most likely our fault since the electronic lock and latch were tricky and we probably left that morning and didn’t close it properly. Needless to say we triple checked it (and every future door) every time we left after that.We headed back to Old Town for some sightseeing that afternoon. We enjoyed walking around Old Town Square (with the mermaid statue) but it was a little too crowded for us with lots of tables set up in the square and hordes of people dining al fresco. Further along the Royal Route we checked out some of the historical buildings and Castle Square which was much more wide open and didn’t feel near as crowded. We climbed the tower at St. Anne’s Church for a cool view of the square, city, and across the Vistula River where the Soviets waited during WW2 until the Germans basically annihilated the remaining Jews and destroyed the city. A sad chapter in history. We popped into the Bristol Hotel for a look at the opulent venue that served as a brothel for the Germans during the occupation. Back on the Royal Route (so called because it connected the palaces), some interesting things we noticed were the playable piano benches and the seeming love for Herbert Hoover (apparently he led efforts to provide relief to the region between WW1 and WW2 and afterwards). Its a great place for a stroll with street performers and lots of food and drink options along the way. The weather was sunny so we thoroughly enjoyed ambling around.
That evening we headed to Falafelove restaurant just down the street from our apartment for some take away food. We picked up a couple of beers at the Carrefour Express next door and ate dinner back in the apartment. The food was good, the portions were large, and it was inexpensive (about $10 for shashlik, fattoush salad and falafel wraps that left us with plenty of leftovers).
One thing on our to do list in Warsaw was to visit holocaust sites. We’re both interested in WW2 history, especially Germany and the Jewish trials and tribulations. The next morning we started off with a visit to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. It was really impressive, housed in an incredible modern building. The exhibits are well done with descriptions in English to include a representation of a village with synagogue. Kind of just moseying through the museum we got a pretty good understanding of the Jewish experience in Poland and the larger picture. Afterwards we hiked over to the Mila 18 (Anielewicz) bunker memorial – a pile of rubble that marks a resistance fighter headquarters during the ghetto uprising. Kathy had read Leon Uris’s book titled Mila 18 and it left an impression on her that prompted our interest. It’s a poignant tribute to the resistance movement, their struggles, and the lives lost there. From there we followed the trail of markers to the deportation site (across from Gestapo HQ) where Jews were loaded onto trains destined for concentration camps. It’s hard to imagine the anguish and uncertainty of the families on that platform.
We headed to the Hala Gwardii market I had come across the day before for lunch but it was closed. So we searched Google Maps for nearby restaurants and found Folk Gospoda. Google Maps recommendations can be hit or miss but this one was a winner. We had potato pancake with goulash that was delicious and so much we couldn’t finish it. Of course we had the obligatory two dark beers that were as good as the food. It was a bit pricey (around $35) but well worth it for the food, setting, and service. We headed back to Old Town to continue on the Royal Route for a few other sites before heading back to the apartment for the day.
On our final day in Warsaw (only two nights there) we walked about 30 minutes to the train station stopping at Aromat cafe for coffee and pastry. It was a nice ramble through some pleasant residential areas. We got a good look at the Stalin era administrative center (affectionately nicknamed ‘Stalin’s Penis’) across from the main train station. At the station we picked up a couple of sandwiches for the short (2.5 hour) ride to Krakow and departed Warsaw.
One last interesting experience was purchasing the train tickets. I had walked to the station the day before we left to get the tickets so we’d have them in hand the next day. I lined up at one of the satellite ticket windows that had two women attendants. The women appeared to be holdovers from the Soviet era. Thanks to their dress (buttoned up jackets) and reddish hair (colored by the only dye supposedly available back in the day) but even more so because of their attitude. They didn’t seem very interested in helping me (or anyone else). Ah the good old days. Actually we came across a very small number of people in each of the former Soviet states we visited that seemed to long for those days but by far the vast majority acknowledge they’re much better off now than then and glad for it.