I’ve done soooo much traveling through Western Europe, and at some point, after backpacking through Spain, Italy, and France a few times, I just kind of got jaded on the whole well-traveled path.
I could ALWAYS find a friend to come with me to a popular Western country, but when I’d bring up Eastern Europe, it was like I could actually hear crickets chirping. I just couldn’t bear to do the same three day trip all around Rome one more time, so I finally decided to check out Eastern Europe on my own. Poland seemed pretty stable and safe, and it seemed like a lot of people there would speak English, based on what I was seeing online, so I booked my flight.
In the end, I decided to go to Poland alone, and I made my way to Warsaw. When I first got there, I was pretty surprised by how modern it was. It still had the cutesy, kind of older look I was hoping for, but public transportation worked, people drove like they were sane, and it really didn’t feel that much different from Western Europe. I liked the trolley buses, though. They run all around Warsaw, and they look totally different than anything else I’ve seen in Europe. I thought the metro there was awesome, and it’s always cool to get on a train that has words that you can’t pronounce on it.
The greatest-looking thing about Warsaw is all the green space and the beautiful old palaces like Nieborow Palace, which is one of the best Kodak moments I’ve had in a long while. I’ve never seen such old, grandiose buildings in all my life. I could spend a whole week just hanging out in Old Town and walking past the Old Town Wall. The Old Town Market Square is a must-do on the weekends – it’s full of people and lots of kiosks. The cobblestone streets are the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and you can get a nice cup of coffee and sit around and people watch. Krasinski Gardens are definitely pretty, too, and you can spend a nice hour walking around and just enjoying all the space. I took the time to go to St. Ann’s Church, and it was a special moment for me. The architecture was beautiful, and I always love being in church.
I know it’s a little depressing, but going to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto monument should really be on your list. It’s an important part of history to honor, and the monument itself is very powerful.
One thing about Warsaw is that it didn’t feel at all touristy, which is a really cool thing, but it also wasn’t really all that easy to find things, either. A lot of times I couldn’t figure out the signs, and even though the metro was fine, once I got on the street, I got lost a lot.
I actually thought that more people would speak English. A lot of times I couldn’t really find anyone to help me. I guess that’s the trade off between going to a place with restaurants with signs covered in different countries’ flags, and going someone a little more off the beaten path.
Warsaw didn’t feel poor, though. If anything, it felt a little bit snooty. There are a TON of museums, and opera things, and orchestras, and it felt very high end. I read online that the city is trying to win the European Capital of Culture 2016, and I can see that. Everywhere you look, there are really cheap tickets or free to go to a bunch of museums and stuff like that.
Going out at night, there were plenty of dive places, but there was this whole nightclub culture where the girls looked like supermodels and the guys looked… well, they looked like they put a lot of energy into going out. It felt sort of like a paler version of Jersey Shore. I was pretty impressed by the Polish girls’ bodies – these girls are tiny!
I went to Eve and Paparazzi – two of the biggest clubs – during the fall, when it was already getting cold, and that didn’t stop these girls from wearing things that looked like belts as skirts. Makeup was pretty over the top, and heels looked like I would fall over with one step, but kudos to them for making it happen! The clubs had this whole pretentious thing going on at the door, though, with what seemed like a lot of money changing hands with the beefy door guys. It seemed like you had to know someone or you had to act all cool and give the guy a big bill to get in, and be slick about it, or you had to wait in line. Since I was there alone, and I do not know anyone, I ended up waiting in a bunch of lines. This is probably a stuck up thing to say, but I’m pretty, and I usually don’t have to wait in line. So I found that pretty annoying. I guess it didn’t help that I was wearing a coat, unlike most of the cute girls, who were wearing tube tops for dresses. In New York, I look amazing. In Poland, I guess I looked like a librarian. I’m not bitter… hahaha… just sharing my experience!
I heard the Praga district has way more interesting clubs where you can dress in what I consider cooler, more laid-back clothes, but it wasn’t near to my hotel, so I never actually made it over there. It sounded more like a warehouse scene, rather than all neon and gold chains, and it’s my biggest regret, not giving a club called Saturater a go, which I heard was super-cool.
As for the time of year, I talked to some locals and they said that I was coming at a really good time of year because I heard that in the summer, it’s really incredibly hot, and it’s actually very wet – very rainy – and kind of miserable. Also, apparently winters are COLD, so there is basically only a very small window in the spring and in the fall when the weather is mild enough to hang around outside the way I did during my entire visit.
As for the vibe of the city center, I don’t know if I was right or not, but it felt really safe to me. I’ve never been to Russia, but I kind of thought Poland would be like Russia, and that it would feel unsafe. I mean, I’m a pretty safe person, anyway – it’s not like I leave my purse just sitting out on a chair or anything – but I didn’t notice anything like creepy people checking me out, or anyone trying to do anything at all bad.
Oh, one last thing! I have to say that if you DO end up using a taxi, you better decide on a price before you set out, because I realized after going somewhere and right back that I totally get hosed on the way out there. I guess I was stupid and just trusted the cab driver, so I used that ride back to my hotel as a reasonable guess, and I’d look at the map before I got in the cab from then on and have in mind my right price. Sometimes the first price the taxi driver would say would literally be – no kidding! – three times the price I would end up paying. Sometimes you have to just get out of the taxi and start over… but that’s better than being ripped off!
In the end, I’m really glad I went. It wasn’t anything like what I expected, but I enjoyed myself and it felt different. I’m not going to say it was better or worse than my favorite countries in Western Europe, but it felt like a real adventure, for a change. If you’re a little sick of the well-beaten path – seeing people standing around with Rick Steves books on every single corner – then Warsaw is a really good first stop into a spot just a little bit further east.