Warsaw was the fourth stopover of our Europe backpacking trip after visiting the Baltic region. Warsaw was our first stopover beyond Baltic region, so we were also excited to see how different it’s going to be.
Journey from Vilnius to Warsaw
We traveled to Warsaw from Vilnius. It was an overnight journey by a double-decker bus which was not very comfortable. The buses in India are far more travel-friendly. After the relaxed stay in Baltic States, Poland seemed quite different and strict. We were woken up at night around 1 am by Security Officers as we crossed over the border of Lithuania to enter Poland. The first memory of Poland is to be woken up by a stern looking tall and big-built officer to show passport. They seemed quite rude and unreasonable waking up people at night, checking passports and questioning people. But, at a later point when we were more in our senses, we realised they were just doing their duty.
After being woken up and showing passports, we were asked to get off the bus and go through immigration too as bus entered Poland. It all seemed a little frightening, being the first time, but our passports were stamped easily without much difficulty. If only, weather was also better, standing in cold waiting for one’s turn would have seemed a little easier.
As they say, all is well that ends well; similarly, our passports were duly signed, and we went back to sleeping in the bus with the hope of waking up to a beautiful Warsaw.
First incidence of being Cheated on Trip
We reached Warsaw early morning around 7 am and our first impression of the city was being in a concrete jungle with high-rises everywhere. The high-rises made the city look like any other corporate town in the world. After the beautiful old towns of Baltic States, it felt like a reality check.
As we got out of the bus station and were looking for a cab, a man walked up to us and asked if we wanted a cab, we said yes and sat in his cab.
Little did we know that we are in for a rude shock and our first cheating incident if the trip. After travelling to Baltic States, we had gotten used to taking people at their face value and believe what they say.
As we reached our Emka Hostel, our hostel in Warsaw, the cabbie charged us 62 Euro. We were suddenly wide awake as the internet had shown a distance of 2 km approx. between station and our hostel. When we questioned the guy, he gave us weird excuses like its executive car and surge pricing etc. Anyways, we decided to let it go being in foreign land and gave him 60 euros. Later when we asked at the hostel reception we were told that the cab fare is between 3-4 euros from the bus station. This was a lesson learnt to be on our guard from now on.
One welcome change was presence of ‘elevator’ in the hostel. After carrying bags up and down in last two hostels, we were dreading taking the bags up again to the second floor. We checked into the hostel and deposited our stuff at the reception because our room was still getting ready. The hostel had various rooms and since it was early morning, we were told to talk softly and use the common washroom in the meanwhile. The kitchen of the hostel was a fully stacked kitchen. The Hostel provided the basics – tea, sugar, coffee, etc. And the people before us had left quite a lot of stuff like milk, cookies, spices, pasta, breads etc. Also, the people who were staying had written their names on food items and kept in the fridge to avoid confusion.
We had decided to eat breakfast outside so just made some coffee and tea and ate it with some dry snacks we were carrying. While having coffee, we tried figuring out the day plan. Since there was still time for the room, we decided to go for the walking tour, and get to know the place better. By now, we had realised that these tours, though convenient and a great way to know a place, were free only in name. you end up paying a large amount as tip. Repeatedly reminding to pay tip at the end of the tour is part of their spiel.
Before leaving the hostel, we asked the person at reception for guidance but once again we were given multiple brochures. Are people forgetting the importance of communicating!
Walking through Warsaw
We followed the offline Google map and the brochure to reach Sigismund’ Column in Old Town where the Walking tour had to begin.
On the way, we saw some alcohol shops that were open 24X7. It was strange to find alcohol shops open for 24 hours but department stores that have fixed working hours. Seems people in Warsaw depend more on alcohol for all their daily needs!
Then we saw a Costa Coffee and two people in the group were starving, so we took a breakfast pit stop before the walking tour. I wanted to use WC, so I asked the girls serving at the counter and were told its in basement. I went down all the way to find that there is a password lock at the washroom door. Wonder why someone would put lock in the washroom which anyways seems hidden in basement. I also found it weird that the girls had not told me the password. So, I came back all the way to ask for password. Never had to walk so much for using WC. And this was one of the many instances where we found WCs hidden in basements, locked or password-protected in Europe. Still have not been able to figure out the reason for same!
Walking Tour of Warsaw Old Town
After the breakfast, we reached Sigismund Column and without difficulty found our travel guide – Peter, thanks to the orange umbrella as per the brochure at the hostel.
The walking Tour gave an interesting insight into the Old Town – Royal Castle, Saint John’s Cathedral, the Old Town Market, Warsaw mermaid, Milk Bar, the city walls and the New Town of Warsaw. The idea behind the tour is to give an overview of the city – past and present.
After the Tour, we had lunch at La Dolce Vita opposite Sigismund Column. We had ravioli, mushroom soup and tsykie craft beers. It is the local Polish beer. The dessert was Tiramisu and Cream Brule, which tasted more like custard
After the lunch, we walked back to the hostel to get the room. On the way, we stopped at a departmental store to pick up noodles and vegetables for the vegan friend.
At the hostel, after deliberating over going to Auschwitz or Lazienski Park the next day but not reaching any consensus, we all bathed and set out to bus station for booking tickets for Krakow, our next stopover, for day after– only to find it wasn’t the right station.
Exploring Warsaw Further
Though it was a long walk to station and back, we didn’t mind as the weather had become breezy and temperature was just right for the walk. It was fun walking around. Also, there were many lively cafes on the way. On the way back, we took lots of photos in the twilight hour. We came back deciding that we will go to the park next day and Auschwitz later from Krakow.
While walking around we saw a subway and one of us decided to pick up a subway. While waiting for order, another one saw an India restaurant – Buddha Indian Restaurant on the opposite side, so went there to check the menu and ended up ordering Dal-Rice which turned out to quite nice.
In the whole process, the non-vegetarian friend felt betrayed as all of us, vegetarians had shared the meal. Even though, we kept telling her that this is not our full meal, she refused to believe us.
Traditional Polish Dinner
Luckily, later we found a nice Polish restaurant, Specjaly Regionalne, and went there. We ordered their traditional dish – radykalke (goat cheese and zucchini) and Cherry beer. Both turned out to be nice and the beer was best I have had till date. Raji ordered a rabbit dish and loved it. The main course was followed by apple strudel, but it was sour, so a little disappointing. But overall the place, staff, ambience and food made a nice package.
By the time we finished dinner, we were very tired, due to bus journey of night before and walking throughout the day. We just came and crashed.
Day -2 in Warsaw
The second day in Warsaw began on a nice sunny note. We had a lovely light breakfast at Nespresso. Everything seemed nice, so it was quite difficult to choose. After the breakfast, we walked to the Lazienski Park. Initially we had decided to take bus, but the nice weather prompted us to walk. But alas, we were walking in the opposite direction. By the time we realised this, we had gone very far, and sun too had started getting harder, so finally took the uber cab, first of the trip – a learning from previous day of being cheated, to Lazienski Park.
Being a Sunday, the park was quite crowded. There were lot of families enjoying the weekend. Families with pregnant women and young kids were in abundance.
And in between all this, there was a pre-wedding shoot too going on.
After spending time walking around and watching the sculptures, we decided to Laze around in the lawns. We saw a lot of people having waffles and ice cream, so we also decided to have some. Mind you, eating waffle, without messing up hands and face, is an art I am yet to learn.
After the Lazienski Park, we went to the Jewish Museum and took Audio Tour of the Jewish History there. By the time, the depressing tour got over, we were ready for some fresh air and lighter evening ahead. Thus, we went back to the Old Town to walk around the place a little more and have dinner before calling it a day.
Last meal of Warsaw
We had dinner at a local restaurant famous for another Polish speciality – pierogi. Pierogis are steamed potato dumplings with different types of fillings – sweet, savoury, veg, non-veg. Along with pierogi platter, we ordered sangria made of local red wine. One portion of sangria was huge enough for all four of us.
After the dinner, we walked back to the hostel. As we were walking back, a fight broke out between a few drunk people, but police came to rescue too quickly ensuring no harm to anyone. As we were walking back, we saw were various groups of students, youngsters sitting together, playing music and singing songs. It was a good feeling to walk along lovely music.
The day and Warsaw stopover ended on a good note despite the visit to Jewish Museum that was depressing. The next day was early morning departure to Krakow in Poland.