January is an odd month. Christmas has come and gone. The promise of a picture-perfect winter full of snow fall, crisp walks in the park and perpetual pink cheeks is often more damp and grey than fluffy and white, and the 'January Blues' kicks in - a concept I didn't know existed until entering adulthood.
Not this year, however! I am very lucky and constantly thankful to have incredibly gifted, intelligent and ambitious friends. These ones are oldies but goldies - we've known each other since we were four and over the years our personalities and interests have become extensions of one another. One such chum of mine is studying in Warsaw at an institution reserved for the cleverest of clever people. She uses very big words with a confidence I can only admire from afar, or not so afar as was the case when the Norwich brigade descended on her in Poland.
The absolute first impression I experienced was the very, very intense manner with which my passport was scrutinised. Don't get me wrong, I don't think you can criticise vigilance when it comes to airport security, but I did start questioning my own innocence!
The Polish police are very nice. More on that later...
Older ladies look after themselves. The definition of 'aging with elegance', the delicately curled, demure make up and heavy furs of the older generation was class personified. Sass your way through your sixties!
That building above that looks like Gotham? Yep, there's a lot more to that than meets the eye. Oddly enough it's a Tower of Culture and Science, not the monumental HQ of comic book villains, such as it's facade most boldly protests.
It's cheap. Like, what you expect Eastern European cities to be, before you turn up and realise a coffee costs £3.50. A 25 minute taxi cost us around £7-8 pounds, meaning the temptation to hail a cab like a New York 'woman about town' was rife.
Fortunately, my friends all share my love of food. If it's got cheese on it, in it, or around it, I want it in my mouth. Like most other things, food in Poland is pretty cheap. We ate out for lunch and dinner most of the time. In fact, we planned our days around what, and where we were going to eat. Standard.
The doughnuts, oh the doughnuts! If you're a fan of Orange is the New Black (if you're not, you should be), this place resembled Red's little bakery, with a queue going down the road. We smelt it first, hot, sweet dough wafting down the street. Then we saw them and were sold, just 10 minutes after eating breakfast! Tray after tray of fresh doughnuts were slid onto a metal rack and continuously renewed. Mine had warm, melted chocolate inside, which pleased both my cold hands and my tastebuds.
Cafe Charlotte specialises in chocolate spread. Need I say more? I didn't order any, but cheekly helped myself to a spoonful straight from my friend's jar. Of course, I had fig and cheese on fresh bread. Mmmmm!
What Surprised Me
That the Old Town isn't so much old as entirely rebuilt. The beautiful pastel and earthy toned houses that line the cobbled streets are beautiful in an understated, authentic way. To say that Warsaw was hit badly by WWII would be nothing short of an understatement, and what seems like stepping back into the past is more a meticulous reconstruction. Described as a window into a 'One Upon a Time' period of Poland's Glory Days, the Old Town has UNESCO accolades and is testament to the resilience and pride of Warsaw's residents. US General Dwight Eisenhower in the wake of Nazi bombing commented that 'I have seen many town destroyed, but nowhere have I been faced with such destruction.'
Risen from the ashes, quite literally, the Old Town and it's cobbled streets is uniquely profound in a way I haven't experienced anywhere else. There are striking testaments to the Warsaw uprising everywhere, which signifies a defiant nod to the city's recovery.
To be horribly trivial in comparison, I also had the best falafal wrap of my life at 2am after a night spent drinking red wine and dancing all night to French pop music. Mmm, garlic mayo...
Ask your taxi driver how much something will cost before you get in. It's normal, but Warsaw does have a little problem with unlicensed cabs, so it's worth taking off your 'non-confrontational Englishman' hat for.
Book an apartment on AirBnb. I cannot claim any responsibility for the amazing apartment we had in the centre of Warsaw as my friend was the perfect host and booked everything, but by doing this we knew where the best local bar was, where to get the above mentioned falafel wrap, and where to catch the metro courtesy of our host. Not having to carry around a map = not looking like such a tourist, which is always a nice thing. Also £20 for two nights is a winner in my books.
Leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs, And then only buy Polish pottery. It's absolutely beautiful - chunky, hand painted and kitch as anything. See my Instagram for pottery highlights (if anything avows to my label as Grandma it's that last sentence),
In 5 Words...
Authentic, Unpretentious, Friendly, Homely, Memorable
Do you think you'd like to visit Warsaw? I'm always looking to plan more trips, so leave your city break suggestions below!