This month our travel journal presents one of Eastern Europe’s best kept secrets, Ashley Bebbington gives us his personal insight into Poland’s capital, Warsaw
With the cost of being a student higher than ever before, more and more students have begun to explore Eastern Europe to cut travel costs. It was with this in mind that I decided to visit Warsaw, Poland, managing to secure flights, and two nights in a hotel for under £100. From London, the flight only takes around two hours. To top it all off, the hotel was four stars, and when I arrived I discovered it had been the home to a number of football teams during the 2012 European Football competition. Definitely a good start.
Sports fans will definitely want to head over to the national stadium which is a short walk from the city centre. Built for the Euro Cup finals of 2012, it is now home to perhaps Poland’s most famous club, Legia Warsaw. The stadium is a master class in architecture, but it’s difficult not to notice the run down area that surrounds it, and the fact that the stadium is enclosed in a cast-iron fence.
The city has plenty to offer for history buffs, as the impact of Nazi occupation in the 1940s can be quite clearly seen today. The majority of the city was bombed during the German invasion of 1939, meaning that the centre is a sprawl of modern architecture. Take a short stroll north, however, and you’ll find yourself in the Old Town, the only part of the centre that predates 1939. The Old Town is something of a tourist hotspot, so you may want to avoid spending too much money there, but taking a walk through this beautiful area is a fantastic experience that anyone visiting Warsaw should not avoid.
In addition to this, there is also a museum dedicated to the failed uprising against the Nazis. The museum provides an extensive wealth of information and artifacts relating to the two-month resistance against Nazi rule in 1944. I ended up spending over two hours here soaking it all up, and left feeling inspired by the ultimately doomed plight of these people who risked and lost their lives to fight for their freedom.
Another thing you’ll want to try in Poland is the vodka. Even if you’re someone who despises vodka (I’m one such person), you’ll love it the way the Polish do it. My favourite was Wodka Zoladkowa Gorzka, a mint flavoured vodka that goes down remarkably easily, and that I’ve tried to no avail to buy in the UK ever since! And the best part? It’s only 5 euros a bottle. Seriously. Smokers will also be happy to know that a pack of 20 filter cigarettes comes in at a little under 2 euros. Just be wary of the fact that you can only bring 200 back to the UK!
Something else I noticed was the cost of eating out. On my travels I’m accustomed to buying some bread and filling, and trying to assemble some kind of sandwich on a park bench somewhere – I once tried to do this in Museumplein in Amsterdam and got attacked by a horde of hungry pigeons. Not ideal. I managed to avoid doing this in Warsaw because you can pick up a decent sit-down meal with drinks for between 5-8 euros. Okay, I was ordering the cheapest items on the menu, but it makes a welcome change to looking over my shoulder for flying rodents that are far too accustomed to humans. Something you should definitely try in Poland is traditional Polish soup served in a bread bowl, the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold day.
The public transport links in Warsaw are great, the infrastructure having been greatly improved in the run-up to the Euro Cup in 2012. They’re also cheap, meaning getting around in Warsaw is no problem at all.
The language barrier can be a bit taxing, so I would definitely recommend purchasing a Polish phrase book (or smartphone app) before jetting off. It’s a tough language to get your head around, but a few choice phrases will prove invaluable, as the majority of people you’ll come into contact with won’t speak a word of English. Mostly though, the Polish are a very kind people, who, more often than not are elated that you’ve chosen to visit their home (97% of people living in Poland are Polish, and tourism isn’t exactly booming).
Warsaw, then, is an amazing juxtaposition between the pre-war traditional, and the post-war industrial. It is truly amazing to see the contrast between the old and the new, and with cheap flights, accommodation, food, and – most importantly – vodka, it is an ideal location to go as a student strapped for cash. Just remember to pack warm clothes!