Monday, May 1, 2023

[WARSAW] Exploring the Old Town


My first and only Poland visit was in 2017 when I went to Poznan, because it was probably the nearest border trip I could do from Berlin. Given the choice, I usually visit the capitals first because capitals usually determine the overall feel of a country and its people. That time has come for Poland as I include Warsaw as my exit point from the Schengen Zone. Flying from Nice, we landed without incident at Warsaw Chopin. Yes, the capital has two airports. The other one is Modlin. Make sure you know where you should be.



The trip downtown was easy with several bus options. Your typical fare for the unified transpo ticketing system is PLN 3.30 (~PHP44) for short 20-minute trips or PLN4.40 (~PHP59) for 75-minute trips, both of which are rather cheap for a European capital. I’ve always wondered why Poland has not yet adopted the Euro as its official currency despite being part of the EU for quite some time now. Heck, Croatia even beat them to it. Well, now I can assume that not abandoning the Zloty is probably responsible for keeping the prices this low.



Since I had three days to spare, not to mention I arrived on a weekend, my itinerary was really chill and not that packed. I slept early on Saturday night since I had shifts lined up in the late afternoon anyway. Sunday was reserved for the old town which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bus/tram connection meant getting off at Centralny which is the modern part of the city. The most imposing piece of architecture in this area is the Palace of Culture and Science, a huge 237-meter building that ranks 6th tallest in the EU.



Exploration of this area happened on Monday, but since we’re already here, let’s discuss it first. According to facts, the building was commissioned by Stalin and constructed during the Soviet occupation of the country, which makes it totally understandable how the locals have some sort of love/hate relationship with it. After all, it is a visually powerful reminder of that painful part of their nation's history. Nowadays, it is utilized as a bastion for the arts, as evidenced by the Kinoteka downstairs where I saw The Whale. The surrounding halls are mostly theaters.



The building easily stands out from a sea of modern architecture that line up this area’s skyline. Just across the street you will find the Central train station as well as a mall called Zlote Tarasy, which is as postmodern as it could possibly be. Anyway, from here you have to connect to another bus to get to the old town, which wouldn’t take you more than half an hour depending on which station you would like to get off. The old town occupies a rather vast area to the left of the Vistula river.



Welcome to yet another UNESCO world heritage site. While most of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed during the war, reconstruction efforts led to this. If you have already been in one too many old towns and plazas in Central Europe, then Warsaw’s will probably just look like just another variation to the template. You have the colorful houses, the alleys with random church spires or clock towers here and there, the big plazas that host a big city’s vibrating pulse, and a variety of churches as always.



This old part of town also has remnants of castle walls which you can still climb up to this day. Wandering about leads you to more churches and hole-in-the-wall bars and restos both inside and outside the walls. Unfortunately, I cannot really contribute much about life along the Vistula River because I never made it that far given how it’s still cold here despite the sun being out. Needless to say, you’ll probably need a few days to fully explore Warsaw’s historical old town.



Overall I believe I liked Warsaw more than I should have. It feels like a really vibrant European capital with a hip and somehow young atmosphere. There is no shortage of cultural activities to engage in, and there are distractions in all forms and sizes both old and new. I feel like I wouldn’t get bored here should I decide to relocate.

[WARSAW] Exploring the Old Town

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