Visiting Warsaw with another 3 million people... Let the World Youth Day begin?

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July 21st 2016
Published: October 19th 2016
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A month and a half in Poland... Even though we did quite a few trips close to my hometown already, it was time to head some place further, see a different part of Poland. And what better place to start than the capital! When we were booking the train tickets I have noticed that finally Poland had upgraded some trains since the last time I took one, so we decided to fork out a few extra bucks and try out the premium train! We were catching it from Malbork, so first we had to take the ancient train from Elblag to Malbork... or so I thought... as it turned out that even the local, shorter routes got some upgrades as well! I couldn’t believe my eyes when a new train pulled up at the station in Elblag – it had ‘magic’ buttons to open the door rather than rusty handles, new (not torn and not smelly) chairs and there were even sockets for charging your electricals! Wow! Looks like Poland finally entered the 21stcentury! At last... But that was only the beginning as our premium train was even better – who would’ve thought that a journey through Poland can be so comfortable and quiet? 😉 No sore bum and we actually had to lower our voices when talking not to disturb other passengers... I was quite impressed! Hey! The train even had air con – and it actually was working! Also I liked the idea of all the seats lined up in the carriage rather than the usual old 8-seat cabins with a super narrow corridor linking them up... One thing was missing though... I guess they didn’t expect any people with babies on the train as there was no change table on board... Not a big problem as we did change nappies in all sorts of circumstances and places already, so it’s definitely not a complaint... let’s just call it a small suggestion. 😉 Besides that, it was a very comfortable and quick journey. It wasn’t even noon by the time we arrived in Warsaw!

I don’t think I ever got out at the Central Station in Warsaw before and have to say it was slightly confusing trying to navigate to our hotel through the underground passage under the station. What got me even more puzzled was seeing ‘babcia klozetowa’ in the toilet! (not sure what the proper name for this profession is, but the direct translation is simply ‘toilet granny’)... First of all I don’t think you should be paying to use the public toilets at all... and then the idea of a person (most of the time it is an old granny – hence the name probably) sitting in the stinky toilet the whole day collecting 2zl from every person is quite bizarre and sad to be honest as well! Grant said that for him the experience was even more bizarre as he took part in the staring contest with both grannies (one for the female bathroom and one for the male one, sitting next to each other and gossiping the whole day) as they kept a close look at him through the mirror when he was using the urinal... Bizarre experience might actually be an understatement... The underground passage under the station (and many other places around Warsaw as we soon found out as well) doesn’t seem to be disabled (and pram) friendly at all – stairs, stairs and more stairs around... I guess we would be working our muscles carrying the pram up and down for the next few days. 😉

Even though Warsaw
Sigismund's Column at the Castle SquareSigismund's Column at the Castle SquareSigismund's Column at the Castle Square

Just like Neptune in Gdansk, Sigismund also got a scarf to support Poland during Euro 2016 :)
is meant to have the cheapest high star hotels in the world, the thought of booking anything over 3 stars just screamed expensive to me... After all we were hoping to spend EUR50 p/d (all expenses included, not accommodation only!)... I guess we were a bit too hopeful as the hotels weren’t that cheap here at all... It looked like we were going to spend 50EUR for the hotel only... Ah well... Eventually we booked Radisson Sobieski as it had special offers... 50EUR for a 4star hotel in the centre of Warsaw with breakfast, not a bad deal at all... Not to mention that the breakfast was meant to be fabulous! And as it turned out it sure was! Now that's what I call a good deal...

After we dumped our bags in the hotel and waited for Millie to wake up from her beauty sleep (not that she ever needed one) 😉, it was time to head to town! Obviously it wasn’t my first time in Warsaw, but it’s been a while since I was here last time and during each one of my previous visits I actually had someone with me who knew the place a bit.
Off we go again! Off we go again! Off we go again!

Waiting for the train in Malbork
This time it was up to me to show Grant around... better take out that map then! My parents gave me a few tips as to what was worth seeing here... yet so many things to see, some a good distance apart and only 4 nights... what can I say? We were looking forward to giving our legs a good workout!

First we went to the infamous Palace of Science and Culture, but the queue scared us off a bit... Now I remembered my parents mentioning something about the World Youth Day (Światowe Dni Młodzieży) which was taking place between 26-31 of July in Krakow. I can’t say I heard of it before, but it sure is a big event! Catholic youth from all over the world would come to Poland to embrace and celebrate their faith and to meet pope Frances of course. You’d say that since the event was taking place in Krakow rather than Warsaw why would we even worry about it? My thinking exactly... Well... as it turned out all the participants were getting free entrances to all the tourist attractions and could use public transport for free as well – all over Poland a week ahead of the event! They were expecting 1,5 to 3 million pilgrims arriving in Poland to celebrate the event. As it turned out it was closer to the latter figure... Additional 3 million ‘tourists’ in Poland during that time! Wow! Not a great timing for us then... On the other hand I thought that the timing actually couldn’t be better! Groups of young people all around, carrying their flags and T-shirts proudly representing their countries, you could just see and smell happiness in the air! 😊 Yes it was crowded, and yes there were lots of queues to museums and other attractions, but you know what? For once I didn’t really mind...

On our first day in Warsaw we just walked around the Old Town. We strolled there and back through the Royal Tract, watched the horse carriages in the Castle Square (mostly to satisfy Millie’s fascination with horses), strolled through the cobble stoned streets admiring the architecture (keeping in mind that some of the bricks in the surrounding buildings came all the way from my hometown) and treated ourselves to some lovely meals... We knew we would be back here in the next few days... As we started our walk back to the hotel, we heard some loud music nearby.... It turned out that the WYD has started with a big bang already as on the square next to the Unknown Soldier’s Grave they have set up a huge stage and the celebrations have already begun with a free concert for the participants... Flags waving in the air, a sea of people dancing and singing catholic songs... And it was still almost a week ahead of the actual event! Many more people would join the hordes until then... We stood on the side for a while and watched as more and more groups of people were joining the festivities... It’s been a long day for the three of us... It was time to head back to the hotel and get some rest as there were 3 more days of making it through the crowds ahead of us! 😉

The following day we decided to give the Palace of Science and Culture another go... Once again quite a few WYD participants skipped the queue and just went straight to the elevators, but it wasn’t as busy as the day before so we bought the tickets and up
Nice to see old Fiats back in action!Nice to see old Fiats back in action!Nice to see old Fiats back in action!

Very overpriced self-drive tours, someone had a pretty good idea to put the oldies back into action though... Fiat 126p (the smaller one - our, meaning my family's first car) and Fiat 125p (the bigger one - and our car nr 2) :)
we went. Was it worth it to pay the 20PLN per person to go up there? Can’t say it was to be honest... Ok, a nice panorama of Warsaw but that would be about it. Apparently you can see the palace from the basement until the top, but through a guided tour only and since we didn’t really look into it before it was a little too late to do it now... This ‘gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland’ is still the highest building in Poland and it sure is a gigantic piece of architecture... It definitely is standing out from the other buildings around and for that reason you can say that it served its purpose... For me it’s nothing more than another reminder of the communist times and Soviet domination in Poland... But hey that's just me...

Next we followed one of the recommended tourists’ trails – the Jewish trail, or a part of it to be exact... as not much is left of the old ghetto... a piece of the wall still stands on Sienna street and some of the pavements mark where the wall used to be... Original Jewish buildings can be seen on Prozna street, that’s where we also saw an older man posing for photos to a younger girl... It looked as if he lived there once and was sharing his memories with the accompanying young photographer... Despite reading many stories of the survivors it still is hard to imagine how difficult life must have been for people living in Warsaw back then, he must have been only a kid...

The plan was to go to the castle next but once again after seeing all the pilgrims skipping the queue, we just gave up on it and decided to simply walk around the Old Town again. We sat for late lunch at one of the restaurants in the Old Market Square. I was surprised to see so many Gypsies around... Some of them were playing accordion next to the restaurants and just walking around with the hat later on, hoping ­to get some coin for their performance... I wonder if they get any money like that at all, as I haven’t seen a single person throwing a coin to the hat... On the contrary, everyone was trying not to make eye contact and was simply ignoring the hopeful ‘musicians’. What I found really sad was seeing lots of kids begging for money as well... And some of them were up to no good at all... At the restaurant we were sitting at, the waitress wasn’t too impressed by the kids walking around the tables and bothering her clients, so she was doing her best to keep them away from entering the restaurant’s terrace... Her efforts were only encouraging the kids to do more and more mischief though... To the point that they started hanging on the rails surrounding the terrace and eventually turned over some flowers and benches... I was wondering why there were no city guards anywhere around? I guess they had more important things to do – like giving parking fines or so... I just felt sad to witness that... Since the kids were behaving like this now, what would they grow up to be then?

The following day we decided to focus on museums. First on the list was Rising Museum. We decided to go there first as it was the closest to our hotel but also because my parents warned me that we could expect some serious queues right there (apparently when they were there, they queued 1,5h to get the tickets only!). Once we got to the museum, thankfully there were only a few people queuing at the ticket office. It actually wasn’t even open yet. Funny enough the people working there were already inside, one guy standing by the door looking at his watch making sure they didn’t open the door a minute too early... 😉 As we were waiting for the ticket office to open, more and more WYD groups started coming into the museum. They of course didn’t need the tickets so soon after another queue started forming – this time to the entrance. Thankfully soon after we had the tickets and were going inside. We decided to take the pram this time as Millie was asleep (the ticket lady told me the museum was pram friendly as well)... Not a great idea as it turned out... The museum was packed! Manoeuvring around with the pram turned out to be a bit of a nightmare but then walking around the museum without the pram would’ve been quite tiring also... way too many people! It would have been much more pleasant to walk around the museum if there were half as many people around. Having said that, the museum was definitely worth a visit – lots of interesting materials, lots of information and lots of interactive features and multimedia effects (I guess nowadays you have to use all means to keep the people interested). It tells a story about the days prior to the uprising, uprising itself as well as its deadly aftermath. Horrifying period of Polish history...

I do have to say that by the end of our two-hour visit here I was slowly losing it – manoeuvring with the pram between the hordes of people really started getting to me. It was time to leave. Next stop was the National Museum. A short stop on the way to feed Millie – when Millie gets cranky so does her mummy so better attend to the little one’s needs quickly. 😉 For a moment I thought that we were going to break our walking routine and actually use a public transport, but as we started walking, we just kept on going in the end. I can’t say I was really in the mood for another museum after a visit to the Rising Museum, but I’m happy we did decide to visit National Museum in the end... Fantastic collection of paintings, not only by famous Polish painters like Jan Matejko, but you could find here some interesting pieces of art by famous international painters as well.

Then it was back to the Old Town again. It was bursting with live even more during the weekend. It looked as if some of the pilgrims groups might have made their way towards Krakow already, still it was the usual summer weekend in the capital so there were plenty of festivities around – piano concert on the Castle Square (playing Chopin music of course), Jazz concert on the Old Market Square and many more... During our walks around the capital I have noticed quite a few restaurants called Zapiecek. It looked like a popular chain of restaurants serving traditional Polish food. Since the next day we had a dinner planned with my friends somewhere else, it was our last chance to check out this chain that evening. And it turned out to be a good choice for dinner for sure! The food was really good and the prices very reasonable. And I loved the idea of serving barszcz (beetroot soup) as a drink in a mug, it went perfectly well with the pierogi (dumplings) I ordered – yum, yum, yum!

On our last day we were meeting my good friends for lunch at StaryDom restaurant. I have to say that I questioned the choice of restaurant as it seemed to be located kind of in the middle of nowhere, well maybe not exactly but it was a bit away from the centre, slightly off our walking path. As it turned out later on the restaurant was fabulous, so hats off to my friends but first things first... Since we were walking in a different direction that day, yes! we still chose the walking option, at least we had a chance to see another part of Warsaw. We walked through another part of the Royal Tract all the way to Łazienki Park which is the largest park (and probably the most famous one) in Warsaw. We wandered around the park, seeing some more pilgrim groups all around until we checked the map and it turned out we were much further away from the restaurant than originally thought. Few more kilometres and we were in the restaurant. I was surprised that we needed reservation as the restaurant was empty when we arrived but soon it all made sense as it filled up very quickly. It was really nice to catch up with my friends. A lot has changed since the last time we met in Dublin. They were now living in Poland, I was living in Australia and we both had kids! How about that? The restaurant, even though a bit pricey, was absolutely fabulous, no wonder it was so popular. Great food (including the super tasty tatar prepared by the guests’ tables by the chef himself) and even better company, fantastic way to finish our stay in Warsaw.

Even though it seemed like we did a lot during these four days in Warsaw, there were still plenty of sights we haven’t seen, so much more to see and do... I guess it would have to wait until the next time, for now we were ready to hit the road again. Back to Elblag for a few days in a cheaper train (train journey from hell – 8 people and their luggage squeezed into a cabin with no air con and 35 degrees outside for a 3,5h journey...) and then off to
On this spot 30 Poles were executed by the Germans in 1944On this spot 30 Poles were executed by the Germans in 1944On this spot 30 Poles were executed by the Germans in 1944

Sadly there are plenty of memorials like that located all around Warsaw
see more of Central Europe, starting in Krakow. Yep planning wasn’t our strong side at that time – going back to northern Poland only to go back south in a few days time... Ah well... At least we were on the road again...

Additional photos below
Photos: 58, Displayed: 34


In one of the souvenir shopsIn one of the souvenir shops
In one of the souvenir shops

Another symbol of Warsaw - a statue of "Little Insurrectionist" -

20th October 2016

Hate Queues
Just hate queues, but sometimes it can be worth it. Glad that world youth day didn't spoil Warsaw although I think I would have been angry at the queue jumping. Agree with the Huge soviet building in the centre of town, I sort of like it, but it is a bit of a sore thumb in town and doesn't really fit with anything else around it - maybe best to get rid of it. As usual you have informed us of all the things we didn't do but on the upside they are now on our list for our return.
21st October 2016

Hate Queues
I really don't like queues either and usually would just give up on the place if the queue was too long... the queues were long everywhere this time so it just didn't make sense being mad all the time ;) thanks for reading!
24th October 2016
Family photo at the Old Town Market Square in Warsaw

Making memories
Lovely photo
4th November 2016
Family photo at the Old Town Market Square in Warsaw

Making memories
Thank you :)
26th October 2016
Nice to see old Fiats back in action!

Not for tall Swedes
I was offered a ride in one of those tiny Fiats once. I am close to two meters tall and when I tried to sit in the backseat I had to sit sideways or rather half lie down. It was very uncomfortable. Luckily the ride was only 10 km so I was out of the car quite soon. /Ake
4th November 2016
Nice to see old Fiats back in action!

Not for tall Swedes
Whoever came up with these models, most certainly didn't have comfort in mind... I can imagine how difficult it must have been for you to squeeze into one of these. Love these cars though, simply because they were a part of my family :)

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