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Cześć! Jak się masz? 🙂
It’s been almost a month since I’ve returned from my three week solo trip around Poland and from the moment I got back home, I can’t stop raving about this incredibly underrated Central (NOT Eastern) European gem of a country. I made my way from the east to the north and west to the south making sure that I visited villages, towns and cities that most people have never heard of, or thought to visit before. During my time in Poland, I managed to visit Warsaw, Gdańsk, Poznań, Wrocław, Kraków, Zakopane, Opole, Bielsko-Biała, Żywiec, Nowy Targ, Poronin and Rzeszów. Phew! I mainly travelled Poland by rail and bus and wandered through each destination solely on foot. I did manage to somehow lose four pounds upon returning home and who loses weight going to Poland for almost an entire month? Must’ve been the cardio! 😉
Poland is a massive country situated right in the centre of Europe and is the ninth largest in continental Europe to be exact and sits east of Germany, north of Czech Republic and Slovakia, west of Ukraine and Belarus and south of Russia and Lithuania. Poland is divided into 16 different provinces, which have their own distinct characteristics and charm. In the north eastern part of the country, you will find vast valleys with farmland and densely forested areas, which were enchanting to roll through while on the train. In the southern region of Poland, my personal favourite area, you’ll find Sudeten (Sudety), Beskidy, Tatras (Tatry), Gorce, Pienins (Pieniny) and the Bieszczady Mountains. North of the Beskidy Mountains you will find the Gory Swietokrzyskie range. All of these mountain ranges, except for the Sudeten and Gory Swietokrzyskie, belong to the Carpathian Mountain range (Karpaty), and form a natural southern border of Poland with Slovakia.
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I flew direct from Toronto to Warsaw with LOT Polish Airlines and it was a very comfortable flight. I had an entire row to myself, so I definitely took advantage of that and slept for a solid five hours straight. When I landed in Warsaw, I hopped in a cab and made my way into the city centre to check into my first apartment. Of course I ended up having a migraine when I landed due to the fact that the weather was a little turbulent and some rain was approaching that night, but I didn’t let that stop me. After checking in, I took some time to get myself situated, have a quick snack, pop an Advil and made my way to the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
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The Warsaw Uprising Museum is one of the most unique and thorough museums I’ve ever visited and for a WWII history lover, I was in absolute awe the entire time. I literally spent two full hours there fully immersed in learning more about the greatest and largest underground combat operation during the German occupation of Europe in WWII. The Uprising in 1944 would change the face of Warsaw and showcase the 63 days of fighting the people of Warsaw endured and also shows the post war communist terror that the people of Poland had to face. I highly suggest visiting this museum if you’re a fan of WWII history, or just want to know more about what Warsaw has been through.
After spending some time in the museum, I wandered over to Warsaw’s Old Town to grab a much needed bite to eat, admire the town square and the Royal Castle that was all lit up beautifully under the dark sky. My phone ended up dying when I was about two kilometres away from my apartment, but luckily I have a pretty decent photographic memory, so I took that as a sign to head in and made my way back to my apartment, while remembering buildings and landmarks along the way. 😉
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The next morning, I was up bright and early, which isn’t out of the ordinary for me while I’m in another country. From Warsaw Centralna, I hopped on a train to the Baltic port city of Gdańsk, which is home to rows of beautiful Dutch inspired architecture, colourful facades and St. Mary’s Church that boasts incredible views of the city below. Taking a stroll along Długi Targ offers some spectacular views of the Town Hall, the Green Gate and more than a few inviting patios to sit on and people watch. Some of the best views of Gdańsk can be seen from the magnificent waterfront, so I definitely spent some time there shooting some photos after filling up on beer and delicious pierogi.
Next, it was time to head west to Poznan. The sun wasn’t even poking out yet that morning and it was slightly cold and spitting rain. Not exactly the most ideal weather to walk to the train station in, but off I went. There was a ton of construction at the Gdańsk station during my visiting, so there were slim pickings for breakfast choices and no coffee…I know…crazy, right? I managed to find a KFC that was open to buy a bottle of water, made my way to the train and munched on some trusty travel snacks that I always pack. Success!
Poznan was one of my favourite cities I visited. It definitely had a small town vibe, but when I looked at the population, I was shocked to find out that it is almost five times larger than the town I live in at home. Mind blown!! Poznan is a city that lies in western Poland and is situated along the Warta River. Its Old Town, or Stary Rynek, is filled with colourful Renaissance inspired town homes, merchant houses and an impressive Town Hall that looks like it was plucked straight out of the pages of a storybook. One of the main things that attracted me to visit Poznan wasn’t just its adorable streets, but it is home to a legally EU protected croissant. Yes, you read that correctly. Poznan is home to the St. Martin’s croissant, or better known as rogale marcińskie in Polish. This massively delicious 81 layer (yes, 81!) dessert is just that…massive! The St. Martin’s croissant is 1200 calories of white poppy seeds, raisins, orange peel, walnuts, biscuit crumbs, eggs, and almond flavour and sugar. It must also be between 150 to 250 grams in weight to qualify as the real deal. You definitely won’t need to eat anything after indulging in this bad boy, trust me!
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After spending a fantastic day in Poznan, I made my way to the train station and was on my way to Wrocław, which is the largest city in the western part of Poland. When I got to the train station, I grabbed a quick latte and found my track. I started talking to a girl that was on the track when an announcement came on and then everyone started leaving the track quickly. I was standing there not knowing what the hell was going on, since the announcement was only in Polish. The girl I was speaking to then told me that they had changed track numbers and we rushed to the next track together. She was so nice and even helped me by making sure I made it to the platform and even helped me with my luggage when she saw me struggle for a second. If I never spoke to her, I probably would’ve missed that train. 😛
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Wrocław is as unique as its hard to pronounce name and was voted the 2016 European Capital of Culture. Known for its bright and colourful main square, Wrocław is a photographer’s dream. Every single building is intricately decorated with vibrant facades in every colour of the rainbow and beyond. The Gothic Town Hall has to be the star of the square though with its gingerbread house exterior and jaw dropping details surrounding every inch of the building. As if I didn’t torture my poor legs enough the day before climbing the cathedral in Gdańsk, I decided to climb Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene (Katedra św. Marii Magdaleny) for some epic views of Wrocław’s streets below. Once I finished up at the cathedral, I made sure to head to the oldest part of Wrocław, Ostrów Tumski, or Wrocław’s Cathedral Island, to try and catch a glimpse of the infamous gas lantern lighter who quickly makes his rounds at dusk and lights each of the 103 gas lanterns that are on Ostrów Tumski 365 days a year. I’m happy that I was able to catch this legend walking around Ostrów Tumski because he moves so fast that a lot of people tend to miss him and the spectacle.
Next up…Kraków! Kraków, or traditionally known as Cracow, is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River, Kraków is one of the most beautiful cities in the country and definitely one of the most popular for tourists. One of the major perks (albeit bittersweet) of travelling during Corona, was the lack of tourists filling the streets in an otherwise usually jam packed city. That being said, I did feel extremely sorry for the businesses and vendors there that were and are still suffering from the devastation to the tourism industry. I spoke to locals, hotel owners and other Polish travellers about the situation and they said that because of the lack of tourists, they are afraid for their livelihood and don’t know when, or if the tourism industry will bounce back quickly, or even back to what it used to be for the city. Cities like Kraków are mainly dependent on tourism, as are a lot of cities and businesses in Europe.
My first day in Kraków was spent familiarizing myself with the city, wandering around and taking in all the beauty of the largest medieval market square in Europe, Rynek Glówny. The next day was a pretty intense one. I booked a private coach and joined a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was a sobering portion of my trip through Poland. As someone who is interested in WWII history, visiting the concentration camps, walking through the gas chamber and seeing the execution wall surrounded with boarded up Barracks was a chilling feeling. Knowing what happened on these grounds, mainly to Jewish people, but also to people of other creeds and religions, was an eyeopening experience and definitely a must visit for people who are looking to learn more and get a firsthand look to the atrocities that happened not too long ago. After an educational and a heavily informative day, I met up with two travellers that were on my tour from the UK for some beers and vodka shots to chat more about what we saw that day and about our travels.
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After a few days traversing through city streets, I desperately needed a nature fix, so off I went to the most beautiful part of Poland in my opinion; the stunning Tatra Mountains. I had booked a chalet in the beautiful mountain village of Zakopane and was able to reach the mountains via FlixBus in a matter of a couple hours. Zakopane is to Poland what Banff is to Canada; a gorgeous mountain village that is a mecca for skiers, snowboarders, hikers and nature lovers. I was stoked to spend a few days in the mountains, breathe the fresh air and do some hiking. After checking into my absolute stunner of a chalet, I walked over to the funicular station to head up to Gubałówka, which is a mountain in the Gubałówka Range that offers commanding views of the Tatras in the distance and Zakopane below. But, of course, when I arrived the funicular was out of service, so I decided to walk up the hill and through the forest instead. I started walking up the hill, which then turned into a forested path, which then turned into a muddy and wet field. Perfect. I wasn’t planning on doing a hike, so before continuing on, I took a water break at a spring water trough. It could’ve been used for animals for all I knew, since there were sheep and horses roaming around nearby, but it had fresh mountain water coming out, so I filled my hands and re-hydrated. I’m still alive, so I guess it was clean! 😉
On my second day in Zakopane, I wanted to hike to Morskie Oko, or Eye of the Sea in English, which is the largest lake and the fourth deepest in all of the Tatra Mountains. The hike takes approximately two hours and nine kilometres long each way. The hike is considered easy to moderate in difficulty, but keep in mind that the trail is uphill the entire nine kilometres, since you are, after all, going up a mountain essentially. The good news is that in Poland, you didn’t have to wear a mask if you were within nature like a green space, exercising, or hiking. Everyone seemed pretty happy about that while out on the hike because in Poland, you even had to wear a mask outdoors, which makes no sense, but they made it a law anyway, literally just before I left Canada. I couldn’t imagine having to wear that thing on my face for nine kilometres uphill. I’d probably puke, since you’re out of breathe on some parts of the trail if you’re keeping a good pace like I was.
The trail is paved the whole way, due to the fact that a vehicle must be able to transport goods, food and other equipment up to the chalet hostel/restaurant at the base of Morskie Oko. I was able to make the trip in exactly two hours and that was with plenty of photo and water breaks. I decided to hike the trail around Morskie Oko as well after a quick beer and snack at the chalet and wow, it was definitely some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t know I was in Poland, you could have easily said it was Canada, or even somewhere in Austria. I was able to circle the lake in about an hour before making my nine kilometre walk back down the mountain. Oh and yes, I did end up with the most disgusting blisters and sore feet for at least a week after that hike. *cry cry* I’ll spare you those details.
After two incredible days in Zakopane, it was time to head back to Warsaw for a night. Now before I go any further, I should mention that my original trip was planned for April, but the ‘Rona threw a wrench into my (along with many other traveller’s) plans, so I was technically supposed to fly back to Toronto after Warsaw, BUT in July when I re-booked my trip, I decided to extend it another ten days. Now, my hotels were unable to be cancelled from the first part of the trip, or I’d lose my money, so I just moved the dates for no extra cost through Booking.com to reflect the changes and all of the other hotels and apartments for the extended part of my trip were booked afterwards.
When I got back to Warsaw, the weather was shitty and rainy and just miserable, so I all I wanted to do was relax, go for a walk (more like a hobble because my feet were destroyed) and grab a coffee. It was a short and boring night. Nothing too groundbreaking to report on that front. There were some protests regarding the abortion laws and ‘Rona restrictions starting in Warsaw though when I returned, oh and I forgot to mention…the Polish government announced new stricter lock down measures coming into effect the very next day. All restaurants were to be closed and only takeaway and delivery would be available. Ugh…great! That was interesting as a traveller in a foreign country with no way to read signs on restaurant doors! 😛
For the second half of my journey through Poland, I made it my mission to visit more small villages and lesser known towns and cities. The smaller towns are the ones suffering the most during the tourism decline, although many of these places aren’t known to most people outside of Poland anyway, so I really wanted to contribute something, even a little bit to these communities.
I decided to head south back towards the mountains and out of the major cities and would make my way back north towards Warsaw at the end of my trip in order to fly home.
I visited Opole, which is one of the oldest towns in Poland and dates back to the 8th century. It is also considered the historical capital of Upper Silesia and is home to approximately 128,000 people. For a city that is perfectly situated between the major touristic places, Opole is still relatively off the tourist radar when it comes to people visiting from outside of Poland. The Stary Rynek is surrounded by pastel coloured buildings and the Town Hall, or Ratusz, sits smack dab in the middle of the square with its huge tower, four sided clock and cream coloured exterior. It was my first day maneuvering around the new restaurant restrictions and it was fairly easy. I was allowed into the restaurant to order food, take it away, then eat outside on the patio, but with a takeaway box for the food. Not too bad and luckily I had really good weather for the second half of my trip. Being able to slow down in a less crowded city was just what I wanted. I took walks along the Oder River, through the old cobblestone streets and wandered around green parks at sunset.
Next stop on my list was Bielsko-Biała. This city in the south of Poland isn’t well known to tourists, but it is by no means a small city. With a population of approximately 170,000 people, during the morning rush hour, there is a slight buzz about the streets. While I was walking around, I noticed that the architecture had a slight Viennese look to it and I later found out that Bielsko-Biała is actually known as “Little Vienna.” The city is known for many festivals throughout the year, but Bielsko-Biała is also considered the gateway to the Beskidy Mountains, which I was able to see right from my apartment window in the Old Town. Exploring the cobblestone alleys and wandering through the green spaces was relaxing. I grabbed a latte and walked along a creek, which definitely gave me some Amsterdam canal vibes. Grabbing a late afternoon snack made me realize what a disaster Corona is becoming to the environment. I’m by no means a model environmentalist, but to see the absolute horrendous amount of single use plastic waste being forced on people due to the fact that takeaway was only being allowed was disgusting. Garbage cans were just overflowing with trash and it was pretty disheartening to see if I’m being completely honest.
The next day I was off to Żywiec, a town where the famous (and one of my personal favourite) Polish beer comes from. Żywiec is a small town in south central Poland with about 31,194 inhabitants and is most definitely off the tourism radar, so much so that even some Polish people I spoke to said they have never been there. The cute town square is surrounded by restaurants and shops serving homemade lody, or ice cream in an array of flavours. In regards to things to do in Żywiec, there isn’t much. The Żywiec Brewery is approximately a 30 minute walk from the train station and is a popular attraction within the town. I spoke to the brewery’s spokesperson prior to visiting and she had mentioned that the museum portion of the brewery was opened, but due to Corona, the tasting portion and brewing area was closed and because of that, I decided not to visit it this time and would save a visit for when the entire brewery was opened again in the future.
I really wanted to walk to the Żywiec Lake, which is a reservoir on the Soła river and located about three kilometres away from the Old Town, so I prioritized that instead of touring the brewery museum. The Żywiec Lake, or Jezioro Żywieckie was created in 1966, when several villages in the area were flooded following the construction of a dam. Getting out in nature and walking the golden coloured tree lined path along the lake was the right choice in things to do. It was beautiful and I met so many friendly locals. There was a pretty significant language barrier between the locals and myself in the smaller villages and towns I went to, but we manged to have a laugh with a lot of hand gestures and my very broken Polish and their English attempts. 🙂
The following morning, I knew I’d have a fairly complex travel day ahead of me. My plan was to go to Nowy Targ, which is a town in the Podhale region with approximately 34,000 inhabitants. Nowy Targ is in a valley beneath the Gorce Mountains where the two rivers Biały and Czarny Dunajec meet. I was looking forward to spending two days surrounded by incredible scenery and exploring Nowy Targ’s historical market square, exploring some nature reserves and trying some of their famous ice cream, since I’ve heard the best comes from Nowy Targ. Before I could enjoy any of those things, I had to get there and boy, what a chore that was. My original plan to get to Nowy Targ was to take a train from Żywiec back to Bielsko-Biała then take a connecting train to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona (ya, try saying that one) and then finally from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona, I’d take a final train to Nowy Targ. Sounds pretty easy, right? Oh, it wasn’t.
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After missing my connecting train in Bielsko-Biała, which was supposed to be a bus apparently, then taking a train back to Żywiec, then forced to backtrack all the way up to Kraków by bus because apparently there was no bus going to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Lanckorona from Żywiec, I finally made it to my cute little chalet in Nowy Targ. What a shitshow of a day that was! I did however, meet some of the nicest and most selfless people that day that helped me endlessly to make sure I got to my destination. More on that whole day in another post though. It’s a doozy! Even after all of the backtracking and missed transportation, I still managed to arrive in Nowy Targ in one piece, my sanity in check and even earlier than anticipated, so I guess I couldn’t complain. I spent the rest of that day walking along the river, watching gliders fly through the air at the local airport and walking through the nature reserve nearby before retreating back to my chalet to freshen up and enjoy a cold beer and a much needed meal before calling it an early night.
The next morning, I woke up to an incredible buffet breakfast provided downstairs in the chalet’s restaurant and after scarfing down some food, I headed out into the nature reserve once again to walk further down the trail and enjoy the fresh air before making my way back into town to explore the historical market square, have some lunch and get shit on by a pigeon and spill Pepsi all over my leg. Oh, the joy! 😛 After sulking on a bench covered in bird shit and pop, I decided to make myself feel better by doing some retail and ice cream therapy.
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My next stop was Poronin, a small mountain village with a population of approximately 4,000 people. Poronin is about six kilometres away from Zakopane and the villagers pride themselves on holding onto their traditional lifestyle and customs. Since Poronin is close to Zakopane, it makes for a great jumping off point for winter outdoor enthusiasts and has a lot of chalets for visitors. I made my way to the Nowy Targ bus station and took the six kilometre ride to the Poronin bus station. Oh, my first bus decided just not to show up by the way, so I had to take the second one an hour later, of course.
When I finally arrived at the bus station, the driver let me out on the side of the roadway and as he drove away, I looked at my map and saw that I had to be on the other side of the road. Ok, easy enough, BUT the Poronin train station was there (which I was supposed to arrive to, but again…trains turned to buses 😐 ), so the only way there was to cross the busy roadway, cross the railway tracks and walk along those tracks until I could reach the train station where there was a tiny pathway that I could walk on. Yikes. I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation because what I was about to attempt is SO illegal back home in Canada, but people just kind of cross the tracks like it’s no big deal, so as they say, do as the locals do. 😛 I looked both ways a million times, looked behind me constantly for local trains that were still running, but not frequently and successfully made it. PHEW
After my daredevil stunt, I found my chalet and spoke to the kind owner about the situation in the village now with Corona. I was the only guest for two days in her massive chalet and I felt so bad for her. She meekly mentioned that she would refund me the money for breakfast because she couldn’t justify making breakfast for one guest, which I totally understood. I refused the refund and told her to keep the money, since I knew how much she was suffering with the lack of tourists these days. She was very thankful and said for me to take the money, but after I strongly insisted, she put the money back into her pocket with a smile. I told her I’d go to the local grocery store and bakery, buy some things and keep them in the guest kitchen and ensured her I’d be fine. I started to get hungry, so I manged to find a restaurant that was open for takeaway, ordered up some kotlet schabowy and made my way back to my cozy room to crack open a Tatra beer and enjoy the view of the mountains and village from my window.
I decided to go for a walk after my lunch to see what Poronin had to offer. Since November 1st was coming up, which is All Saints Day (a very religious day for Catholics), there were loads of vendors set up along the main street selling flowers, religious candles and other religious figures for people to purchase and place on the graves of their dead relatives. After wandering around for a bit, rain started to fall, so I retreated back to the chalet for a nap and to wait out the rain before trying to find something for supper.
Finding a restaurant that was open for dinner was a bit difficult this time around. Not only were there not as many options for food in the smaller villages, hours of shops changed and nobody’s hours of operation were updated online. I walked about a kilometre in the rain to try and find a cute restaurant I wanted to try, but when I got to the place, it was dark and closed. I made a U-turn and headed back to the main street, went into a grocery store and bought a packet of soup and a beer then went back to the chalet again to eat. Not all travel is glamourous. Sometimes you’re forced to purchase $0.30 soup, a $1.00 beer and call it a night, which I very well did after that.
The rest of my time in Poronin was spent walking around, taking photos of the mountains, drinking beer and relaxing. I had another big travel day ahead of me the next day because I was heading back north to the cities. I was going back to Kraków for another two days and I was looking forward to seeing more of the city that I missed during my previous visit.
Now, Poland’s bus system and I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I was skeptical about taking a bus back to Krakow from Poronin because I just haven’t been having the best luck with buses during this trip. I had originally purchased a train ticket, so the train tickets were valid for the bus rides on the maintenance routes. I got to the station about an hour early and grabbed a coffee and danish at the bakery across the street. The Poronin train station was unmanned, so I must have checked the bus schedule posted up at the train station about 25 times with my translation app. Better obsessively safe than sorry, I guess.
When the bus rolled up, I presented my ticket to the driver and hopped on. I was shocked, but pretty stoked to see that I had an entire 50 plus person coach bus all to myself. It felt like I had my own personal tour bus. The entire journey back to Kraków was about two hours and during the whole two hours, my bus must’ve only stopped to pick up three people.
I spent the rest of my time in Kraków visiting the Schindler Enamel Factory, which is now a museum showcasing how Nazi Occupation in 1939 – 1945 affected Kraków. Oskar Schindler was credited for saving approximately 1000 Jews from horrible living conditions and eventual death, by employing them in his enamel factory during the war, so the museum is a must visit for any history buff. I also spent a lot of time walking around Kazimierz, which is the historic Jewish district of Kraków, popping into cool coffee shops, visiting Wawel Castle and its absolutely stunning gardens, taking loads of photos (naturally) and taking a relaxing autumn walk through the Podgórze district and Park Wojciech Bednarski, which was draped in golden leaves as far as the eye could see.
My journey through Poland was coming to a close in a few days, but before heading back up to Warsaw, I continued my quest of visiting towns and cities that are off the tourist routes. I had booked a train ticket to Rzeszów, which is the largest city in southeastern Poland and has a population just shy of 190,000 people. Rzeszów is a stone’s throw away from the Ukraine border, which I thought was so cool because that would be the furthest east in Europe I’ve ever been. It was quite rainy when I arrived in the city, so after checking into my hotel, I hit the ground running before all the daylight was gone and visited the Stary Rynek, or old Market Square, ordered a massive Golonka, or pork knuckle for lunch and while I waited for that to be made, I wandered around the Old Town and took loads of photos of of the colourful streets adorned with bright coloured flowers and admired the cutest Town Hall, or Ratusz that resembles a miniature castle and reminded me of the Town Hall in Gouda, Netherlands. Once my food was done, I went back to my hotel to dry off and chow down. Another drawback to the Corona restrictions (other than the crazy amount of plastic waste) was having to order the food and carry it back to eat it somewhere dry, so it either got soggy, or cold by the time I’d get anywhere. If it wasn’t a dampy cold day, I would’ve just ate it on the restaurant’s patio, but I was already wet from the rain and didn’t feel like sitting outside like a dummy.
Once I was warmed up and fed, I made my way back out onto the streets of Rzeszów. Since the rain had stopped, I made my way to a monument with a rather umm, interesting shape and an even more interesting nickname given by the locals. The proper name of the monument is called the Monument of the Revolutionary Deed (Pomnik Czynu Rewolucyjnego), but locals just like to call it exactly what it looks like…Wielka Cipa, which literally translates to the Big Pussy, or the Giant Vagina. LOL 😛 After getting a glimpse of the Giant Vag, I made my way back into Old Town to grab an ice cream, snap some photos of the colourful reflections on the cobblestone and head back to my hotel, since the rain was coming down stronger at this point in the evening.
It was hard to get out of bed the next morning. I woke up with a slight headache because there were some rain clouds in the distance and in rain the forecast for that day. I hopped in the shower hoping that would help a bit, but it didn’t. I had a five hour train ride heading back to Warsaw for my final day in Poland and I was meeting up with my contact from the Warsaw Tourism Board that afternoon, so I had to power through it. I ended up sitting in a six person cabin that was almost full for the entire five hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable especially with my luggage at my legs, but I managed to have my breakfast and lunch on the train and take a nap as the rain started to pelt down, so by the time I arrived in Warsaw, my headache was gone.
Speaking of headaches, the one thing I dreaded the most about Warsaw was its constant construction and detours for sidewalks, or lack there of in some parts. My apartment was literally a block away from Warsaw Centralna, but the absolute chaotic amount of construction surrounding the train station made a five minute walk turn into a 15 minute walk of hell and confusion. Once I finally made it to the street level and made my way through broken sidewalks and the rain that decided to come back just in time for my walk, I had an hour to freshen up, grab a coffee and a snack before Agnieszka, my contact at the Warsaw Tourism Board would be at my place and ready to show me around some cool areas of Warsaw that I haven’t seen during my travels yet.
Agnieszka, who was so nice and full of interesting facts, picked me up in her car and we headed out to see Łazienki Park, or Royal Baths Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw and definitely one of the most beautiful as well. We also drove around the Praga District, which is a neighbourhood diverse in culture, ethnicity and religion. Praga wasn’t destroyed during WWII and as a result, it is considered the most authentic part of the city. We were both upset that the lock down didn’t allow us to sit in one of the many cool and hip restaurants for a bite to eat, so we drove around some more as she explained the history of the area to me. We then stopped off at the old Warsaw Vodka Factory “Koneser,” which is a factory complex of Neo-Gothic buildings from the late 19th century located in Praga and now houses many shops, restaurants and is a place for a great nightlife scene.
The coolest place we visited had to be Elektrownia Powiśle, which is a historic power plant that has now been completely renovated into shops, restaurants, a hotel, offices and by far the coolest and most Instagrammable washroom I have ever seen. The amount of history within the building is mind blowing and for a WWII history lover like myself, it was a real treat to get to see this building with bits of the past still left in tact, or repurposed into its design. After an afternoon of sightseeing, we grabbed some dinner to go at renowned chef Aleksander Baron’s Baron the Family Grill Bar that specializes in all this interesting and tasty, such as sausages, kimchi, fermented veggies and craft beer. I literally had the best grilled curry sausage of my life there and to this day, I still think about it. It’s a foodie heaven and you need to visit if you’re looking for something unique and delicious to eat in Warsaw that isn’t pierogi!
The rain was coming down steadily the next morning and it was my last day in Poland before flying back home to Canada. My flight wasn’t until 4:45pm, so I grabbed an umbrella since I had some time to walk around Warsaw some more, take some photos and I even squeezed in some early morning shopping because I desperately needed a new pair of boots, since mine were absolutely destroyed and were beyond repair. RIP boots. 🙁 I managed to do and see quite a bit before making my way back to my apartment, pack up my stuff and head to Warsaw Centralna to grab some breakfast and wait for my train to the airport.
My airport train pulled up to the platform and as I hopped on board, I said bye to Warsaw as the train slowly pulled away. Now, it wouldn’t be a solo trip without some last piece of drama to end things and I definitely got some of that while my train was pulling up to the airport terminal station. The train’s ticket inspector came to check my ticket that I had purchased at Warsaw Centralna and I confidently gave it to him to check. He scanned my ticket and continued to tell me that my ticket was not valid. Surely it was, I had just bought it that day, not even an hour ago. He then continued to speak to me in Polish about not validating my ticket for the ride and asked to see my passport. Fuck. I had NO idea that I had to scan the ticket on board, since I never had to do that with any other ticket my entire three weeks in Poland. I reassured him that I had no idea, but he wasn’t having it and asked for my credit card. Since we were underground, my card was having issues connecting to his machine to pay that 120 PLN fine (about $63 CAD) and he would not give me my passport back until it accepted payment. After trying once more, the fine was paid and I was angrily on my way to the terminal. Pissed off that a cheap $1 ticket had turned into a $63 ticket, I chalked it up to a lesson learned and made my way inside, through security and to my gate.
I was a few hours early for my flight, but it gave me time to grab something to eat, a beer to drink and to look through my photos and reflect on my time in Poland. I’m so glad that I was able to extend my trip to this beautiful country, have so many great experiences and see so many amazing places during my time there, even during all of the travel restrictions that were constantly changing. This trip made me see the real Poland, visit small villages, towns and cities and speak to so many great people about current and past events and just life in general.
Poland, I love you and I will be back someday.