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I went to visit Warsaw for 2 days so my trip from Krakow to Kaunas could be done in two stages. I didn’t think there would be much to see. When will I learn?
Learning the history of Warsaw was almost more impacting on me than Auschwitz. On September 1st, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, Warsaw had a population of around 1.3 million. On October 3rd, 1944 there were less than 1000 citizens in the city. Today the city is up to 1.7 million and nearly all rebuilt. Seeing what it looked like (or rather what was left, which was almost nothing) in 1945, and what it looks like today is worth the visit in itself.
For budget accommodations, there are around thirty hostels in Warsaw. I was lucky enough to have the amazing couchsurfing hostel Ewa (pronounced Eva as described in my post on Krakow). I will always consider couchsurfing the best way to travel, not because of the monetary benefit but because of the wonderful advice they give for local customs, culture, food and everything else. Ewa was no exception for this.
As usual, my first action in Warsaw was to take the free walking tour. This is the same company that I went to in Krakow. They also have tours in Wroclaw and Gdansk. Our tour guide was Bɫazej. Another Polish lesson: “ɫ” is pronounced like “w” and “j” is pronounced “y” so think French blasé for Bɫazej. But I digress. The tour is great and while it might cover quite a bit of ground (over 3 km), it’s only because there is a lot to see in the 10th largest city in the EU. I took the Old Town tour. There are five other tours, including a Jewish Quarter Tour, an Alternative Tour, a Communist Tour, a Food and Beer Tour, and a Warsaw Crime Tour. Had I more time I would certainly have done more myself.
After the tour I went to Museo del Alzamiento Varsovia (The Museum of the Uprising). It was the top attraction on Tripadvisor after Łazienki Park, Old Town and the Free Walking Tour. It was also recommend by another top blogger: Leah Davis of The Mochilera Diaries. It’s a very comprehensive museum about the Polish uprising against the Germans in August and September of 1944 which ultimately resulted with the entire city in ruins and a population below 1000. The final part of the museum was watching a 6 minute movie I have no idea how they produced. It’s a 3D flythrough of what was left of Warsaw in 1945. I still get chills thinking about it!
At the end of the museum, I met up with none other than Leah herself! I got to spend the next several hours with her. We talked about blogging, her own travels, tips for my own blog and just life in general. She had some really good advice for me. What stuck with me the most was her view of spending more time in one place. Granted her blog’s niche is partially for expats, but it resonated with me and I definitely saw how I needed to spend more time in the locations I go to. While it does make good content for my blog on how to visit a city in a day or two, it also does start to take it’s toll on me.
The next day I didn’t have much planned, so I zeroed out the top of the Tripadvisor list and went to Łazienki Park about a kilometer south of Old Town. This massive park contains the Royal Baths (Łazienki is “baths” in Polish), a Chopin monument, a palace, a Roman amphitheater, a Chinese pond and the list just goes on and on. I spent several hours stroll through the canopied walks, walking along the numerous lakes and ponds, seeing the different structures and enjoying the beauty. At least until 1:30, when with horror I found the first big mistake I’ve made with my travel plans this year.
Here’s the story. I was thinking of where to go for lunch when I decided to check my 4 PM bus ticket to Kaunas, Lithuania. That’s when I noticed I had accidentally booked the bus in the wrong direction, leaving from Kaunas instead of Warsaw. What’s worse, a quick search found that the last bus leaving Warsaw was in half an hour over 3 km away. All thoughts of lunch gone, I grabbed my 30 kg bag and ran as fast as I could (not very fast with the added weight) to the bus station (a sign on the side of a street). I then unsuccessfully spent fifteen minutes trying to get the driver to accept the ticket I had purchased for the wrong direction. Finally I had to purchase a new ticket, losing the €20 I had spent on the first. The moral of the story is don’t assume Google will show you the ride you want just because you searched for “bus from Warsaw to Kaunas.” I got my ride and left Poland to enter my 28th country this year.
Of course, you don’t have to do the same attractions I did. But I would highly recommend it. There are a couple other good museums, such as one for the Jewish History; there are fun and games, such as escape rooms; there are many other parks. Other than that, the activities described above are definitely the highlights. You can spend plenty of time exploring Old Town and the Market Square before or after the tour, as I did. Take some more walking tours and see the rest of the city. Then move onto the rest of Poland. It’s a big country with much more to see.