First Impressions of Poland: The Rising City of Warsaw
It’s been a while since I’ve done a first impressions article. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but if I had to guess I would say it is a combination of laziness, changing countries too often, and sometimes even the fear of offending someone. Of all the types of posts I write, the first impressions articles seem to generate the most comments and emails telling me I’m wrong, ignorant, naive, childish, or worst of all, an American. Even when I write a first impressions article that praises a country, I still get comments from weirdos like the comment from Robert on my Sri Lanka First Impressions referring to my photo of a fake Starbucks:
Why would that even matter? So-called solid matter consists of 99,9995% empty space, so what do you mean by fake? Our so-called “reality” is a 3D illusion, so why would you be concerned about the so-called fakeness of a mere symbol within that illusion?! Why would that even be relevant? – Robert the philosopher troll
However, after our first two days in Poland, I felt compelled to write another first impressions post, simply based on how awesome this country has been so far. It really isn’t fair to say first impressions of Poland since we’ve only seen Warsaw so far, so consider this more of a first impressions of Warsaw.
Most of these first impressions are going to sound like I’m surprised because I expected Warsaw to be unpleasant city. This is not the case. We actually had high expectations of Poland, mostly because we’ve only heard good things about this country from other travelers and Polish people we’ve met on the road. Warsaw has just been one of those cities that even with high expectations and hype has still managed to surprise us and exceed our expectations.
First Impressions of Warsaw, Poland
1. Warsaw is beautiful
Our first site of Warsaw came after we emerged from a subway station in the middle of the city. The first thing we saw was the towering Palace of Culture and Science just as the sky was about to get dark enough for the building to light up the sky. The city was bustling with people on their way home from work, and it was one of those moments where it felt impossible to not be in everyone’s way. I was embarrassed that I had never seen this building in a picture before, in fact, I had never even heard of it. There is a lot of history behind the building, not all good considering it was a gift from the Communists to the people of Poland in the 50’s. It was originally named after Stalin, but that was revoked for good reason when Poland became a democracy. The building now holds everything from theaters, to museums, to offices, even a university.
2. The architecture is creative and stunning
Walking around on our second day we were only more impressed by the beauty here, especially the architecture. Warsaw was completely destroyed at the end of WWII, and the city has been rebuilt in amazing ways. There is a great mix of restored historic buildings and newer modern buildings. I’m no expert in architecture, but I would have to assume Warsaw has one of the biggest varieties of architectural styles all in one city. Even the churches here all seem to be in built in a different style. It is a sharp contrast to cities and countries we have visited recently where all the religious buildings seem to look a like (i.e. mosques in Istanbul or temples in Thailand). The photo above is probably one of my favorite buildings that we’ve come across on this trip. I’ll be posting some before and after pictures in my next Poland post about Warsaw and WWII. I can’t do the modern architecture justice with any of my photos, but here is a great aerial shot from Wikipedia: Warsaw at night
3. Warsaw’s Old Town is back
You would think that a city that was destroyed in a war would no longer have an old town or old city to walk around in. However, Warsaw did a great job of taking the original historical areas and completely restoring them to be near identical to the way they were before the war. For example, there is an area in Old Town right in front of the castle called Castle Square that used to be a thriving area of the city. During the war, the square was completely ruined. Instead of creating a modern looking square in its place, Poland decided to build it back to the way it used to be. And they did an incredible job. Below are three photos of the same Castle Square. You can see a statue on top of a tall column in the left of the first photo. It is known as Sigismund’s Column and in the second photo you can see it was destroyed in 1945. The last photo shows it back in its original spot along with the rest of the restored square:
4. The food is great (except the Mexican restaurant)
We have been pleasantly surprised by just how good (and affordable) the food has been here. We have heard that Eastern Europe is cheap, but we didn’t actually expect it to be this different from Western Europe. It isn’t quite Southeast Asia pricing here, but when we compare food and beer prices in Poland to prices in our previous city of Rome we end up with a pretty big difference. In the touristy areas of the city, the prices are still high, but once we venture out to some more local areas, we are able to find some nice kielbasa and some pierogi(Polish dumplings) to try at a fraction of the price. You can drink three large beers in Poland for the price of one small beer in Paris, Rome, or Amsterdam.
The one exception to the good food experience was the Mexican restaurant we came across on our third night here. We haven’t had a real Mexican dinner since being home back in November, and it was just too tempting not to try. Big mistake. Since I’m not a foodie, and actually don’t like writing about food at all, I’m just as bad at describing bad food as I am at trying to describe good food. But I’ll try anyways. We shared some fajitas and not only was the chicken bad and a bit smelly, but the guacamole looked like the gooey green stuff that builds up at the bottom of industrial sinks. The only good part of the night was when in the middle of dinner, a man dressed as Zorro comes running out from the kitchen followed by a man in a sombrero giving chase. They both have loud cap guns and are shooting at each other while the Mexican Hat Dance song is playing in the background. The crowd, mostly families and people on dates, seem to love this little show. I was indifferent and a little offended. Not by the portrayals of Mexicans, but because they made Zorro the bad guy.
5. There are sad pandas in Warsaw
We’ve seen a lot of street performers over the last 16 months, but I think this one is my favorite. The problem with street performances is that so many of them lack originality and tend to copy others. For example, I have seen at least 30 of what I call the “idiots pretending to float” scam where someone uses simple engineering to sit on a platform for hours and collect money. People actually give money to those idiots for doing nothing but sitting in one spot.
That is why I was excited to see a street performer actually doing something I’ve never seen before. This performance involves much more than just dressing as a panda. This guy(or girl) just sat in this one spot and acted sad. Yet, it was more than just looking sad. He made this panda suit come to life emotionally. He physically, yet silently wept when someone walked by and didn’t put money in his jar. When people would sit down next to him, he would just look down at the ground, slowly shaking his head in such a way that he looked absolutely devastated. It got to the point where he was so good at showing emotions while in this suit that you actually felt bad for the bear. I challenge anyone to sit next to this bear for more than 10 minutes without giving him at least some spare change. This guy is making a case for the addition of the “Best Performance in an Animal Costume” to the Oscar category list.
6. Kevin Spacey wants Polish people to use mobile banking
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