some fellow travellers might know the feeling of amazement and exhaustion that accompanies almost every longer trip you do. Days turn into weeks and weeks feel like months, you experience so many different things that it’s sometimes hard to remember at night how the day actually started.. if you still wonder what I’m talking about, imagine to see nine different cities in eight different countries during 17 days of travelling and you know exactly how I feel right now – with one exception, this journey has become reality for me and I just got back a few days ago…
While digesting all the various impressions of people and cultures, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the places and why it’s worth visiting Eastern Europe.
To start from scratch: For 17 days I’ve been doing an interrail trip from Warsaw to Istanbul. On my way to the South I visited several other cities and countries, which I will introduce in my future blog posts.
The Polish capital Warsaw is located in central Poland, has 1.7 million inhabitants and most of old city districts are reconstructions from the late 20th centuries after heavy bombings during WWII.
Starting the walking tour at the Sigismund column (have a look at the title picture), we begin learning about the long history of the city. After the first human settlements in the 10th and 11th century, the first buildings in the Old Town date back as far as the 13th century. However, the Sigismund column is a good spot to start because King Sigimund III Vasa made Warsaw capital and brought a lot of money and attention to the city.
Along the way through the nicely reconstructed Old Town the guide tells us many more interesting details about the Polish history. As you can find most of it only or written down somewhere else I don’t want to bother you with details but name some legends and randomn facts I heard about. Even though most of the buildings far from being originals the whole area looks quite authentic and has even become a World Culture Heritage Site due to its authenticity.
Right next to the palace, which hosts a nice Art museum nowadays, there is the register office where people can get married. In Poland the traditional day for weddings is a Saturday and there are some funny costums related to this special occasion. Polish people are known for their Wodka consum and thus most of the habits include at least a shot.
A really old, unwritten law in Poland says that everybody who manages to stop a car on the street with a bride and a groom inside, gets a free bottle of Wodka to allow the car to move on. Our guide said, no matter the age of the tradition, it is still fully accepted and works usually as she tried herself already.
In the middle of the Old Town, you’ll find a big square which used to host many markets. Besides, there is also a little statue that might look familiar if you’ve been to Copenhagen before. According to the legend, the little mermaid from Copenhagen and the Warsaw mermaid were sisters whose ways parted in the Baltic Sea. As the later Warsaw mermaid swam in the Vistula river, she found a sand bank to rest on near the city and decided to stay. By creating waves, opening and tangling the fishers’ nets, the mermaid caused the fishermen many troubles and they planned to trap her. Though, her lovely singing voice saved the mermaid. Some time later a rich merchant imprisoned her anyways. The fishermen heard the mermaid crying and rescued her. Ever since this moment, the mermaid protect the city with sword and shield and became an important symbol to its inhabitants.
If you search online, you’ll find many more versions of this legend, however this is one of the most common ones as I was told.
Besides the walking tours and the historical aspects, there is another great approach to make your way through the Old Town and the city centre of Warsaw: musical benches playing pieces from Frederic Chopin. The famous composer was originally from Poland and lived parts of his life in Warsaw which is why the city dedicated a museum and a bunch of benches to him that tell his story and play his music. Those places are a nice break from the usual sites and give you tired feet a chance to rest as well.
Moving on, we get to some culinary specialties in Poland. A good place to get real Polish food along with the typical atmosphere are so-called ‘milk bars’. Usually the staff speaks Polish only and the menu is not translated either. Furthermore, people can be quite rude if you don’t understand what they want but apparently this is common practice in such places. However, I haven’t tried a milk bar myself unfortunately.
My lunch place is on the other side of the Vistula river in the rather artistic district Praga. It is called Napreciezw and I had a cucumber soup and a veggie burger with fries.
As time is flying when you explore new places but my train to Krakow is already leaving in the evening of the same day, I take the bus back to a park not far off from the hostel. It’s the beginning of March which means nature is still very brown and greyish instead of green… In this big park, there are some trees though and amongst other you’ll find a number of old monuments there.
Later, on my way back to the hostel, I walk along some less picturesque parts of the city. Although it’s not as obvious in places like the city centre or the airport, the differences between the city centre and the outskirts seems to be bigger and more frequent than in other places. The distinction between Eastern and Western Europe has various aspects to it, some of the most important are the cultural and economic contexts.
From the most Nothern point of my journey and the current capital of Poland, I take the train to the Southern border and former capital, Krakow…
See you there and take care,