Growing up, I had always dreamed of visiting Europe. Specifically in the late spring/early summer, probably the south of France, wind in my hair, having an enlightening moment while looking off into the sunset. So, when I booked my first trip to Europe for the end of November, I knew my initial vision of Europe was a bit off.
The idea of spending over eight hours traveling to a destination for one week kind of blew my mind. I’m not the best with flights because I am unable to fall asleep on any moving vehicle without drugging myself; especially a plane seated next to some rando who is a bit pushy about the middle arm rest. Nonetheless, in order to get to Europe, I had to suck it up, buttercup and ZzzQuil it up.
I had decided to visit my dear friend, Margaux in Warsaw over the week of Thanksgiving. I had decided that during the eleven day trip, three of those days would be spent in Prague, Czech Republic because Margaux would be working and I wanted to experience as much as possible.
When I got to Warsaw, I noticed the smog, fog, rain, and clouds. But, it felt very familiar. It was cold. The kind of cold that chills your bones. The kind of cold where your toes, fingers, and nose are completely numb to the touch. It didn’t matter. I was in Europe, solo, visiting a friend, traveling the world, and living out one of my dreams.
I became a complete tourist the second I got there. I hadn’t looked up how to say anything in Polish (or Czech for that matter), I had no idea where I was, I wasn’t sure what to start with, and once I saw the city, I wasn’t sure if there was enough for me to see in five days. Thank the stars for Margaux. She spoke an alarming amount of Polish, she took control of my schedule for the five days – even when she was at work, and I had plenty to see… I’m forever grateful.
Naturally, the first night we did was go out to a nightclub and celebrate my arrival. Clubs in Poland are different. There aren’t bars like in the states, so the nightclub is king. Very techno-y, very slicked back hair, button down shiny shirt, tight jeans-esq., if you’re picking up what I’m throwing down… not necessarily my scene but a ton of fun. We danced all night, then in true American fashion, housed some McDonald’s at 4am.
In the midst of the hangovers and rush of excitement, I was able to experience so much of what Warsaw represents. Let me first say, the people are lovely (and extremely patient!). The architecture is straight out of a history book. The environment, despite the cold climate, is very warm and welcoming. I see why Margaux has chosen to live there.
Warsaw’s Old Town is absolutely adorable, but at the same time, scary with the history of what Warsaw has gone through since WWII. We walked around Old Town Market, but because of the weather, there weren’t many vendors up and running. We did see the Mermaid of Warsaw fountain in the middle of the square, which is when I started to realize that the mermaid was the coat of arms for Warsaw (to be honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me. Warsaw has a few rivers, but they aren’t on a large body of water. Poland, to the north lies against the Baltic Sea. MAYBE if it was the Polish Mermaid, I’d be on board. Who knows, I’m probably over thinking this). We also took a stop over to see the Presidential Palace which was probably the most well kept and pampered piece of property in Warsaw.
Then there was The Warsaw Rising Museum. Growing up in the United States, you obviously learn about WWII. But, what we don’t really learn is how it affected other countries and to what extent. We don’t realize that some countries, like Poland, were destroyed to a point where you wonder if it’s even worth rebuilding. What this museum shows is that it is worth rebuilding and fighting for your independence. The museum guides you through the stages of the Rising and holds Germany and their allies accountable for the damage that has been done to Poland. Still to this day, when you walk around Warsaw, on one side of the street, there are brand new buildings, across the way, it looks like a war took place – because it had. This place is a must see and a reality check on what actually happens in the world.
Another prevalent driver throughout Poland is religion. 87.2% of Polish people are Roman Catholic, and you can tell by the architecture and vast number of churches throughout the city (and I’m assuming country). Though I am not a religious person, you cannot help but admire these churches. I think the statues, paintings, and overall environment of these structures could convert some people to believers because it feels real for everyone who lives there. Religion runs the majority of their lives and a lot of their government. I had the pleasure of peeping into a few of the churches, and trust me when I tell you, you will see some of the most beautiful works of art hidden among the pews.
When I say Margaux and I threw down in the restaurants, do not take this lightly. I didn’t think it was possible to eat as many perogies as I had during that week. There are so many flavor options! Potato, cabbage, cheese, pork and cheese, potato and spinach, duck and cranberry, cheese and olives – I could go on for days. Basically take any two delicious items and shove it into a pasta shell and you can get it in Warsaw. You can imagine how happy I was with every meal. We also ate a good amount of Bigos and my new favorite, kopytka!
I did make one huge mistake with food in Poland. APPARENTLY, a coffee in Poland means an espresso. I ordered a large coffee, and after I drank half of it, I had realized what I had done. NO ONE WARNED ME (I don’t want to hear a word about how I should’ve researched more before going on this trip) and I was up for many many hours, I wouldn’t shut up – worse than usual – and I thought Margaux was going to murder me. We got through it, but mixing that at the wrong hour with jet lag – I will never make a mistake like that again.
I also found that for breakfast, the Polish eat what I consider a lunchtime sandwich. I didn’t hate it. There are bakeries everywhere and they put turkey or ham in the breakfast roll (without egg – maybe that’s why I found it to be odd). The breads were delicious. We also at one point grabbed some fresh made soy milk ice cream which was very delicious and COLD! Yes, we had ice cream in November in Poland – I have no idea what we were thinking other than the fact that every time we hang out, we must have ice cream!
My favorite part of the trip was the day I got back from Prague: Thanksgiving. We went to an “Americans Living in Warsaw” dinner at a local hotel and it was exactly what I needed for my first Thanksgiving away from home. The people, all from different parts of the United States, had their own interesting stories of what brought them to Warsaw, and of course, what keeps them there. Some found love, mostly others found money, and a few found their dream. It was such an eye opening experience. To see so many different people have one place in common, and a thousand different stories that brought them there.
The moral of the story, Warsaw is pretty amazing. I really want to go back, but most likely in the warmer months. If you’re looking for an affordable Eastern European trip, I highly recommend Warsaw. And it’s only an hour flight to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Berlin.
Plan your trip to take on Warsaw – you won’t regret it!