Warsaw, Poland: Dark To Light

Last April, my sister called me with an exciting offer. Her work was flying all their employees to Warsaw for a biennial conference and they were allowed to bring one guest. It would be all expenses paid.

I was already in Europe, studying Italian in Rome, so my sister figured it would be easy for me to get there. I had big travel dreams, but Warsaw was never on my list. But my life changed forever in just my four days there.

I arrived at the airport and took a surprisingly cheap taxi to the hotel. I had not expected prices to be so low, but I spent so little money in Warsaw that I could’ve easily prolonged the trip.

Our hotel had a fascinating view of a busy roundabout and The Palace of Science and Culture, a famous high-rise that Stalin gifted Warsaw for being his famous city.

When I sent my father a picture of our view, he told me that the Marriott Hotel and office complex, adjacent to the high-rise, were two of the properties that he had spent time analyzing. It helped him create the structure to balance hard and soft currency sources and uses. He then implemented this into his work in Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland itself. He actually played a big role in rebuilding Eastern Europe after the war.

Over the course of a few days, my sister had to attend conferences and panels hosted by her company. This gave me a lot of free time to explore the city. I wandered back streets, forests, museums, cathedrals, cafes…basically as much as I could.

It was just days before Easter, so every cathedral was decked out with decorations. I had a Polish nun give me holy water and a little girl with ponytails gift me a basket with candy and toys.

Waking around the city, the dark history of the Wars was everywhere. Poland is the most invaded country ever. It sits between Russia and Germany, present during both World War II and the fall over the Iron Curtain. There were still bullet holes scattered over brick walls, tons of memorials for events like The Polish Uprising, and creepy antique shops that sold fake German passports and Nazi memorabilia.

The city had been mostly destroyed from the war. When it was rebuilt, the architects used old paintings of the city to recreate old plazas and buildings. I had expected the city to be sort of bleak and depressing. Though it was depressing, it had a strong fighting spirit. The buildings were vibrant and colorful. Winding roads made from cobblestone took you to hidden churches and squares.

As many of you know, I’m a huge coffee fan. I researched the most famous cafes in Warsaw and found one that I knew I had to visit. Charles de Gaulle used to go and eat donuts there. I ordered an espresso and some Polish version of a maple eclair. I was surprised when I saw the set up they brought me. How cute is this??

One of the reasons my trip was so special was because I got to be with my older sister, Isabella. I don’t get to see her often; she lives in Boston and works a lot. In this case, I hadn’t seen her in over a year.

We spent hours walking around, shopping, dining in 5-star restaurants, sampling Polish cheeses, and exploring the city. She’s so special to me and I was grateful for the chance to be with her.

One night, we went to a fancy restaurant and had carrot and cottage cheese dumplings with burned butter sage, a large selection of Polish darn cheeses, Camembert from Mleczna Droga, ginger bread with smoked prune preserve, and quine chili jelly. I hadn’t eaten that well in ages.

On my last full day, I took a 10 cent but 40 minute tram ride to the outskirts of the city. This wasn’t exactly unusual for me because I’m used to going to great lengths to find the best museums or coffee shops.

In this case, I went to the Neon Museum of Warsaw. The neon presented all the neon signs from in Warsaw during the Cold War. “They were all created in the sixties and seventies in an international attempt to reconcile socialism and consumerism.

At this time, post-war Warsaw, the challenge was to produce the kind of clarity and beauty that would distinguish socialist urbanism and capitalist chaos.”

I was shocked to discover all that the city has to offer. The Poles are warm and charming, the city has a history that it wants to leave behind, and the food is seriously incredible. Have you ever had Polish perogis??? You should.

By the end of the trip, I decided that this was one of my favorite cities. I also knew that one day, I would have to do a huge trip and explore the entire country. It is diverse, beautiful, and underestimated.

For those of you looking for a unique vacation, go to Poland. You’ll thank me for it.

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