“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” –Dr. Seuss

The obvious question for most I’d assume is why visit Warsaw? I think it kind of randomly came about as I had never been to Poland and I’d mentioned it to Matt while we were doing what we usually do, which is planning to get the hell away from Birmingham as fast as possible. Matt had already been to a few cities in Poland so it made sense really as he hadn’t gone to Warsaw and he had a few polish mates there so seemed a no brainer really. If have to admit I’m not much of a ‘city break’ kind of person as you probably know if you have read any of the other blogs I’m an outdoor and adventure person. It’s easily forgiven if you could see this being a strange choice for someone like me being a huge city that doesn’t appear to be very close to any wilderness. The thing is it was pretty cheap for flights, places to stay and food and every now and then it’s just good to do something a bit random, because you never know what you might discover. It is worth bearing in mind though if you don ‘t travel a lot, that it can sometimes backfire.

Getting to Warsaw: Polish Matt

The flights not bad and we get to Warsaw without any kind of incident, which really I should have taken as an omen. The reason I say this is as at the point we pick up our bags walk out the airport doors and start walking towards a taxi, a very large scary looking bald polish dude (like an evil version of one of the dudes out of ‘right said fred’ who is apparently airport security starts walking towards us. He is barking something at us in Polish which we both instantly assume means we have done something wrong. It’s only when me and Matt are like, “Dude we have no idea what you are saying, we aren’t Polish!” the big dude bursts out laughing and tells us he thought Matt was. Personally I always thought he looks more Romanian.

The security dude says to us “Trust me you don’t want to get into that car, that guy is not Taxi!” Suddenly the ‘not taxi’ guy revs his engine and speeds off. Neither of us were quite sure what the guys plan was, but we are guessing it’s probably a good job we didn’t get in the car. Anyway having narrowly avoided being harvested for internal organs (kidding) we head off to where we are staying with an airport dude approved ‘actual taxi’.

The Apartment: Russian Matt

We got an apartment on airbnb for hardly any money, which looked pretty tiny but modern and quite comfortable. It’sonly when we arrive it turns out it’s located in a pretty soviet looking tower block. The first thing we notice is the heavy re-enforced metal door. Not that I’m paranoid but the first thing I think is, why do we need this much security?We don’t hang around long though because it’s just somewhere to keep our stuff, and we head out straight away with no plan.

Getting into the lift there’s a dude in the corner and we stand in the usual awkward silence. This guy in the corner looks totally terrified for some reason and he’s clearly trying to avoid looking at us, especially Matt, and I’m wondering just how dodgy this area we are staying in actually is? Me and Matt start to chat about where to go and Matt turns to this guy in the corner who instantly looks like he just shat himself because Matt is now looking right at him, and ask’s ” hey are you from around here do you speak English?” The relief washes over this guys face and he says ‘OH! You are English! I was worried maybe you were Russian, I thought you were going to give me trouble!” We burst out laughing at this second attempt at judging Matt’s nationality and this dude freaking out over it. It turns out this guys Ukrainian but he’s lived here for years so he says he’s he actually knows the city pretty well. We ask him if there’s any decent nightlife and he says he’s happy to show us a bar he’s going to. Really I think at this point we should probably be the anxious ones, I mean we are just heading off into the night with some random dude we just met in a freaking lift. It’s unlikely you’ll find this as a suggestion in any travel guides. Within an hour we are drinking shots of vodka in a bar that is literally in someones basement, which is an unusual way to kick off the holiday in itself.

We haven’t been here for long but after reading about it before we came I fancy trying traditional Polish food, so we head out to a nearby restaurant where we are served by ladies in traditional polish dress who look like they just strolled out of medieval polish times. This place also has a weird kind of feeling of being in someones grandmas house, maybe it’s the knitted cloths and stuff on the table. One thing I’ve been dying to try is Pierogi which are polish unleavened bread dumplings, in this case pan fried in butter and topped with crispy bits of bacon, served on a bed of fried shredded cabbage. This of course is the worst thing you could possibly feed Matt because the lads a walking fart factory and we have to share the same air in the apartment. These amazing tasting crispy dumplings are one of things I’ll most miss about Polish food, I’ve tried having them from the Polish aisle in the supermarket here and Polish shops but it’s just not the same. I also try sour rye soup “Żurek” (also known as ‘hangover soup’ which makes more sense if you have tried proper Polish Vodka) which is a pretty unusual flavour as it’s made with fermented rye flour. Sometimes it’s also served in a bowl made of hollowed out bread, which sounds like a great idea. More carbs! However mine, as with most things in eastern Europe also comes with more bread, mustard and some sort of sausage.

Nostrovia! Pijalnia wódki i piwa bars

The second evening we are here we decide to go out and explore a little further and after trying pork chops with blackberry sauce (I kid you not and actually it really works) we decide to test the waters by heading out and trying a few local bars and seeing what’s going on. After visiting a few places we come across Pijalnia wódki i piwa which is actually part of a chain of bars. They are really cheap to get drinks (it’s literally 1-2 zlotys for a shot of vodka or a shooter for example) and bar snacks from and a proper little oddity if you don’t come from Poland. The reason why I say an oddity is because they have a strange sort of decor and image and to me they appear to be kitted out to look like old school butchers shops. The walls seem to be entirely papered with what looks like old newspapers and in places what I assume was plastic replica meat and chickens hang on hooks. In term’s of food they serve polish favourites like steak tartare which if you haven’t heard of it, it is literally raw mined steak with a raw egg cracked whole onto it. I vaguely recall one night out with our friend Przemek that he ordered some and said I should try it, and deciding I couldn’t actually get drunk enough to want to eat it. Now the problem with vodka shots for zloty and a decent exchange rate is two things. One is travel money companies always give you notes in stupidly large denominations and two, anybody serving you will think you are a dickhead of epic proportions if and when you try and pay them with such a note. And the reason for this is it looks like you are showing off and even if you are not it is a giant pain in the ass. Anyway having epically pissed off the smartly dressed bartender (they literally look like they are at a snooker tournament) I think we must get through about 15 shots each of various vodkas and more that one round of a horrendous shooter the call ‘Mad Dog’ which is god knows what plus a decent helping of tabasco sauce thrown in. They also sell random shooters, of which we decide to have one they call ‘mad dog’ which has tabasco in it. Matt spends the rest of the trip referring to it as zloty bar, which confuses the crap out of Polish friends.

A Good Way To Get Murdered Or Robbed

Apparently the Polish vodka took it’s toll last night because we wake up having not closed the blinds with burning hot morning sunshine steaming through the windows which has heated the small apartment to what feels like a greenhouse kind of level. I croak out Matt’s name across the apartment to check if he’s still alive while feeling like I have a throat full of sand. When we both finally become semi human we realise that we also didn’t turn the air con on and we left the heavy security door wide open when we stumbled in last night. We must still be a bit hammered because after a cup of tea we both find this slightly amusing, though I think we are both relieved we didn’t get robbed or harvested for organs. Not that our kidneys would be worth anything after last night. What’s probably worse is we both remember that when we in we booked online to go and use a firing range!

And Then There Were Guns

It’s probably not the best day to be going off to go and shoot firearms for obvious reasons, because it’s something we haven’t done before and also the laws here are a bit different to England, where gun laws are extremely strict. The firing range here exists on the side of the river that used to be occupied by the Russian forces, and as we drive to our destination in a taxi we pass some of the older buildings that survived the fighting, and in places you can see huge chunks blown out of the walls where bullets have hit.

We are dropped off at a big warehouse and walk most of the way into it before we find some guys cleaning guns, hopefully this is the place and we haven’t just walked into a mafia den. Luckily for us it is the firing range, and one of the staff welcomes us in and tells us to chill out a minute while he goes and sets up the range for us. Just behind us in the area where we are waiting there’s a plastic picnic table which is haphazardly loaded up with a huge pile of guns supposedly waiting for a clean or service and probably enough to start a miniature war. Maybe it’s just me expecting them to be locked up in cabinets that makes it seem a bit surreal the way they are thrown there like someone cleaning out their garage not a pile of lethal weapons. It’s not long until we get ushered into the firing range which has a permanent smell of gunpowder and gun oil and our instructor explains to us the pick and mix of guns he has for us, first up he hands me then Matt a 9mm pistol and sets up the targets. Then it’s onto a .38 pistol which makes in insanely loud noise, the thing kicks like a mule, I have to admit I’m slightly concerned the things going to jump out of my hands when I’m firing it.

I would be lying to myself and to you if I said there wasn’t something incredibly satisfying about firing the pump action shotgun. Our instructor even refers to it as ‘the zombie killer’, it’s incredibly fun to load and fire and it totally mauls the target. It would be my first choice in the zombie apocalypse for sure. Lining myself up I blow a decent size hole through the head of my range target without much effort, clearly I’d been carrying around some pent up rage. Part of me wishes I could take it home with me, but it’s illegal to even own one of these in the UK and considering my previous sentence it’s probably best I don’t have one!

Finally the guy brings out what must probably be the most popular gun purely by reputation, and it is unsurprisingly the AK-47 assault rifle. Firing the AK 47 is a real experience, probably because it’s very powerful and not very accurate, it’s also really heavy. even if you aim straight it seems to fire a bit left or a bit right, but you can see why it’s been so popular, you don’t really need to be a genius to use it, just ‘spray and pray’. As I fire this thing it throws up gouts of sand from the sand barrier at the back of the range, because I can’t hit anything with it for the life of me. I’m pretty strong I’d say but I really feel the recoil on this thing and I’m glad at this point the instructor thought it best not to put it into automatic as I have visions of me losing my grip on it and bullets flying everywhere and turning us into human swiss cheese. But is it fun to fire? You bet it is, it’s bloody scary to fire one as a first timer mind you. This gun has a huge part in world history, for better or worse in fact the one we are firing definately isn’t new, it was designed in 1947 by Mikhail Kalashiknov and then used by the soviet military from 1949 and is probably the shoulder weapon that’s is the planets most widespread in use. It fires a 7.62mm round but the recoil generated due to this and it’s heavy internals throws off the accuracy (at least that’s my excuse) It’s easy to see why it’s been the choice of many different armies as It’s rugged, easy to use and reliable. The gun even features on the flag of Mozambique which really considering the Marxist movement there was supported by the soviets isn’t that surprising.

A Beach In City

Stumbling Out of the firing range and into the summer sun we grab a taxi and make our way back towards the bridge we crossed, but we decide to get out as suddenly out of nowhere a vast beach appears. So we get the guy to stop and start out walking towards it. It turns out this golden sanded urban beach is actually a popular place to go in summer and the banks have everything from volleyball to actual bars on them and hold parties and event concerts at this time of year. It’s not long before me and Matt stumble upon a random place selling tapas and sit around taking in the scene, watching the Vistula river flow by through the city.

It Defies The Storms

On a sunny day like this, walking through Warsaw you would find it hard to imagine it’s dark and frankly tragic history, with the city in ruins and the river clogged with debris and even bodies. But that’s exactly how it was during world war 2, and it wasn’t just world war two that had seen the city and Poland as a whole attacked or invaded. Everywhere you walk you are walking on the old ruins of this city. I would be surprised if anybody could visit this city and not think of what the people of Warsaw and Poland have suffered throughout history due to war and occupation. Whenever I travel anywhere I usually enjoy finding out what a city or a region is best known for, sometimes it’s a local dish, drink or a unusual local event. In the case of Warsaw it’s arguable that the city is best known for being a symbol of resilience in the face of extreme prejudice and the fact despite everything the city still exists. It’s extremely fitting that the city has a motto which is ‘Contemnit procellas’, meaning ‘It defies the storms’.

The history of Warsaw is undeniably grim, it suffered extensive damage when it was occupied by Swedish and Prussian troops between 1655-56 and the suburb of Praga on the right bank of the Vistula had it’s population massacred by Russian troops in 1794. In WW1 Poland was invaded by Germany and Austro Hungary and as there was no Polish army to fight for Poland the Polish were conscripted into apposing armies and had to in many cases fight against each other and between 1915 and 1918 territories of Poland captured by the Russians were occupied by the Germans. Later during WW2 in 1939 Warsaw was the first city captured by German forces, with Adolf City making a show of riding through the city just a months after the beginning of the war. And that leads us to our next visit while we are here, the Warsaw Rising Museum.

The Uprising Museum

It is one of few days of bad weather we have had since we have arrived, and today it is dark and overcast and a feeling of depression almost hangs over the city. It’s the right kind of weather to visit what will turn out to be the singularly most depressing place I’ve experienced so far on my travels. The museum itself is physically dark but it also but also seems to emanate darkness and depression and the feeling is pretty much inescapable. Adding to this atmosphere is the sound of a recorded heartbeat at echoes around the building, which is meant to represent the heartbeat of the city, but it lends a far more macabre tone to the museum. You may notice there’s not really any photo’s of the inside of the museum, bar the one below. Personally I didn’t really want to remember some of the images from there, and I think it’s the kind of place you should experience first hand.

The story of the uprising in a nutshell is this: During WW2, between August and October 1944 the Russian Army was advancing towards Warsaw. By this point its estimated over 60 percent of the population had been killed. The Polish underground resistance planned to drive the German army out of the city before they arrived, as the soviet authorities had promised them aid if they were to stage an insurrection. Unsurprisingly the Polish underground had misgivings, being as the Russians had already taken direct rule of the East of Poland. As they for good reason did not trust the approaching Red Army the Polish Underground made plans to liberate the city before they arrived. Subsequently on the the 1st August the Warsaw corps ( a force of 50,000) attacked the German force and managed to regain majority control of the city within three days.

Between the 3rd and 4th of August Hitler gave the order to kill all of the cities inhabitants, take no prisoners and level the city as an example to other European cities and the Germans then sent in reinforcements which consequently backed the Polish forces into defensive positions, within which they were attacked with artillery and airforce attacks for 63 days. Between the 5th and the 8th of August around 40,000+ people were killed in the Wola Massacre.

Across the Vistula in the Praga district the Red Army which had been delayed in it’s arrival by fighting a German assault sat and did nothing while the Polish forces were attacked and the soviets (who proved the underground were clearly correct in their misgivings) refused to allow western forces airlift supplies to the Polish forces from their airbases. This left the polish forces in disarray, running out of provisions and eventually to their surrender to the German forces on October 2nd. The extent of this betrayal was further realised as the Germans raised the city and deported it’s citizens some would have been POW’s and many would have gone to concentration camps.

The germans looted what was left of the city and raiding parties were allowed into the wreckage of Warsaw and take anything left of value that had not been looted by the SS, Soviets, Ukrainians, Soviet Allies and The Wermarcht. Once the city had been looted railway carriages were filled of anything deemed of value including the belongings of citizens and even items such as factory machinery and driven away from the city. Following this special German units sent it just to destroy what was left of the city who burned down and blown up by these units known as Verbrennungs aund Vernichtungskommando.

There is far, far more to this story however the more you look into the history of this period the worse it gets and that’s even without going into the brutal and inhumane treatment of the jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The museum shows everything from weaponry to the stories of so many who participated and most of whom died during the uprising. The most soul wrenching parts of the exhibitions have to be some of the pictures of malnourished bodies lying in piles in the street of the Warsaw ghetto, which even now I cannot remove from my mind. And the dark description and pictures of the Vistula choked with debris and dead bodies being washed down river by the current.

Regarding the Soviet forces, the resistance judged what they would do correctly. Having allowed the Germans to eliminate any kind of organised resistance that could stand in their way they created the communist led provisional government of Poland in 1945 and was renamed the ‘Polish Peoples Republic’ in 1952. This was not the end of the troubles for Poland as a whole, there is far more history involved. After the 1989 elections Poland had a democratic government and on the on the 26th December 1991 the soviet union dissolved, with Russian troops leaving Poland in 1993.

When we finally leave the Museum it has sucked pretty much all the joy out of us and my motivation to explore further today is gone. The thing is when we were taught history in the UK when we were younger we were told about some of this but nothing really prepares you for the real detail of it. I’m not that young anymore I’m in my 30’s now so I’ve seen and experienced plenty of horrible stuff but you can’t really prepare yourself for this, and this is nowhere near as visiting somewhere like Auzwitsch for example. I’m into dark and macabre stuff, but even for me sometimes the evil humanity perpetuates is far beyond what you can imagine and much more raw, especially in this case. Just knowing this kind of thing occurred stays with you, and it’s no surprise that we are so drained by it we just decide to go back to the apartment read a book or two and just call it a day.

No Palace Of Culture And Science, ONLY ZUUL

After what can only be described as the soul sucking grimness of the previous day we decide to go and look closer at the Palace Of Culture and Science and in stark contrast to the previous it is thankfully a lovely sunny day. As with many countries the Soviets invaded they decided (or should we say Stalin decided) to leave a large imposing and to some degree pretty unfriendly looking building, in typical brutalist soviet style, just in case you forgot they were here. Much like when Stalin decided to carve his name into the forest on the sides of Mt Tampa in Transylvania (See Transylvania Blog HERE). The building is 237 metres high and obviously pretty noticeable due to this, it’s the second highest building in Poland after the newly constructed Varso tower. As you may have guessed it was built on the orders of Joseph Stalin as a ‘gift from the soviet people to the poles’ (regardless if they wanted it or not), and work began on the building in 1952 while it was still surrounded by the ruins of the city.

It’s totally understandable that locals will have complicated and contrasting feelings surrounding this building as well as a number of other Russian structures here. Which is why while writing this blog I decided to ask a few Polish friends what they thought, rather than just assume. Effectively it is a huge symbol of soviet occupation and though on the one hand Stalin is rebuilding parts of the city and adding infrastructure on the other he’s literally one half of the reason half the city is in ruins and most of it’s inhabitants were killed. Now though the building could almost be taken as a sign of just how the country has recovered in such a short space of time, now the palace houses a congress hall, a university, three theatres, a tourist office and even museums.

Some just call it ‘the palace’ but it has also been referred to as ‘the russian wedding cake’, ‘stalins syringe’ and ‘the elephant in lacy underwear’. Regardless of wether or not they love or hate the place, nobody could deny that, as us English would phrase it ‘it sticks out like a sore thumb’. And this is because it looks nothing like any of the modern buildings that now surround it. The first thing that me and Matt said when we saw it is it looks like the evil skyscraper in the film ‘Ghostbusters’, which really is kind of fitting but it’s nowhere near as fun. I’ve spent most of the trip wondering if it looks cool or just ominous and out of place.

There’s an observation deck on the 30th floor of the building which gives excellent views over the city of Warsaw and on this sunny day you can really take in the vastness of the city and the sheer effort it must have taken to rebuild it. If anything one thing this building does provide, though clearly not the intention is a scene of a city moving on. Now I’ve spent years getting used to heights from climbing and mountaineering but I have to admit the height after a night on the polish vodkas giving me a sprinkle of vertigo.

The Old Town Warsaw

There is a chunk of medieval Warsaw that was rebuilt from what little survived the bombing and razing of the city which is the old town. During WW2 more than 85% precent of the historic centre was destroyed by the Nazi’s. We visit this the one day on a tour in the sun. The old townhouses, places of worship, the royal castle, the city walls and the market were all rebuilt, and stands as a monument to the resilience of the people who live here and the Polish as a whole. Warsaw was not the only city that suffered during WW2. The buildings are a strange mix of new and old that’s easier to see than describe. We stop a while in the old town and order some food, and I decide as I quite like black pudding to order some Polish Blood Sausage, known as Kazanka, thinking I’m going to enjoy this too. Now this stuff is made of mainly pork, pigs blood and offal, often stuffed into an intestine as a sausage skin. As you can imagine by the description I wasn’t feeling it, though I did feel a bit like Hannibal Lecter, and I didn’t know until I wrote the blog what exactly it was made of!

Beirut Bar?

Our new Polish friends take us to the unusually named and popular ‘Beirut Bar’. Apparently one of the coolest bars in Warsaw It’s also listed as a ‘hummus bar’ so you can have craft beers and hummus. It sounds pretty strange but it does actually work pretty well. The first thing I notice about the place as we approach is the whole front of it is open, and it’s got tiny metal tanks on the pavement next to it. In fact on walking in to the place it has an overall intentional military feel to it, the bar is made out of ammo boxes and the ceiling fan is a helicopter blade. I’m half expecting the vodka shots to be served on a freshly sharpened bayonet and the cocktails to be served in helmets. Regarding the food, the fresh hummus is brilliant, in fact it’s probably the most healthy thing i’ve eaten this holiday. The staff are pretty friendly too which is a good job because I manage to make myself look like an ignorant English dickhead when I have no choice but to pay with a large zloty note and then because I don’t understand Polish I walk off without my change, leaving the less than impressed bar woman to try and find me to give me back my money. Which apparently was quite a bit. Anyway, having made myself look a total tit we are all off to a night club for some vodka action.

Beware The Curse Of The Undead!

We bump into our Ukrainian friend again one evening and he invites us to his apartment for a few drinks. We are all enjoying having a chat and learning about each others cultures and comparing them. At some point after a few drinks the lad lights up a spliff for himself, which me and Matt politely pass on. We start talking about places we would all like to visit until I mention how I had always wanted to visit Transylvania because it looks cool and I’m an avid horror fan and I’ve always had an interest in the supernatural. It’s not surprising that at this point we end up discussing the vampire legend, at which time this lad suddenly goes mega weird. He suddenly becomes very serious and a bit crazed when he begins to tell us “There are places there and in Ukraine you just don’t go. Ancient places with a history of black magic and cannabalism, do not play with these things my friends you will put yourself in great danger!” there’s a pretty wild look in the dudes eyes and I’m wondering if he’s smoking something stronger than it looks or maybe he’s seriously disturbed. The other possibility is that he’s actually been part of a community who still believe in the undead, of which apparently there are still a few (Transylvania trip blogs HERE). Now Im writing this as a blog if a place like this exists still that’s pretty fascinating, but at the time this dudes transformation from nervous dude in a lift to ‘beware the curse of the undead!’ weirds me and Matt out a bit so we decide to call it a night. We say our goodbyes as naturally as possible as we edge out of the door and make sure when we get to our apartment our heavy door is locked just in case lift dude has gone full Van Helsing and is prowing the halls with stakes and garlic at midnight…


The day we leave we realise we can’t actually take our firing range souvenirs with us, we might get away with it but it seems wise not to try and fly home with pockets full of spent AK and. 38 rounds. So we leave a half empty bottle of vodka and a stack of rounds on the breakfast bar for our host, almost like a thank you but with a whiff of Russian Roulette. And would I visit Poland again? I will that’s for sure but I think next time I’ll be heading In the direction of the Tatra Mountains, I’m not really a city person!

Have you been to Warsaw? What did you think? Did we miss anything you would recommend? Reply in the comments below.


I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

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