The Dirty Weekender: Warsaw

I've been coming to Warsaw for 17 years, but I only appreciate it now that I'm old enough to spend most of my time in bars

Sep 19, 2012 at 3:24pm | Leave a comment

After that dirty weekend in Wolverhampton, I decided to take the sports writer (who - despite being the only non-gag-inducing internet moniker I can think of for him - would prefer not to be called “the communist” anymore) somewhere a bit swisher for his birthday. I chose Warsaw.

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Like I say, at parties you can expect to drink a lot of shots. Also, a completely gratuitous shot of my bra.

Why we went:
Central Europe is where it’s at. Not only is the weather still sun-burningly marvellous in mid-September, if you’re any kind of history buff there’s masses to see. In the last 150 years, Warsaw has gone from being the flourishing cultural centre under the rule of the Russian Empire, to straining under German occupation during two world wars, and becoming a communist under the post-war Soviet regime, before finally breaking with the Eastern Bloc in 1989.

As well as having a number of excellent museums and monuments that honour its hugely-varied past, much of the city’s history is visible in its streets. The medieval squares, for example, were razed to the ground during Nazi bombing raids, but we were re-built to look exactly as they had originally were. The suburbs are fleshed out by the grim blocks of flats thrown up under communism, while the building that was once known as the “Josef Stalin Palace of Culture and Science” still tries to hold its own against the American-looking skyscrapers that have increasingly sprung up since communism’s fall.

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"Josef Stalin Palace of Culture and Science" in the centre of Warsaw. Amongst other things, there's a gym in there now.

Despite unemployment being as high as 50% in some areas of the country, Poland is not in recession, which makes it a great place to go if, like me, you’re trying to conserve funds. You’ll get a lot of Polish zlotys for your pounds, and our zlotys will go a very long way when you get there.  Had we hit France or Italy, for example, I couldn’t have afforded to stay in a five star hotel or to buy my own weight in beauty products from Sephora, both of which we/I did.

Additionally, my Dad now lives there. I wanted to go to his birthday party, so used the close proximity of his and the sports writer’s birthdays to plan the trip.

How we got there:
Ryanair. Oh, how I wanted it to be different this time around, but the fact of the matter is if you’re doing it on a budget, Ryanair or the Hungarian airline Wizzair are your best bets. Flights take about 2 hours from Luton and Birmingham, 3 from Dublin and Cork, and you’ll want to take earplugs. They’re always full of young kids.

Other airlines that will get you there at a higher price include British Airways, LOT, KLM and Air France.

Where we stayed:
The Meridian Bristol Hotel, which was fancy. I never stay in 5 star hotels but as it was a birthday present that’s come after a tough year I wanted this weekend to be swish. Between me, my anxiety disorder, and my totally inability to keep a house tidy, the sportswriter has a lot to put up with. Also, they had an offer on, which meant that for the first time in history The Bristol was competitively priced.

The hotel was built in the 1980’s, in art nouveau style. In terms of dirty weekending, it has everything you want- swimming pool, sauna, gym, in-room massage and beauty treatments, plus an excellent restaurant and beautiful little café where they serve you Florentines with every coffee.

What we did:
After arriving early on Friday morning we checked into the hotel and promptly passed out for three hours, before taking a long stroll around the city to get our bearings. This included a walk to the monument to the ghetto wall on Świętojerska Street and a traipse around the medieval New Town, which recently celebrated its 606th birthday.

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Freta Square in the New Town at night.

Freta Square in this area is home to many a cool restaurant, of which my favourite is the Polyester Café, a lounge where cocktails and Weiss Beers run freely.

Later that night, it was my Dad’s birthday party. He’d hired part of the Tortilla Factory, a Mexican restaurant on Wilcza Street. Run by an Irish dude called Niall, it had a lively atmosphere, complete with awesome food, a cheesey eighties cover band, and a clientele who spent the last few hours of the night slamming cocktails and dancing. If I trust my Dad to recommend anything, it’s places where you’re guaranteed a good night out.

I’m passing this one on to you because it rocked especially hard. Can I just say though, if you’re going to a Polish birthday party, line your stomach. There will be shots. A lot of shots, and it is these shots I hold responsible for the fact that we spent most of Saturday feeling very sorry for ourselves. 

The best I could manage during the day was a quick two hours in Sephora and a bit more walking. Specifically, I walked around the massive Arkadia shopping centre on a hunt for new trainers, which are quite a bit cheaper over there. Arkadia is also where you’ll find a massive multiplex cinema, and a food hall full of recognizable names such as KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King. This information may be useful to anyone who’s suspicious of the local cuisine.

To anyone who’s not, I heartily recommend you fill up on local specialities such as Pierogie (a filled dumpling that can be served as either main course or dessert, depending on the filling), and potato pancakes with sour cream, which are divine.

I’m not really into desserts but if you are, Gofry, a Polish waffle served with cream and chocolate sauce and all kinds of other toppings should not be missed.

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A Gofry, the sweetest of Polish snacks

On Sunday, having recovered, we went for brunch at the Sheraton Hotel on Bolesława Prusa. From 12:30pm – 4pm, you can go along and eat roughly the weight of your home in Thai food, ice cream, waffles, freshly baked bread, salad, steak, salmon fillet, sushi, steak, tiny little desserts, and all manner of other edible loveliness for about £30 per head.

That price includes all the sparkling wine, red wine, beer, coffee, tea and orange juice you can drink. Basically, if I lived in the city, I think I’d save up all my food money and just go there once a week. I’d definitely drag my friends along for girly catch-ups because, darlings, it is fabulous.

In case it seems like all I do on holiday is shop and inhale food, I did take in some Polish feminist art and commentary while I was there. I could say a lot but in short, the seventh wave of Polish feminists are understandably unhappy about the lack of voice and agency given to women in the former soviet bloc particularly in light of the controversy surrounding Pussy Riot and the corruption in Putin’s government. A lot of this can be reflected in the great feminist grafiti art around the city. 

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Part of a wall of Polish feminist graffiti commenting on the lack of voice women in the country have about their own lives.

The politics is everywhere in Warsaw - I found some great one-street exhibitions, a photographic one about the city’s changing architecture from the 1800’s onwards, and a terribly sad one about the development of the country’s orphanages during the same time period. One of the livelier bars we went to on Nowy Swiat stands out - although the name of the bar itself escapes me - because the walls are plastered in the underground Democratic newspapers that were produced under communism. 

How it went:
I think it’s fair to say the sportswriter liked it better than Wolverhampton, and as it was his birthday that was all I really wanted from it. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous city that feels different enough to any British city to be a real treat, without having to get on a pain-the-arse long haul flight. That can only enhance a romantic mood.

Having been visiting Warsaw for seventeen years now, I’m slightly ashamed of the fact that I only just started liking it a few years ago, around the time I started bringing friends and my now-husband with me.

I don’t think this is because integration into the EU and the subsequent globalization have made it somehow more Western, and thus accessible, to me. Its identity, though evolving, has always felt strong. I think it’s because I was thirteen and miserable when I first visited.

Nowadays, I’m not only able to appreciate the cultural aspects of it, as well as the dirt cheap ballet and operas (which we didn’t have time for on this visit), I’m also old enough to spend most of my time in bars and all my pocket money on nail varnish and trainers if I see fit. And that’s something I’ll always consider worth doing shots for.

xo Rating: xo xo xo xo xo (As long as you go in Summer. In Winter temperatures can drop to -25°. For the love of all that is Holy, don’t put yourselves through it).

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