Our second and final stop in Poland was Warsaw. In my head I hadn’t put too much thought into this stop, since our first overnight train journey, and then the ‘big one’ (Russia) was just around the corner. But I was wrong to have given it such short shrift, as it is a fantastic city.
The first thing you see when exiting Warsaw Centralna train station, and indeed from pretty much anywhere in the city, is the giant Palace of Culture and Science building, the tallest building in the country, which although a very Soviet design, also seems to look similar to some of the 1930’s New York skyscrapers.
The first thing we did, and always do, is lug our increasingly annoying bags to our hostel., which luckily in this case was less than 10 minutes walk. Instantly we noticed the city was quite a lot colder than Poznan, where we had briefly got used to weather in positive degrees!
After we had got settled and done a clothes wash (the unglamorous side of backpacking – always needing to wash clothes) we met some friendly Australian girls who invited us out for drinks that night with some people they knew in the city.
We had a great time that night, the highlight being I got to try a ‘Ryan Gosling’ cocktail. (For anyone that doesn’t know I kind of love him in a non gay way) After drinks one of the Polish friends took us on a fascinating tour of the old town (at midnight), which was an unexpected surprise, and meant we didn’t have to get up early the next day to do a professional walking tour!
We still did plenty of walking the next day though. We walked through a few parks, messing about in the snow as we went, until we reached the tomb of the unknown solider. The Warsaw version of this is particularly fascinating as it used to stand within a vast palace, which was destroyed by the Nazi’s during WW2, as was much of the city, sadly. Warsaw was considered ‘expendable’ and so they set about blowing up a lot of the city’s landmarks.
Thankfully however, although they destroyed the palace, the area in which the tomb somehow survived the rubble, and so the small area seen today is a tiny part of the old palace, standing where it has always been.
From there we wandered on into the old town again, which we had seen the night before but still looked beautiful in the daylight. It was similar to Poznan, only larger in scale, and with a Royal Castle and city walls.
On our last day we first went to the Łazienki Palace, which is unusual as it was built on a lake – however you wouldn’t have known it as it was frozen solid when we were there! It was still well worth visiting though.
In the afternoon we went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which I can safely say is one of the best museums I have ever been to. It is incredibly well designed and has plenty of interactive elements, but is absolutely fascinating and very informative. It even has a full size replica of a B-24 Liberator plane as it’s centrepiece. Katy felt there were too many weapons on show though…maybe looking at guns is more of a boy thing.
The story of the uprising is fascinating, even though it ultimately failed and so many Poles lost their lives. It’s something I knew nothing about before coming to Warsaw, so I’m glad I’ve now learned about it.
Soon it was time for our journey away from Warsaw, and as previously mentioned, our first overnight train! This was luxurious compared to our Trans Siberian trains, purely because we had our own private cabin. There is usually 3 to a berth but for some reason Polish railways say that unless booked as a 2, the cabins are single sex only, so to stay together we had to shell out more for a 2 person one.
It was a fascinating experience though, small but very cozy, with 2 single bunks and a little sink in the corner. The only hairy part came when we crossed into Belarus – they do the visa and passport checks for Russia as well as their own country, and while we were sure all our visas were in order, it was still slightly unnerving having border guards bark orders at you in Russian and disappear with your passports for half an hour. Luckily though all was ok.
Next the train was shunted into a shed (with us still onboard) to have the bogies changed. Belarus and Russia use a different track gauge to the rest of the world so every carriage has to have new bogies (wheel sets) fitted. It was quite surreal to have the whole carriage lifted and see workmen all around. It also took a long time, luckily I knew it was going to happen and went to the toilet beforehand as they were locked for hours!
And the next morning we woke up to the view of the Russian countryside, and by lunchtime we were in Moscow…
Where We Stayed
For our 3 nights in Warsaw we stayed at OkiDoki Hostel. It’s honestly one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. Dorms are small and all themed – much to Katy’s annoyance we had the ‘football room’. It has a good kitchen, cheap bar and is in a really good location. The staff are incredibly friendly as well, which makes a change from many hostels. Great place.