It’s been 9 months since I returned from my previous hitch hiking adventure and the Easter break seemed like an apt time to embark on another. In truth I had been lying to myself and others with lines such as ‘I don’t even have itchy feet’ and ‘I can wait until the summer before going away again’.
Despite travelling for a shorter time and over a shorter distance this time there is the same level of excitement. I am joined by my colleague, and friend, Kate. We both agreed to find a European route that can be fulfilled in a week and on a limited budget. As a result we came up with a hitch hiking itinery that will take us from Warsaw, Poland to Bratislava, Slovakia.
On reflection, the first day of our trip shows promise for the rest, as was the enjoyment of it.
We arrived in Warsaw mid afternoon to a bumpy Ryanair landing which was greeted with unwarranted applause from the homecoming Poles on board. It was then a short bus journey to the city centre where we managed to navigate our short walk to the hostel.
The hostel had a quirky feel about it and I am almost certainly sure that the owner had paintings of his younger self scattered around the walls. We quickly changed in our room. There was one roommate in our dorm who was unaccounted for. We concluded that he was German given that he had a Speedo branded holdall placed on his bed.
It was now early evening and we decided to explore before it became too dark. Our intention was to find some traditional Polish/Warsaw food. In a quest to find something authentic we went to a bar to drink Polish beer. We were then directed towards the old town, which coincided with the location previously highlighted in our map.
Following our beer we headed towards the old town, which was more spectacular than I had envisaged. During the plane journey I had read a bit more into the history of Warsaw and learnt that the majority of it, including the old town, had been totally destroyed during WWII and has been subsequently rebuilt.
Following these directions we decided to eat in a restaurant famed for its Polish Jewish delicacies, called Pod Samsonem. Here we dined on boiled meat dumpling, known locally as pierogi, and fillets of duck with potato. It was certainly a pleasurable experience.
Following dinner it had begun to get cold and dark. We weren’t to be deterred as we were both fascinated by a particular square in the old town. Fortunately we were able to enjoy another polish beer outside and admire the square.
We were eventually back at the hostel around midnight and were sufficiently ‘nightcapped’ to sleep instantly in preparation for a day of exploring.
The following morning began with quite a surprise. Kate had been up and prepared for the day whilst I was still in a deep sleep. Being the last one up did not sit comfortably with me and I felt a little guilty. I soon got over it.
We were still out of the door before 9am. Before we started our day of walking we stopped for some pancake breakfast at a nearby cafe. From there we walked about half an hour to the other side of the city and the Museum of The Rising. It reminded me a little of a cross between the Genocide museum in Vilnius and the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh. In fact, it had the same effect on me as both of those. It’s hard to believe how much suffering the Polish people, and particularly those in Warsaw, suffered during World War 2. It also makes the rebuilding of the city all the more impressive.
It all became a little more light hearted around lunch time as we tried to find a milk bar. It was recommended that we eat in one as they are dying out around the city. We expected a milk bar to serve milk, they don’t apparently.
When we found a milk bar it stood out because of its milky exterior and a big picture of a cow. However, despite the milk related decoration stretching inside, there was no sign of milk anywhere. We preceded with our food order which consisted of more pierogi and some goulash. I asked the waitress what the ‘milk bar’ concept was about and she stated that it was a label given to indicate traditional polish food. When I quizzed her on the relationship with the word ‘milk’ and the cows on the wall she appeared pretty amused and responded ‘nothing to do with milk’. We were both puzzled and equally satisfied with her response.
The milk bar was more entertaining as we watched a Pole paint a pole from the window with no hint of irony.
We then decided to see more of the ‘must sees’ in Warsaw such as the tomb of the unknown soldier, several statues in and around the old town and the palace.
After a lot of walking we rewarded ourselves with a sit down in a quaint little cafe which claims to be over 400 years old. During our time in there I attempted to charge my phone in their socket. However, I tripped a fuse which created a spark and forced all the electricity off in the building. Thankfully I was the only one embarrassed and the owner wasn’t too bothered.
As a result I took the adapter back to the electric shop that I bought it from earlier. He didn’t believe me that it didn’t work so tested it for himself. As he did so all the lights and electronics switched off. We stood in darkness as he pronounced ‘this is a problem’. Thankfully everything was eventually sorted and no additional fuses tripped that day.
We had done a lot of walking today and decided to have a final trip to the supermarket to pick up supplies for our first day on the road in the morning.
All in all Warsaw, aside from the attraction as a capital city, offers very little for a whistle stop tourist. However, it was a worthwhile and a fantastic introduction to Poland.