I thought I'd forgotten everything from the Polish class I took about 5 years ago, but I’ve managed to recall enough to get by in basic speaking situations (and as it turns out, slightly more complicated situations too - but you’ll have to wait until my next blog for the hitchhiking story). At first I just used English in Warsaw, but after I noticed that the people at the front desk of my hotel were rather unfriendly when I spoke English, I decided to speak Polish as much as possible. Once I started speaking Polish to them, they suddenly became quite friendly and helpful. Only a few people switched to English when I started in Polish (and these few were very fluent English speakers). I get the sense that Poles in Warsaw don’t like it when foreigners have the upper hand – linguistically or otherwise – in their own country. This seems logical enough (even without taking their history into account). And so I pretend to speak Polish. It ends up being a hybrid language of Polish, Russian and Czech, and probably sounds something like this:
Me: “Want me one coffee please.”
Pole: “Small or large?”
Me: “Don’t understand”
Pole: “Small or large?”
Me: “Oh. Uh yes one small.”
Pole: “Black or with milk?”
Me: “Milk yes. Please thank you.”
Pole: “Here you go.”
Warsaw has turned out to be a great place. I don’t really understand why it’s got a bad rap or why a lot of backpackers/travelers skip it. Sure it was largely destroyed in WWII (I’ll spare you the details of German & Soviet occupation, the Warsaw uprising, bombing of the city, etc. etc.), but the old city center was rebuilt so closely to its original state that UNESCO declared it a world heritage site (despite usually reserving this honor for sites that are mostly original). Outside the old city center is a vast, sprawling metropolis with wide streets full of people, big buildings (sometimes soviet-style), and spacious parks.
This is the biggest and most difficult to avoid building in the city:
It is an example of Socialist Realist architecture (Stalin era). View from the top of this building:
Despite its size, Warsaw is easy to navigate using buses, trams, and the metro. I automatically feel affection towards any city that has an efficient, easy to use, and comprehensive public transport system, and Warsaw’s system won me over quickly.
I’ve also been pleased with Polish food here, though the following universal principle applies: eat where locals eat. I had the most delicious cabbage & mushroom pierogies EVER at a deli where I was the only foreigner, but then had only so-so pierogies the next day at a more touristy place. And the traditional Polish foods here are similar to Polish food at home – pierogies, pączki (filled donuts), potatoes, meat cutlets, soup, etc.
I could go on and on about Warsaw, but I’ll edit myself and let pictures say the rest.