My first step in Warsaw was one that got me out of the train and into a shopping mall. Funny enough, I thought, swimming through a sea of people, starving and pretty tired. I had no choice (and no excuse) so I had a lunch in there, comforting myself with the thought that I was soon going to get out and explore the tale of Wars the fishmonger and Sawa the siren.
And so it began. With my moon glasses on, I started the countdown, as I had only 2 days to visit the city.
Quite dizzy, a bit confused, I have to be honest; Warsaw slapped me in the face with its curious fingers. My eyes were overwhelmed by sky scrapers, communist council houses and street art on ancient ruins. “Kamienico” – meaning “my little house” brought me back to my nostalgic – and natural – stage, that of a travelling European’s. Warsaw is strange, I thought, and something’s very special about it. The past here plays a big role in (de)constructing the city. The well kept, restored, looked after, shouted at and never forgotten past, that’s all there is. 85% of the city being destroyed makes it impossible for people to forget the past. As for the visitors like me, there are a lot of signs and marks on the ground. One of them really hits you, the line that marks the passing from the city into the ghetto. 74 years ago, in March 1940, one could find posters at the corners of the streets towards the Jewish district reading “Danger! Epidemic zone!” I can only imagine the horror stories that people had to live in there not a long time ago. Seeing the ruins of that bridge leading to the ghetto was enough for me to get shivers down my spine and remind me of what I’ve seen a few days before in Auschwitz. A battle begun inside my stomach, thinking about the failure of the Warsaw uprising; I imagined myself there, fighting and struggling to eat vegetarian pierogi topped with pork cracklings.
Honey craft beer, rose jam doughnuts and a sort of cabbage in a jar
I bought a 24 hours travelling pass for 15 zlotys (about £3) and used all public transport available to get to Hipsters’ Place – the actual Plac Konstytucji. Not impressed with etymologies, I chose to test all kinds of beers, even though I’m not a beer person: cinnamon beer, ginger, honey, black, red, pale, unfiltered, polish, Czech and the list goes on. After a while, strolling on Nowy Swiat (which basically means “The new World” street), I had the best rose jam doughnuts in the world. Later I found myself in Prague district, a neighborhood renowned for being home of bohemian cafes and art galleries, a place where young artists would spend a night in pubs that serve all food in jars, like you would get it from your parents if they would send you a package from home (only an east European will understand this).
The old Old Town and the new Old Town
If you go to Stare Miasto you can still see the ghosts of the old town, a few bits of the old castle on the river Vistula; to be honest, it feels a bit strange to walk from South to North, discovering the streets of what is now called the New Old Town. It feels strange and yet it is inspiring. As if you can’t be sure if you’re living in the past or future. As if you’re on a stage and asked to improvise. Warsaw is not a city, I thought. But I’m so happy to be here!