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Entering the Vodka belt

Warsaw, Poland
Thursday, January 24, 2013

Although we were sad to say goodbye to Berlin we have an itinerary to stick to and must get to Moscow for the Trans-Siberian.

We woke to another good covering of snow and the train was 15 minutes late on departure. The journey went smoothly and we arrived approx. 40 minutes late due to snow around Frankfurt. As the only English speaking people in our compartment we had no idea how late the train was running so as the train approached Warsaw it was like a military operation and every time the train slowed down we planned our escape route. Not as easy as it sounds when you have two backpacks and a mule (a bag not a live animal!) which are all stored on the overhead racks with another 4 passengers in the same compartment!

Day 1

We started Warsaw off with another free walking tour covering the main sights including the castle, old town square and city walls. As in Berlin this was a great way to get an insight into the history of the city and find your bearings so you can easily go back and visit the sites in more detail if you wish. Sonya took a liking to the tour guide and it was a bit like the Piped Piper, he could have done the tour in Polish about anything and she would have followed him! The tour ended up in a local pub with a practical Vodka tasting session. We learnt that if you are offered a shot of Vodka there is one rule and that is 'never say no to Vodka' We also tried the local custom in between Vodka shots to eat a small piece of bread with pickled gerkins and fried lard (yum yum) It tasted nicer than it sounds. Towards the end of the tour we were joined by a radio journalist, we still don't know why but at the end of the tour Sonya found herself being interviewed for local radio! It was totally cringe worthy.

After the tour we visited the Castle which like the majority of Warsaw was completely destroyed in WW2. Worth the visit but a lot of the rooms only have few exhibits and most which are all replicas due to what was stolen or destroyed in the war. We just didn't get the same feeling of grandeur that we did at the Charlotte Palace in Berlin.

Day 2

The Palace of Culture and Science

During our hours of research The Palace of Culture and Science sounded like a cool place to visit. Unfortunately this was not the case as there is no such place/museum, it is merely the name of the elaborate building built by the Russian post invasion. There was nothing to see!

Museum of the Warsaw Uprising

Another great museum, which covered every aspect of the Warsaw Uprising. The museum is spread over 3 floors; if you visit make sure you follow the route carefully as strangely the audio tour starts on the ground floor, jumps to the third before finishing on the second! We didn't realise this and it gets a bit confusing as the tour jumped back in time as it progressed.

The museum has a wide range of exhibits including some appalling images and stories of the atrocities that took place here during the war years. Although a must see the harrowing stories are all too familiar to those we read and watched in Berlin. We are glad we visited but equally glad to leave as the horrifying stories do not get any easier to read.

We both thought we knew a fair amount about the war period before starting our trip but have been touched by everything we have read and seen.

Day 3

Lazienkowski Park

A 30 minute walk from our hostel it looked very different covered in snow to the pictures we saw before leaving home. Firstly we visited the Palac na Wyspie which translates to Palace on the Water or today it translated to Palace on the Frozen lake. The palace amazingly managed to survive World War 2 and the Uprising of Warsaw. It was nice to see a pre-war original building. Afterwards we visited the Palac Myslewicki which is just a short walk from the Palace on the water. It reminds us both of the Charlotte Palace in Berlin but on a more conservative and on a much smaller scale.

Fryderyk Chopin Museum

Rated as 'must see sight' in all the guide books and by the locals, our opinion is different. Was it worth half an hour trek across the city in heavy snow in subzero conditions? In a word 'no'

The outside of the building was very impressive and the interior was no different and has been beautifully restored and refurbished throughout. The exhibits were equally impressive with masses of touch screen displays and when touched with the novel 'Oyster card' style entry cards jumped into life. But the novelty soon wore off and after about 15 minutes Ross couldn't take it anymore.

If you do decide to visit make sure you do so on a Tuesday as its free entry which in our opinion is the right price.

Hard Rock Café

For those of you who haven't been to HRC and had a Nacho's with all the toppings washed down with a Long Island Iced Tea you need to. So the Nacho challenge commenced a humongous portion of Nacho's (the photo doesn't do it credit) was polished off by Ross. Shot glass 43 in hand it's time to leave Warsaw.

We enjoyed our time in Warsaw but it is hard to describe this city in words as on first glance it looks like a very quaint historic town but on closer inspection virtually everything (approx. 85%) has been reconstructed post war. It feels very surreal and can't be described better than our tour guide did by calling her a Phoenix which has risen from its own ashes on more than one occasion. So tomorrow it's off to Moscow. It's certainly going to be an experience with yet another language, currency and time zone change but this time with a different alphabet so we won't even be able to decipher the signs.

Ta ta for now!

Hotel Review

The first hostel of our trip and we hope the Tapir hasn't set our expectations too high for other hostels! The Tapir hostel is a small hostel with just 4 rooms, 2 dorm style and 2 double rooms. We opted for a double room which had bunk beds! Neither of us can remember the last time we slept in a bunk bed. The room was basic as you would expect in a hostel but very comfortable and had everything you need. The hostel has two modern bathrooms which are kept in a spotless condition, luckily we never had a problem but with only 2 bathrooms for 12 people we are sure at times there could be a long wait! Included in the price is a hearty breakfast, not cooked but filling nevertheless. The hostel has a very fast internet connection which works in the room so you can easily backup those photos online :-) One thing we would change would be the lack of curtains. You have to wake up when the sun does and people in the next building can easy see your every move. We ended up using a towel as makeshift curtain! Also the walls are a bit thin so you can't miss the young'ens coming in after a night on the Vodka. The staff were extremely knowledgeable and couldn't do enough for us during our stay and with a great location just a 5-10 min walk from the main train station we would recommend to other travellers.

6.5 Revised 2013.05.18

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