Where: Warsaw, Poland
When: December 2017
Hotel:Chic Apartments Old Town
Why Warsaw: $25 plane tickets. I’m not even kidding. I was searching on where to go for a little birthday weekend getaway and I found these tickets and couldn’t pass it up. However, very quickly what was going to be a fun birthday weekend turned into one of my favorites in recent memory…or maybe ever. I had thrown John a surprise birthday party in October 2017, and during the party, we talked about these cheap tickets. My wonderful friend Ramona bought her ticket on the spot, my friends Nathan and Susannah bought theirs a couple days later, and the craziest was my very sweet and dear friend, Allie, who flew back from the States the day before Warsaw, and she and her husband, Brian, joined us on the trip. Suddenly, my birthday weekend was going to be amazing.
The Trip: We were scheduled to fly out at 6 a.m. (so early!!) from the Baden-Baden airport, which was about an hour away from Stuttgart. The early morning didn’t deter our excitement (or stop us from beer and champagne pre-flight…we were celebrating!) To avoid any transportation difficulties, I went ahead and booked a van that could carry all seven of us to Warsaw (which was about 45 minutes from the airport). It was one of the first times booking a car, and was definitely the first where I was greeted at the airport with a sign. Another thumbs up to this birthday weekend.
It is exceptionally important to learn about the history of Warsaw before you go, because it is quite amazing how much they rebuilt and really showcases the fighting spirit of the Polish people. Warsaw was completely devastated in WWII during Nazi Occupation, and was reduced to rubble during the Warsaw Uprising – a 63-day fight between the Nazi’s and the Polish resistance. Had the Soviets, who sat and watched as the battle raged, stepped in, the outcome would have possibly been different. However, the Germans suppressed the uprising, then retreated against the advancing Soviets, who in turn occupied Warsaw and Poland through the end of the Cold War. And through all of this, the rebuilding of Warsaw was done with such painstaking detail that its efforts were recognized by UNESCO.
The “Old” Town is really the New Town, and is vibrant and colorful (as are most of the squares in Poland, which is completely underrated and definitely worth visiting). We all booked apartments in the city through the same company, although they were all in different locations. Not a huge deal, as they were all within about 5 minutes from each other. They, like most things in Poland, were also exceptionally cheap. We had a 2-bedroom (my friend Ramona stayed with us), and for all three of us, it was 131E for two nights. We all dropped our bags off and set out to explore. It was Christmastime, which meant markets and Christmas lights and just a wonderful setting. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Warsaw, but it was charming and seemed less touristy than Krakow.
It’s always a fine line when traveling with a bunch of people, but these group of friends have proven to be awesome travel partners so planning what to do wasn’t actually an issue at all – we all just wanted to see Warsaw, eat good food and enjoy ourselves. The first day, we got acclimated to Old Town, found a delicious Pierogi restaurant and took advantage of the many photo ops throughout the city. The highlight of the night was the Vodka Tour I booked, which turned out to be amazing! (Booked through Warsaw Private Tours – highly recommend!)
Because it had been such an early morning, we walked around a bit and then headed back to our apartment for a quick nap and to get ready for the Vodka tour! The plan was a 3-hour tour through Warsaw in retro Fiat (read – ready to break down thanks to Communism engineering!), stopping at three bars for 10 tastings of Vodka. We definitely thought they were going to be little samples but no, when we sat down in the first bar, there were FIVE regular size shots at each table setting. We were definitely in for a fun, crazy night. Probably the best part is that our guide had a camera and took pictures of us all night. It was awesome!
Somehow, we were all up and ready to explore more of Warsaw the next morning (after a stop for coffee, mimosas and a yummy breakfast, of course!) The plan for the next day was to walk the Royal Route, which is an 11K route that starts at Castle Square and takes you by historical landmarks via some of the prettiest streets of Warsaw. We were then going to take a detour to go see the Palace of Culture & Science, which was dubbed, “Stalin’s present to Warsaw.” But many of the former communist towns had basically the same replica of a building – so it was a gift that unfortunately kept giving. The bonus, however, was another Christmas market to explore.
We had split up as half of our group went back for naps while the other half explored more Christmas markets, and then we were able to meet back up for more delicious Polish food and some fun Christmas street shows. We also hadn’t really walked all the markets that were open, so we did that under the Christmas lights.
The Trip: Poland is completely underrated and Warsaw gets unfairly overshadowed by Krakow – which, is equally as cute as Warsaw. This was such a fun weekend, and I loved getting to spend this time with our friends. Don’t miss Warsaw (or Poland)…when in Europe. I forget how great it is until we go again, and then I’m reminded – the towns are gorgeous, the food is delicious and the prices are incomparable!