March 20, 2013

Backpacking Europe Part I: Warsaw

Part 1 of 6 of my Onsite Chronicles: Europe Edition.

  • Backpacking Europe Part I: Warsaw
  • Backpacking Europe Part II: Krakow
  • Backpacking Europe Part III: Paris
  • Backpacking Europe Part IV: Italy
  • Backpacking Europe Part V: Tromso, Norway
  • Backpacking Europe Part VI: More Warsaw 


    "Went to Malaysia for the second time. This time it was to pick up my visa. They granted me a multiple-entry Schengen visa!!! Schengen baby!!!! Paris, Italy, Norway, Imma coming for you."

    - [2011_08_29] KUL to SIN Part Deux, Facebook Photo Album


    I can still recall the excitement that I felt, the moment I got hold of my Schengen Visa. I've always loved travelling, and I guess I can definitely say that I've travelled a lot.  Yet before this onsite assignment, I've never been to Europe.  I've heard about it, read about it, seen all about it on television or in the movies, but I've never really got to experience it first-hand.  Imagine how stoked I was then, realizing that it's only a matter of time when it will all become real for me.

    Fast forward to September 11, 2011.  Despite the irony of the date, this was the schedule of my flight to Europe.  Poland was my main country of destination, but I wasn't able to find a direct flight from Manila to Warsaw.  Instead, I booked a sixteen-hour flight via KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with a two-hour layover in Amsterdam.  The Netherlands was my first point of entry, so I was required to present my passport to Border Control for visa stamping.  The officer who verified my papers had the bluest, most gorgeous eyes I've ever seen.  He was fairly young, too.  I remembered him smiling at me as he was asking about my onsite assignment--*tee hee*--but then, I also remembered him smelling... well, European.  Erhmm... Granted, it was already evening when I got to Amsterdam, so... yeah... maybe that's the reason behind the... um... musk.  ANYWAY.

    I was searching for the windmills as the plane was descending, but I got THIS.

    It was already near midnight of the same day when I arrived at the Warsaw airport.  Since I had no idea how to get around back then, my onsite project manager was the one who picked me up from the airport and drove me to my apartment. Exhausted from the flight, I immediately went to bed.


    The day after my flight was a work day, so I wasted no time adapting to the new environment.  I took a taxi to the office on my first day, but quickly learned about the commute from my onsite officemates.  The next day, I was already taking the bus, and sampled the rest of the public transportation during the weekends.

    Public Transportation

    Warsaw is divided into two zones--Zone 1 for city center (including the airport) and Zone 2 for the suburbs and neighboring districts.  The bus, the tram and the metro (i.e. subway) are the three common means of public transportation to get around Warsaw.  Tickets are priced per zone and per time period, with one ticket applicable for all three modes of transportation within a given amount time.  These tickets can be purchased in self-service ticket machines that look like this, or on some (rare) occasions, from the bus driver himself.  There is also an option to buy long-term passes, valid for as long as three months.  More information can be found here.

    Tip: Use this website to plot your itinerary, and it will give you public transportation options.


    Onsite were the ones who chose the apartment for me, so I really didn't have a say on the location or rate of the place I'll be living for three months.  Prior to my trip, they emailed me the website of the apartment, so I was able to *prepare* myself... more or less.
    I have to say, my place is not that bad, for someone keeping the place all to herself.  The rooms--bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom--are separated by a short hallway, and I have 24-hour Internet access.  There's hot and cold water in all the faucets, and the bus stop with a route to and from the office is just around the corner.

     Left: The apartments are called "blocks" in this part of the world.
    Right: Bike paths on the sidewalk, just outside my apartment. 

    For the blocks that are on the bit old-fashioned kind (like mine), the heating system is central throughout the whole building.  They use old-school radiator pipes instead of the digital kind, so your only way to control the heat is by turning the knobs in the radiator.  Another thing I've noticed is that they don't have air conditioning in the rooms.  Not like you need one, anyway.  Just open a window, and the world's your A/C.  Yeah, they air dry their clothes as well.  No clothes dryer in my apartment, either.


    My first weekend was spent resting, and stocking up my apartment with groceries.  The onsite office had a cafeteria within the compound, so I didn't need to cook for baon.  But for dinner and weekends, I opted to cook my own meals since Poland isn't exactly an English-speaking country.  Since I have my own kitchen, why not cook and save yourself from the challenge of ordering a meal in sign language?

    For the following weekends, I planned my itinerary with progressive difficulty.  I started with the easiest, i.e. Warsaw, and moved on to the more difficult, i.e. cities near Warsaw.  My ultimate itinerary involved going to other countries, but let's save that for a different blog entry.

    Old Town

    My apartment was fortunate enough to be situated near the Old Town.  This is, I guess, the Polish equivalent of the Philippine colonial plaza.  Here you can find churches, bazaars, and of course, the souvenir shops.

    Old Town Market Square 

    Warsaw has been badly destroyed by World War II, so despite the dated atmosphere of the area, none of these structures are original.  For tourism, they decided to rebuild the place to look the same as it did before.  Historical tidbits can be found signage situated within the area.

    IMG_7566 IMG_7661
    Left: Church, with a picture of its "before" look.
    Right: A castle facade welcomes tourist into the Old Town. 

    There are a lot of memorials to the war that can be found within Old Town.  Back in the Philippines, our history books mostly write about World War 2 in the perspective of the Americans, as we were their allies during the war.  We also had our own battles, fighting against the Japanese who invaded us that time.  This time, I saw a different side of the war, through the eyes of the Europeans, more so through the eyes of Poland where it actually all began.  Up until now I cannot imagine how horrifying it may have been for them, to be invaded by Nazi Germany not for resources, but for annihilation.

    IMG_7554 IMG_7621
    Left: Sculpture of the Old Town as it looked like before.
    Right: Markers of the Jewish Ghetto, where over 400,000 Jews were contained before the Holocaust. 

    Palace of Culture and Science (Palac Kultury i Nauki)

    My onsite officemates *fondly* call this the Russian Wedding Cake. 

    After the Nazi Germany invasion, Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union and was placed under a communist government.  As a gift, Joseph Stalin had this building erected, which still stands as the tallest structure in the city.  When communism in Poland started to fall in 1989, this building was almost destroyed (like what happened to the Berlin Wall).  Today it is being used as a theatre, cinema, and museum.  I was in awe the first time I saw this buildings, but most of the locals weren't too happy with this structure because it reminded them of the Soviet rule (think about the Manila Film Center which Imelda build during the Martial Law)

    IMG_7591 IMG_7607
    Left: View from the top of the palace, for a fee.  Observation deck is on the 30th floor.
    Right: The intersection in front of the tall building is Warsaw's center. 

    Aside from these landmarks, Warsaw is dotted with a LOT of parks, deli, and decent shopping malls.
    • Coffee Haven - I believe this is a local brand.  Their coffee is GOOD, no need to look for Starbucks.
    • Zlote Tarasy - a shopping mall behind the Central Station.  They have good shops (H&M, Marks and Spencer, Sephora), and the Multikino cinema on the top floor is quite good.
    It's also worth mentioning that Poland is going to host the UEFA cup next year (Euro 2012) and because of this, they're building a new football stadium plus an additional metro line.  Not bad for a city that has gone through a world war and a communism occupation.


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