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Warsaw

Warszawa? It’s exceedingly ugly, exceedingly dirty and the people are exceedingly rude, not to mention terrible drivers. The architectural centrepiece is a hideous ‘gift” from the Russians which will make your eyes bleed and, with the extortionate prices they charge there, your wallet will be bone dry within hours. Don’t try to find anything even slightly redeeming about our capital because, quite simply, there isn’t. Contracting food poisoning would be more enjoyable…

Yes, this is the opinion of just about every single non-Warszawian Pole in the country and we’ve heard it all before – capital cities are only held in any kind of esteem by tourists and people who happen to live there. Just as the Scots deride London or the Catalans sneer with disgust at Madrid, Poles in other cities will make a point of outlining to you just how terrible Warsaw really is. It’s not a balanced appraisal, it’s verging on the neurotic and, at the risk of offending the entire Polish nation in one go, you might actually enjoy yourself there.

In comparison with other Polish cities, it IS remarkably ugly. Coming in by train, your first taste of the city will be the dank, smelly labyrinth which is Warsaw Central (a word of advice: remember exactly which left-luggage locker you’re using and how to get to it or you will have BIG problems). Escape successfully from that and you’re faced with a profusion of incredibly wide and busy roads which criss-cross the central downtown area, surrounded on all sides by massive concrete office blocks. Not especially inviting.

However, there is a very good explanation. No other city was hit as badly during WW2 as Warsaw (just watch „The Pianist”) and the guys who set up shop there afterwards were hardly from the Gaudi school of architecture. If you’re shallow enough to judge something on aesthetics alone then stick to the old quarter or you’re going to be outraged but, whatever Warsaw lacks in style and grandeur, it more than makes up for in terms of historical interest. Of course, everyone piles down to the old Jewish quarter the moment their backpack hits the hostel floor but, in fact, the Warsaw Uprising Museum (Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego) is probably the best place to start.

If the concrete gets too much for you and you need to get some colour into your eyeballs, then head for one of the many parks and gardens dotted around the city. The so-called „Palace on the Water” in the Royal Baths Park (Park Łazienki) is a particularly nice spot.

Aly Kerr