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Our Summer Escape to Warsaw, Poland

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How did we end up in Warsaw this summer?

I first visited Warsaw, the capital of Poland, many years ago to get my green card. Back then, such services were not offered in Ukraine, and you needed to travel as far as Poland. My Dad and I took a lovely trip to Warsaw during one of the winter months.

We were supposed to stay for just a couple of days. However, the consulate had some surprises for us, and we ended ended up staying a week.

We didn’t regret it one bit–the city was very hospitable, the food was excellent, our hotel was great, and there were a lot of attractions to see. For years, I remembered the gorgeous Warsaw under the fluffy sparkling snow and the excellent soup we savored in one of the local cafes.

This summer we ended up in Poland again. Unfortunately, for a sad reason. My parents live in Ukraine where the terrible war is raging, so meeting them in Ukraine was not a possibility.

If you would like to learn more about the war in Ukraine and devastation which it has brought, you can check out my article: War in Ukraine-A Glimpse of Hope in the Darkness.

Anyway, we decided to meet in a safe haven. Poland was perfect for that. This wonderful country has accepted a lot of Ukrainian refugees. There are many services for Ukrainians. No matter where you go, you see some signs of support for our countrymen.

Center of services for Ukrainian citizens in Warsaw

My parents took the train from Kyiv (actually two trains–Kyiv-Chelm and then Chelm-Warsaw), while my husband, my daughter and I flew into Warsaw from Washington DC. This was the easiest trip we could think of for my parents.

Polonia Palace Hotel

We ended up staying at the Polonia Palace Hotel which turned out the best hotel I could ever imagine. For anyone coming to Warsaw, I highly recommend the Polonia Palace. We will definitely stay there again the next time we come to Warsaw.

Polonia Palace Hotel lobby

Some of the advantages of the Polonia Palace include the following:

  • Affordability. The price of the hotel is much below what you’d have to pay in the U.S. for the hotel of this level. Polonia Palace has excellent facilities (beautiful rooms, nice restaurant, gym), making it great value for the money you pay.
  • Proximity to the railway station. For people who are coming to Warsaw by train, or planning to take a trip to another city of Poland, this is priceless. The hotel is just a short walk away from the railway station. It’s much more convenient to walk there than deal with the taxi.
  • Excellent breakfast buffet. This was my favorite part of the hotel stay. I’ve been to many breakfast buffets. Some of them are great but hard to navigate, and it takes a long time to get the food. In Polonia Palace, I found a fantastic selection of food which was also arranged perfectly. One could walk around the room and quickly get everything they needed. I also liked customer service. At the entrance, we had a staff greeting us warmly and showing us to the table.
  • Beautiful view. Our rooms faced the building of the Palace of Culture and Science which looks absolutely gorgeous at night with lights of different colors illuminating it.
  • Excellent customer service. The staff at the hotel is very nice and kind. Any issues we had were resolved quickly and painlessly.
  • The proximity to the city’s landmarks and many great restaurants. Polonia Palace is located in downtown Warsaw. There are several parks and shopping centers nearby. Many excellent restaurants were walking distance from the hotel. The hotel also has a restaurant inside, which is very convenient.

Restaurants in Warsaw

Warsaw has many excellent restaurants, which are also quite inexpensive, compared to those in the U.S. Polish cuisine is delicious, and there are so many tasty dishes to try.

During our stay in Warsaw, we ate at Stara Kamienica (Polish and international cuisine), Soul Kitchen (Polish and European cuisine), Bistro Bordo (Italian cuisine), Zapiecek (Polish cuisine), which are all close to the Polonia Palace hotel. These restaurants had warm atmosphere, great service, and excellent food. Stara Kamienica and Soul Kitchen didn’t have too many tables, so making a reservation was important. Bistro Bordo and Zapicek are larger restaurants and we usually got a table without a prior reservation.

Since I’m a big fan of Polish cuisine, I ended up sampling Polish pierogi in every restaurant which offered them. You can have them boiled or fried, and there are many different kinds-with meat, potatoes, cheese, lentils… My favorites are the ones with lentils. Be sure to try some!

Things to do in Warsaw

We came to Warsaw in August, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous, making every day ideal for sightseeing.

Coming from Washington DC, where we usually experience terrible heat and humidity in August, Warsaw seemed like heaven. Does such weather even exist? I was about 23-25C every day, with a light sunshine and a pleasant breeze, hardly any rain. Truly magical experience.

Another great thing about Warsaw is that many places of interest are located in downtown. If you want to walk, you can do that in many cases. There is also a very reliable public transportation system.

In addition, we discovered that Uber works perfectly in Warsaw (waiting time just a couple of minutes) and costs very little. We managed to get pretty much to every place we wanted to go in 15 minutes or so. An added bonus–many of our drivers were Ukrainians who escaped fighting, and we could support them with extra tips, as well as hear about their life stories.

The city has a lot of visitors, but it didn’t appear crowded like some other European cities in the summer, and we could easily see all the attractions without standing in long lines or fighting for tables in good restaurants. This is another great advantage of going to Warsaw vs. some other European capitals.

A lot of people in Poland spoke pretty good English, so it was very easy to communicate. I also picked up a lot of Polish. It’s very similar to Ukrainian.

Warsaw Old Town

We walked to the Old Town from our hotel. It’s not a short walk, however, I recommend doing it at least once. You can see a lot of lovely streets along the way, visit some interesting places (like a delightful candy store we found!), and slowly take in the remarkable history of Warsaw.

Polish candy, anyone?

The Old Town is the most unique part of Warsaw. Just one glance at the row of joyful and colorful townhouses and medieval streets–and you immediately get submerged in the mysterious atmosphere of the 12-13th century when this area was built. It’s a world famous UNESCO World Heritage site, visited by many tourists from different countries.

What’s heartbreaking to know is that during the World War II, back in 1944, almost all the historical center of Warsaw was destroyed.

This reminds me of the tremendous destruction which is now happening in Ukraine…

Luckily for Warsaw, reconstruction was very successful. The reconstruction campaign was conducted by its citizens and the beauty of the Old Town was eventually resurrected. The last monument to be resurrected, the Royal Castle, opened its doors to the tourists in 1984.

Kudos to the Polish people for preserving their national heritage and doing the impossible. If only the tyrants of the world didn’t destroy everything in their way, life would be so much easier, right?

Back in the 13th century, the Old Town market square was the undisputable center of the public life in the city, where various festivals and other special events were organized. Today, you can visit a lot of bars and restaurants located in this square, take absolutely gorgeous photos, and shop for wonderful Polish souvenirs in the stores. I also highly recommend to visit the Royal Castle, the Historical Museum of Warsaw and the Literature Museum.

In addition, you can listen to some nice music from various street performers. One of the singers, for example, was collecting money to climb Mount Everest. Quite an ambitious young man!

Warsaw Old Town

There are plenty of excellent restaurants in the Warsaw old town.

We really enjoyed the chain called Gosciniec- Polskie Pierogi. The Warsaw old town restaurant has a lovely outdoor seating area and also a lot of space inside. A lot of foreigners stopped to eat at this restaurant. My daughter and I ordered pierogi mix and a bowl of chicken soup, while my husband got a traditional pork chop with a side of potatoes and cucumbers. These were absolutely delicious.

Dinner in the Old Town

Lazienki Krolewskie

If you stay in Warsaw, visiting the Lazienki Park is a must. This is the largest park in Warsaw which dates back from the 17th century. In addition to the astonishing greenery of this park and a beautiful lake, you will also see a number of architectural masterpieces, such as the Palace on the Isle in the baroque style, the amphitheater, the Little White House, the Myslewicki Palace, the Old Orangery with arcaded windows, the temple of Diana, and others. Make sure you plan to spend the whole day in this park, as there is a lot to see!

If you are coming with kids, you can stop at the playground which has a lot of fun activities. The kids will also appreciate the wildlife in the park. You can feed lovely red squirrels which are abundant in the park, geese, pigeons, and even peacocks. My daughter was fascinated by the peacocks who were just leisurely wondering around.

Peacocks at the Lazienki Krowelskie

Naturally, with all the walking, you’ll soon feel hungry. Luckily, some food places are available, although not as many as one would like. We stopped at the Trou Madame café near the Palace on the Isle which has a lot of great tasting desserts. A little bit too big, but hey, we were on vacation! We tried lovely pancakes with Nutella, an apple pie and an ice-cream, all were delicious.

Rest stop at the Trou Madame Cafe

Warsaw Zoo

If you come to Warsaw with kids, or just like animals, Warsaw Zoo is a great place to go. A big advantage of this zoo is that it’s very flat, so it’s quite easy to walk around it with a stroller or with small kids. Folks from Washington DC area will understand–our zoo is constructed on a huge hill and it’s a real nightmare to walk up that hill, especially when the weather is hot in summer. In Warsaw, you’ll appreciate both the lovely weather and the flat terrain.

In terms of animals, expect to see many. You won’t be disappointed. The zoo has all the usual suspects, like elephants, camels, lions, tigers, hippos… We really enjoyed watching a big rhino up close.

Rhino at the Warsaw Zoo

A big advantage of the Warsaw Zoo is that there are plenty of good places to take a rest and grab a bite at. They are essentially on every corner. Most places sell waffles. These are delicious and I highly recommend them. My daughter totally loved waffles with jam and got plenty of energy to do more exploring.

Zielona Budka Cafe at the Warsaw Zoo

Tennis in Warsaw

Given that we have a family of tennis junkies, we obviously dragged our tennis rackets to Poland. Since the weather was absolutely beautiful, we naturally started looking for a place to play tennis.

I didn’t have any particular recommendations from anyone, so I just googled “tennis courts” and “tennis club” and got a few suggestions. There seemed to be plenty of great choices. Perfect. I looked at the pictures and reviews and picked the courts for us. This seemed quite easy.

What could possibly go wrong, right?

Fifteen minutes later, Uber brought us to the destination. We got out and walked around the big stadium for some time, trying to figure out where the entrance was. Well, it eventually turned out that these courts were undergoing a renovation. Closed till further notice.

What a bummer.

Despite the disappointment, we decided to try something else. We got another address from google, got into the Uber and off we went.

The place where the Uber driver let us off was already suspicious. Some market, some apartment buildings… We walked around and finally located a bunch of tennis courts, but they were also closed and in addition, totally overgrown with grass!

The question now was, should we try our luck one more time, or just go back to the hotel and put our tennis rackets into the closet till the end of the trip?

Well, Ukrainians don’t give up. So we tried one more choice, and guess what? We found the best tennis club possible! Yay!

So, if somebody also wants to play tennis in Warsaw, I highly recommend the Okecie tennis club. It is definitely open for business, and it is fantastic!

Elizabeth in Okecie Tennis Club

This club is located quite close to the downtown (15 minutes away by Uber from Polonia Palace). They have clay and grass tennis courts in an excellent condition. I haven’t played on beautiful red clay like that for a while. The club has great facilities and the price of tennis courts is very reasonable. The staff at the reception is very nice and helpful and speaks English.

A big advantage is that the courts are covered, but in the summer they let fresh air come from outside. You don’t need to worry about the sun, or the rain, and you still get plenty of fresh air. You can book the courts online or just call the reception. The club gets quite busy on weekends, so reservation is a must. On weekdays, there are more open courts but I would still recommend to reserve the court in advance.

The final word

It’s now December, and my parents ended up in Warsaw again. As they stepped out of the train, Warsaw greeted them with the light rain. This time, my parents are traveling to the United States through Warsaw and they get to stay in this hospitable city for a few days.

I’m also looking forward to visiting Warsaw again–the city which is gorgeous and heart-warming during any season of the year.

Polonia Palace Hotel in winter
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