Spontaneous getaway to a gloomy Warsaw; the city of candy-coloured houses, Polish roulette, tasty vegan versions of traditional meals, and a lesser mentioned proto-feminist, Marie Curie.
With a flight costing less than a pub dinner in London, and taking long enough just to fit an episode of Black Mirror in it, Warsaw is definitely worth an impromptu trip, even if the weather forecast looks less than pleasant.
My travel buddy – to whom I will (very mysteriously) refer to as ‘T’ – had to get to (well, ‘have’ is a bit of a lie here) Gran Canaria to board a cruise. With no direct flights from Budapest, he figured he could snatch a real deal of a flight to Warsaw, where, after a two-day stay, he could hop on to Las Palmas, layover-free. And I, unable to think of a reason why not, happily agreed to come with.
A Perfect Medley of Old and New
Now I know that using the ‘why the hell not?’ rhetoric to visit a city isn’t exactly the most flattering or successful way to sell the place, I have to say that despite people – including my Polish friend – telling me that I should go to Cracow instead, I was very pleasantly disappointed. It may be a city with the primary function of providing people places to work, but Warsaw boasts with many little hidden gems of a building, intriguing history, and, perhaps most importantly, food that a herbivore like myself can thoroughly enjoy.
Arriving at our Airbnb a little after noon, it was hard to believe we were still gobbling breakfast in Budapest a couple hours prior. Our first activity (and most active one for the rest of the trip) was going on a fun free walking tour in the Old Town of Warsaw. We were a bit reluctant to go because of the steady rain, cold wind and overall miserable weather, but I’m very glad that we did in the end. To my biggest surprise, approaching the group of foreigners braving the weather like us, I spotted a girl who resembled a lot like Katie, my coursemate at the uni I went to in Bournemouth. Despite the very thin chance of two pals from two different countries bumping into each other in a third, on a random walking tour; it really was her. Baffled by such serendipity, we attempted to catch up on all the exciting things we had done since graduation.
Walking among the beautifully decorated pastel-coloured houses in the drizzling rain, our guide recounted historical anecdotes about the town that used to be Poland’s capital until one of the – then very popular – alchemical experiments went a little wrong and burnt down Wavel Castle at the end of the 16th century.
A 19th Century Wonder WomanWhat struck me most, however, were the stories our guide told about Marie Curie when we stopped at her birthplace and now museum, the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum. It is common knowledge what an astounding scientist she was, having dedicated her life to research, discovering polonium and radium, and winning as many Nobel Prizes as Oscars Meryl Streep won for Best Actress (two; the first and only instance for a woman, and the only occasion someone has ever won it in two different sciences). But I wasn’t fully aware how much of a proto-feminist she was, as we’d likely call her today. The originally Polish, multi-talented polyglot of a girl didn’t settle for a life in late 19th century Poland where higher education wasn’t yet accessible for women. Instead, she pinched pennies, minimising her living costs and working crazy hours tutoring others, in order to afford her move to Paris and attend Sorbonne. From becoming the first female professor in the history of the university to riding away to her honeymoon with Pierre on bicycles (also frowned upon at this time) and many other accomplishments, she set a great example in challenging gender stereotypes for many generations of women to come.
After brushing up on our Polish history, we consoled our runny noses and frozen hands in one of the Zapiecek restaurants, a Polish chain known for home-made style pierogis. Sadly, despite the many veggie fillings from cabbage to mushroom, these are not suitable for vegans for the milk and eggs in the dough. They did have a heavenly gingery hibiscus tea, though.
Cosy Activities and Vegan Delights
With both of us coming down with a bit of a cold and the never-ending rain, we spent the majority of the second day lazing around in our comfy apartment. We ended up running some errands before T’s trans-Atlantic cruise in a surprisingly modern mall, Galeria Mokotów, and marvelling at the uncanny resemblance the Palace of Culture and Science possesses to the Empire State Building and Philadelphia City Hall.
Our way then led to Vege Bistro, a small, friendly place sweetly decorated with traditional folk motifs, where we had the pleasure of trying the vegan version of a true, Polish grandma-style hearty lunch of warming veggie soup, potato dumplings with a vegetable stew, hot, nostril-cleansing ginger tea, and veggie pierogis.
Growing up in a Polish neighbourhood in Pennsylvania, then moving to one in New York, pierogis, these hearty Eastern European dumplings of potatoes and other fillings became a real comfort food for T with substantial nostalgic value. I hadn’t tasted them before, so (perhaps even more than wanting to see the city) we were both determined to eat as many (possibly vegan) dumplings as we can. He had truly outdone himself. By the end of the trip – counting the store bought dumplings he had snacked on in the middle of the night and eaten for breakfast – T had managed to eat pierogis every 6 hours of our stay. The most fun about them, though, is that you can get them with sweet and savoury fillings as well, and when you get both on your plate, there’s always this bit of thrilling uncertainty when biting into your next dumpling; Polish roulette, as we called it.
Following a little more napping a lazing around at home, on our second (and last) night, we explored the den of vegan delights that is Vege Miasto, a cosy bistro very conveniently located just a block from our Airbnb – talk about incredible luck! It was too busy, though, so we chose the takeaway option and devoured it all in our accommodation. Our order consisted of Green Heaven, a savoury spinach crépe filled with almond ricotta, tofu, and cashews in a creamy chive sauce; a large jacket potato filled with a similar creamy greenery; the tasty salads that came on the side; a chocolate-peanut butter pie; and of course, pierogis. Vege Miasto’s food was too good to stop mid-bite just to take a picture that surely wouldn’t do it justice, so no photo, sorry.
The portions were so big, we actually took them to the airport with us the next day and happily munched away while waiting to board the flight back to Budapest. Funnily enough, while the styrofoam box of food was fine to take through security, they sent my bag back to me, asking to remove the ‘box of juice’ I had in there, which turned out to be a block of silken tofu I had bought one too many of on our first night. I got to keep it, though.