Friday 7th January, Warsaw, Poland... again!
.. and there we were back in Warsaw again!
I was worried that my ticket inspector from three days earlier could be lurking in the station somewhere, possibly flanked by two burly Polish policemen, so Maria and I beat a hasty retreat to a cafe up on the ground level, outside the station. Maria texted our host Andrzej (call him Andrew!) and he replied that he'd come and meet us in an hour. About an hour later, the phone beeped with a text from Andrew- he was in the main arrival hall, where were we?
I ran back into the big arrival hall
and amidst the hustle and bustle one guy stood out as obviously waiting for someone. I greeted him with a big smile. "Are you Andrew?" I asked.
"Yes" he replied, but with more than a hint of suspicion.
"Are you here to meet Steve and Maria?"
After a short converstaion with the wrong Andrew, mostly regarding what Australia was like, and how I liked Poland so far, the real Andrew turned up. We bussed back to his place and dumped our backpacks. After a drink of water, we were ready to go exploring. It was a long walk into town, but there was no rush and it wasn't too cold. In fact the weather has been unusually warm on this whole trip, the coldest being two degrees below freezing on a couple of evenings in Prague.
Andrew is studying law at Warsaw University,
and lives in a small apartment with his sister Jaga and their roommate Annetta. Maria and I felt a little guilty, taking the biggest room in the place, and the three of them squeezing into the other smaller room for the duration of our stay. But Andrew insisted it was fine.
We walked around the Old City,
which must be one of the newest Old Cities in the world, having been almost entirely rebuilt after WWII. I mentioned in a previous update that Warsaw was hardest hit of almost any city during the war. More than half of the residents of the city were killed, and somewhere in the measure of eighty-five percent of the buildings were destroyed. The city has been rebuilt in the old style, which makes it difficult to believe that barely any of the 'old' buildings we walked past are more than sixty years old.
Maria and I were dying to try some traditional Polish foods,
but it was late by the time we turned for home, so we just stopped into a late night supermarket and Andrew bought a selection of Polish sausages for us to snack on when we got home.
On the train from Krakow,
Maria and I had met a few Polish guys (well, the most talkative of them was French, but they all lived in Poland) who were interested to hear about our experiences in their country. Obviously, our experiences were somewhat limited at that point! Anyway, they wrote down the names of a few traditional Polish foods that we should try, and told us to look out for the nearest Bar Mleczny
which is like a no-frills traditional Polish kitchen. Maria asked them about the stuff I was eating the night before- in a restaurant in Krakow, we'd ordered a serve of bread and spreads that we saw other locals eating. One of the containers of spread was likie cottage cheese with garlic. The other had the consistency of fluffy mashed potato, but tasted quite fatty. Maria hadn't been keen on the second one, so I was fairly hooking into it, heaping it on the fresh bread in mountains, rather than spreading it. Later that night, a distinct feeling of unwellness came over me, and I had quite some trouble getting to sleep. On the train the next day, our new friends explained why. The fluffy creamy coloured substance had been pure animal fat- dripping, we call it in Australia. Suddenly, I fely queasy again.
Anyway, we showed Andrew the list of foods we'd been recommended,
and he said he knew a decent 'Bar Mleczny' (which translates literally as 'milk bar') near the university, in the centre of town. The range of food was incredible- the photo above is just one section of the menu- and the prices were so cheap it was unbelievable. But how could this be? I asked Andrew. This bar mleczny was on the most expensive street in Warsaw, alongside swish cafes that charged as much for a latte as you'd pay for three courses here. He said that the government (or the council, I can't remember which) subsidised bar mleczny's to allow them to stay in business, providing cheap meals for the city's poor. That suited us just fine, as you'll see...
Maria chose the kotlet schabowy
, a crumbed pork fillet with cabbage salad and partly mashed potato. I stole a morsel of it when she wasn't looking, and I can give it my hearty recommendation. Not at all content to limit myself with just one dish, I leapt at the pierogi z miesem
(steamed pastries filled with lightly spiced ground beef) and the nalesniki z serem
(pancakes filled with white cheese, and served drizzled with sugar and fresh cream). Andrew ordered a plate of pierogi leniwe
, which were steamed plain pastries served with butter and sugar. All of us washed this feast down with cups of kompot
, a fresh berry juice. The bill? About six Euros (four pounds, $US8 or $AUS10) Great value whichever way you look at it!
In fact the food was so good
that we returned in the evening to try bigos
, another traditional dish. It was a cabbage dish with sausage meat mixed through it. I liked it, but Maria wasn't overly impressed, so we went in search of a cold beer to cleanse the palette.
We'd arranged to meet up with some other Couchsurfers in the evening.
I'd organized it days earlier, and of course I had no idea of place to meet in a strange city. I'd asked for suggestions, and a guy named Wojtec came back with a bar called JADLODAJNIA FILOZFICZNA
. Well, it sounded like a nice place, don't you think? And Wojtec assured me that it was centrally located and served very reasonably priced drinks. He wasn't wrong either, except that soon after we bought our first round of drinks and settled into conversation, the volume of the musis rose annoyingly and at the same time we were appraoched by a staff member trying to make us pay cover charge for some concert that was about to start. I felt it necessary to explain the finer points of the hospitality business- for example: not selling someone a beer, then
informing them that a cover charge would be introduced before they would have a chance to get the bottle of beer to ther lips. We were left unbothered until we finished our drinks and moved to another bar.
Ewa and Pavel joined us, but couldn't stay long.
They're both from Poland, but have moved to Warsaw fairly recently and are having trouble falling in love with the city. I can't say that I blame them. I neither liked Warsaw nor disliked it... and I felt less regard for the city as the night went on.
A little later, we were joined by Kuba.
Kuba is studying at university in Warsaw, as is his girlfriend Tynka (nice name, eh?) Maria and I were impressed with the level of English spoken by our new Polish friends, and it seems that all of them had spent some time living in an Englsih speaking country. We moved to a nearby bar when Ewa and Pavel were leaving, but it was also a little bit loud for conversation. From there, we walked to meet Kuba's girlfriend at the upmarket coffee shop where she worked. I had a coffee while I was waiting, and it cost me as much as my entire breakfast had cost. I was horrified to learn that Tynka's wage is so low that she would have to work for two hours just to be able to buy one coffee!!
We walked in search of a bar or cafe where we could sit and chat,
but no such beast seemed to exist. It was Friday night, about eleven o'clock, and unbelievably cafes and bars were closing- if not already closed
- for the evening. Finally after walking several blocks, we found a bar, but by the time we had one beer each, we were all ready to call it a night. I think Maria and I were both homesick for Madrid.