On an early morning flight to Warsaw I wondered what more this Central European country had to offer than it’s well known war-stricken history. We landed, checked in to our quirky but impressive hotel and ventured out in to the zero degree, blue sky January day to explore. To me, the parallels of Poland were instantly visable; the sky was blue, but it felt bleak, the people were friendly, but they didn’t seem happy, the food, style and fashion seemed stuck in the past, but there were pockets of areas ahead of the game, neon lights were shining bright, but the city felt dim.
One of the first insights in to what was to be my Polish parallel paradigm was the architecture. Gothic churches, neoclassical palaces, Soviet-era housing blocks and modern skyscrapers, all in one eye line. Not only was the stark contrast of the buildings obvious, but the abundant presence of neon lights in such a bleak landscape added to this visually confusing city.
While I naturally assumed a city like this would be home to a plethora of museums, I hadn’t expected to find one specifically commissioned for the cold cathode gas-discharge style of lighting. The dark but brightly lit Neon Museum in the trendy area of Praga was completely dedicated to documentation and preservation of Cold War era neon signs. The museums sole purpose is to research and restore the remnants of the ‘great neonisation’ campaign that occurred across the Eastern Bloc.
Although slightly odd, was the Neon Museum an insight in to the Polish people – dedicated and determined to make things brighter during dark times, past and present?
The Polish people were friendly and helpful – but even on our first day I couldn’t help but feel a gloomy vibe. When you think about the country’s history it’s not surprising, I just hadn’t expected to feel it as much as I did. But could I blame them? Would we as a nation ever be happy, hopeful, or get over such a horrific and not so distant past?
Generation after generation of Polish people have been through a time most of us will (luckily) never be able to understand but the Warsaw Rising Museum did a pretty good job of helping portray it. The various floors of the museum took us on the journey of the city’s experience with the second World War focusing on its heroic but doomed uprising.
The uprising was an operation led by the Polish Underground Home Army against German occupation in 1944 to liberate Warsaw but sadly it resulted in a German win and a complete destruction of the city. It was a beautiful tribute to those who fought and died for a hope of an independent Poland and yet another insight in to what I was learning was an inspirational but subdued positivity of Poland and it’s people.
Warsaw’s old town was beautiful; colourful and picturesque streets lined with tall houses exhibiting a post WWII reconstructed blend of Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic and neoclassical elements. It seemed like a bright, bubbly and happy side of Warsaw and while it was clearly touristy, it was a welcome change to the bleak, industrial rest of the city.
It was when you looked down the alley ways, explored the backstreets and braved venturing in to the empty, industrial buildings where you found the real wonders of Warsaw however. I never thought I would be able to say that we went to incredible restaurants, cafes and bars in Poland. We ate some of the best Poke in the coolest Hawaiian restaurant, sat around an open kitchen in a loft style restaurant you picture in the likes of New York and drank fruit tonic smoothies with delicious croissants for breakfast in an indoor, open food market to cure the hangovers from throwing back one too many €1 shots at a local wodka bar the night before.
The parallels of this Polish city were rife but while the majority of Warsaw’s exterior looked to be stuck in an 80’s communist era with an ambience tainted with the woes of its history, when you looked beneath the surface subtle gentrification provided an almost secret hipster-esque culture east London would be jealous of and if you looked hard enough, there was sparks of positivity hidden in every sad, tragic story that this city and these people had been through.
Warsaw, you were a special, secret kind of wonderful.
WHAT // Delicious & healthy food accompanied by delightful cocktails
WHERE // Raj w Niebie – perfectly translated to Paradise in Heaven
TOP TIP // Eat, drink and be merry while reading editions of Vogues from around the world – then venture through the curtains in to a couch filled lounge style theatre to watch a classic black and white film