Warsaw: Old, New Charms Make Up for Not-So-Quick Trip

View of Old Town

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a post that first appeared in New York Invasion, a blog about graduate student Christina Kelly’s year-long stint in London.

One of the best things about living in London is how easy it is to take last-minute –– and cheap –– trips to places you never dreamed of going on a whim. Of course, what you sacrifice with low-budget travel can be convenience, something my friends and I found out the hard way during a recent weekend excursion to Warsaw, Poland.

What should have been a three-hour trip turned into a 12-hour-plus nightmare journey involving planes, trains and buses. We booked an $80 round-trip flight on Ryanair from London’s Stansted Airport, itself a 90-minute trip from my home just outside London, direct to Warsaw.

Barbican Castle; photos by Christina Kelly

Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were never explained, the flight was diverted to a small airport several hours from Warsaw in southern Poland. After multiple delays, including an hour-long bus trip and a three-hour train ride spend most sitting on the floor outside the bathroom (there were not reserved seats), we finally made it to Warsaw.

All we could do at that point was drown our sorrows in Polish comfort food, including pierogies, kielbasa and Camembert cheese, washed down with plenty of beer, at a place called U Szwejka. We then set a record for early bed-time, putting the lights out at 8:30 p.m.  and sleeping for 14 hours.

On Saturday morning, feeling fully refreshed, we finally got to experience Warsaw. I fell in love with Old Town, which seemed exactly like the images of quaint Eastern Europe depicted in movies. However, the cobblestone streets, picturesque squares and sturdy buildings dating as far back as the 13th century weren’t always so picture perfect. The historic area, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was mostly destroyed by the Nazis during World War II,  and has only been completely restored in recent decades.

Night Market

We enjoyed perusing the Old Town Night Market, with the entire main square illuminated with tiny twinkling lights, and street vendors hawking trinkets and Polish antiques. Completing this romantic image were strolling musicians playing folk tunes on the accordion.

Warsaw is very much a walking city, with New Town and Old Town only about a 15-minute (and very safe) strolll apart. New Town Warsaw also has its charms, including a happening club scene and many upscale shops.

Despite the rocky start in getting to Warsaw, the destination made up for the arduous journey. One thing my time so far in Europe has taught me is the worst trips can make for the best travel experiences.