Thursday, July 19, 2012

Warsaw First Impressions

When I first arrived in Warsaw it struck me as familiar with it's six lane highways and concrete block apartment buildings. To be honest, my first impression was that it looked quite American. The combination of utter destruction in WWII combined with Soviet Communist era functionality has led Warsaw to be the first European city I’ve seen where I wouldn’t be scared to drive a large SUV on the roads. And though built to look that way, very little in the city is over 60 years old. Quite American indeed, at least by European standards.
Though perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as Paris or Rome, it’s undeniably more user friendly, at least as far as driving is concerned. It’s pedestrian and cycle friendly as well. On either side of the main drags, there are designated cycle lanes and sidewalks.
Whereas most other European cities are constrained by roads built for horse traffic hundreds of years ago, Warsaw turned it’s blank slate into American style infrastructure.

It was also the most affordable European city I’ve ever been to. Nice dinners in tourist districts only cost us about 40 dollars and cab rides were affordable as well. I was surprised that Poland, though part of the European Union, has its own currency. And unlike the Euro, our American dollars and British Pounds were both pretty strong against the Polish Zloty, stretching our hard earned (well, Jonathan’s hard earned) cash much further than we could on a trip to Italy.
Overall, I’d assess the general nature of Warsaw as laid back. The food is unpretentious, the pace is slow, and the city is built for casual strolling around. At the same time, the people are very stylish and chic, making me feel the need to tan, tone, and drop lots of money at Burberry. It strikes me as one of those places that isn’t so spectacular to visit, but on the other hand, is an alright place to live. Much like Aberdeen. And Houston. And Midland. And Baton Rouge. So my practiced and well-trained eye can spot these user friendly locations and see the potential hidden underneath.

What I was most concerned about was the language barrier, and yes, it’s an obstacle, but not as prevalent as I expected. I didn’t run across many Poles who were fluent in English, but most had a pretty good vocabulary that aided in communicating. We were in the touristy district so most menus had items listed in both Polish and English. I usually like to learn the basics of a language before visiting a country, but I honestly did not know one word in Polish before visiting Warsaw. I did learn the word for Ice Cream pretty quickly, though an American resident warned me that it is very similar to a word for an inappropriate sexual act, so I was too scared to actually say it out loud to anyone, for fear of mispronunciation.  

The thing is, Polish is just so dang hard to learn. It’s very similar to Russian where a word will have 4 consonants strung together that give my English speaking brain little indication of the pronunciation.

All in all, I’d go back to Poland, though next time I’ll probably meet Jonathan in Krakow.
Texas natives living in Poland usually draw up the comparison that Warsaw is to Krakow is what Houston is to Austin. Krakow is a bit funkier with more culture whereas Warsaw is built for function and holds more of the business operations in the country. Also, Krakow escaped much of the destruction of World War II so most of the town dates back several centuries.
It’s also the main jumping off point for trips to Auschwitz, which is somewhere Jonathan and I would both live to pay our respects while we’re living in Europe.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely recommend a visit to Krakow. It's a beautiful city! Also, if you are ever there, don't miss the Wieliczka salt mine: