Behind the Iron Curtain: Warsaw Revealed!

Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
Trip End Dec 09, 2009

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Flag of Poland  , Central Poland,
Friday, November 27, 2009

After a night of drinking and kebabs with my new friends several of us decide to check out Praga...the old quarter of the town across the Vistula river. Praga has little to offer tourists except a chance to see the one area that was left standing after World War II and a glimpse in to what Polish life in Warsaw is really like.

Tom, Felix and I take of from Oki Doki with new friend Chris, a Swiss computer engineer here also for the course. Our primary objective was to check out the Praga marketplace, a run down open market where you can get goods quite cheap, including contraband such as bootleg media, knock-off clothing and even guns. As far as we were concerned we just wanted to see what was offered and possibly pick up something interesting cheap that we could actually get through customs. We cut through old town and cross the Vistula by bridge finding ourselves face to face with Saints Michael & Florian Cathedral...the halmark of the Praga Skyline. Moving towards the central district we also pass by the Zoo, Orthodox Church and Arms Memorial, eventually landing on the main drag. This place looks much more industrial than downtown...perhaps more Eastern or even communist, with buildings and lifestyles left over from past eras.

As we trek on we come across a market that looks like it was in a former shantytown. Despite it's sketchy look we dive in to check things out. By the look of it this was where the locals (the poor ones at least) went to get their dress-up cloths as it as filled with suits and dresses of all sizes and practically every 4th stall had wedding gowns! I'm not so sire I'd buy a wedding gown from a shop with a dirt floor but apparently someone was.Being that the market was fairly small we move on assuming it was not the one we were looking for.

As we move on deeper into Praga we were feeling less at home, realizing this place was very different even from the Warsaw across the river. Eventually we arrive at the main marketplace next to the new national futbol stadium currently under construction. It is being built exclusively to host the European championships once completed. I was told the market had been shut down to allow for the construction but it popped up again right next door. The reception at the hostel actually warned us against going to the market as we would obviously look like tourists and it was a dicey place with criminal elements. As it turns out they were quite right. Even though this market is so similar in style to ones I've been to in Asia it had a different feel...a dangerous energy. First of all it's a huge labyrinth of stalls with tarps for roofs, people moving about everywhere clamoring for our attention and money either as sellers or beggars. This was the one place in Warsaw where you could find all their minorities...immigrants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East as well as their gypsy population. Quite frankly it looked like ground zero for human trafficking with groups of people not really doing anything other than standing around gambling and spacing out. The Africans were particularly aggressive sellers with perhaps the best English skills, one even asking us "What are you looking for...I can get it for you!" (which never sounds good in said situation!) Making matters even worse, there was nothing there that seemed remotely interesting. It was always the same few types of underwear stall, a jacket stall, a dress stall, a sundries stall...constantly repeating on and on one after another. Needless to say we left as soon as we made it to the end of one aisle while we all were all still fully intact. I'm sure you can guess why there are no photos.

After all that we were famished. For some reason decent food in this part of town was hard to find, but Chris somehow smelled some restaurants off a side street and I found myself in a Polish buffet that just so happened to have an Asian stir-fry inside! Over lunch we all got a chance to get to know each other quite well as cultural comparisons flew across the table. Felix and I chatted quite a bit over the day and I was fortunate enough to be able to show him over the conversations that not all (but still far too many) Americans are geographically ignorant. A few plates and shots later we were ready to roll back towards the hostel.I have to say that by that point my feet were killing me and I don't think I was alone in this matter. Despite that fact I enjoyed seeing the actual old buildings of the area and their layout, many with a very Soviet feel to them. As we passed through the neighborhoods and crowds of people leaving work I felt like I was very far from a good way of course!

After a somewhat roundabout way home we finally ended up back at the hostel where many more new classmates were gathering for happy hour...Tony, Matt, Jim, Ivan, Neil, Sebastian, Ryan and several others. Everybody's presence and anticipation about the weekend energized the hostel's vibe and was very warming. We gathered much of the group together and attempted to get a sitdown dinner for 11 of us. Finally after the 4th or 5th restaurant we were able to convince a Sphinx Restaurant (basically the Applebee's of Poland) to take us.Once seated we all open up the menus to find that everything was in Polish! Poor Sebastian, the lone Pole in the group had to interpret the menu and order everything for us...and he didn't even eat!?! Once the logistics were worked out we had a great time and many amazing conversations. If this alone was a sign of things to come this is gonna be a great weekend!!
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Jeanine Loose on

I really enjoy your travel experiences. You writing is entertaining and interesting.
Stephanie just gave me this today. Have fun.

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