Warsaw is the city where is located my host institution – Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology PAS, and along this post I will describe the city that I am still discovering. This is a touristic point of view from a city that for now is my home. Warsaw is the capital and the largest city of Poland. It is located in the east central region of the country, in the riverbank of Vistula. With a population estimated around 2 million people, Warsaw is a city full of energy and events especially during weekends.
The mixture of old and more modern architectural styles is very prominent in this city. Contrasting to the modern city center full of skyscrapers, the old town reflects the recent tempestuous history of the city and the country. During the II World War and Jewish persecution, the city was completely destroyed by the German Nazi and the Soviet army. It is estimated that 85% of the city was transformed into ruins, including all the historical monuments in the Old Town. During the following years, many of the buildings were re-constructed to their original form based on 18th century paintings. In 1980, Warsaw’s Old Town was recognized as UNESCO’s World Heritage.
With the reconstruction of the city, Warsaw gained a contemporary center, well organized streets and several green spaces along streets as well as large historical parks. Though the climate is cold, snowy and cloudy during the main part of the year, warm and sunny days are enjoyed the most by the poles. During these days, parks are always full of people relaxing, practising sports or even preparing a barbecue with friends or family.
Although Warsaw is a quite young city, it has been considered an emerging economic potency in Europe, particularly since the country joined the European Union in 2004. Probably due to the increasing establishment of international companies, Warsaw is becoming a multicultural city. The increasing number of foreign students also contributes to that. The appeal to study in a country with notable university figures such as Marie Sklodowska-Curie and Nicolaus Copernicus, and relatively low-living costs are the reasons why many students choose to study in Poland. Warsaw’s University is the best and largest university in the country, being considered one of the emerging universities in Europe according to international rankings. Among several others universities and units, Ochota campus comprises bio-medical Polish Academy of Sciences institutions devoted to high-quality scientific research, including the institute I work in.
The currency in Poland is the zloty (PLN). With the exception of the rent, the cost of living in Warsaw is lower than in other European capitals. One way to a grocery shop could cost no more than 60 zlotys per week, which is equivalent to approximately 15 euros. If you prefer to go to a restaurant, it is also cheaper. There are cuisines spanning all corners of the globe in Warsaw. Although, I would recommend the polish cuisine for who wants to feel as a local. If you don’t know polish cuisine, I recommend zurek (polish sour rye soup with sausage and eggs), pierogi (polish dumplings with different fillings), bigos (stewed cabbage with meat, sausage and onion) and golonka (roasted pork knee). One typical and good restaurant to taste these dishes is Zapiecek (you can find it in different locations throughout the city).
With such kind of aspects, it is unmissable to visit this main capital of east Europe. Several palaces, museums and churches are the main attractions of the city, being most of them located in the city centre.
In Old Town, Sigismund’s column, Royal Castle, Old Town Market Place and Barbican are notable architectural landmarks to visit. Many of historical and also residential streets are full of memorials, statues and marks allusive to the complete destruction and foreign occupation of the city. To better understand the history of the city and the country, I recommend a visit to Warsaw Uprising Museum and Museum of History of Polish Jews (this last received the European Museum Academy Award in 2016). You can join one of the different free walking tours and learn as much as you can about the city with local guides that drive you around the city.
Lastly, I also need to refer that Warsaw is full of places linked to the life and work of the two of the most emblematic figures of our worldwide history – Frédéric Chopin and Marie Sklodowska-Curie. Particularly, Chopin and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Museums honour the work of these two figures. Chopin’s music can be heard in recitals performed by pianists in Lazienki Park on Sundays from May to September.
Warsaw is a very beautiful and cosmopolitan city, full of places to visit and events happening all the time. However, it is impossible to visit this city without understanding the recent tragic history of the country and how it still affects the spirit of polish people.
Disclaimer: Photos taken by the author.
Inês Simões was born in Coimbra, Portugal. She holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Biochemistry by the University of Coimbra.
She is currently working on the project “Mitochondrial oxidative stress and remodelling in NAFLD” at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, in Warsaw – Poland.