I’ll be honest, I’d never considered visiting Warsaw. I’d never even thought about visiting Poland. I wouldn’t know what to do there. But when we were sat searching for the cheapest way to get to Thailand from the summer camp in Romania, a crazy cheap flight from Warsaw to Bangkok popped up. Well… considered and sold!
While tourism in Poland is now booming, most visitors still choose to skip the capital city and instead head toward the more tourist-focused and arguably more beautiful neighbours Krakow and Wrocław (read about our terrifying experience of Krakow).
But as we had a flight to catch anyway and are always keen to walk the ‘road less travelled’, we thought we’d head over to Warsaw a couple of days early and check out what the city had to offer. We’re glad we did!
Sleeping With Strangers
Given that we had absolutely no idea what there was to do in Warsaw, we decided it would be a good time to ‘pop my Couchsurfing cherry’ and look for somebody to host us. That way, even if the city was a let down, we’d still get to hang out with some cool locals.
If you don’t already know about couchsurfing, it’s awesome! Check out my previous blog to find out why – How we made friends all around the world through Couchsurfing
So before arriving, we found two Polish guys Patryk and Maciek, who were willing to host us for the full 3 nights. They were of a similar age to us, had similar interests and looked like our type of people.
Being my first time couch surfing I was naturally a bit nervous, but within minutes of meeting our hosts it felt as though we were just visiting old friends. Patryk met us at the metro station and walked us over to their modern apartment not far from the city. When we arrived we found out that they had cooked dinner for us, which was great because after sitting on buses and trains all day, I was starving!
It turned out that Patryk was an enthusiastic and adventurous cook and he’d cooked a traditional Polish meal of … pig-intestine soup. I kinda wished he hadn’t told us that before we tasted it, but luckily for me he was also a really good cook. The soup didn’t taste like shit – it was delicious! On top of that they’d also bought some wine to wash it down – what a welcome!
We spent the rest of the night drinking wine and getting to know our hosts better, before heading into the city for a beer and to meet a few friends of theirs.
We were home fairly early as it was mid-week and both Patryk and Maciek were working the next morning. Our bed was a comfortable pull-out couch in the living room and they gave us a spare key to the apartment so we didn’t have to wait for them to come home each night, but could come and go as we pleased. This was all so much more than we could have expected from them, never mind extremely trusting!
While we did our own things in the day time, we spent the evenings hanging out with the guys in the apartment, cooked for them one night and got to know each other better over a few beers and some Polish vodka (obviously!). It was great to get an insight into the culture and world views of some guys similar to ourselves, but who grew up in a country that we only hear about in terms of immigrants – thanks UK media. We had a lot in common as the guys were both keen travellers too and we have since bumped into them again in India, of all places.
Overall my first taste of couch surfing was awesome and had me eager to try it more in the future. We gained two great new friends in Patryk and Maciek and got the chance to sit down, drink and chat with locals in a casual, relaxed environment. Really, what better way is there to travel than that?
So give it a go yourself, you won’t regret it!
(disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any future regret caused)
Wandering Around Town
The next day we headed into the city armed with a few tips from the guys. They’d told us that Warsaw used to have the nickname ‘Paris of the East’, thanks to its beautiful architecture and being a centre of culture and the arts.
Sadly, at the end of WWII the city was devastated, when the Nazi occupiers destroyed an incredible 90% of all the buildings in retaliation for the unsuccessful Warsaw Uprising. The city has since been completely rebuilt, but most of that rebuilding took place when Poland was firmly a part of the USSR; meaning the beautifully Parisian-style architecture has been replaced with ugly communist-style tower blocks.
That’s not to say there aren’t any beautiful buildings left to look at in the city – there are. ‘Stalin’s gift’ to Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science stands out and just wandering around the old town you will come upon a beautiful row of houses on a cobbled street or a centuries-old town square. But there is notably less eye-pleasing architecture here than more popular European cities, such as Krakow and Prague.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
Luckily for anyone who’s interested; the Warsaw Uprising Museum is dedicated to the WWII era history of the city and the uprising, which is responsible for it’s less than flattering face lift. We decided to visit, paying 18 złoty for a regular ticket (it’s free on Sundays) and gambling 2 złoty more on a special ticket to see the short 3D Movie ‘City of Ruins’.
I say gambled, because Rick told me that 3D movies didn’t work for him, but I assured him that the new digital 3D would work because it didn’t rely on those old crappy green/red cardboard glasses. It didn’t work. He had to sit through 6 minutes of blurry grey images and I had to hear all about it for the rest of the day.
It was totally worth it though. The movie was the highlight of the museum for me. It’s a 6 minute long 3D fly-over of Warsaw in 1945, after the Nazi destruction of the city. It’s a really sobering experience to the utter devastation for yourself and the 3D gives a perspective and sense of scale that you just can’t appreciate in the photos. It’s a must-see if you’re visiting and worth dishing out the extra couple of złoty for the ticket – assuming you can see 3D.
Other highlights of the museum included a large cinema screen in the main hall showing a movie reel about the uprising, with interviews from survivors and on the lower level there was a cool replica of the sewer tunnels used by the resistance fighters, which you can walk through.
The museum was really impressive and it’s a great way to learn about Warsaw’s role in WWII. The place is huge, there’s loads to interact with and you could spend all day wandering around getting lost in the rooms. But having already spent the past week in museums dedicated to WWII in Krakow and Auschwitz; Rick and I lost interest after a couple of hours and went for dinner.
Locked in a Basement
Stuck for things to do in Warsaw, we checked on Trip Advisor for inspiration and found a popular room escape game in the city. They’re now fairly popular in cities all over the world, but this was the first time we’d seen one so we had to give it a go. Room Escape Warsaw had by far the best reviews, so we booked a slot via their website for our final day in the city.
There were three different games to choose from; a basement, laboratory and Indiana themed rooms. All had the same basic concept of you being locked in a room and having 60 minutes to unlock the door and escape, by finding keys and solving various puzzles along the way. Not being unfamiliar with being restrained while role playing, we thought we were adequately experienced to give it a go.
We originally booked the laboratory room, so we could relive our Dexter’s Lab inspired childhood fantasies, but when we turned up to play we were told that we couldn’t do the Lab, as the puzzles were designed for teams larger than two. Instead we’d be playing the basement theme – all cool
So a guy gave us a quick briefing on the rules of the game, confiscated our phones, showed us a short intro video and told us that less than half of all teams actually succeed and with only two men, we had even less of a chance… Sweet! Sufficiently demoralised, we were led inside, eyes-closed, the door was locked and the countdown started!
Opening our eyes we saw a grey, windowless room with random objects scattered all over; such as a broken mannequin on the floor, an exercise bike with no pedals, a world map hanging on the wall and plenty of shelves, desks and drawers. At first glance none of it meant anything so we just dived straight in and started scrambling around opening drawers, tipping boxes and trying to find anything that might give us a clue what to do next. As we searched, we found keys which opened padlocks, numbers which were for combination locks and random photos from around the world.
The guy outside was watching us the whole time and could offer us clues via a TV screen on the wall if we needed them. The rest of the time the screen showed a countdown of time remaining just to add to the pressure.
We soon found the missing pedals for the exercise bike and realised that we had to reattach them and cycle a bit to generate power for a screen on the wall and get our next clue – pretty cool! We got really stuck after this and clues started flashing up on the screen telling us to plug pieces into the wall map. Even though we did exactly what we were being told, nothing was happening. After about 5 minutes of flapping around gormlessly, the door opened and the guy came in with the same frustrated look on his face that you might give to your grandma after spending half your day trying to explain how to send an email – just give it here, I’ll do it!
It turned out that we had to plug metal pieces into the wall map, which would then open another door to a second room. While we had plugged the pieces in correctly, we’d also unknowingly unscrewed a piece from the map that wasn’t meant to be unscrewed and so the door wasn’t opening – oops!
Rather than just making light of it and opening the door for us, the guy started ranting at us! He was visibly pissed off that we’d ‘broken’ the map and angrily told us several times how stupid we were to have tried unscrewing a screw… even though the whole point of the game is to be curious and interact with everything. He had a really bad attitude and although he did eventually open the next room for us, he made us feel really bad when we were supposed to be having fun – not cool!
The second room was much like the first with several interesting, interactive puzzles and eventually… with only 30 seconds left on the clock… We did it! We unlocked the door and escaped!
When we spoke to the guy afterwards he’d fixed the map and was now a lot friendlier, but the damage was already done and he’d spoiled our experience a bit. He also told us that because of the map incident, he’d actually added an extra 15 minutes to the clock, so technically we’d completed it in 75 mins, not 60. Whatever, a win is a win!
Regardless of the guy’s attitude, we still had a great time overall. It was A LOT of fun rummaging around the room, interacting with the objects and trying to piece together all of the clues. It was just like being inside a real life video game.
We’ve since played a few more room escape games around the world, but this one was easily the best. At only 150 złoty per game it’s by far the cheapest one we’ve played and also the most creative and thoughtfully designed. This place clearly had a lot of thought put into its puzzles, that went way beyond lazy ‘find the key to open the padlock’ hunts that others rely on. Well worth a visit if you’re in town!
3/5 Strangers on your couch!
Warsaw was never on our list, but we’re glad we visited. We made some new friends, discovered the fun of room escapes and it left us wanting to come back to Poland to see what the rest of the country has to offer.
Next stop: Bangkok!
Special thanks to Patryk and Maciek for being the perfect hosts for a first timer!
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