The Warsaw tour officially began from inside a little van. It was a charming indigo blue Nysa van to be exact, once produced en masse during Poland’s communist era. The creaky seat cushioned the ride as the modern city whizzed by, a window to my Off-the-Beaten-Path afternoon with Adventure Warsaw.
Off-the-Beaten-Path Warsaw Tour
How about a cool retro mode of transport to explore the capital of Poland? I was game. With an Adventure Warsaw tour guide at the wheel, I discovered that Warsaw was a city that can tell you its own story – only if you know where to look.
The Nysa Van: How We Rolled
I knew my Warsaw tour would take us around the city in a colorful Nysa van. The vehicles were once produced in a Polish town called Nysa, from 1958 until 1994. I loved the inside, very retro indeed. It also offered enough warm refuge from the biting freezing cold -5 C/23 F temps of that winter day.
Mariusz, born and bred in Warsaw, sat at the wheel. Stefanos was buckled in the back with a couple from the Netherlands and together we puttered off to Constitution Square. There, we hopped out and Mariusz painted a picture of what life was supposed to be like in the days of glorious communist parades, what political messages were important and what threats to power were hidden.
We then headed to the Palace of Culture and Science, for a short lecture on the how the fantastic towering structure had been preserved. A line of modern skyscrapers built more recently offered a sharp contrast to its unique Gothic skyskraper meets city castle-like look.
Sadly, Warsaw is a New City
It was interesting to learn that Warsaw was once called the Paris of the North. Then, it was almost all demolished during the devastating bombing campaigns of both World Wars. Then came communism. Then came the fall of it. Since then, like many former eastern block countries, Warsaw has been on a determined path to growth. The past quarter of a century has meant tremendous changes for a way of life, the look of the capital and the mentality of the people.
Next stop was Grzybowski Square. We passed what was once the Jewish ghetto, learning its significance. Like many times during my stay in Warsaw, I was reminded of the horrors of the war — of what Nazi Germany sadly managed to accomplish.
Praga District Rising
Then we were off across the frozen Vistula River to the Praga District, an up and coming part of the city filled with fabulous street art, cool pubs and cafes. However, Mariusz explained Praga was a place everyone avoided not too long ago. In fact, he had only gone once a child, on a special trip to the zoo.
In Praga, we walked into a tenement house courtyard where Mariusz explained how life was and how life is in the low-income district. A shrine for the Virgin Mary reminded me of the Roman Catholic influence.
As we continued our walk he pointed out buildings scarred with the permanent marks of of bullet holes. It wasn’t the only place I had seen them in the city, another reminder of the past.
We then walked through a street market, once a “black market,” where deals happened once upon a time.
On the Warsaw Tour: A Milk Bar
A warm and welcome break from the cold came in the form of lunch at a very traditional Polish milk bar. Milk bars are traditional cafeteria style eateries.
Dairy products and other basic food staples, subsidized by the government, allow traditional and hearty Polish dishes to be quite affordable for the masses – just a few euros to eat very well. The traditional milk bars that have decades upon decades of history, like the one we dined at, were extremely simple. No frills, just food. Excellent food, at that.
Today, more upscale milk bars have sprung up throughout the city. Some feature pops of color or style thanks to private ownership, but they still keep a cafeteria style environment and serve traditional Polish fare.
Our final stop took us to the another vintage moment, the Charm of the People’s Republic of Poland Museum. All the great stuff you’d hope to find at a yard sale or a European Salvation Army lined the walls and shelves. The memorabilia filled up the museum giving a better understanding of the colors, mood and propaganda of the time.
Warsaw Tour Conclusion
On the Off-the-Beaten-Path Warsaw tour, I earned a deeper understanding of Warsaw and its past, its politics and the hope for its future as an emerging destination.
I really enjoyed Mariusz’s stories. He gave us perspective from his own life growing up in Warsaw and pointed out the most interesting corners of pre-war Warsaw. Having a local guide through the must-see Praga district was especially insightful given the birth of change in the atmosphere there. What we learned seemed to tie in perfectly at the Communist Museum.
*I was a guest of Adventure Warsaw. As always, all opinions are my own.
ul.Mińska 25 Warszawa „Soho Factory”/fabryka PZO
tel. (+48) 606 22 55 25
Tours start at 40 Euro per person
Don’t forget to check out my Photo Tour post of Old Town Warsaw.
If you’re looking for an amazing gourmet dining experience while you are in gorgeous old town, read my earlier review post on La Rotisserie. I also recommend staying at the Hotel Rialto in the new town.
Have you ever taken a Warsaw tour? I’d love to hear about your experience.
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