#2066 | the broke student’s guide to warsaw

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Warsaw, Poland

I arrived in Poland fully expecting to love it and I was not disappointed. I also arrived in Poland fully expecting to pen one or more Broke Student Guides, and you will not be disappointed. High hopes, high hopes, you guys. Here we go.

Getting to Warsaw

Poland’s national airline PLL LOT launched their SG-WARSAW direct flight last year, which takes 12.5hours and costs about a thousand dollars. I ran a couple of random dates and got prices from 800 to 1100SGD, so I think if you’re flexible with dates you should be able to get a round trip to Warsaw at about 800 bucks.

To and fro the airport, you can take a cab or uber. Our taxi ride from the city center to the airport cost us 32Zlt with a 20Zlt surcharge because we requested a big cab (lots of luggage). That’s a total of 52 Zlt, or 19SGD, which is really affordable, especially if you split it with friends. Even cheaper if you dont have a ton of luggage like us! Haha. It only took ten minutes, even thought google maps said half an hour. Stranger things have happened, but it was a nice surprise regardless.

Oh yes – one more thing. You do not need a visa to go to Poland, you can stay for up to 90 days as a tourist.

SIM Cards

You can buy a SIM card from most convenience stores around, I got mine at the airport. There are many options but I went with ORANGE because I read that it has the best coverage throughout poland. It was mad cheap too. It was 7zlt (2.50SGD) for a sim card, 30 days validity, and with SEVEN GB of data. M A D N E S S. For reference, in Germany the month before I paid freaking 25 euros for a lousy 2.5gb of data. That’s almost 50 bucks!

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this is what it looks like

It was so cheap that i bought 2 sim cards, one for each phone (i have 2 numbers). Haha. It’s a plug and play system, so put it in, wait awhile, and it should start working without much fuss.

If you’re going to be staying a week or less, there’s another service provider called PLAY that offers UNLIMITED data for 19zlt, but the sim is only valid for 7 days. Also, we saw this other SIM that offered 10GB of data for 5zlt, but Christabel bought it and said it didn’t work as well, so nevermind that.

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too good to be true? she said it didnt work well outside warsaw, so maybe keep that in mind if youre going to be travelling to different parts of poland

Cash, Credit, etcetera?

Poland uses their own currency, the zloty. The exchange rate is about 2.74 in our favor. If you change your money literally anywhere besides the airport, you’ll get a pretty decent rate. But it’s worth noting that Poland is super credit card friendly, even random pushcarts selling coffee are likely to have credit card machines, so I’d only change a small amount of zloty and charge the rest to a miles card if I were you. This is also because the chances of being able to change zloty back to SGD is pretty low, Singapore doesnt even stock the zloty so you’d have to change it to euro then from euro back to SGD.. it’s just a whole hassle.

Most places also have paywave enabled, so if you have a paywave card youre basically just tapping as you go, it’s mega convenient and way better than trying to sort out your zloty. The only things I needed cash for were those random toilets that charged entry fees, luggage storage/lockers, and like this one super obscure hot dog stand that only accepted cash.

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Coffee-selling push cart? Accepts paywave too.

Whenever I write Broke Student Guides, I always get at least one person emailing me asking me how much money they should bring. The answer is, how should I know? Everyone is different! My coffee habit, for instance, means that I’ll spend slightly more than someone who doesnt drink coffee. A shopaholic would spend way more than I do because I dont care much for shopping. Etcetera etcetera. I can only tell you what I did: I changed 120Eur to Zloty for 2 weeks in poland, then paid for everything else using my credit card. I did just fine.

Accomodation

Because I was on a press trip, I was put up at a pretty sweet hotel that would not be in line with any broke student’s plans whatsoever. (It was pretty sweet though, it was the Sheraton warsaw)

But I ran searches on alternative accommodation options – and there are plenty of hostels and airbnbs for really good prices (considering youre in europe). I actually extended my trip and spent an additional night in Warsaw Hostel Centrum, which I thought was pretty great because it was near the main railway station, had free wifi, had a 24 hour check in desk, and offered free luggage storage on the day of check out till 11pm. The 24hr check in was important to me because I was coming from Krakow and would only arrive late at night, and the free luggage storage was important cos my flight out of Warsaw was only late at night the following day and if I could save some money on a locker it’d be ideal. I found the hostel on hostelworld.com, which is my go-to for hostel searches when I travel!

I also hear good things about Oki Doki hostel, if youre wanting to stay in the old town 🙂

You should be able to find beds for under 20SGD a night, and then depending on how much privacy you want, the price goes up from there.

Getting around

– Uber, Bikes, Walk, Bus

Warsaw is significantly bigger than Krakow and Wroclaw (the other two cities I visited on my trip) so you’ll have to figure out your preferred method of transport, whereas in the other two cities I essentially walked everywhere. Ubers are very affordable, I dont think I paid more than 10-12zloty for my rides.

If you want to cycle, the city’s bike system is pretty extensive, and their bikes look way more sturdy than the regular Ofo/Obike ones you see in Singapore/other countries. Also, check out the prices:

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you can find these stations all over the city!

This means that if you can get from one station to another in 20 minutes, your ride is free! Free, I say! The trigger word of broke students all over the world! I actually love biking around cities, when I was in Vienna last month I cycled everywhere and it was awesome. But this time round I was on a press trip so it wasn’t possible. No matter, here’s the info anyway.

If you rather just walk, that’s totally possible too, it just takes more time. The way Warsaw is structured, most things just sit on this one really long route called the Royal Road. So if you walk down the entirety of the road you would have hit a whole bunch of things that you might wanna see.

Things to do

I’m going to preface this section with a disclaimer: I think there is no visiting Poland without being minimally aware of its history. Poland is its history. The country’s background and the current way in which it engages with its past is what made me fall in love with Poland, because if we don’t engage with the stories of each destination we visit, then aren’t we just staring at old town simulacrums over and over?

Neon Museum

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the neon muzeum

Warsaw is split by a river, and on the other end of the river you have the Praga-Soho district. We were there for lunch, and while waiting for our reservation time we popped into the Neon Museum, which I really recommend. Neon signs are a relic from the Cold War era, a socio-cultural symbol of economic success in a post-Stalin time. Basically, Poland wanted to compete with other metropolitan cities from the West like London and New York, but still wanted to differentiate themselves from capitalist cultures and modes of advertising – birthing the era of neonization, which was unique to Poland at the time. Most of these signs were commissioned by the communist government that was then in power, and the signs were seen as a kind of socialist advertising (apparently the look of neon signs relayed dependability and trust?). This, combined with the fact that Poland has historically had a strong emphasis on graphic design, resulted in some of the most unique and gorgeous neon signs in history.

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how incredible does this look!?

I love that these signs appeal to people on multiple levels – they’re aesthetically pleasing to the man on the street, but they also carry cultural value in their neon manifestation (see above re cultural socialist symbols). On yet another level, these signs are rooted in graphic design, and graphic design has always been a reflection of the artist’s aesthetic and social values. It seems no coincidence that the neon era happened in Poland over anywhere else in the world given its unique political history, and in terms of cementing Poland’s place in the ecosystem of design, the Polish school of Poster Design was also strong influence on the international development of poster art down the road.

Unfortunately, neon is really mad expensive to maintain, so a lot of the signs fell into disuse and got tossed out after the fall of the eastern bloc. This museum is a privately owned passion project that is one of, if not the only, remaining places where you can see multiple signs all in one place. It has also become synonymous with any mention of the neon era in Poland, and the museum is super beloved by locals and tourists alike. Because it’s privately owned, your ticket price goes towards their piggy bank for restoring yet another neon sign they have in storage. If you have the time or opportunity to, talk to the owners and ask them questions! They’re a really interesting couple, Ilona Karwinska is a world culture photographer who used to work as a photojournalist in Lebanon before opening the museum, and David Hill, her husband and co-founder, is a graphic designer who totally geeks out over the incredible typography at play in each of the signs. He walked us around the museum while she tended the ticket booth, and it was evident just how much of a passion project this museum was from the loving way he spoke of each sign.

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David Hill, co-founder of the museum, explaining the origins of a sign to us. There are also little info cards next to each sign if you’re wandering around the museum yourself.

Neon Muzeum
Soho Factory, Mińska 25, Praga District, 03-808 Warsaw, Poland
Open 12:00 – 17:00, Sat 12:00 – 18:00, Sun 11:00 – 17:00. Closed Tue.
Entry: 10ZLT

Do a free walking tour.

I did not do this because I was with a tour guide as arranged by the Polish tourism board (I was on a press trip), but I checked, and there is a free walking tour available in Warsaw. I like doing walking tours because they’re a good way to get a crash course on the city, they often reveal interesting facts that you would not have been able to discover if you wandered around by yourself, and they usually start in the mornings and last only an hour or two, giving you lots of time to do other things that day.

The free Old Town Walking Tour in Warsaw begins right underneath Sigismund’s Column and departs every day at 10.30am. It’s a two hour tour. Please note that although it’s a free tour, you are expected to tip your tour guide, and you should, because they’re providing you a service!

History of Jews in Poland Museum

This museum is now one of my favorite museums in the world. I visited it on tour with the press group, and returned by myself the week after because I wanted more time to go through each section. It was incredible. As per the name, the museum focuses on the history of the Jews in Poland, from their settlement to the Holocaust, and it extends also into post-war territory exploring the emotional trauma and identity crisis of the Jews after the war.

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Like I mentioned in my opening, any meaningful engagement with Poland must necessarily consist an understanding or at least, some interest, in the history of the country. Most people know Poland as the site of the Auschwitz concentration camps, the world’s largest death camp where over 1.3million people were unceremoniously executed, resulting in arguably the worst crime against humanity in recent human memory. But why Poland? Why Jews? How do we even make sense of what came to past? I’ll answer one of those questions now: while Poland wasn’t totally blind to the Jewish/local divide, they were certainly the kindest and most hospitable to Jews relative to the rest of Europe, leading to a large number of Jews choosing to settle there. This is also why Auschwitz was selected as the location for the death camps, because the jews were already in the area, and it made more sense to the Nazis to deal with them in Poland itself vs shipping them somewhere else……… And for the rest of the questions, you’ll really have to visit the museum to see. It’s not because I’m clickbaiting you, mind you. It’s that the full answer cannot be comprehended merely in words – it’s an answer that must be experienced. And so experience it in Poland you must.

The museum contextualises the experiences of the war in an impressively nuanced and thorough way. Better, it doesn’t only focus on the Holocaust, silently nodding to the frequent lamentation that the trauma of Auschwitz has been the all-encompassing Jewish identity for years. It explores the trauma of Auschwitz, yes, but also expands past that, so that you leave the museum seeing the Jewish Poles as more than just their trauma – something that I think is crucial when discussing any sort of trauma in relation to identity today.

It’s not just the content of the museum that makes it excellent – it is also the thoughtful way the entire museum is structured, which aims to bring you through an emotional journey through the years and forge an empathetic understanding between the modern tourist and the persecuted Jewish people throughout Poland’s history. There is no randomness in the way the exhibits are sequenced, and yet, walking through the museum, the flow from era to era feels natural and totally absorbing. I spent about 3-4 hours in the museum each time, and I hear it spans about 5km underground. Trigger warning: you may tear up; I certainly did…

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Just some pictures from the museum

Visit the Łazienki Palace grounds

Also known as the palace on the water, the neoclassical Łazienki Palace is situated in Warsaw Royal Baths park, the largest park in city. The Germans apparently wanted to blow the castle up when they occupied Warsaw but never got around to doing it / couldnt bear to because it was so beautiful? Either way. I didn’t actually go in, but you can, for the following prices:

Admission 25/18zł and comes with headphones, free on Thursdays. Children and students up to 26 years of age pay 1zł.

Once again, it literally pays to be young. 1 Zlt is about 30 singaporean cents.

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ballsy peacock

Even if you dont go in, the park is a pretty nice place for a stroll because not only is it beautiful, there are peacocks roaming around, and these peacocks aren’t scared of humans at all! One actually walked right up to me and scared me.

Lazienki Palace
Agrykoli 1, 00-460 Warszawa, Poland

It’s also worth mentioning that this park has a Chopin monument (Chopin was polish, FYI) and holds free concerts called Chopin in the Park from mid-May to the end of September, with performances taking place twice on Sundays – at 12:00 and at 16:00. And even if youre not there on a Sunday, you can visit the Chopin monument and check out the music benches, which are dotted all over the city. They look pretty much like regular benches, except they have some chopin-related fun facts inscribed on them, plus a little button that triggers classical chopin music to play from speakers located within the bench. Aka, Magic!

Vodka Museum

It was a fortuitous coincidence that we were in town on the day their Vodka museum opened! I’m not really much of a vodka drinker myself, but this was interesting still because Poland has long contended with Russia for the title of WHO INVENTED VODKA?! (PS. Poland insists it’s them.) As a visiting asian I gotta say I’m keeping out of these european politics, but I do think vodka lovers will enjoy this. Or anyone interested in breweries, distilleries, that kinda thing. I dont think it’s a super must-go place, but if you have the time why not? Unfortunately they don’t stock my favorite Polish vodka, Bisongrass, but you can get that rather easily in the city center for the excellent price of about twenty bucks a bottle.

Oh yes. If you do decide to go to the Vodka Museum, you NEED to look out for the drunk goggles they have on display. Wearing these goggles simulates what people see/feel under the influence of different kinds of whiskey (all for sale at the museum, of course), and it leads to a lot of giggles and hilarity.

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Me n all the vodka

English tours go by the hour.

Prices:

Individual tourists – 19 zł
Guide services for group up to 6 people – 45 zł
Guide services for group above 6 people – 95 zł
Individual tours with vodka testing (3 varieties of alcohol po 25 cl) – classic alcohols – 39 zł
Individual tours with vodka testing (3 varieties of alcohol po 25 cl) – premium alcohols – 75 zł

*If you go with the vodka tasting option, they give you a little certificate at the end which I assume means youre a vodka connoisseur now! Unfortunately, the cert is in Polish, so I have no idea what it actually said. I’m just guessing.

Polish Vodka Museum
Szmulowizna, 00-001 Warszawa, Poland
http://muzeumwodki.pl/en/


Uprising Museum

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Yet another museum, this one dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It was an uprising orchestrated by the Poles in an effort to overthrow the Germa occupation, a heroic effort, but a doomed one nonetheless. This is widely recognized to be one of Poland’s best museums, and it spans three floors, with a giant bomber plane sitting in the middle of the first.

This is definitely a more interactive museum, the exhibits are structured to be less conventional while still being educational (there’s actually an exhibit where you can pretend to send messages in morse code using a machine to war allies elsewhere). I think if you’re travelling with kids/ younger students, this would be a better museum to visit, but I personally preferred the History of Jews in Poland museum. Of course, if you have the time, visit both!

Warsaw Uprising Museum
Grzybowska 79, 00-844 Warszawa, Poland
Admission 25/20zł (children under 7 free). Sun free.
Audioguides for 10zł per person.

Climb the clock tower

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Most european cities will try to cajole you into climbing some clock tower or the other in their old towns, and Warsaw is no different. Warsaw’s marked advantage, though, is that their bell tower is only 4 stories up, as opposed to, yknw, the usual 30. The view from the clock tower is pretty fantastic as well, apparently the best view in all of Warsaw.

Ticket prices:

– Standard admission: PLN 6
– Concessions: PLN 5*

* Available to children aged 4 or older, school-aged children and youth, students under the age of 26, retirement and disability pensioners, and individuals aged 65 or older upon presentation of a valid ID or other relevant identification.

That’s basically 1.80-2SGD to climb the tower. Totally worth it, I recommend you go during sunset because it’s truly breathtaking when the golden rays hit the city!

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gorgeous. and not that tiring to get to either. Haha.

In conclusion..

I feel like I could go on for way longer, but this post is already pretty lengthy as it is, and I do feel like the beauty of travel is also in the moments of spontaneous discovery upon arrival. I do think it’s pretty obvious that I really enjoyed my time in Warsaw, and a big part of this was because I found Poland’s story fascinating on a historical and emotional level. I strongly urge anyone who’s considering Poland as a destination to make plans to visit their museums, and even read up a bit on their history before heading over.

If you’re not someone who likes nonfiction/historical reads, theres something else I like to do (although I dont always have the chance to) which is to read at least one novel set in the country I am visiting prior to going there. This is partly cos I love reading anyway, but also because I think it’s nice to have established a kind of preliminary familiarity with a voice from that country first. It makes the country more personal to me, somehow.

My recommended reads for Poland:

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Warsaw was the entry point for the rest of my Poland trip, which spanned Krakow, Zakopane, and Wroclaw, and I do think that it’s an excellent place to start off if you’re planning a longer trip. All these cities in Poland have their own unique history within Poland’s larger narrative, and uncovering this as I went along was like being between the pages of a book. (Man, modern history is so great.) But yeah. There’s so much to do in Warsaw, and I feel like I’ll definitely return some day in the future. And for the rest of you, hope this was helpful in your trip planning!

Till next time. x

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x
Jem

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