#2081 | Another one from another life

Hi guys,

Another one of late. I knew I was going to be taking a break from entertainment for the year end to work on the literary side of things, so the months leading up to November were actually insanely busy, crammed with shoots and revisions and scripts and projects yet to come to fruition, but promising promising, busy yet still promising. I am equal parts excited and intimidated, the tension between the up down up down up down is enough to wreck. A. Girl. I’m telling you! And yet I would not have it any other way. I wake up everyday horrified at all the things I have yet to do. Everyday I feel like all I’m doing is catching up. And on and on we go.



Anyway here is what I was talking about, re: another one. I hosted the Secrets of Okinawa travel episode for Okinawa Tourism Board x Jetstar Asia, a 5 day shoot that ended in a typhoon (!!!). Which obviously didnt make the final cut. For reasons.

I adore Okinawa. It’s my second time back – the first I was also hosting a travel video, a mini travel series in three parts that was more lifestyle and fun. This one is a little more documentary style. I actually prefer this one because of the homestay I got to do, which let me really sit down and get to know my hosts even after the cameras stopped rolling. Also – the extremely uncoordinated me got to do some hiking, which I have steadily refused my entire life, just knowing I would fall on my face and have my front teeth knocked out.. well, I didn’t, which is a nice surprise, though all it really does is reaffirm the extreme paranoia I carry around with me. Etcetera. Aside: that’s one way to get me to do physical activity I normally refuse – have a client request it. Ah well.

Because so much happened in between the shoot and release date, I actually forgot all about it.. until I saw it online. And then the memories all came rushing back. I thought to myself: Gosh. I love camera work. I actually really love it. When I go on set it’s like a different version of myself surfaces, a more extroverted, excitable, playful version, and it’s like running on an adrenaline high. It is second only to writing – which brings with it a different, deeper, more settled joy. And then when the camera cuts I settle back into my regular person. I guess that’s why it always feels like I’m watching a self from another life when I watch my own camera work after it releases, that shock of uncanniness not entirely unpleasant, but not exactly comfortable either. But then again I have become accustomed to discomfort.

Till next time.

x
Jem

#2077 | the broke student’s guide to Wroclaw solo!

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Wroclaw, Poland

Hey guys,

I was in Poland for some work in June and extended my trip to venture off to Wroclaw alone – a place full of promise with a name i couldn’t entirely pronounce. No matter! Adventure called, and I answered. Off to Wroclaw it was!

Getting there

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Hello from the GORGEOUS town of Wroclaw!

I took a 3 hour busride from Krakow to Wroclaw, it stands to reason as usual that the earlier you book the cheaper it is. I booked 2 weeks in advance and paid 5.90Eur per way. This is by far the cheapest and most efficient way of doing it from my research, I used Flixbus and downloaded the app too so I could check in via mobile instead of having to print stuff out and keep it on hand.

The bus departs from MDA bus station which is right next to the main train station in Krakow, as well as a giant mall, so theres lots to do while waiting for your bus to depart. Because i lead a terribly exciting life, I found a cafe with free powerpoints immediately, sat down, and started checking my emails.

*Note – the bus ride actually took 3.5-4hrs although it was advertised as a three hour ride. Traffic, I guess.

Total cost: 5.90 x 2 = 11.80Eur / SGD

Luggage matters

My entire trip was 2 weeks and I was only to spend 3 days in Wroclaw, so I had to find some way of getting rid of my big luggage while travelling solo and therefore, light. Thankfully most main train stations in Europe have a left-luggage system (I also double checked this online) and the one in Krakow is no different. I needed not just a left luggage locker which would limit each storage period to 24 hours, but a left luggage booth. This was located outside Burger King near platform 5 in the Krakow train station, and it cost 6Zlt/day to store big luggages for up to 10 days. That is very well priced, it’s essentially 2SGD. Ive paid up to 30 bucks in other parts of the world for the same service!

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this is what it looks like

Total cost: 6 x 3zlt = 18Zlt / 6SGD. PAY IN CASH UPON PICK UP.

Money matters – Currency, Credit, Cash.

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 (30 euros maybe?) 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.

Connectivity – Data, calls, etcetera

As mentioned in my Broke Student’s Guide to Warsaw, data in Poland is very, very affordable. In fact, the only other city I’ve been to with such sick rates for data is Helsinki, which was 3.99Eur for unlimited 7 day data. For Poland, I paid 7zlt (2.50SGD) for 7GB of data with 30 day validity. The carrier I went with was Orange, one of the biggest carriers in Poland, and I got the SIM card from the Warsaw Chopin Airport.

Accomodation

There are hostels aplenty in Wroclaw, but I booked myself an airbnb because I wanted a private space for myself and the extra cost was worth it to me. I paid 89SGD/2 nights for this gorgeous space. Main considerations I had when looking for a space was that it had to either have an elevator or be on the first floor of the building since I was travelling alone and I’d pulled a muscle in my arm previously from trying to lug a giant suitcase up 8 flights of stairs lol. This airbnb was on the first floor (meaning just one flight of stairs up, they go by Ground, 1, 2, 3, etc) of the building, which was perfect for me!

Link to my airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/19632795.
***Kindly sign up for airbnb at airbnb.com/jemma to get 45SGD off your first booking so that I can also get money off my bookings and therefore fund future broke student guides thank you. ***

The average cost of a hostel bed in Wroclaw is about 18-20SGD / night but i wasnt in the mood to share a dorm with 11 other young men and women haha, some trips I dont mind but this time i wanted some quiet time. Either way its good to know the option is there!

Total cost: 89SGD

Getting around

Wroclaw is a very walkable city, otherwise there are trams and citybikes you can pay for. I dont know anything about those because I walked EVERYWHERE. I didn’t even have to uber from the train station to my accommodation, it was a 10 minute walk, and from my apartment, another 10 minute walk into the Old Town.

And Wroclaw is super pretty so walking everywhere is totally enjoyable! Just have to put this out there in case the idea of lots of walking is off-putting to some of you!

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The walk from my airbnb to the city center was super nice too

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Here are the prices for the bikes anyway

Total cost: Free

Food

The cheapest way of feeding yourself is to locate the nearest milk bar and start off your day there. Despite the name, milk bars dont actually sell milk, they’re a kind of Polish canteen that was popularised in the post-war period as an affordable alternative to the more expensive, and therefore, capitalist, restaurants. They were mostly state subsidized as part of the welfare system, and put in place so the poorer people had somewhere to eat. At some point there were milk bars everywhere in Poland, but after the fall of the communist system they started to fold. However, you can usually still find a couple in each polish city – and they serve traditional and often home made polish food, which is awesome!

And they weren’t joking when they said milk bars were cheap. The only thing though, is that they’re catered to Poles and not to tourists haha so everything on the menu is in Polish. I just randomly pointed at something on the board and hoped for the best. Turns out I got a drink, salad, soup with noodles, main course (pork cutlet) and side (potatoes), all for 14.90zlt. That’s 5.40SGD. Amazing. And everything was really yummy too. It’s not only affordable, it’s also mad filling, because there’s just so much food, so if you start your day off eating here you probably won’t get hungry again till much later at night…

The milk bar I visited was right outside Renoma, the biggest shopping mall in Wroclaw.

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Everything is in polish, so.. yolo!

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It really looks more like a nice cafe than a budget milkbar!

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Mystery juice. I still have no idea what this is.

Rozowa Krowa
Świdnicka 38, 11-400 Wrocław

Other than milk bars, there are also plenty of affordable food options around the city. I hit up this pub called Pre-war (Przedwojenna) on my first night there, which was so awesome. All the food and drink options were painted on the wall, and the pricing system was straightforward – 4zlt for drinks, 8zlt for food. That’s SGD1.40 for a beer and SGD2.90 for a main… Again, everything was in polish, so I actually mistook the entire place’s concept and thought they were some kind of tapas bar because of the prices. I accidentally ordered two main courses instead of two tiny side dishes as I expected..

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I feel like I gotta put the prices here just as proof or no one will believe me!

Prewar
Świętego Mikołaja 81, 11-400 Wrocław, Poland
Open 24 Hours

The only ‘expensive’ thing I did was splurge on a 12zlt beer in this nice sports bar, 1450 Smokehouse & Cocktail, because the Poland vs Senegal World Cup match was showing on a big screen and I wanted to catch it. 12zlt is pricey for a beer (to me) because I was comparing it to the 4zlt beer I had the night before.. But it’s still SGD4.30 for a beer, yknw? Haha.

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Fun!

Oh yes, and the day I left, I hit up a pretty great cafe where I had a life changing experience with some focaccia. While that wasn’t expensive, it also cost slightly more than the rest of the food I had on the trip.

Total Cost: I cant remember. Bahaha.

Things to do

Hunt Gnomes!!

This is an actual thing. It’s almost like Wroclaw’s national thing by now, to be honest. You see these gnomes on magnets and stuff! But yes, these little metal sculptures pop up all over the city, and they’re hilarious. As are the random tourists you’ll see chasing them down at most corners! I didn’t go out of my way to look for them but I did follow the trail of a couple of them, and I was pretty amused everytime I came across another. There are apparently over 400 gnomes in the city now!

Beyond being a fun quirk, the gnomes actually have a really interesting back story – they were created as symbol of anti-Soviet resistance group, the Orange Alternative, as a way of protesting freedom of speech amongst other things. Long story short, it made authorities look like fools every time they tried to clamp down on them, because theyre freakin cute gnomes, for goodness sake! Anyway, the gnomes now are so popular amongst locals and tourists alike that they have their own official website with backstories and dwarf gossip, HAHA. Here it is – http://krasnale.pl/en/

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Hello, you

Check out their modern art

I find modern art in Poland fascinating because it is so heavily influenced by their post-war identity. Wroclaw is especially interesting because it used to be part of Germany (Breslau), and so its identity is steeped in the fact that it was actually on *that* side of history. Wroclaw was actually a pretty pro-hitler town before the war, actually, and it’s something they confront regularly in their documentation of history and art. I went to the BWA Wroclaw Galleries of Contemporary Art and loved it! It wasn’t very big but all the exhibits were well thought out and fascinating.

If you have a student card this will cost 4ZLT instead of 8.

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As you can tell, I have been unabashedly abusing my student card

BWA Wroclaw Galleries of Contemporary Art
Wita Stwosza 32, 11-400 Wrocław, Poland

Check out the city museum at their Royal palace

The ex-royal palace has since been remodelled into a museum which houses cultural artefacts from Wroclaw’s history, detailing everything from fashion to furniture, from religious movements to Wroclaw’s involvement in World War II. I was actually really taken by the third level of the museum, which focuses on the post war Soviet occupation. I previously visited the Neon Muzeum in Warsaw which exhibits restored neon signs, relics from the Cold War era in Poland, and this kind of expanded on what I saw there.

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And of course, any history museum in Poland focuses in part on the war..

Entry: free
Website

Royal Palace, Wrocław (City Museum)
Kazimierza Wielkiego 35, 50-077 Wrocław, Poland

Total cost: 4Zlt/ 1.2SGD


Ending off

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Solo in Wroclaw = lots of selfies..

I absolutely loved Wroclaw and I’m so so so glad I decided to make a solo trip here instead of staying in Warsaw for a few more days! Don’t get me wrong, I do love Warsaw, but Wroclaw is very different in terms of character and charm, and a lot of this has to do with its history, I think. As with the rest of Poland, Wroclaw is relatively affordable compared to most of Europe, and if you’re in the area I definitely recommend making a two or three day trip here. Hope this guide was helpful and if you’re headed that way, and if youre not, make plans! x

*This Broke Student Guide was brought to you by me. Everything you see here was paid for on my own coin, in true broke student style. Enjoy!

x
Jem

#2070 | IZAWA Gyukatsu in Seoul

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Seoul, Korea

One of the best meals I had in Tokyo was preceded by a 45 minute queue winding down a tiny stairwell and spilling out into the streets of Shibuya. It was a katsu joint, but instead of them delivering a readymade katsu meal to you, you were served meat and a hot stone where you could sizzle the meat to your personal levels of perfection. The meal was so incredible to us that my sister ordered an extra 150g of meat despite being totally stuffed, and when I pointed out that she’d been complaining about totally overeating the entire trip, she told me to stop being a hater.

Good times, in other words. My sister and I sometimes remniscence about that meal fondly, but I never thought I’d be able to have it again unless I could somehow find my way back to Tokyo. Which explains why I was so suprised when I saw it sitting in a quiet alley in Myeong Dong during my trip to Seoul in March, and doubly explains why obviously I had to go in.

Now, I’m not sure if this is related to the Tokyo eatery I went to, but it shared the same concept. It was located in the basement of a building which was accessible by street level stairs, and you could order gyukatsu which came with a hot stone as well as unlimited refill of miso soup and salad. There were other options too, like pork donburi and beef bowls, but both Martin and I opted for the Gyukatsu because it was featured on the signboard and so was probably the signature item there.

I’m just going to say right away that Martin did not enjoy the meal, he was perplexed at the concept of having to cook his own food (“isn’t that what you pay service charge for?! The service of cooking!?”) and he likes his meat well done, so the option to control the level of rareness is pretty useless to him and just an additional step of trouble. Which are all perfectly fine reasons to dislike a meal. But I personally like my beef done medium or medium rare, and I also find it pretty fun to cook my own food because I like gimmicky things. So I loved this.

That’s all I really had to say about this place, I’m really just documenting this meal here because many people wrote to me to ask about it after I featured the meat on my instagram stories. It was a good meal for me and I would definitely go back. All the slices of meat I cooked tasted delicious to me and gave me a sense of validation that if I were ever to change career tracks, I would obviously have a great level of success as a chef. This may be a totally false belief, but the happiness I got from it was real, okay.

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I will say one thing about the meal, to end off this post. How on earth do they cook the outside of the cutlet to such great crispness while leaving the meat inside totally rare? I know I can probably find the answer pretty quickly by running a google search, but then some of the magic would be lost, methinks. Thus I continue to wonder occasionally about the perplexing complexities of culinary science, and life goes on.

IZAWA Gyukatsu Seoul
9-3, Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04537, South Korea

X
Jem

#2067 | adventures in hong kong – sham shui po

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Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong

It is summer and I am in Hong Kong, city of asian ambition and frenzy, flour and dough and neon lights. I’m staying on the other side of the river this time, the Kowloon side, which is new to me because the last four times I was in Hong Kong I was freaking out over 1. Disneyland 2. Dim sum and 3. Lan Kwai Fong. The classic tourist experience, in other words. But this time being based in Tsim Tsa Tsui it seemed a good chance to visit the Hong Kong of locals, going deeper into Kowloon than I’d ever been before. So a couple of days ago I hopped onto their MTR (Hongkong’s train system is so extensive and fast, it’s seriously convenient) and headed in the direction of Sham Shui Po.

Sham Shui Po is one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods, a dense residential hub that, like most of Hong Kong, doubles as a bustling end-all. When I was in a bar a few days before, the locals described it as the place to go for anything you needed. Phone wires, leather strips, beads.. Why would I come to Hong kong to buy beads?! I asked, and they looked at me. You wont know you need it till you see it..

Alright, I was intrigued. Off I went to Sham Shui Po, apparently bead city, and here I am with the things you have to check out the next time you’re in Hong Kong. And yes, they do include beads:

1. Hong Kong Kung Wu Beancurd Factory

But let’s get to the beads later. This Michelin-recommended tofu shop was hands down the best thing about Sham Shui Po for me because I love Soya bean milk, I love tofu, and I adore the traditional asian ones too, none of that vegan western variation. Even within Asian culture, tofu varies. The Taiwanese like it chewier, the Chinese like it softer, the Japanese like it in their skincare products. Me, I hold that all tofu is good tofu. Like most chinese people, I grew up eating tofu, and to me, tofu isn’t just quick comfort food, it’s nostalgic because everyone I knew grew up eating tofu and soy pudding with our families. It’s local, it’s cheap, and it tastes like family memories.

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Blocks and blocks of tofu for eating in or take out

So of course I had to hit up the beancurd factory. Kung Wu is a super retro little shop, brimming with locals, very affordable. You hustle for a table either inside the store or along the back alleys, and most of the time you share a spot with other tofu seekers. Your order gets taken almost immediately, so think fast. And then within minutes you’ll be digging into some kind of soy.

Despite earning a nod from the Michelin guide, the place is still very much a local haunt and hasn’t been overrun by tourists. I might have been one of the only two tourist units in the shop, everyone else seemed confident of their space the way locals are. The woman we shared our table with told us she lived upstairs. I eat here every day, she said. Morning, before work, night, after work, afternoon, snack. All good.

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Back alley seating outside the shop

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Soya bean milk, Mixed deep fried items (deep fried tofu, tofu puff and golden fish, soya cake), Traditional tofu pudding

I was with a girlfriend and we ordered a bunch of things to share. Everything was excellent. It was all fantastic – simple, yes, but the soy tasted exactly like what God intended soy to be. The soy pudding was silky and smooth, with the option of raw sugar added on top DIY style, the soya milk was a very precise kind of sweet, delicious without being cloying, and the fried tofu smeared with fish pastes and such were so, so, so good. We also ordered carrot cake, which i dont think has anything to do with soya, but it was phenomenal.

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One of my favorite dim sum dishes – the asian carrot cake

Kung Wu is just one of those places that proves you dont need to spend a bomb to have damned good food. The tofu pudding was 12HKD (2SGD), the soya milk 10HKD (1.70), and the mixed platter 15HKD (2.60). My girlfriend later commented that she would travel from Hongkong Island to Sham Shui Po exclusively for the tofu. It was that good.

Kung Wu Beancurd Factory
Hong Kong, Un Chau, Pei Ho St, 118號號
MTR Sham Shui Po Station, Exit B2.
830AM – 8PM daily
Phone: +852 2718 0976

2. Traditional cakes and nuts

Rifting off the theme of food, the traditional face of Sham Shui Po really shows itself in the little homemade cake and nut shops that you can find walking around the neighbourhood. These shops are catered exclusively to the locals, it seems, and they’re mainly family stores. The one I visited was in the center of Sham Shui Po, sandwiched in between a medicine shop and butcher, hidden behind colorful tents selling socks and the like on the main road. It was recommended by a friend who lives in Hong Kong, but she had no idea what the shop was called. She only had a photo of the interior, which she forwarded to me, with the caption they dont make em like this anymore.

No name, no problem. Adventure, as they say, is out there. I downloaded the photo onto my phone and accosted a friendly neighbourhood policeman who had no choice but to smile at me and walk me in the right direction. After a couple of wrong turns, I found the shop staring back at me, a vibrant manifestation of the photo I had on hand.

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I immediately took a photo of the signboard for reference. The shop, I later translated, is called San Lung Cakeshop

They truly dont make em like this anymore. These chinese traditional cake shops are rare even in Hong Kong, and finding this was a delight. In a short conversation with the owners, limited mainly by my incomprehensible grasp of mandarin, I established that they not only bake everything in house, they also roast the nuts themselves.

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Some home made pastries and cakes

The shop is stocked full of sticky steamed cakes, traditional mochis, sugar sponge cakes, sesame rolls, soft fried dumplings, peanut glutinous rice rolls, horseshoe rolls, wife cakes, cococnut cakes, roasted peanuts, chestnuts, fish skin nuts… goodness. It was like the ultimate Asian candy shop.

I really had to confront my not-so-inner fat kid here. Stop it! I told myself. You literally can not eat the whole shop. But my word, i certainly wanted to. I ended up buying some small items to snack on, and a bag of nuts and mochi for a friend I was to meet for dinner later in the day. As I bit into the red bean mochis and lingered outside the shop, considering if I should get more, I thought to myself how obvious the difference in quality is when something is handmade vs factory produced. This, again, is a big thing in Chinese culture especially, because food is never just food to us, it is care and concern and a way of showing love in a verbally conservative culture, and somehow that gets transcribed into the pressed dough of dumplings, of buns. It’s something we’ve always subconsciously known, but recently started thinking about out loud more I guess, thanks to the short film Bao that’s currently screening before each showing of The Incredibles.

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Red bean sesame mochi, regular red bean mochi

生隆餅家 San Lung Cake Shop
Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po, Pei Ho St, 68號
7am – 8pm daily
+852 2360 1359

3. Craft

Lest you think Sham Shui Po is all about food, let’s get back to the beads that brought us here to begin with. It turned out that beads were just an easy way of referencing the hundreds of craft shops in the area, chock full of leather, string, diamantes, buttons, lace, tape, and yes, beads. Sham Shui Po is actually known for its cheap shopping and craft shops, which are at every turn and corner. The cheap shopping is literally just cheap clothing shops, which I’m ambivalent about because my interest in shopping comes and goes, but boy oh boy, the craft shops. Those are intense.

At first I thought you would have to be some kind of hardcore scrapbooker to be interested in these shops, but now I think anyone who is even remotely competent in DIY craft will find Sham Shui Po to be a dream.

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Multicolored crafting frenzy

What would this place hold for me? I wondered. Probably just some curious sights. But no – I left with some leather cord for a forgotten charm I bought awhile back, assuming that at some point I would find a chain for it and turn it into a necklace, then never stumbling upon any. Well, till now.

If I had more time I might have bought some furballs and turned them into keychains, some leather to bind a book, some sticky diamantes to adhere to the back of my phone… but more time is always the limiting factor, and so, dazzled and bedazzled, I moved on..

4. Electronics

And into more frenzied territory. I caught sight of the Golden Computer Arcade, and remembered that Sham Shui Po was also known for its electronic wares. So I ventured in and immediately was swept up in an insane mass of bodies, all scrambling for wires, chargers, and more obscure gadgets that I never thought I needed but made total sense. Hong Kong is an expensive city in general, but for some reason, electronics are known to be cheaper here, cameras, phones, the like. Many photographers I know to go Hong Kong to buy their lenses for this reason, and while I didnt do a side by side comparison, the prices in the complex seemed pretty decent.

I left without buying anything – crowds make me slightly panicky, and as it is, I have way too many wires for my own good at home, I’m a bit of a hoarder. I dont think I would come to Sham Shui Po specifically for electronics, but if you’re already here, and happen to need an extra phone charger, the electronics crowd sure is an experience.

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Mad squeezy for pretty cheap

Golden Computer Arcade
Golden Building, 146-152 Fuk Wa St
+852 2729 2101
11AM to 10PM daily

5. Dumplings

It seems that we have come back to food. I was very impressed by some vegetable dumplings in Sham Shui Po, and when I mentioned this later on to some hongkong-based friends, they told me that the area was known for dumplings. It is starting to seem like Sham Shui Po is known for everything, a jack-of-all-trades sorta thing. But I’m not complaining. This only reinforces the idea that Sham Shui Po is extremely local to me, the idea of multitasking and diversification quintessentially in line with the idea of Modern Asian City.

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Pan fried dumplings

We visited Yuen Fong Dumplings, a traditional Shanghainese restaurant known for their dumplings. It seemed the prevailing online opinion that despite their rather extensive menu, dumplings were the only thing worth trying, and anyway, my friend and I had come from the Soya eatery and were pretty full. So we ordered just one serving of their pan fried vegetable dumplings and were instantly impressed – they were excellent. Obviously freshly made and fried to perfection. Yum, yum. Later I realised that this shop was also a stop on HongKongFoodieTours’s Sham Shui Po tour, which I assume means it’s one of the more prolific dumpling shops in the area.

Yuen Fong Dumplings
Sham Shui Po, Fuk Wa St 104
9am to 10pm daily

6. Ha Ji Mian

Another local recommendation – 蝦子麵; pronounced as “ha ji mian”. I didn’t think I could be surprised by noodles any more but here I was staring down an unfamiliar variation of the noodle family. Ha Ji Mian basically means prawn roe noodles, the ha ji referring to dried shrimp roe. It’s used as a seasoning, and as the shrimp roe dries and shrinks, the flavor intensifies. Scattered generously over a serving of dry noodles, and then served up with a side of fresh wonton soup, the final product is a hit amongst many. And if you’re in Kowloon, Lau Sum Kee is the place for your hit.

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Lau Sum Kee – a local legend

The shop itself is tiny, as usual, and the walls are plastered with photos of supposedly famous people eating there. The place is listed on several foodie lists – Time Out, That Food Cray, even Vogue has covered Lau Sum Kee for their handmade noodles. Almost everyone else in the shop is having the Ha Ji Mian, so I felt assured in my choice. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s an intense experience if you don’t know what to expect – I’m used to my noodles slick with sauce or drenched in soup, and I nearly sneezed on my first bite because of the powdery shrimp roe. Your first bite tastes overwhelmingly like condensed shrimp, but as you chew, the flavors separate, and you can taste the springiness of the noodles, the bite of the shrimp roe. The noodles are served al dente, kneaded using a bamboo pole, and again, the difference between handmade and machine made food prevails.

It’s new to me, and it took awhile to grow on me, but it definitely lived up to what it was supposed to taste like – shrimp roe noodles. And the fresh shrimp wonton was delicious – an actual whole shrimp wrapped in dumpling skin, as opposed to the usual ground meat variation.

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This was pretty spectacular

Lau Sum Kee Noodle
48 Kweilin St, Un Chau, Hong Kong
1130AM-930PM daily

7. Blind dates

Ending off with a twist. Just as I was about to leave Sham Shui Po, I was alerted to the presence of a blind-date vending machine ten minutes out from the train station. Whaaat? Of course I had to hunt it down. Some google mapping and navigating later, and voila – I found myself outside a reptile pet shop in a decidedly more residential part of the neighbourhood, staring down the Fate Capsule vending machine.

The vending machines were created by the young owner of the pet shop – called BT Reptile and also worth a pop in, if only for the snakes and giant turtles. How it works: people sign up online and input their particulars and fun facts about themselves. They are then curated by Ben (the owner) and his girlfriend, verified for authenticity (he adds them all on WeChat to prevent spammers and also filters out the weirdos at the same time), then each individual profile is printed and put into a capsule ball. For the low low price of HKD20 (SGD3.46), you can choose from the male/female machines and get a capsule with your potential date inside.

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Fate Capsule vending machines

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Here’s a picture of the reptiles in the shop for good measure. Hopefully your blind dates arent as cold blooded as them!

It’s a very old school idea of blind dating, putting the novelty of surprise back into the interaction. The rationale? “If you meet your boyfriend on dating apps and tell your parents, most likely they will doubt if he’s reliable; but imagine you meet him via a capsule toy — they will probably be like: how cute is that!” (Interview with Coconuts HK)

Part of the idea’s success draws from the fact that it is supposedly very hard to get a decent date in Hong Kong, especially since there’s still a tinge of traditionalism that creates a resistance to dating apps. The chance factor of the machines, I think, appeals to the romantic inside each individual. In any case, it’s become so popular that there’s actually a two week waiting time for men to get their particulars into the system – and they’ve had to cap the number of capsules sold per day, to, in the owner’s words, “slow down” the process, make it seem more like traditional blind dating. The day’s limit was already reached when I visited the shop, but even if there were leftover capsules, I dont think I’d have bought one because I cant help but think it’d deprive some hopeful heart out there of their blind date!

BT 爬蟲 (BT Reptile)
偉 志 里 2 號 金玉 商場 208 號 地舖, Hong Kong
Shek Kip Mei neighborhood
1-7pm daily
Enter “BT Reptile” into Google Maps to navigate
https://www.facebook.com/fatecapsule/

Wrapping up

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From blind dates to dumplings, leather cords to soya milk, Sham Shui Po really does seem like a melting pot of Hong Kong’s local quirks and culture. I hope this guide helped you plan out your own trip there – just remember to show up hungry, because man, those dumplings.. that soy pudding…

Don’t forget – Hong Kong is only a three hour flight and a couple hundred bucks away. I booked my tickets (full fare, economy flight, thank you very much) by running a search for my dates on Skyscanner, a metasearch engine for travel. If you’re new to it, I also have a guide to Skyscanner written awhile back – which shows you how to get the cheapest tickets to the destination of your choice. And since I am mega helpful, here is a direct link to pull flight prices to Hong Kong across all carriers so you can easily compare prices. You can also find more on things to do in Hong Kong during the summer at the Discover Hong Kong site. As you can tell – it’s all about pre-trip planning, you guys.

Till next time –

x
Jem

This post was brought to you by Skyscanner and the Hong Kong Tourism Board

#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