Warsaw, Paris of the East

Warsaw Old Town

I woke early the next morning so made good use of the time before breakfast by reading the complimentary guide books supplied by the Tourist Information Office.

I shouldn’t really have been surprised by this because I have seen it so many times but there on the first page of the ‘Warsaw Top Ten’ guide was the description, Warsaw – Paris of the East.

After Venice it seems that it is the city that more than most other cities want to associate themselves with and in addition to Warsaw.  I have yet to come across a New York of the East, a Moscow of the West or a Canberra of the North but, when it comes to Paris, even without leaving Europe we have:

Baku, Azerbaijan; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Leipzig, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Riga, Latvia; Saint Petersburg, Russia.  As if to make doubly sure, in a belt and braces sort of way Saint Petersburg doubles up in this respect by also calling itself the ‘Venice of the North’ even though it has competition for this particular title from Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh (which also calls itself the Athens of the North) and even Birmingham amongst others.

Including Warsaw I have had the good fortune to visit five of these alternative Paris cities, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Riga and Prague and I have to say that I can find very little similarity in any of these places with the real thing.  Prague would have to come closest I would have to say but only on the basis that they have a sort of Eiffel Tower.


Beyond Europe there are a few more but the most bizarre of all surely has to be Beirut! Paris itself if often called the City of Lovers or the City of Light but I have never heard of it calling itself the Beirut of the West and I am fairly certain that it is most unlikely ever to do so.

In addition to the French capital there are of course a number of places that are officially called Paris including nine in the United States in Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Kentucky, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and one that was even the title of a film – Paris, Texas. There is one missing from this list however and the one that is most Paris like of all, the one at EPCOT World Showcase in Disney World Florida.  Three other U.S. cities have at some time been called the Paris of the West – Denver, Detroit and San Fransisco but these all seem just as unlikely to me as Shanghai in China!

There is also a Paris in Ontario in Canada and Montreal has been dubbed the Paris of the West.

France EPCOT

My favourite copycat naming however is in South America where  there is an entire country that is called Little Venice’ said to have originated from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition.  When he landed he saw native people living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the country resembled Venice so named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’.  That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!

Other interesting facts that I learned this morning were that in 2012 Warsaw was ranked as the thirty-second most liveable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit (Copenhagen in Denmark is top, no UK city makes the top twenty-five and the highest place North American city is Vancouver at fifteenth).  Warsaw is the tenth largest city in the European Union and that it is ranked one hundred and thirteenth out of one hundred and forty-four in a list of the World’s most expensive cities and I was very happy to know that after last night’s expensive meal, as I examined the damage and counted up the remaining Polish Zlotys in my wallet and wondered how I might be able to repair the overspend later tonight.

Eventually it was time for breakfast and we made our way down to the dining room where we had enjoyed the previous night’s meal and we were treated to a lavish buffet breakfast, hot and cold, Polish and continental, sparkling wine and even vodka for those that start the day in this way.  I mention this because I was quite surprised how extravagant it was on account of the fact that we had only paid £60 a night for the superior room and the all-inclusive breakfast.  A real bargain.

The only disappointing thing this morning was the weather because after yesterday’s blue skies today there was a heavy mist which obscured the top of the Palace of Culture and Science and blotting out the sun made it rather chilly but undeterred by this we set off once more in the direction of the Old Town.

Warsaw Old Town

Age of Innocence, 1959 – The M1 Motorway

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Turds

Paris Dog Poo

When I worked in the waste management industry the company that I worked for, the French Company Onyx UK  thought they had a perfect solution to pavement dog fouling.  Onyx UK were part of the French Water Company Compagnie Générale des Eaux  which through its network of companies also had responsibility for cleaning the streets of Paris.

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Warsaw, Red Faces on Valentine’s Day

Warsaw Old Town

The flight landed ahead of schedule which was good but then we had to wait nearly an hour for the the express bus service to leave the airport for the city centre. To make matters worse it then waited twenty minutes after scheduled departure time to wait for passengers from a delayed flight!

Rather selfishly I didn’t care about the delayed flight I just wanted to get to our destination.  It took about forty minutes to take the forty kilometre motorway journey into Warsaw and thanks to what seemed to me to be a very efficient transport infrastructure with big wide double carriageway boulevards there were no real hold-ups and we arrived at our destination in the car park of the soaring monument to the communist era, the Soviet built Palace of Culture and Science.

Apparently the roads in communist cities were built straight and wide so to accommodate tank advances and troop movements should they be necessary!

We had dressed in anticipation of a sub-zero Warsaw winter so it was rather a surprise to find blue sky, a blazing sun and temperatures well into double figures and we didn’t want to waste this so we walked the short distance to the Polonia Palace Hotel, checked in, found our room, shed a layer or two of unnecessary clothing and stepped straight back out onto the street in search of the famous old town.

To get there we had to negotiate a couple of busy road intersections which required using a network of confusing underpasses, underpasses that were so big that there were shopping arcades and street entertainment down there.  Being underground we became disorientated and surfaced a couple of times in the wrong place but at the third attempt came up on the right exit.  I really don’t know how animals like moles who live permanently underground manage to navigate around so easily!

As I mentioned before (and will do so again) Warsaw was completely destroyed in 1945 so the entire city was redeveloped in the 1950s in the Stalinist style of architecture and the streets here were lined with buildings built in the modernist, what architects call Socialist Classicism style.  Personally I find them charmless, brutal and ugly and they are probably going to be here for a very long time so I suppose we will have to get used to them.

Warsaw Architecture

One of my first impressions was that there were a lot of shops here, far more shops than I am really comfortable with so with Kim stopping off every few steps to stare at shoes and sparkly things it took us rather longer than I had anticipated to reach the old town and by the time we arrived there the sun was beginning to drop towards the horizon and the photo opportunities were rapidly disappearing.

The other thing that was most noticeable was that it was very, very busy and this turned out to be on account of the fact that this was February 14th, Valentine’s Day and apparently this is a very big thing indeed in Poland with lots of street entertainment and bars full to capacity as families and lovers dawdled through the old town streets in the unexpected sunshine.

After completing a circuit just to get our bearings and identify some potential restaurants for later we found a bar with a vacant table and ordered our first Polish beers.  The waiter tried to persuade us to eat but we said it was too early.  He was persistent and told us this would be a good time because later everywhere would be full.  Kim wondered if we should book a table somewhere but I passed this off as salesmanship and persuaded her that there was no need.  This was a decision that I was going to regret later!

So we made our way back to the Polonia Palace stopping off at a mini-market on the way to get some essential supplies and then we squandered a couple of hours enjoying the room and a glass or two of wine.

Finally we made our way out at about eight o’clock and the place was heaving with people, the pavements were jammed and there were queues at the burger bars and pubs and that was when I first started to grow concerned.  We tried a restaurant but were turned away because it was fully booked and then a second with the same result.  At a third the waiter told us that everywhere would be fully booked tonight for Valentines night and slowly that “I told you so” look started to creep over Kim’s face like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.

We had a debate and Kim decided that there was little point walking all the way to the old town just to suffer multiple rejections so we walked back to the hotel in the hope that there would be a spare table there.  My fingers were so firmly crossed that the blood circulation was slowly being cut off.  We passed the Palace of Culture which was bathed in Valentine crimson light and as I glanced across I noticed that Kim’s face was a similar colour, flushed with irritation.

Luckily the hotel restaurant could accommodate us for a special Valentine’s Day buffet and we enjoyed a fine, if rather expensive, meal and a glass or two of wine.  The day was saved!

One thing that intrigued me was that although this was Valentine’s Day with a special menu there were a number of people around us who seemed preoccupied with their mobile phones.  A young couple at the next table barely spoke a word to each other as they endlessly scrolled through their digital lives rather than attempt a conversation with each other.  I wondered if they had booked a table for four, him and her and their two tablets.  It seemed like a waste of money to me to pay for an expensive meal and spend so much time on Facebook!

We had had a good first day so after the meal we returned to the room and looked forward to our first full day in Warsaw tomorrow.

Warsaw Palace of Culture

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds, Windows (2)

Antiparos Greek Islands

Antiparos, Greek Islands

On the way back we visited the ancient kastro that has a quaint but neglected mix of houses, some inhabited but others abandoned and crying out for refurbishment.  There were some little shops and a folk lore museum that didn’t take long to look around and by mid morning it was time for a first mythos of the day and after that we ambled back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and a drink on the terrace.

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Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars With Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds, On The Beach

Cleethorpes Beach sand Castles

Cleethorpes Lincolnshire

Walking on Cleethorpes Beach