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. I have yet to come across a New York of the East, a Moscow of the West or a Melbourne 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.
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.