Heading back to Poland after we realised that Belarus wouldn’t come off with the visas was a last minute adventure. Poland is a place close to our hearts after our amazing time in Krakow and we originally had plans to spend a few days in Warsaw before moving back on to our path and the Baltic states. But a combination of booking our flights home, plans for Chernobyl keeping us in Kiev longer than expected and a hellish night bus we only had one day…with our big backpacks, to explore the city! Two days with out a bed and miles with a pack! This was a day to remember in another way than expected!
The original plan for Warsaw:
Our intention after Kiev was to go through Belarus, but we soon realised we wouldn’t have time to sort our visas as we needed our passports to go on the Chernobyl trip that brought us to the city in the first place. So that meant a return to Poland and this time to Warsaw! We had planned on taking the night bus from Kiev and spending 2 nights in the city before taking another night bus over to Vilnius, Lithuania. This would have meant we would have had 3 days to get a taste of Warsaw, which for us should have been plenty of time as we have already visited Poland before and absolutely fell in love with Krakow. Importantly would have included a rest between two long night buses seeing as we would be going all the way around Belarus now!
The “Warsaw situation”
As soon as we booked our flight home for the 2nd of August we had a timescale. At no other point in the trip apart from the first week had we had anything booked more than a few days ahead. This suddenly became like a huge pressure hanging over us. We now had just over two weeks to get from Kiev to Riga and fit in Warsaw, Vilnius, The Hill of Crosses, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki and back to Riga for our flight! Now time all of a sudden became tight and the start of a hectic and tiring last 2 weeks began.
We realised this was tight and fast, but the Balkans were the main focus of our trip and the Baltics in all honesty were just a last finishing element. Of course, we wanted to see them and experience them, but the bulk of our true eastern adventure felt like it was behind us as we came back into the European Union and into countries that felt much more westernised.
So, once we got our flights booked suddenly our Chernobyl trip was pushed back a couple of days!! We couldn’t miss this as it was one of the main reasons for us returning to Ukraine and a real bucket list item for us. So staying put in Kiev for another few days was a must…but this pushed everything back.
With buses in this region being a lot harder to get a place on, unlike those in the Balkans which you can just turn up, here you had to book these long and infrequent buses a few days in advance. Add this to the now shortened time we had to fit the last few countries and cities in we now only had one day in Warsaw between night buses!
Ok, so that’s not ideal we thought. But we contacted a hostel who said we could crash there for a few hours, drop our bags, get changed and showered. Our bus should have arrived in Warsaw at 8am and our bus leaving was 8pm. Enough time to have a couple of hours sleep, explore the old town, get some food, have another hours nap, shower, changed and back to the bus station… that would work!
But no! Not even our plan B came off. At 5am we hit the Ukraine/ Poland border…2 years earlier we had had a 3 hour epic including AK47’s and interrogations at the same border. But that time we still arrived back in Krakow on time, so they take these long border crossings into account when they make the time table of course. Not this time! We sat at that border for 5 hours before some how crossing without incident in about 10 minutes! So by 10am we are just getting into Poland, so that 8am arrival was well and truly out of the window! Another 4 hours later, 16 hours in total, we finally arrived in Warsaw at 2pm!
So now we thought, we’ve just going to have to knock going to the hostel on the head and have a few hours in the city to make the most of it. No worries, we can just store our backpacks in the baggage store at the train station or bus station…another NO! Turns out it was world youth day, so for security reasons all baggage storages at all terminals were out of use!
Well, this just gets better and better!
How we spent the day in Warsaw with our big backpacks!
So what to do now? We had two real options. Spend the day in the train/ bus station and just wait it out for 7 hours sat on the floor bored out of our minds. Or hike around the city with our 20kg bags for a few hours even though by this stage we were beyond exhausted… well, we grabbed a couple of red bulls and set off walking!
First stop was to get on the bus and head to the iconic Palace of Science and Culture. As someone with an interest in communist history this was a place we could not miss seeing. Luckily we were quite close and seeing this intimidating and classic soviet structure made our decision to head out into the city worth while already. The huge building, constructed in 1955 in an art deco style similar to the Seven Sisters of Moscow and the sky scrapper of New York, is one of the tallest buildings in the European Union even to this day. It is clear to see the intentions they had when building such an imposing structure to look out over the city, like the all seeing eye of big brother!
Next, of course, we heading into Old Town, the stunning centre of Warsaw. After falling head over heels in love with the grit and history of Krakow we had been keen to see how this post-war reconstruction stood up to that. We had heard it was the stuff of fairytales and after walking 3 miles down the main road with our backpacks it really was a sight to make our jaws drop.
Reconstructing a city centre after a major event, such as the war which destroyed this historic area almost in its entitreity, is always hard. Just look at the way in which Skopje is taking on this challenge in possibly one of the worse ways possible. But here is Warsaw they have it perfect. Reconstructing each and every iconic, everyday and historic buildings piece by piece to recreate the stunning Old Town that stood here before this destruction. This effort meant so much to the people of Poland, a country and nation so heavily battered was now being rebuilt.
Of course, nothing to use can compare to Krakow. Warsaw’s old town is stunning there is now doubt, but maybe because it is newer, maybe because it is the capital, or even just because we are bias. But it lacks that edge that Krakow has, that grittiness that we fell for. The centre of Warsaw is just a little to polished!
An exhausting day in a country that we love!
But nonetheless we spent a few hours with our packs exploring the labyrinth of streets in the old town, seeing the grand churches, awe inspiring squares, bastions and old city walls. Being back in Poland felt like coming home, but knowing we had to leave so soon pulled on my heart strings more than I ever imagined. Heading back to the bus station my heart was dragging me back to that beautiful city centre and even more all I wanted to do was jump on a train back to Krakow. But this is travelling, we leave our heart in so many places all over the world, but the journey must continue!
A tale of 2 night buses in a row!
Getting onto another 12 hour night bus after a night with no sleep, a day walking miles with heavy bags and with a feeling of reluctance was mentally and physically exhausting. Two nights with no bed, by god we slept when we got to Vilnius, thankfully we had a private room! Now this is why we hate travelling to a schedule! But being a traveller is also all about making the best of a bad situation and we did manage to keep ourselves entertained on route and thankfully our second bus had the internet meaning we could use Betway casino to stave off boredom! Sometimes our plans done always work out, backpacking and long term travel especially can throw up challenges and unexpected elements. But this, just like the times we are jumping off mountains, is truly living too! Life should be about extremes! Or maybe next time we should just fly, like we did with Emirates over to China!