Wow, Warsaw!

 More than 60 years after the last time Warsaw was destroyed (during World War II), we can safely say that the city has completely risen from its ashes and it has become a great European capital, its city-in-ruins and communist era is way back in the past, together with other stereotypes and beliefs.

 Skyscrapers and modern buildings stand next to older communist-era buildings creating the contrast that helps explain the process the city has been through.

We arrived in Chopin International Airport on a sunny Saturday morning, the air was a bit cold but perfect after having spent the summer melting in Italy. 

Right in front of the airport's exit (Terminal A), we got on bus number 175 which would drop us in front of our hotel (Marriott Warsaw). I must say I was a bit tense to get on this bus because I had been doing some research on some websites and they all described it as a dangerous route full of pickpockets ... I come from Mexico City so not many things scare me but after reading all these comments I got a bit nervous, turns out for no reason since it was a perfectly safe journey, the bus was packed with locals and tourists and in any moment I felt watched or in danger. Actually this line became our favorite while we were there cause it brought us anywhere we wanted to go, so feel free to use it, just be as careful as you would be at home when taking a bus.

We stayed at the Marriott Warsaw
, we got a nice offer on their website which included breakfast, 80 euros per night. Great service, stunning views - this was the one from our room:

The hotel has a Casino; a big gym and a spa that is going under renovation, we could still use the jacuzzis and the sauna, always great after a day of sightseeing.
Palace of Culture and Science

After checking in at the hotel we started our city visit, walking from the hotel to the center (30 min. - but bus 175 will take you there faster), stopping at the Palace of Culture and Science, a ‘gift from the Soviet people’ ordered by Stalin, it was completed in 1955 on the model of the Empire State Building. It is the tallest building in Poland and contains theaters, museums, a cinema and a concert hall.

Not far from the Palace of Culture there's a nice park to walk around (actually Warsaw is full of nice parks), the Saxon Garden (Ogród Saski), the oldest public park in the city and one of the first to open to the public in the world. Its fountain, on the north part, is very nice and it is used as a meeting place for couples. On the other side of the fountain, on Piłsudski Square, lays the beautiful Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
me at the Royal Castle
A couple of blocks from Piłsudski Square there's Krakowskie Przedmieście, Warsaw's liveliest street. It 's one of Warsaw's oldest avenue which served as a trade route. During the 18th century, the Italian painter "Canaletto" painted many pieces of the streets and architecture of the city's main buildings, which were located in this street. It was thanks to these paintings that Warsaw's historic district was accurately rebuilt after World War II and Warsaw Uprising.
The Old Town begins on the western end of Krakowskie Przedmieście, where the Royal Castle is.
The Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski) was completely destroyed during World War II. It was rebuilt between 1971-1988 using castle remains and rubble. Its collection contains two original Rembrandt paintings and several  Canaletto works, as wrote before, Canaletto’s paintings were vital during Warsaw’s reconstruction.
inside the Castle
Royal Castle

Castle interiors

Canaletto's paintings
The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site for being "an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century".
The Market Square is beautiful and it has been completely restored to its original appearance after the WWII bombings destroyed it. On its center we can find the statue of the Warsaw Mermaid which, armed with sword and shield, has been ready to help protect the city and its residents.
me with the Mermaid
After visiting the market square, we continued to the New Town and walked down to the river Vistula and the recently opened Multimedia Fountain park, which looked like this during the day 
Multimedia Fountain
 but looks like this during the night:
rooftop garden - Univ.Library

After a long walk among the nice cozy streets we ended up in the modern University Library, rebuilt and reopened in 1999. It was really nice to stroll along its botanical rooftop garden and the views of the city, the stadium and Praga (the quarter on the opposite side of the Vistula, not the Czech city of course!). The main façade contains large blocks of classical texts in Old Polish , Classical Greek and Hebrew.

From our hotel room we could see a modern building that looked like a glass sheet or a glass moon crater, we then discovered that it is a new shopping center called Złote Tarasy, really nice, lots of shops but thanks to globalization you will find almost all shops that you would find in your local shopping centers but I guess that if you visit Warsaw during the winter and it's freezing outside you can use it as an excuse to shop around.

Złote Tarasy, behind the station

OK, enough sightseeing, now let's get to the food part!

Poland's typical dish are Pierogi, which are boiled dumplings - but also baked or fried - traditionally stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese, or fruit. 
inside Zapiecek
 Pierogarnia are the places that serve especially pierogi so checked out one of those, it is a chain with 4 or 5 restaurants in Warsaw, it is called Zapiecek. The place is nice, decorated as maybe a traditional restaurant would be, waitresses dressed in what looks like farm dresses (short skirts, if guys are interested). The menu has mainly pierogi but also other Polish specialties. We had the Russian-style Pierogi (with cottage cheese, potato and fried onions) and the mushroom ones both with gravy sauce and sour cream; beer and cider. Pierogi were very good with the sauce and/or sour cream, a bit tasteless without (we are used to ravioli with tomato sauce so that was our impression) and the portion of 9 each was enough. We paid around 12 euro for the whole so it's completely affordable and worth it!

I had been researching for a special restaurant for a special occasion and my choice (after reading TripAdvisor, food blogs and expats websites everyday) was U Kucharzy
, located on the ground floor of the now-closed Hotel Europejski, actually the restaurant is located in the old kitchen of the hotel so the place is a labyrinth of white-tiled rooms with a big kitchen in the center, the "stage" of the show; because dining at U Kucharzy is like attending a show. 
main room
our chef

desserts area

U Kucharzy means "the chefs" and they are the main actors. Your food will be taken to your table half prepared so your chef/waiter will finish preparing it for you at your table. We had 2 steak tartars, a wild boar knuckle and a roast ham with wine sauce. The wine list was extensive but very pricey so we chose a mediocre Spanish wine (Toro's Gamazo 2007 - 150 PLN, really?!?!). 
Steak tartar
Wild boar knuckle

Roast ham in wine sauce

The tartars were delicious, best I've ever had! prepared at the table by our great and skilled chef with capers, onion and egg, the way it should be! The main courses were very good but nothing to drool about. We didn't get to the dessert but we saw waiters doing some flambé spectacularly.

Prices were average for a European capital but we loved the atmosphere (live piano music!) and the tartar so we definitely recommend it! Just book a table in advance, it gets very busy (with good-looking posh Poles and few tourists) on weekend evenings; try to get a table in front of the kitchen in the main room. 

After dinner we walked through Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat noticing so many cafés, bars and restaurants bustling with life and lots of young people in the streets having fun.

So this was our weekend in Poland, we surely missed a lot of places like Łazienki Park, Wilanów Palace and other great sights but we'll try to go back, especially after the city's ready for the Euro 2012 soccer championship (co-hosted with Ukraine)!