Subjective Warsaw: A Guide to Guides
#travel in poland
default, Subjective Warsaw:
A Guide to Guides, Warsaw, photo: Jerzy Kośnik / Forum, warszawa_z_lotu_ptaka_forum.jpg
If you are still in shock that Warsaw residents are more satisfied with their city than Parisians, these subjective guides to Warsaw will reveal the reasons why it inspires such love.
According to a survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Lafarge Group, 91% of Warsaw residents are satisfied with their city. Their opinions were compared with answers given by residents of eight other metropolises around the world (Algiers, Barcelona, Bombay, Chicago, Chongqing, Madrid, Paris and Rio de Janeiro). It turned out that the residents of the Polish capital are more pleased with their city than the Parisians. Although the results seem like a good enough recommendation to visit Warsaw in their own right, a quick glimpse into a few select alternative guides written by locals will give you a foretaste of the urban life Varsovians are so fond of.
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Choosing a guide
Those who prefer to stay away from the state tourist information centre and blend into the city need a particular guidebook. And choosing a guidebook is like choosing a friend to show you around and hang out with. But who to befriend? Here are few suggestions:
If you've just popped into Warsaw for the weekend and you don’t want to miss places that attract the young crowd, if you prefer to talk to locals rather than deal with a coercive narrative, if your way of learning about the city is to spontaneously immerse in its urban living tissue, and last but not least, if you feel like going to the places highlighted in our guides ‘A Hipster Guide To Warsaw’ and ‘A Hipster Guide To Warsaw: Summer Edition’, then Warszawex is definitely for you.
Immigrant Cuisine in Warsaw: From Pol-Viet to Georgian Bread
For those who appreciate a comprehensive overview of the city and prefer to plan their own itinerary based on reliable sources, the Get Your Head Around the City guidebook will serve you well. If you are a keen gallery-goer, a gourmand looking for new tastes, a social activist or a person who can’t start the day without yoga class, and above all, you value venues commonly approved of by locals, this beautifully-illustrated booklet will meet your requirements. As an introduction to what grabs the attention of Warsaw's residents take a look at ‘Trending Vegetarian Restaurants in Warsaw’ and ‘A History of Warsaw's Neons’.
If this is not your first time in Warsaw, you already have your favourite places and you even dare to criticize some aspects of the city, you should read Do it in Warsaw! This is not a Warsaw Gallery Weekend guidebook, but you need to be artistically inclined to fully appreciate it. If you are free-spirited, enjoy unconventional ways of spending time, and believe that without artists, the world would be dull and boring, you must already own the guide and have already read our articles ‘A Permanent Rainbow Over Warsaw’ and ‘The Magically Mighty Murals’.
Street Songs: The Urban Folk Music of Warsaw
Finally, you don’t need to be a PhD student researching modernism in Central European architecture to enjoy reading Żol or Sas. It’s enough that you have some interest in how history inscribes itself onto buildings and therefore in material culture. You may need some insight into Polish political history to be able to decipher all the architectural nuances, but taking a walk with Żol or Sas is gratifying for the aesthetically sensitive wanderer. A good way of testing your level of interest in Warsaw architecture would be a reading of ‘At Home with the Architect’ and ‘Warsaw's Postmodern Revival’.
‘Warszawex’ - Warsaw for you by locals
Published by Fundacja Magazyn Kulturalny in 2014, Warszawex is a handy 40-page booklet which offers two alternative routes: one for a Warsaw summer's day and another showing the city's street art. Both seem mandatory in order to get an idea of the complexity of the city. Together, they present Warsaw in a nutshell – a place where old blends with new, culture with entertainment, urban landscape with islands of greenery. While the first itinerary encourages users to roam around the city's beautiful sites (starting from the Royal Łazienki Park, through Jazdów and Profesorska Street, to the banks of the River Wisła), the second requires one to carefully follow its directions.
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Contrary to the most common purpose for tourists to visit the Muranów district (that is, as the former site of the World War II Jewish ghetto), the authors focused on the still not well-known fact that Warsaw means street art. There are at least seven mural locations highlighted on the map of Muranów, which does not exhaust the full list of murals painted on Warsaw’s walls. The authors of Warszawex provide a short description of each of them with additional suggestions as to where to stop for a snack or drink in the local area. Regardless of the chosen route, you will undoubtedly come across some of Warsaw’s jewels – its neons, which are featured in a short article included in the guide.
From the linguistic pun in the title of the guide, it can be reckoned that for its authors, Warszawa is a cherished luxury product. The suffix ‘-ex’ refers, in the common Polish consciousness, to Pewex (short for Przedsiębiorstwo Eksportu Wewnętrznego, or Internal Export Company) – a chain of hard-currency shops in the People’s Republic of Poland that sold otherwise unobtainable Western goods in exchange for Western currency. In addition, Pewex offered a number of Polish-made products that were otherwise intended for export only (hence the name ‘internal export’). Moreover, the Pewex chain was very popular amongst foreign tourists and diplomats. Warszawex has all it needs to be just as popular.
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Devised as a set of new guides to major Polish cities, Get Your Head Around the City is an alternative, subjective and very colourful essential to help visitors get the most out of destinations. The authors, Magdalena Kalisz and Dorota Szopowska, are passionate about Polish cities. They declare that they know them intimately and closely follow their trends, developments and incoming changes:
We talk with people; we walk, run and cycle a lot. From this perspective we can see, hear and feel more. […] We have always kept an eye on what’s going on and made sure that we haven’t missed a thing.
The guides they have created prove that their statements on the cover are not hollow. The Warsaw edition is divided into sections according to the districts of the city, with a short introduction to the history and atmosphere of each. What follows is a clear and well-structured compilation of architectural highlights accompanied by high-quality images, concise historical accounts and, in many cases, an anecdote or a titbit of information.
The authors select the most interesting and thriving artists’ studios, ateliers, and local art centres, as well as clubs, cafés, restaurants, boutiques with niche Polish designers’ clothes, furniture and accessories. With tourists in mind, Kalisz and Szopowska pick out the nicest and most affordable hostels in the capital. They don’t miss unconventional beauty parlours, breakfast markets, yoga academies, small art galleries, sports and leisure centres, bike shops, public parks well worth a stroll around, murals, neon signs and even bike rental points. Although the maps are legible and nicely printed, the website addresses of each of the described places may be still useful, as some venues are so well-hidden that you either need to count on GPS or sheer persistence in order to find it.
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In the final part of the guide, you will find a selection of places and attractions awaiting you when you decide to escape from the city, as well as a list of annual festivals and events organized in different parts of Warsaw. Get Your Head Around the City is a ruthlessly researched, design-conscious guide, suited for the discerning explorer who wants to come away with a true taste of the best the city has to offer.
Contrary to the impartial and informative style of Kalisz and Szopowska’s guide, Do it in Warsaw! Alternative Guide is written as a list of ‘things to see before you die’. Although the authors – Agnieszka Kowalska and Łukasz Kamiński – employ a humorously imperative manner of writing, their texts are candid and honest, focussing on recommended locations while honestly identifying strengths, weaknesses and strategies for making the most of the experience.
Here Come The Waterworks: Warsaw’s 19th-Century Engineering Gem
The Do it in Warsaw! guide is already in its third edition. The authors, fascinated with the capital, follow all the changes that occur there. Some of the entries remain the same as in the first edition, but there is a lot of new content, including art from more than 20 young artists. Unlike many other guidebooks, you get a clear sense that the authors have not only visited the properties featured in the listings, but have actually stayed in the hotels, eaten in the restaurants and patronised the bars. They safely manage to avoid clichés without ignoring some classic Warsaw spots.
The guide is devised as a selection of entries, each titled with a command to do something. Under each entry is set of venues or objects related to each other and to the command in question. For instance, under the entry ‘look around’, the guide lists: ‘from the Palace of Culture’s 30th floor’, ‘from BUW’s roof garden’, ‘from the roof of an apartment building’, ‘by Świętokrzyski Bridge’. Each of the locations is provided with a description, amusing comment or anecdote which leaves you with impression of gaining an insider’s knowledge of the city.
The Warsaw Madonna: The Tale of Brzeska Street
The authors pay attention to sides of the city that are under-represented in other guidebooks, or just not mentioned at all. Only they can ‘order’ you to ‘count the stairwells in the longest building’, ‘wander through a housing estate’ or ‘see a mammoth bone in a church’. Kowalska and Kamiński have created an image of the unobvious side of Warsaw, one which is amusing even for Varsovians themselves – and this alone should suffice to recommend the guide to foreign visitors.
Published by Centrum Architectury (Centre for Architecture), these two beautifully printed booklets are unconventional guides to the architecture of two of Warsaw's residential districts: Żoliborz and Saska Kępa. Filled with schematic drawings instead of photographs, they not only give you a sense of dealing with sketches made by an architect but also encourage you to discover how these premises actually look in reality. The authors’ idea is to uncover the original details of buildings which have become obscured by subsequent changes and additions.
Nature Meets Culture: Poland’s Garden Cities
Starting with a concise historical account of the development of the districts, Żol and Sas then introduce you to valuable urban design collections consisting of modernist villas inspired by Le Corbusier, radically experimental residential blocks, and estates from the 1920s, as well as contemporary interventions into historical sites. As the authors convince readers, a walk with these books will trigger your imagination; they will allow you to discern not merely the form, but also the idea concealed behind it.
Written by Grażyna Soczewka, 21 Aug 2014
a hipster guide to warsaw
Sources: ‘Warszawex’, ‘Ogarnij Miasto – Miejski Przewodnik Subiektywny’, ‘Zrób to w Warszawie! Alternatywny Przewodnik’, ’Żol‘, ‘Sas’