Warsaw Local Custom Tips by matcrazy1 Top 5 Page for this destination
Warsaw Local Customs: 112 reviews and 190 photos
BAZYLISZEK RESTAURANT ADVERTISEMENT
Bazyliszek is a Polish name for the basilisk, in Greek and European bestiaries and legends, a legendary reptile reputed to be king of serpents and said to have the power of causing death by a single glance. Look here or watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In Poland, Krakow has a dragon while Warsaw has a basilisk. You can find a restaurant, patisserie, bar etc. called Bazyliszek as well as pictures of the monster on walls of some Warsaw houses and in gift shops, on T-shirts. In common language we also use the phrase "wzrok bazyliszka", the basilisk's glance which means a glance which kills.
A medieval legend, told to kids by their parents, says that once three kids - in hope to find some treasures - went downstairs to a cellar in Krzywe Kolo (Crooked Circle St.) where according to common belief some strange things happened. As soon as the first of the kids opened the door he suddenly passed out like being hit by a thunderboat.
The two other kids, a brother and sister, scared to death, saw an awful monster with terrible, prominent eyes glowing with red and yellow. They realized that it was a basilisk causing death by a single glance. The kids were staying with no move the monster not to notice their presence.
When the kids didn't come back home for a lunch their parents started to look for them. They were told to ask for an advice an old and wise wizzard, doctor, alchemist and astrologer. The master announced that there was a way to survive the kids but very, very difficult and risky. The brave man was needed to enter the basilisk cellar being the whole dripping with mirrors, so the basilisk looking at the mirror would kill himeself. And they found a daredevil who did it. The basilisk, indeed, killed himself by a single glance in a mirror and stopped to terrorize Warsaw. Scared to death kids joined their happy parents and endless crowds of Warsaw citizens were celebrating the death of the monster long hours.
I haven't seen any slums in Warsaw. I mean an overcrowded and squalid district inhabited by the very poor and characterized by high rates of poverty and unemployment and being breeding center for many social problems such as crime, drug addiction, alcoholism, and despair.
But look at my pictures. Warsaw has the most expensive apartments in Poland. So, many average people still live where they always lived: either in old houses rebuilt after WWII or in huge and ugly prefabricated apartment buildings built mainly in 1970' - 1980' and full of poor quality very small appartments hired for relatively small money. Sometimes two families are forced to live in relatively small apartment :-(.
The old houses were rebuilt after WWII often with no care to their quality and they had to belong to the state that meant in a Soviet style country to no-one. So, no-one took care about them for years. The main problem for many Poles is to have a job but in Warsaw it's easier than anywhere else in Poland. But to have the only expensive thing each family must have - an apartment or house to live in is a serious problem in Warsaw.
The already very neglected buildings although not that old (built in 1950' mostly) are transferred or sold to private owners but as for now exclusively in attractive areas where a business set up on the ground floor (a restaurant, shop etc.) may give profits. At least in Warsaw situation is less complicated as generally there was no nationalisation of previously private buildings as they in 85% were turned into ruins and rebuilt after WWII from state funds But the private owner of a house can rise up a rent for an appartment only to a fixed limit passed by the parliament. Thus the new owners of the houses not having money from the rents can't renovate them. The result is well seen in my pictures. I guess, the apartments inside don't look that bad. And I haven't seen any homeless people in Warsaw, but they are hidden somewhere.
NAPOLEON'S BALL ADVERTISEMENT
Warsaw is a strange and different city. There are quite numerous balls and closed parties for all those called "rich and famous" but no public New Year's Eve celebration for those less rich and famous. There are quite many "rich and famous" living in and close to Warsaw. When I saw Borowski I almost wanted to change my hotel :-). Well, Warsaw is the modern, cosmopolitan and fast growing city of economic boom with the lowest unemployment rate and the highest average income per head with almost 300,000 companies registered and many foreign investments. It's the capital city of 26th world's largest economy in 2004 (by GDP), probably 20th economy soon with all that growth Poland luckily experiences (5% prognosis for 2006).
So, would you like to meet Polish "rich and famous"? It could be both interesting and give you some fun, I guess. And it's suprisingly not that much expensive. Just one example. In winter 2006, I saw large advertisement of "Napoleon's Ball" which was going to take place in mysterious castle changed into a 3-star hotel and conference center in Pultlusk, some 60 km north of Warsaw. It cost 390 zl (100 euros) per person in total: the fancy ball with luxury food, room for one night and brekfast. Add cost of the hotel shuttle. Is it very much for you?
From a visitor's point of view such crazy idea like joining a ball may have mostly one disadvantage: you must dress up, either bring your own evening suit (ladies) or a man's suit. I have another idea for men. You may easily buy a really high quality suit at reasonable price lower than in your country (if it's, say, Canada, the USA, Western Europe, Australia, Japan) in Warsaw (details in my shopping tip).
So, what about the next meeting in Warsaw in suits and evening dresses? Haha, I am sure that VT-gang would behave better than some Polish "rich and famous" and such event would be the next Warsaw-VT-custom :-).
WELCOME IN EU - MAY 1, 2004
On May 1, 2004 Poland joined the European Union - intergovernmental and supranational union of 25 (in 2006; add Bolgaria and Romania in 2007) democratic countries known as member states. That day I passed through Warsaw on the way to Lithuania. Most of main Warsaw streets were pretty decorated with European Union flags and Polish national flags.
Talking about EU with Warsaw citizens and studying public opinion surveys then and now I know that there are more euro-enthusiasts in Warsaw than average in Poland. In 2003 84% citizens of Warsaw (88% in residential district of Ursynow) voted for joining EU while the average for Poland was 77%.
SIGNED BY "FIGHTING REVOLUTIONARY GROUP"
I've found strange posters on walls of a few buildings in the Warsaw centre/downtown in 2006. I was a bit shocked looking at them... and I've never seen anything similar in Poland. Is it a Warsaw local custom?
Well, the poster signed by "Fighting Revolutionary Group" and marked with well known Soviet logo called for commemorating bolshevik revolutionists, let me quote "heroes who gave their lives for freedom for Poles and then being imprisoned [by Poles] in concentration camps, shot to death" etc. etc. The date given on the poster August 15, 1920 is well known date for every Pole and a national holiday now: the date of victory of Polish army against Bolsheviks in the Battle of Warsaw, the victory which, let's me quote many Western historicians, stopped march of communist revolution westwards thus survived Europe (at least Berlin) from communism. Well, every serious historician knows well about numerous bolsheviks crimes (genocide) against Jews, Russians, Poles and other nationalities in 1917 and later. Following the webpage address given on the poster I found info: "the page has been blocked by the administrator."
The second poster shows Soviet soldier or worker with inscription in Russian: "Have you signed up voluntarily?" What's that?
It's probably a stupid joke of some young people or... more serious political provocation of some unknown forces (a job for guys from Polish CIA) who would love to rebirth ghosts of old history and to see Polish - Russian hatred while, in fact, Poles (me among them) have a lot sympathy for Russian people :-), although less for some their rulers.
HANGING FRAME FOR CARPETS
This metal frame with two horisontal crosspieces put in the middle of a yard of an old house in my picture was used in the past to beat dust out of a carpet hanging on the frame. There is single word for this device in Polish: "trzepak". Maybe it's still in use, although I personally doubt as it seems to be against law for ecological reasons. Vacuum cleaners are in use for years.
Well, those hanging frames commonly used in the past, not only in Warsaw but all over Poland are more and more difficult to find. They were used by kids to play which was sometimes dangerous for them. Nowadays there are less and less carpets in homes as they are difficult to clean/wash and expensive as well as. However there is still a carpet beater at my parents' home, I guess.
My another almost archeological finding in the same yards (open my next pixture) was a wooden trunk put on the ground where sand was stored in the past for using in case of a fire. Futher look at typical old-styl mailbox used in multi-apartment houses and typical balconies hanging in a corner.
ST. ALEXANDER'S CHURCH (2005)
Warsaw citizens are less or more proud that their city was rebuilt from ruins after WWII damages but many underline that Warsaw has lost it's unique, pre-war charm both because of mistakes made during the reconstruction and huge human loss.
Look at my pictures of St. Alexander's Church taken in 2005 and compare them with its image from before WWII here, please. The church was badly damaged, like almost 100% buildings around, during Warsaw Uprising against Nazists in 1944.
After WWII the church was rebuilt for political reasons in smaller size. The communist authorities promised to enlarge it in the second stage of reconstruction but... let me quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist and historician, exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974: "In our country, the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State." So, keep in mind that old districts of Warsaw were not rebuilt in their original shape after WWII damages. The city once considered a shining metropolis has lost its baroque tinge.
The main reason was of political nature. Soviet authorities wanted to put up the new capital for the new, quite different in their dreams, communist country as fast as possible to be able to use that fact for their propoganda purpores. Poles wanted to rebuild Warsaw fast as well but mostly in its pre-war shape. But quite many pre-war memorials and other buildings couldn't be rebuilt at all or in their original shape due to their close ties to what communist authorities called pre-war imperialistic Polish tyrany. This different approch of Poles and Soviets to reconstruction gave as a result the city which looked in some parts similar while in many others quite different than the original one. The Royal Castle couldn't be rebuilt in its original shape by 1970'. The two large palaces by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers (one housed the Ministry of War before WWII) are about to be restored soon (2010 or so) etc. etc.
Other Contact: http://www.warszawa1939.pl
This sign in my picture doesn't belong exclusively to Warsaw but there is no other city all over Poland where it's so common and easy to find on numerous commemorative plaques put on walls of houses, in churches, cemetaries and various memorials. In not so old past (1980 - 1989) you might spend over a year in a prison for painting this sign on a wall of a house.
This is "kotwica" (anchor) the symbol of the Polish Secret State and the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) during World War II. Polish Secret State (or Polish Underground State) refers to all underground resistance organizations in Poland during World War II, both military and civilian. The military part, consisted mostly of various branches of the Home Army was to prepare the Polish society for a future fight for the liberation of the country. The Home Army (Armia Krajowa) was one of the largest underground resistance movement during World War II (in 1944: 250,000 to 350,000 conspiratorial soldiers with more than 10,000 officers; some 20,000 Polish officers where killed by Stalin's order in 1940).
During the martial law against the Solidarity Movement and its ideas of freedom and independance (1981- 1983) and later until 1989 I saw this sign many times painted by unknown people on walls of Krakow's houses as a symbol of struggle for independance and resistance against communist rule. Surely that time this sign was always soon removed from the walls as it was banned. But people mostly were very happy to see it painted as it convicted them that someone brave, despite possible persecutions, continue the struggle. I know people who spent over a year in a prison for painting this sign.
COW BY METRO STATION CENTRUM
There is no other city in Poland so rich in both beautiful and ugly modern architecture of the 21st century, including many skyscrapers but low-rise buildings as well (look here). In summer 2005 scuptures or rather colorful artistic visions of 50 natural size cows livened up the city streets. Cows are the most common animals in the Polish countryside since chicken are hidden because of bird influenza risk. It's a pity that instead of transfering the artistic visions of these 50 cows to other cities in Poland they all were sold on auction. The most expensive went for 30,000 zl (7,900 euros). To see all cows click on the links on the left side here.
Warsaw, in contrast to many other European cities, doesn't have seperate, modern in the whole districts like, say, La Defense district in Paris. The downtown, under reconstruction now, may become the first one in a few years (in 2010'). There are usually single modern buildings put among grey and ugly older ones. Driving around Warsaw, usually by taxi, I surprisingly disxovered many beautiful, modern structures put even among post-communist residential blocks of rectangular, grey houses packed with unbelievable small apartments. Some of those modern building are worth of stop and quick look.
CELNA STREET LEADING TO THE OLD TOWN MARKET SQUARE
Look at Celna street in my picture taken in 2004, the street located in the heart of touristy Warsaw Old Town, the capital city of the 26th world's strongest (in economy, GDP) country in the heart of Europe. Doesn't it look a bit neglected and under-developed as for such "fancy" location? Is it charming, strange or bad? Hmm... at least more fresh paint and flat sidewalks, please :-).
I visited old towns (with market square in each) in all most touristy cities in Poland in 2000': Krakow (many times), Poznan, Wroclaw, Gdansk and Torun. And in all these cities almost all streets leading to market square look quite different. They are lined by rows of mostly renovated recently tenement houses with shops, galleries, pubs, bars, restaurants etc. on the ground floor (sometimes in underground cellers and on the second floor as well), often with tables put outside on a street (if it's enough space).
Although Warsaw changes, many streets of Warsaw Old Town still look different (2006). What's wrong with Warsaw? I think that Warsaw city government and local business can't solve some problems like claiming ownership of old tenement houses which all belonged to the state after rebuilding from WWII ruins. They can't be given back free (or almost free) to pre-war owners or their descendants (like it happens in Krakow) as they were totally damaged during WWII and rebuilt for state funds. During the communist regime's rule, in fact, no-one was responsible for the state-owned houses and they became more and more neglected. Maybe it continues until now in Warsaw Old Town. I was told that after 1990 some new owners of the houses bought them from the city for unbelievable small money (corruption?) and they either re-sold them for big money or still wait for higher prices and thus don't feel responsible to take care (it costs) about temporarily their properties. Hmm... it works somewhat much better in other Polish cities.
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