September doesn’t just mean back to work / school / reality, it also means a new intake of expats taking their first baby steps in the city. So, for the benefit of the greenhorns and rookies, we take a closer look at Warsaw’s greener elements… Click for Part 2.
Walk On The Wild Side
Though since debunked as an urban myth, one popular story claims that at the start of the millennium a foreign delegation was left awestruck by the wild nature of the Wisła’s right bank. “How many millions,” they’re said to have asked the bewildered mayor, “did you spend to get that look?” While plainly and purely apocryphal, the anecdote reveals much about the dense, natural paradise that this side of the river has become. Largely untouched by modern day incursions, it’s a flourishing haven of unexpected wildlife.
Perhaps the most important factor underpinning Warsaw’s food revolution has been the swing towards naturally grown local produce. Find everyone from the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs to the lowliest home cooks perusing the many farmers’ markets that have popped up as a result. Of the more high profile are the Bio Bazar, Forteca and Bazar Olkuska.
Take a moment to speak to a local and it won’t be long till they’re confessing all about their działka – a second home, usually a pimped-up shed (though quite often much more), to which they retreat at the weekends for bonding and barbecues. Set inside colorful allotments bursting with greenery and plant-life, find hundreds of these inside Warsaw itself. Probably the most famous assembly of such units is found just south of Pole Mokotowskie: they’re the fairy tale secret of this big, bad city.
A Modern Icon
Unveiled amid much controversy in 2002 (“what the hell is that!?” screamed the locals), the palm tree installation on Rondo De Gaulle’a is now largely credited with kick-starting the city’s fascination with public art. Titled Greetings From Jerusalem (in honor of Warsaw’s ‘vanished’ Jewish community), Joanna Rajkowska’s work has since become embedded in local hearts, to the extent that this once divisive installation is now considered one of the defining icons of the city.
Considered the grand dame of Polish football, Legia Warszawa elicit the same intense jealousy that only the most successful capital city clubs enjoy. Having won it all in terms of domestic silverware, they have long been considered the dominant force on the home front: they’re the ones everyone wants to beat. No matter who the opponents are, the match day experience at Łazienkowska 3 is a thrilling experience. Never is the atmosphere more pronounced than before kick-off, a time when men, women and children rise as one to belt out the club anthem: Sen O Warszawie. It’s spine-tingling stuff that leaves your hair on end.
A Finnish Touch
Constructed in 1945 as emergency housing for architects given the task of rebuilding Warsaw, the Finnish Houses (so-called because they were built using materials acquired from Finland) have survived to this day. Sneaked behind the French Embassy, this collection of cute timber chalets line a series of tight tree-lined avenues that have repeatedly come under threat from greedy developers that sense money to be made. Despite the city center coordinates, walking around them feels like entering a lost world: the only sound you’ll hear will be birds twittering and wood stoves crackling.
The Little Green Man
Often, the first question a visitor will ask is: “why the hell is no-one crossing the road?” Answer: because it’s a red light, moron. Seen as something of a hangover from the old days, waiting for the green man to light up on a pedestrian crossing is an essential part of living in Warsaw. Fail to respect him and you’ll either end up being swooped upon by a copper, or splattered into ketchup by a speeding driver.
A Global Leader?
Those thinking that the local diet consists of meat and stodge are in for an almighty awakening. Of all the global food trends to have hit Warsaw, none have been grasped quite as keenly as veganism: in fact, such have been the inroads made by plant-based cuisine that Happy Cow – the world’s most influential vegan website – have declared the Polish capital to be the planet’s fastest growing vegan city.
Top of the Town
Warsaw’s most surprising burst of greenery finds itself atop of the University Library on ul. Dobra 56/66. “One of the largest and most beautiful rooftop gardens in Europe,” proclaims the tourist board, and we’ve yet to find a reason to disagree. Connected by a series of sloping pathways and iron bridges, the route takes visitors through a spellbinding backdrop of exotic vegetation and flowering shrubbery. Visit in the evening to enjoy breathtaking crimson sunsets settle over the Wisła.