Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Praga and Zoliborz (pronounced “Jolly–Bosch”), two suburbs of Warsaw, with my colleague Maria.
Maria and I are kindred-souls, particularly in our approach to food (“life is good on a full stomach” and “quality beats quantity”) and when she offered to show me around Warsaw I didn’t refuse. So with Maria in the driver’s seat on a fabulously sunny Saturday afternoon, I was first introduced to Praga.
The Lonely Planet describes Praga as “the place to be” as “artists, musicians and entrepreneurs” have slowly turned it into a hive of cultural activity. This is still a low-income neighbourhood as evidenced by the crumbling facades of communist-era apartment blocks, which stand in stark contrast to the contemporary feel of the financial district on the other side of Warsaw. Some of the buildings in Praga still bear the scars of the last world war.
As many buildings cannot be demolished completely for reasons of heritage, the owners have taken to gutting out the inside and then constructing newer establishments into the shell. It has resulted in a mish-mash of architectural features, which my tour guide excitedly pointed out to me as we drove through the neighbourhood.
We also took advantage of the afternoon to visit areas that should be avoided at night. Maria was not overreacting when she locked the car doors and slid our bags under the seats. Even reputed tourist sites insist on using common sense and caution in some of the ‘rougher’ areas of north Praga.
We drove past some interesting places including the longest building in Warsaw, which is 508 metres long and has 43 entrances. Its address is ul. Kijowska 11 and according to the ‘Young Travellers Guide to Warsaw’ the building was designed to “conceal the crumbling buildings of old Praga from people arriving at the train station across the street”.
Lunch was at the ‘No Name Bistro’, known that way because (you guessed it!) it has no name. Located on 1 Stalowa Street in Praga this restaurant has one table only around which customers can enjoy perogies and other hearty Polish fare. We finished off the afternoon talking up a storm in a pastry shop on Mokotowa street.
Maria invited me to join her in Zoliborz for a Polish Sunday brunch. To challenge my self-proclaimed inability to find my way even with a map, she sent me directions to the tram stop and the restaurant by sms that evening. What we did and saw will be the subject of my next post. But until then, I’ll leave you with some of my favourite views of Praga.