Żoliborz is the polar opposite of Praga. It’s an urban architect’s paradise with its well-planned outdoor spaces, quiet leafy lanes and a public park that was full of young families enjoying the beautiful weather that day.
Before I got to see any of it, my friend Maria first treated me to a Polish Sunday brunch at one of Zoliborz’s most well known restaurants, Zywiciel.
This restaurant is also mentioned in the Warsaw Guide for Young Travellers as an eating establishment that “takes pride in serving typical Warsaw cuisine e.g. tripe.” For those looking for a ‘morning after the night before’ cure, the restaurant serves a “Sick Kitten” breakfast (number 3) which comes with a side order of Alkaseltzar!
The name Żoliborz originates from the 18th century, when it was known by its French name ‘Joli Bord’ or ‘beautiful embankment’. It belonged to monks who parceled off the land to allow for settlements to develop and was absorbed as a neighbourhood of Warsaw in the 1920s. As you can see from the photo below, Żoliborz is still very deserving of its name.
Żoliborz has always been the hub of Warsaw’s intelligentsia, and the boroughs are still referred to as such. As we strolled through the “Officers Żoliborz”, “Officials Żoliborz” and “Journalists Żoliborz” that day, I came as close as I could possibly get to the homes of some of Poland’s famous sporting, political and artistic personalities. (No names will be mentioned here!)
When we arrived at the Parc Kepa Potocka, Maria showed me the neon light installation in the shape of a glass of pink lemonade.
The artist Maurycy Gomulicki wanted it to be symbolic of the joys and pleasures of life. As he said just before the opening of the exhibit:
I’m into pink, because I really think that one should be seriously engaged in experiencing pleasure, beauty, and delight. I’m not trying to talk people into dull egoistic hedonism, I rather want to revise the popular ideas about what’s important in life. I cannot accept the dominant position of death and pain over life and pleasure.
That Gomulicki’s push for a new view of life met with resistance from some quarters is not surprising as the pain of the holocaust is still very raw for many families in the country.
During my time in Warsaw, I was continually amazed with the minutia of Polish history that people could provide to me. Maria was no exception and as she waved me off at the bus stop in the late evening, I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to see, through her eyes, a part of Warsaw that doesn’t often make it into the guide books.