From the Paris of the North to the Phoenix City
To Warsaw with Mrs Trippki, for a little business and pleasure. Having never been before, we are excited to see how a city that has suffered such devastation in the Twentieth Century has been reborn.
Warsaw’s modern cityscape
Growth and destruction
Warsaw became the capital of Poland in 1596 and initially flourished as one of Europe’s most prosperous and beautiful cities, the “Paris of the North”. In 1815, however, the Russians conquered the city. Despite a series of rebellions, it was not until the outbreak of World War I that this control collapsed. Warsaw again became the capital of an independent Poland in 1918. However the German invasion of 1939 meant this was to be short-lived. The appalling treatment of the Jewish population has been well documented and led eventually to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Infuriated by this, Hitler ordered the total destruction of the city This left up to 850,000 Varsovians dead and 85 percent of Warsaw in ruins.
If that wasn’t enough, then subsequent Soviet occupation added insult to injury. It wasn’t until the rise of the Solidarity movement in the 1980’s that Warsaw regained its independence and democratic change followed. Today, rebuilding is at an extraordinary level. Thoughts of fine architecture, Bison Vodka and pierogi drive us on.
We are staying at the highly impressive Intercontinental Hotel. 45 stories of gleaming steel and glass are topped off with a swimming pool and spa behind double height windows. Our very spacious junior suite looks out on the Palace of Culture and Science, a gift from Stalin and a massive relic of the City’s Soviet past. Beyond that are far reaching views across the city and over the river to the National Stadium. Breakfast is excellent and covers Asian, Eastern and Western European Cuisines. Possibly best of all, we booked the hotel through Trippki Travel Club and are paying 30% less than any standard booking platform.
I’m here for the Monex Fintech summit, an event that brings together International Banks and new technology providers for the next generation of Fintech. Trippki is happy to be collaborating with the organisers on this and a variety of future events in Central Europe and Asia. There’s a large variety of speakers from global brands such as UBS, Allianz, Standard Chartered, Microsoft, Fujitsu and Visa. It’s a polished event and there are fascinating insights into the financial world of the near future.
Warsaw by night
The evening takes us to Weles, a very secret bar in the heart of the city. Named after the Slavic god of the night, it is designed like a very authentic Gothic Horror set. Young and beautiful people, immaculate and tall, sway to chilled tunes. The bar scene in Warsaw is very lively, well lubricated by an enormous variety of beers, cocktails and of course vodkas. We fleetingly visit the Monex after party in the Bank nightclub, fittingly. We retire early as we want to see some of the city in the daytime.
Old Town, new life
After the conference, the next day we visit the rebuilt Old Town with its faithfully reconstructed churches and mansions. Luckily as well as surviving original plans, many buildings could be restored from the detailed paintings of the Court painter Bellotto, nephew of Canaletto, and similarly talented. The result is both moving and impressive, testament to the purpose and conviction of Varsovians. Cafes, street vendors and restaurants abound, the aroma of hot wine and roasting pork suffusing the atmosphere.
For an authentic Warsaw dining experience, we pop into a Bar Mleczny or Milk bar, the Polish fast food restaurants. Here we order sour cabbage and pork Pierogi, Polish Dumplings, with onion and cream sauces. We wash it down with cranberry juice as alcohol is not served here, which is fine as the vodka had been plentiful the night before.
A quick visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum is all that time allows before we have to return to the airport. This excellent museum is both informative and emotional and shows quite how far Warsaw has come back from near oblivion.
Nowhere near long enough in a fascinating city that gave us Chopin, Marie Curie, Sam Goldwyn and Benoit Mandelbrot. Plenty to come back for.