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Before coming to Warsaw, my overwhelming knowledge of Poland consisted of two things:
Whenever I heard the world “Poland”, I would imagine two soldiers shivering in their communist uniforms, huddling over a single boiled perogy.
I know. I’m so worldly.
Anyway, good thing Warsaw ignored my silly misconceptions. It simply waited until I entered its clutches and then proceeded to dazzle me with all its historical charms: gothic-spired cathedrals, cobble-stoned alleyways, and opulent royal castles that made me feel like I was in the middle of a fairy tale…
Except, I didn’t need a handsome prince to come steal my heart. Warsaw took care of that all by itself.
Somehow it knew that the key to my heart was…
This was one of my favourite things that we ate in Vietnam and I couldn’t believe I found it in Warsaw of all places! And not only that, there were at least 5 authentic Vietnamese restaurants, all within talking distance from my Airbnb.
As soon as I bit into the juicy, fatty, grilled pork, I was transported back to Hanoi.
I couldn’t even find this northern dish in Toronto and yet, somehow in Warsaw, I walk into the first (of many) Vietnamese restaurants and suddenly find myself eating Bun Cha?!
As it turns out, Poland has the 4th largest Vietnamese community in all of Europe! Apparently, back in the 1950s and 1980s, Vietnamese and Polish students exchanges were popular because Poland was buddy buddy with its communist brethren, Vietnam.
Never thought I’d say this, but YAY, communism?!
After the Bun Cha surprise, I got an even bigger surprise when I looked at our bill.
That’s it? $9 measly dollars for our whole meal?
I thought we were in Central Europe not South East Asia?
I was suddenly hit with an even bigger surprise. Even thought Poland is part of the EU, it doesn’t actually use the Euro. Its currency is the “Zloty”.
Compared to the Canadian dollar, it trades 3 to 1. Compared to US dollar, 3.5 to 1.
And compared to the Malaysian Riggit?
Exactly the same.
No wonder our AirBnb host, a Polish man who lived in Malaysia for two years, found that the cost of living in Poland was essentially the same as living in Malaysia.
That’s right, readers. POLAND has the same cost of living as MALAYSIA.
If that wasn’t enough to make me contemplate moving to Poland, I also came across another one of my favourite things.
Specifically $1 Gelato. Being an Optimizer, I’m pretty obsessed with value. So when I found high-quality Gelato, comparable to some of the best I’ve tried in Italy (and even then the best value Gelato there was $1.60 Euros or $2.50 a scoop).
So what is an Optimizer supposed to think when she finds the best value in all of Europe?
Needless to stay, I spend the rest of our days in Warsaw consuming my whole body weight worth of Gelato. IT. WAS. AWESOME.
I also ate my fill of Polish food, which unlike what my ignorant brain thought, wasn’t just potatoes and Perogies (though I did eat my fill of that too). Turns out I absolutely LOVE polish food.
Moist, flavourful, and served with big heaping portions, I devoured every last morsel…even when the buttons on my pants threatened to pop off.
Here are 3 of my favourite foods that we ate in Poland:
Golonka (Stewed Pork Knuckle):
Bigos (sauerkraut and meat)
Oscypek (Smoke Cheese Made from Salted Goat Milk)
Mulled Wine with oranges, cinnamon, and star anise.
Even though Polish food didn’t have the prettiest presentation, it makes up for it in SPADES in taste! I was pleasantly surprised at how good everything tasted, considering how my picky taste buds were, expecting it all to be bland.
And the attractions were pretty exceptional too. In addition to the opulent castles, Poland was also famous for its salt mines, like this one in Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The idea of going to a salt mine made me scratch my head at first. Salt mines? REALLY? If I wanted to go to the salt mines, all I had to do is just go back to my old job.
But, apparently, back in the middle ages, salt mines were all the rage.
If you were a Hungary princess back then and got married, you wouldn’t want a diamond, gold, or platinum.
Instead, you would say “Oh please Daddy, I’ve always wanted my very own salt lump.” To which he would reply by giving you one. At which point, you would stick your diamond engagement ring in it, toss it into a salt mine and force your fiancé and a bunch of poor peasants to dig it out. And once it was found, your Dad the King would declare you patron of the mine!
That wasn’t me being funny. That’s actually the story of how Wieliczka was founded. Hungarian princesses are weird.
Anyhoo…so growing up in Canada, ice sculptures is our thing, but apparently in Poland, salt sculptures are where it’s at.
Like this virgin Mary statue:
Or Christ and the last supper:
Or this salt crystal chandelier:
And finally the piece de resistance: an entire underground cathedral made of…
You guess it…SALT!
So with all this tasty food, beautiful historical architecture, European lifestyle, and fantastic value Poland turned out to be one of the biggest hidden gems we came across in Europe.
And the best part? It’s not even crowded! I guess too many people had the same thought I did when they hear the word “Poland”. Let’s hope they continue to think that. Although this post probably blew the lid on that secret. Oh well. What can I say? When I love something I have to shout it from the rooftop–er blogtops?
Here’s how much (or rather little) we spent:
|Category||Cost in USD/couple||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$34 USD/night||$42 CAD/night||We stayed in Airbnbs in Warsaw and Krakow at $35CAD- $46CAD/night. Out of curiosity, I look into long term rentals and you could easily find a central 1 bedroom condo for rent for only 2300 Zloties (or $657 USD). Sweet!|
|Food:||$15 USD/day||$19 CAD/day ($12/day for eating out, $7/day for groceries)||Surprisingly, food was one of my favourite things in Poland. We pretty much ate out every day, binging on gelato, pho, and Polish comfort food. Polish beer was super cheap and good as well, at only $1. Eating out was actually pretty comparable to Malaysia prices which is unthinkable for Europe!|
|Transportation:||$17 USD/day||$21 CAD/day||The intercity buses in Poland were very cheap at only around $1/person per ride. Trains from the airport were also inexpensive at $6/person/trip. Travelling from Warsaw to Krakow only cost $12/person for a 4 hour trip. We flew from London to Warsaw on RyanAir for only $66/person, which average out over the time we spent in Central Europe ended up being only around $6/day.|
|Entertainment:||$10 USD/day||$13 CAD/day||There were a lot of free things to see in Warsaw (like old town square/Castle square) so we only paid for tips for the walking tour. The Salt Mine was a bit pricey at $32/person but for a big attraction that you can spend half a day in, I thought it was worth it. Just make sure you buy tickets ahead of time because waiting in line will cause you to waste at least an hour and half.|
|Total:||$76 USD/couple/day||$95 CAD/couple/night||Food prices and accommodations were comparable to Malaysia prices, but we did end up spending more on transportation because we had to fly there from London. In Malaysia, we simply took a train from Singapore. Attractions were also pricier but only because of the Salt Mine. I would say if we were to live in Poland long term, our cost of living would actually be pretty similar to Malaysia. The most surprising thing about Warsaw was the unexpected cheap authentic Asian food which is so hard to come by in Europe.|
The salt mines, historical architecture and food was great, but turns out Poland had even more surprises in store for me…but that’s a story for next week’s post.
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