As I mentioned in a previous article, today I will focus on the Eastern part of Warsaw, the so-called Warsaw Prague. I will also talk about one of our most popular national goods – Vodka. Curiously? Controversially? Check it out for yourself! Enjoy your reading.
The history of this part of the city dates back to the sixteenth century, because it was then that Warsaw Praga was founded, still as the village of Polish Nobility. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Prague was repeatedly destroyed and burned. During the Swedish Deluge (1655), Praga Massacre (1794) and during the November Uprising (1830). In 1895, Koneser Square was established here. However, in World War II, Prague was not as damaged as the left-bank part of Warsaw. In the following years, one of the largest industrial plants in Warsaw – Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (FSO) was located in Praga. At the same time the Stadium of the Decade (present PGE Narodowy stadium) was built. Although for decades, Prague was neglected. There was a lack of investment in culture, communication or housing infrastructure. To this day, you can find here buildings with visible second world war damage.
Why do I mention this? Because while visiting Warsaw, the contrast between both sides of the city is visible. So it is good to understand what events influenced this fact. The Prague climate is more visible on Ząbkowska Street. And right there, is the aforementioned Koneser Square.
Koneser Square – Sightseeing Warsaw
The current Koneser Square is the former of Warsaw Vodka Factory “Koneser”. At that time, there were two separate plants on the premises of the factory. Warsaw Rectification and Warsaw Treasury Wine Warehouse. The first premises purified spirit, the second produced liquors from it. In 1923, in the vicinity of Koneser, the State Mint was located, where coins, medals, badges and seals were minted. At the beginning of the twentieth century, these were plants that strongly influenced the development of the city, giving work to local residents and becoming the heart of Warsaw Praga. Koneser was also one of the largest vodka factories in the Russian Empire.
Unfortunately, in 2007, the factory went bankrupt. But a thorough revitalization of the entire complex has restored one of the most valuable historic areas of the capital to its residents. Today, Koneser Square has turned into a cultural and entertainment center. Here you will find a dozen different restaurants, creative spaces for children, shops and a beauty zone. Museums, art galleries, performances, fairs, concerts, exhibitions and much more. And when it comes to Museums, I have to mention the Museum of Polish Vodka, which has taken over the entire historical legacy of this place.
Complex of building from Polish Vodka Museum
From the entrance, we were greeted by the unique décor of this place. I must say that the museum itself, which I will describe in the following paragraphs, is one separate topic. However, this whole complex (click) offers much more. If you are not interested in the Museum, you can sign up for workshops on preparing cocktails with Polish Vodka, making homemade tinctures or for example, food-pairing. What’s more, you will find here 2x bars with sensational cocktails and snacks. In addition, the place offers an extremely atmospheric space for rent for various types of events. Anyway, see for yourself in the pictures below. If you or one of your friends is looking for a large facility to rent for an event in Warsaw, I present a solid candidate for this type of a meeting.
Muzem Polskiej Wódki – Polish Vodka Muzeum
However, returning to the museum itself. It is worth booking a ticket in advance and choosing the date of the visit in Polish or English that suits you the most. The tour lasts about 70 minutes and a premium ticket costs PLN 59. The trip begins with a short movie of the memories presented by former employees of the Factory “Koneser”. The film itself is interesting, but even more interesting is the form of presenting it. This short screening is displayed in a small, albeit professional cinema hall made in the style of stills (devices used to distill alcohol).
Afterwards, you will go to five interactive modern galleries that allow you to get acquainted with the history of our national drink. Of course, each gallery is embellished with the history of Polish Vodka presented by a qualified guide. You will learn from them, among other things, how the history of this alcohol was shaped in the world, or where the Polish “Na Zdrowie” actually came from. After a series of interactive presentations, you will also have the opportunity to see a collection of original bottles of vodka that were produced in Poland. And I’m not going to tell you the whole story, because I’d spoil you all the fun of discovering it yourself. However, I will say, that with every moment I got deeper into this story, my point of perception of “Vodka” in Slavic culture was evolving.
The price of the premium ticket includes tasting workshops with a personal diploma of connoisseur of Polish Vodka. And this is about tasting, during which we will learn to distinguish the flavors of several different types of vodka. Our guide gave us tips on how we can consume alcohol responsibly and minimize the consequence of poor well-being the next day. I admit that this visit has changed my perception of Vodka as such. Hmmm… You’ll probably think, “What do you mean by that? After all, you are a Pole. You drink vodka with your morning coffee, don’t you?” Well, actually no. Poles do not do that, and I will try to change this paradigm.
Polish Vodka – Polska Wódka
On the website of the Polish Vodka Museum you can find this sentence:
“Let’s play with associations. Champagne – a romantic date in an expensive restaurant. Whisky is an English gentleman. Vodka – a drunken uncle on the polish party. We Poles do not have a good association with our national drink, which is vodka. Maybe it’s time to change that and become proud of the world-famous alcohol? And to be clear, I am not urging you to drink, but to get to know this interesting Polish tradition.”
Right on point…
I couldn’t write it better myself. I do realize that alcohol belongs to the same group of things with higher risk of using as for example guns and money. Properly used, they can bring benefits. However, in the case of misuse, it can have dramatic consequences. That is why I would like to point out that the Museum gives an example of responsible consumption of this type of liquor. And I admit – it’s quite a challenge. What exactly do I mean? What kind of a values are they cultivating? For example: Respect the choice of your guests. Have fun so that every moment is unforgettable. Do not get behind the wheel if you have drank (here you have a dedicated article about this topic). You can find these types of rules painted inside of museum walls.
And I will personally applaud this approach. According to the principle: “Everything has to be kept in style and with moderation”. Thus, if the Irish have Whisky, the Japanese have Sake, the Hungarians have Palinka, the Mexicans have Tequila and the French and Italians have the best wines, then we should boast of our native Vodka. Mainly because of the history of this drink from the Middle Ages till today, which is interesting.
For example. Hundreds of years ago, vodkas of various types were used as medicines to treat constipation, cystitis or injuries. Until a few decades ago, Vodka was a currency as well. And as of today, it is used as an argument during political-national disputes. I hope that you see my point. And what to do with ourselves if we are already done with visiting the Museum? I suggest a further walk, according to the plan (click) for the third day, presented below.
Stadion PGE Narodowy
A walk towards the PGE National Stadium, which is located on the site of the stadium of the decade, is a good opportunity to walk along the Vistula River or the Skaryszewski park and take a closer look at the southern part of Warsaw’s Praga district. The stadium was built for the UEFA Euro 2012 championship, hosted by Poland and Ukraine. But in addition to organizing matches, the space of the stadium is also used to organize concerts or events on a mass scale. The owners also provide office spaces, cinema halls and even multi-denominational chapels. Additionally, the stadium also gives you the opportunity to visit it with a guide. The downside is that tours in English are conducted only for organized groups of at least 20 people.
Right next to the Stadium there is the Skaryszewski Park, with a small waterfall. This is something rather unheard of in city centers. There are several pubs and ice cream parlors, around the park which will make your stay more pleasant and allow you to relax at the end of the day.
And now the bonus. When going to Warsaw for sightseeing purposes, I highly recommend buying this card online in advance. Especially if you are going to visit at least a few of the places that I mentioned in the articles about Sightseeing Warsaw. Because Warsaw PASS allows you to enter each of them without additional fees (!). This means tens or even hundreds of zlotys of savings on tickets and skipping queues to ticket offices.
It is not hard to guess that the model of the trip I described is more suitable for sightseeing alone, with friends or with our other half. If, on the other hand, I were going with children, I would definitely visit the Copernicus Science Centre and the Copernicus National Planetarium. Such a card would generate then even more savings. Here you will find a link to the price list, and here is a full list of the objects concerned.
Summary of Sightseeing Warsaw
Warsaw is undoubtedly a beautiful city. Although Warsaw does not have direct access to the Sea, Mountains or Lakes or the most beautiful Castles in Poland, after the last trip I find that it stands out with something completely different. A time machine. To be honest, this is probably the only city in Poland where you can see the intertwining of different epochs and events. In the center of the city stands the Palace of Culture from the middle of the previous century when Poland was under the influence of communism, and right next to it we find Varso tower which just had its official opening.
“(…)different epochs and events.”
In the Old Town, stands the Royal Castle from the first half of the fourteenth century, which was completely ruined and then rebuilt during the World Wars. On the Old Market Square, legends about the Basilisk and the Warsaw Mermaid are intertwined, and right next to it we can see the monument of the Little Insurgent and the remains of the wall that formed the Warsaw Ghetto. The Warsaw Barbican played an important role during the Swedish Deluge, and in Warsaw’s Praga district, in the background of the new national stadium shining at night, we will also find buildings destroyed after the war period and renovated factory complexes.
A few steps aside from the Royal Castle, stands the Presidential Palace which seems to be completely detached from this already mixed reality. All this has its charm and shows that any infrastructure, even the one razed to the ground, can always be rebuilt. The most important thing is the fortitude and will of the people. Warsaw proves that it is not only a city and a capital, but a story in itself.
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Special thanks to Eamon Gosney, who has helped with proofreading of this article.