A Rocky Road To Warsaw's Many Delights

12/29/2012 08:23 am ET | Updated Feb 28, 2013

Living in Europe gives a traveling New Yorker the best opportunity to visit some of the world's most desired destinations on last minute trips. Places you've never even dreamed of can be explored on a whim -- and on the cheap! Of course, what you sacrifice with low budget is quality, which is what we found out the hard way during our weekend excursion to Warsaw, Poland.

We decided pretty last minute to take a three-day weekend trip to Poland for the weekend due to the fact that it's only two hours by plane and a pretty cheap ticket on RyanAir. Little did we know what good old RyanAir had in store for us...

Being a budget airline, RyanAir doesn't fly from big airports like Heathrow or Gatwick, but instead London Stansted, which is roughly an hour and a half car ride from London. So around 2:15 a.m. on Friday morning, my alarm went off and we set out for Polska.

We were supposed to land at Warsaw Modlin airport at 10 a.m. Poland time, a flight that was only supposed to last an hour and 50 minutes. Naturally, getting up so early for the airport, we all passed out on the plane. By the time the captain came on the intercom to tell us we were landing, we were unaware of the fact that we had landed in a different airport in the south of Poland called Katowice. They kept us on the plane for another 45 minutes without telling us what was going on, or why we didn't land in Warsaw.

Being the New Yorker in the group, I of course thought the worst. My mind immediately jumped to: Warsaw was definitely under attack and now we were stuck in God knows where Poland forever. Thankfully, as I began to envision us sneaking our way out of the country, the flight attendant came around to tell us the reason we couldn't land in Warsaw was because of extreme fog and nothing more.

While my first reaction was relief, my second was confusion. First of all, we are in a country where English is not the first language. Second of all, we are in an airport that literally is a field that makes the bustle of Long Island's McArthur airport look like Times Square. How the heck were we supposed to get to Warsaw from bumblebleep Poland?

After taking an a hour bus ride that we were told would take 15 minutes (I'm blaming that one on the language barrier), we made it to the sketchiest train station I've ever seen.

After finally getting on one, we learned pretty quickly that there was reserved seating, and since we didn't know that, we didn't reserve seats. We were quickly kicked out of "first class" (an oxymoron on the Polish train) and demoted to the bathroom floor. The train ride lasted for nearly three hours and as one of my friends put it, we looked and felt like "boxcar children."

After 12 hours of traveling instead of the expected three, we finally made it to Warsaw. After a feast of pierogies at a local restaurant called U Szwejka that was amazing, we all went to bed at a record setting 8:30 p.m. and slept for 14 hours.

On Saturday morning, feeling fully refreshed, we finally got to experience Warsaw. I fell in love with Old Town, which seemed exactly like the images of quaint Eastern Europe depicted in movies. However, the cobblestone streets, picturesque squares and sturdy buildings dating as far back as the 13th century weren't always so picture perfect. The historic area, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was mostly destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, and has only been completely restored in recent decades.

Not only was the city gorgeous, but all of the people were so nice and accommodating. Just about everyone spoke English, and compared to London and New York, prices were fairly reasonable.

We enjoyed perusing the Old Town Night Market, with the entire main square illuminated with tiny twinkling lights and street vendors hawking trinkets and Polish antiques. Completing this romantic image were strolling musicians playing folk tunes on the accordion.

Warsaw is very much a walking city, with New Town and Old Town only about a 15-minute (and very safe) stroll apart. New Town Warsaw also has its charms, including a happening club scene and many upscale shops.

Despite the rocky start in getting to Warsaw, the destination made up for the exhausting journey. One thing my time so far in Europe has taught me is the worst trips can make for the best travel experiences.

Weekend in Warsaw, Poland