Running in Warsaw
I head out in the morning for what I plan as a 6-8 mile run. I’ve never been here before, so my route is somewhat flexible. I Google “Warsaw running” and find a couple of ideas, but mostly what I decide is to simply head north. I’ll run for half an hour or so, then change streets and run back the other day.
If Erbil is a city on the rise, Warsaw is a city that has already rose. There is little here to indicate that Poland was once a very poor country. Instead, it looks like any number of other European cities—Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, or even London.
As I’ve been experiencing everywhere I go lately, life is pretty expensive for those of us on the dollar economy. Thankfully my hotel is free thanks to Starwood points—a welcome respite from the hostels and overnight train rides I’ve been taking recently–but my afternoon coffee and muffin stop costs $8 at the Coffee Heaven down the street. The next time I complain about the price of Starbucks, I’ll remember it could always be worse.
In situations like these, I resort to eating one or two large meals a day. It doesn’t matter when I eat them – they can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner – but afterwards, I try to skip the next mealtime or two. This isn’t the healthiest lifestyle, especially for someone with a special diet (vegetarian but high-calorie) and who tries to stay in shape for long-distance running. But it’s just part of the deal for the recession-impacted world traveler. I could always stay home, right?
Back to running. I’m having such a nice time running along the Vistula river that I keep going in one direction for almost 45 minutes. By now I’m out of Warsaw and in a large park somewhere north of the city. I try to keep the river on my right, but I realize it would be easy to lose my way.
The sun is out, I’m running well, and I’m feeling grateful for a day with nothing much to do. I’m not going anywhere until tomorrow, so what’s to lose? I keep running.
On every long trip I take, I set up an iTunes playlist that I use for long plane flights and my exercise breaks like this one. This time, the playlist features the new album from the amazingly-talented Jason Mraz, who has provided inspiration for me and thousands of other people for several years now. On this run I’m listening over and over to Make It Mine, the title track.
Wake up, everyone
How can you sleep at a time like this
Unless the dreamer is the real you?
Great stuff there, Mr. Mraz.
I turn around after a while longer and head back, keeping the river to my left this time. Miraculously, I don’t get lost at all. I’m back in the center of Warsaw at about mile 10, and I run through the old town, past the Soviet War Memorial, and on through to the Centrum area where my hotel is located. My watch reads 1:48:20 as I approach the hotel, so I decide to make it an even two hours.
I’m fairly tired by this point, but also excited about running, Warsaw, travel, all of you who are reading, and life in general.
It starts to rain exactly three minutes before I finish. Before then, I’ve been wearing sunglasses the whole time. It’s a cold, unpleasant rain, but I feel like it’s arrived just in time for me to finish.
I stretch for a few minutes against the building, then walk inside. Everyone else is in business clothes. I’m wearing a tank top, shorts, and tennis shoes. I get in the elevator with three business types and ride to the 17th floor to my room that overlooks this beautiful city.
It’s only 9:15 a.m. What’s next?
You never fail to amaze me 🙂
What I want to know is, how do you get past the language barrier?
Warsaw is far from a beautiful city. You are running on the ashes of hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews and other innocent people who were ruthlessly murdered under the reign of the Nazi’s, facilitated by the pacifistic Polish regime; Warsaw, home of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, was the epicenter of the Nazi plan to exterminate all Jews, and this never should be forgotten. It sickens me that you treat this place so lightly, and with such lack of respect for the terrors and horrors that took place on the grounds which you are so whimsically jogging upon. Do not forget.
Yeah, that is sometimes a problem… but I’ve found that you can usually do whatever you need to do without having a common language. And in Poland, I noticed that a lot of people spoke English, at least in Warsaw.
Well, you could say something similar about most places in the world. It’s not the fault of Warsaw itself that bad things happened there in the past, nor is it the fault of most people living there now.
You fail to mention that along your path in Warsaw is a path of suffering and death, over 300,000 Jews were driven in 1942-1943 from the Warsaw ghetto to the gas chambers of the Nazi extermination camps. Would you go running at Pearl Harbor or upon the rubble at the World Trade Center ground zero? It is an utter disgrace.
You’re right, it surely is not the fault of Warsaw itself that such tragedies took place there, as cities cannot bear blame. Nor am I saying that the people there today are at fault. I am not even talking about fault or blame; all I am saying is that you should have some RESPECT for what happened there, just as you ought to have respect when visiting Auschwitz, Ground-Zero, a Cemetery, or Piskaryovskoye. Being oblivious of these facts and this sad reality, failing to make a mere mention of the horrors that took place, treating the place like a mere scenic track-and-field arena, reflects very poorly upon your sensitivities and character.
Why did you delete my comment?
Andrew – I did not delete your comment; see above. Just because a comment is not moderated in 10 minutes does not mean I am not posting it.
My response is really the same – I am sorry that bad things happened in Warsaw long ago, but it doesn’t mean that other people can’t enjoy the city 70 years later. Yes, I have been running in Honolulu (Pearl Harbor) and NYC after 9/11 – as well as Sierra Leone, South Africa, the American South, and lots of other places that have tragic histories.
While I would obviously have respect for any kind of cemetery or monument, we are talking about public parks that are intended for people to enjoy.
All the best,
Thanks for the post, and the info about Jason Mraz. I’ll have to check him out.
My coworker’s wife is from Poland and they still go back for vacations, etc., so I hear about it from time-to-time. They live in the country though, so it was nice to hear a bit about Warsaw. Along the Vistula certainly looks like a beautiful place to run!
I think it’s unfair of people accusing Chris of being unsympathetic, and disrespectful to the past genocides. The simple fact of life, is that life goes on. It’s been around 70-75 years when it happened.
Do the lynchings of blacks in the South mean that nobody should be jolly 50-60 years later? Is it their fault that their ancestors did such terrible things? Oh, god no.
Did the city do harm? In that case, let’s NOT blame extremists for 9/11, let’s blame New Yorkers as well as the city itself.
You can see it isn’t pragmatic to blame a whole group of people or even a place for a wrongdoing. It’s just as reasonable as characterizing every Muslim as a terrorist, or any other insensitive, nonsense, stereotype today.
Great post. I loved how you beautifully described Warsaw, and I´m totally checking Jason Mraz out.
Keep doing your thing. If you had to cut back your daily exercise everywhere there is a unpleasant history you would be a sedentary traveller.
Great story, as always Chris. Nevermind people telling you can’t enjoy a place with a torrid past. We can’t change history – we can only enjoy the present.
Keep running. =)
I recommend heading over to Krakow and take a visit to Auschwitz. Powerful.
@Success Prof –
Yeah, I had hoped to go to Krakow especially, but because I had such a busy travel schedule on this trip, I decided to stay in one place for a while. The break from daily planes, trains, and buses was good for me.
For more affordable meals, or at least snacks, it seems like you could look into a grocery store or street vendor. Plenty of things like bread and cheese can be eaten with little prep work. But you probably know this already.
Let me know when you come to L.A. and I’ll “treat” you to a kettlebell workout.
Yep, I try to do that whenever possible. I also buy nuts (almonds and cashews) and fruit, which make for a great light meal.
Awesome! I saw a presentation on kettlebells last year and have been wanting to try it ever since.
Chris, great post. If you haven’t left Warsaw already I would recommend going to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. It’s pretty amazing and details what happened to Warsaw and its citizens during WWII.
Also, I would recommend trying the lard spread if you see it in a restaurant. It was like a bacon packed version of butter. Mmm, yummy. Makes me want to get on a plane right now.
Chris, not only are your stories inspiring, but I had no idea you were a vegetarian. I know all about being a vegetarian and trying to eat enough for distance running. 2 meals a day after a run like that must be tough!
You make me want to visit Warsaw. It sounds like a beautiful city. I’m a walking or bicycle man myself, my knees are beat up, but no matter how you see a new city there is always new ways to find happiness.
You know, you can wallow in the past – or enjoy the present.
I just wanted to add one more thing…I’m jealous! One of these days when I get out of the Army and get my traveling under way, we’ll have to meet for some coffee in a place like that.
hmmm – Interesting, but your goal of visiting all the countries in the world isn’t at all hard if you have the time and money to do it, with a couple of exceptions like North Korea. And I don’t really see the point except to write a book about it perhaps. I’ve been to about 25 countries personally. This year I’m going to China and Hong Kong, it’s interesting to visit new places but why make it a goal to visit all of them? Would be interested to understand the motivation more.
Thanks for your inspiring, honest and colorful posts! Being European I hardly can believe the comments of those people who find it respectless to jog in Poland. My guess is they’ve never been there and they are talking about their imagination of a place like that rather than about the place itself. Warsaw, Poland and sadly enough many other places in Europe have witnessed incredible crimes against Jews, Gipsies, Homosexuals, Communists, Intellectuals, mentally ill people and many others during the Nazi regime. They also were victims of other crimes against mankind under the communist regimes that followed WWII for them.
Warsaw, Poland and many other places across Europe have also been nearly completely destroyed by the bombings during WWII (by the way: Polish people managed somehow to reconstruct their completely destroyed old town center after WWII although there weren’t even any photos left after the burnings. So they reconstructed them along old paintings which were somehow rescued – with the result that the buildings looked older after the reconstructin than before…).
What I want to say: whoever visits nowadays Poland will be reminded of its painful history at any corner. But as someone before said, life did go on during these last 60 and more years – and people living in Poland today are to be admired for their resilience and will to overcome the Nazi terrors and then, 20 years ago, their communist dictators. They are admired to develop and install a stable democratic country and join in the European Union. The genocide by the Nazis will never be forgotten there (or elsewhere, hopefully), but Poland/Warsaw can not be reduced to its having been a victim of the Nazis two generations ago. Chris, please go on jogging wherever you are and keep on inspiring us with your posts!
Great Post Chris! Thanks for sharing your running in warsaw experience. Looking forward to new posts.
It is a crazy, personal goal that I don’t expect everyone to identify with. I set it after I had been to about 60 countries, and I use it as a model for the goal-setting and personal development that I write about. There are actually a lot of countries that are fairly hard to get to, but for me that’s half the fun. 🙂
Thanks; it’s good to hear from international readers. Don’t worry – I will keep running everywhere I go.
Awesome to read your comments! I am actually going for another long run right now, back home in Seattle.
Loved this entry Chris!
I must visit Warsaw some time. Actually listening to Make It Mine as I write this (had to turn it on). 🙂
I’m in England right now and it is bloody expensive. I go out and have a lunch and it costs me like 15 dollars. it is hard to travel on the dollar.
chris, shame you are not in europe anymore.
Reading your posts regularly and with much interest!
Chris, regarding the language barrier: how would you communicate, in say: Thailand, Pakistan, Congo, etc. – countries which are slightly below the literacy level and haven’t learned english?
You know, the first several comments to this post reminded me strongly of your Fourth of July entry — in which you talked about the different perspective your traveling has brought you. In that case, the subject was America. In this case, the subject seems to be Warsaw.
Most people, when they hear “Warsaw”, they think of what they know about the city — mostly from World History II. You know all that, of course; you took the same courses in school. But you know a little tiny bit more. You know that the riverside makes a great jogging route! This does not cancel what you learned in history class; but neither does the classroom knowledge cancel out your current experience. It’s just more data.
As another example, I was in Berlin in the spring of 2001. When most people hear “Berlin”, they think of that city’s role in the Cold War. I think of construction cranes; and because of my history knowledge, I know that most of those cranes are along the stretch of land formerly occupied by the Berlin Wall.
When we traveled to New Zealand with our 9-month-old, we were extremely strapped for cash as well (the dollar wasn’t nearly as bad, but the conversion to NZ dollars was not a happy experience even then). To save we typically had a lunch of a baguette and some brie or butter, and some nuts. And although that sounds a little light for a primary meal, we loved it. We were in New Zealand to see the country and get to know as much as we could about the culture in a short period of time, so not spending a lot of time at meals allowed us to travel light and keep moving. We also did farm stays, which reduced cost and gave us a better view of real life there, in my opinion.
Thanks for the post Chris – I hadn’t considered Warsaw as a destination in my future, but now I’ll have to rethink it. It sounds like it is well worth a visit!
The picture you have up there beside your post is actually Vistula river banks in Krakow. Definitely a nice place for a run! Take care.
I’m glad you enjoyed Warsaw, it’s a pretty nice city indeed though being a Pole myself I prefer Krakow or Gdansk, Warsaw’s just too… well… typically western-European;)
To the authors of the first comments – if you think Nazi war crimes were “facilitated by the pacifistic Polish regime”, how about pulling your head out of your ass and actually reading some reliable sources? Our entire army was decimated by the simultaneous attack of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the first weeks of war. Perhaps, as you’re most likely living in the US, it’s hard for you to imagine that your country’s army might actually be defeated, but believe me, it does happen. What would you do then? Throw volunteers with makeshift weapons against regular army? Oh wait, we actually did that, it was called the Warsaw Uprising. Chris, sorry for this little bit of troll-feeding in your comments, but I find such suggestions insulting to say the least.
And yeah, jogging in Auschwitz perhaps wouldn’t be a good idea. Warsaw however happens to be the capital city of a 40 milion country, and the horrors of WWII are just one of the aspects of its rich history.
Thanks for your detailed comments. I think I am going to close the discussion about “whether it’s OK to run in Warsaw” with your remarks. The discussion seemed a bit silly to begin with, and it seems everyone has had their say.
I posted your feedback because you actually are Polish – which is a nice perspective to end on.
If any one else has any comments on what the essay was really about, of course, those are welcome. I’m in Karachi this week and will be running here as well. 🙂
Chris, I am really happy to hear that you went to Poland. I am from Poland and I currently live in San Francisco, I have been in the States for about 5 years now and although I settled here for good I still miss Poland a lot. A lot of people would never go visit Poland because of numerous stereotypes about Poland being a communistic country. Not a lot of people know that thinking of Poland in communistic terms is the biggest misconception I can imagine and I think that if they only gave it a chance they would be absolutely surprised in a positive way. I just hope that next time you go to Poland you’ll choose a more beautiful city like Cracow, Poznan or Wroclaw. Warsaw is unfortunately not the best representation of Poland. Happy Travels!
What James and Andrew wrote was weird! Chris, I am glad you came to Warsaw and saw it as a modern city. Next time come to Krakow (Cracow).
I am moving to Warsaw soon, and I am a runner. Thanks for the post it was nice to read of your experience as I have no idea what to expect!
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