This will be A-Z, but in stages.
A is for APTEKA – An Apteka is a Chemist / Pharmacy. Poles are hypochondriacs so it won’t take you long to find one but when you do there will be a big queue. Drugs are fun, so expect most people in the queue to wish to hold a conversation about what’s new and sexy on the drug scene. Those who don’t want to do that will wish to have a conversation about how to get the same things for half the price or about why their prescription has a bad date on it. They sell everything you could possibly want. They like selling new drugs imported from Switzerland, which cost a fortune. The staff generally do a pretty decent job.
B is for BOLEK – Bolek was Lolek’s mate. They are cartoon characters. There’s a good bar named after them in “Pole Mokotowskie”, which is not a great park but is a big green thing near the centre of town. The bar is far better in spring or summer as it is mostly open air. They do decent food and have a BBQ going most of the time. You can approach it by car from Zwirki i Wigury (the road that goes to the airport). The entrance is where they have recently built a “Jeffs” restaurant.
C is for CATS – if you like cats there are plenty of wild ones to be found. Most of them live in the basement rooms of the apartment blocks but the name they are known by has something more to do with living under roofs as far as I can tell (dachowiec?). It also stands for KOTY (Cats) the musical at Teatr Roma. This theatre does a great job with all its productions so its well worth popping along. The best place to buy tickets is the theatre box office to the left of the theatre on Nowogrodzka. Lastly, C is for Cheese. Polish cheese is easy to spot, it is all square, yellow and rubbery but has 25 different names. Unless you need it to glue together a toasted sandwich, leave it alone! I’m being unfair on Polish cheese in general, but most of the good stuff is hard to find in Warsaw. There’s a good shop just across the street from Popiełuszko’s church in Żoliborż that sells country cheese as well as meats and stuff. I’ll leave you to explore and find it!
D is for DONKEYS – if you like donkeys, don’t come to Warsaw. I’ve never seen one here, not even in the zoo. The zoo is on the other side of the river in bandit country. If you want a day at the zoo when in Warsaw, get up early and catch a train to either Gdansk or Berlin.
E is for ERRATIC – you will notice that drivers in Warsaw become very much this when; 1/ it rains or snows, 2/ it is the weekend, 3/ it is a bank holiday. The rest of the time the driving is poor, but predictably so. It is also for EAR BASHING, which is what you’ll get if you visit any government department, post office, 25% of shops or try to take your child out for a walk without three layers more clothing than you though was appropriate for the weather conditions.
F is for FLOWERS – the people of Warsaw love flowers. They are a part of every occasion – life, death, birthdays, name days, whatever. You can find them everywhere from shops to kiosks, street markets, outside graveyards. They tend to be quite a lot more expensive in the florist shops than other places but they do make good bouquets. I buy most of mine on the street outside Hala Mirowska on Jana Pawła II which is the closest you can get to wholesale and so you get a lot for your money and there’s a very good choice. Apart from bunches, there are many options for made up arrangements in baskets, which are also very popular. You need to be a little careful with the choice of flowers though. Red carnations (any carnations really) are communist flowers and there’s a whole bunch of others that are really only good for funerals or for old women. Also very quaint are the people selling home made small bouquets of what look like flowers they hand picked in the forest glades that morning, and might very well be exactly that! They generally hang out down the side of Hala Mirowska and might also have a few 1950s broken electrical items, old socks, dolls with the head missing, to flog as well as the flowers. Whatever they managed to scrabble together before catching the bus for Warsaw basically. The variety of these wild flowers is amazing. Watch out for the sunflowers as they tend to come complete with bees! Obviously the spring / summer is the best time and much lower prices but you can buy all year round.