Our Erasmus Experience: Fall in Love With Warsaw

Sunset over the Barbican in Warsaw's Old Town

This blog is all about finding a way to balance our responsibilities and discover ways to travel more (and better). One of the best solutions we found to this dilemma was studying abroad under the Erasmus+ Programme. We spent an amazing semester in Warsaw, Poland and fell in love with the city and the experience!

Erasmus in Warsaw

Why Erasmus+? Well, this one is easy. We’ve always loved to travel and jumped at the opportunity to move to a different city on the other side of Europe. This Programme was the perfect opportunity to combine studies (our responsibility at the time) with our infinite wanderlust. We were eager to know people from all around the globe, to put our English to use and to find a new city to call home. Besides all the positive aspects, you also get a scholarship funded by the EU. Even though it’s not nearly enough to live off, it’s a good help. We were already studying away from home, so moving from Lisbon to Warsaw did not actually represent a huge increase in our expenses. Be aware that there is always an Erasmus+ branch for internships.

Why Warsaw? The answer to this one is not as poetic as we would like, it is actually quite basic. Rui and I studied at two different universities, with different offers for Erasmus+ placements. University of Warsaw was the only common choice on both lists that was on a city we could afford to actually live in. Plus, we were truly excited to move to a country that is still very exotic for us Portuguese folks. It was a perfect fit for me (a self-proclaimed history nerd).

Entry to the University of Warsaw Main Campus
Houses of the Warsaw Old Town
Sunset over the Barbican in Warsaw's Old Town
Warsaw Old Town Street, father and daughter riding bicycles
Houses and flowers of the Warsaw Old Town

We thought that arriving to Warsaw would be a huge shock and that we would feel out of place (despite months of google searches). The shock turned out to be that we felt right at home from the moment our plane landed. Warsaw proved to be a modern and welcoming city. It is also a huge city, and even after five months living there, we feel we only scratched the surface (there’s still so much we want to do!). This post is as much Warsaw, as it is about ourselves. While living there we created our own Warsaw, with all the people we met and those who visited, all our routines and favorite places… and now, our memories.

Because it is a city marked by war and many years spent on the other side of the wall, a lot of people imagine it as this very grey and sad city. Warsaw is a bit of that, but it is so much more. It is also colorful and vibrant, and a reminder that there’s a lot to learn, even from the worst history. There’s a lot of hope spread around (behold all the flowers!) and a clear look towards the future (just take a glance at the financial district, filled with skyscrapers). Warsaw is as much the Old Town, as it is Praga, on the other side of the Vistula river. Warsaw is as much the Palace of Culture and Sciences, as it is the Wilanów Palace. It’s much more than the stereotypes that still taint this region.

Rain falling over the Palace of Culture and Sciences in Warsaw Poland
Details of the Wilanow Palace in Warsaw Poland

The Beginning

We arrived in September, so still enjoyed a bit of the Polish Summer. In the first few days we lived at the Hostel Witt. We prepared everything with the University, searched for a place to live and tasted Polish pierogi for the first time. All while taking every bit of sun the city had to offer. We also binge-watched “Orange is the New Black” and will always associate it with our small hostel room. Searching for a room/apartment was very challenging. In the end, we found a studio near the center that we fell in love with. With all the adult stuff was dealt with, we finally found time to start planning our first trips, but there’s a whole post about that to come out soon.

Before classes actually started, we walked through the Old Town many times. Each time we discovered new corners to fall in love with. We visited the University of Warsaw, and felt like we were on a whole new world, with all its buildings, campuses and what else. And the best part? The library and its gardens, which include a rooftop with staggering views to the city (if you read this post, you already know we love rooftops).. It is a real must visit if you find yourself in Warsaw (be aware that the upper garden is only open from April to October). We enrolled in all activities provided by the Erasmus Student Network and visited all the must-sees.

Summer in the rooftop gardens of the University of Warsaw Library
Red leaves in the rooftop garden of the University of Warsaw Library in the Summer
Sunset over the beautiful rooftop gardens at the University of Warsaw Library

The Middle

Summer turned into Autumn and for the first time we got to experience the true passing of seasons (we’re from Portugal, where the division between seasons is much milder). One of the best parts about our apartment (besides the amazing heating and walk-in closet) was that it was very near to the Lazienki Park, the perfect place to witness the leaves falling and the lakes freezing. We were fortunate to travel a lot, but even more fortunate to welcome many of those we love in our home. Showing the city around proved to be even better than exploring it. We will never get tired of the view, no matter how many times we climb the Tower of St. Anne’s Church. We also recommend doing a Free Walking Tour of the city, there are many to choose from, and they are a great way to learn more.

Chunck of a frozen lake in Lazienki Park Warsaw
Squirel at the Lazienki Park in Warsaw
Autumn in Lazienki Park Warsaw Poland
Autumn in the Wilanow Palace in Warsaw

In December, the Christmas decorations replaced the flowers in the city. We celebrated Saint Nicholas Day for the first time while marvelling at the fireworks. Be aware, Polish people take the holiday season very seriously and you’ll be reminded constantly. The beautiful lights, the cozy markets and the smell of gingerbread everywhere. If you are in the city in December, do not miss the amazing light show at the Wilanow Palace.

By this time, a lot of things had become routines. Unfortunately, we never learnt Polish. However, we were proud to know enough words to make the people at the supermarket kindly smile as a response to our efforts. We bought warm jackets and saw snow together for the first time. At the end of the month, we spent a week in Portugal to celebrate Christmas with our families.

Christmas tree and ice rink in Warsaw's Old Town
Christmas tree by the castle in Warsaw's Old Town

And End See You Soon

And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, January had arrived. With all the snow, and the lowest temperatures we had experienced until that time. This month was fully dedicated to our studies. For many people, Erasmus+ is a party-dedicated semester without studying involved. We were lucky to be able to combine everything and truly learn from our classes. I also took our last full month in the city to visit all the museums and all of our favorite places again. As for museums, don’t miss the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the POLIN Museum, and in a less historic vibe, the Copernicus Science Center.

Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland on a very snowy day
Snowy day in Warsaw Poland
Snowy path at Lazienki Park in Warsaw Poland
Snowy view from a Wizzair plane

We left for Portugal at the beginning of February. It’s impossible to write we went back home. Warsaw is also our home, one of the many we hope to cultivate all around the globe.

It is easy to fall in love with Warsaw. With all its wonders and inconsistencies. It was a pleasure to fold and wear out the maps of the city until we didn’t need them anymore.

In 2017 we went back to Warsaw. It was only for a short visit, but we’re sure we’ll back many times. We simply cannot resist its charm! Check out all our Poland related posts, we have quite a few!

A bit of a disclaimer: These photos are quite old and taken before we had the right equipment and knowledge to take better photos. We’re not entirely proud of them. However, we think that it is important to illustrate our text and experiences, even if with grainy photos.

Have you ever lived abroad? Do you plan to do so in the future?

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Erasmus Study Abroad: Our experience of one semester in Warsaw. A love story with a lot of useful tips and tricks on what to do and see in the city. Warsaw Guide I Visit Warsaw I Poland Travel I Erasmus #travelblog #visitwarsaw
Erasmus Study Abroad: Our experience of one semester in Warsaw. A love story with a lot of useful tips and tricks on what to do and see in the city. Warsaw Guide I Visit Warsaw I Poland Travel I Erasmus #travelblog #visitwarsaw

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