The Best Communist-Era Experiences
- Visit the Palace of Culture and Science (Warsaw): Warsaw's landmark Socialist-Realist palace is the granddaddy of all Communist architectural icons. Universally loathed, yet at the same time thoroughly riveting, you won't be able to take your eyes off it. Tour the museums inside or take an elevator ride to the top to look out over Warsaw. Part of the fun are the ever-present guards, ready to bark nie dotykac (do not touch!) the moment you get close to any of the exhibits.
- Check in at the Hotel Jantar (Hel Peninsula): Back in the day, job perks often came in the form of time off at resorts like this one, set up by the government for their very best employees. Hotel Jantar was originally conceived for military personnel out for a bit of R&R, but now it's open to civilians, as well. Happily, the original decor and "spirit" remain intact. Definitely a close-up of "the way we were."
- Eat at a Milk Bar: Every visitor to Poland eventually has to have his or her "milk bar" experience. A milk bar -- the milk refers to the fact that no alcohol is served -- has no direct American or Western European equivalent. "Cafeteria" sounds too sterile, and "greasy spoon," well, too greasy. But that's the idea, at any rate: heaping steam tables of mostly meatless Polish specialties that you line up for and then point to. Not bad tasting and can be a good value, but bring your phrase book since milk-bar staff tend to speak Polish and only Polish.
- See a Concert at the Spodek (Katowice): Katowice's retro-futuristic "Flying Saucer" building may be the coolest rock concert venue ever built. It's the city's best representative of the "Brussels Expo '58" style of design inspired by 1950s-era science and science fiction that influenced so many architects behind the Iron Curtain at the time. Performers like Robbie Williams, Pearl Jam, and Sir Elton John have played here.