Now I know how hot it can be, even in the usually mild Central European summer.
When I traveled in the Baltics, the weather was nice. In Tallinn, it was slightly cool and breezy. Though I did hear about the ongoing heat wave in Western and Southern Europe, I did not think much about it – until I reached Warsaw, Poland.
I stayed at Oki Doki, a cool place (though the staff tended to act a little aloof). Like most central European hostels, there is no air conditioning in the dorm rooms, usually fine with me since the temperature rarely rises too high. This was not the case in Warsaw, the first afternoon I checked in. I was trying to nap, felt the room getting hotter and hotter as the afternoon progressed. The fan was on, didn't help much.
The second day I was feeling a little sick. The temperature was maybe 35 Celsius. No bus or tram I used had air conditioning. (Air conditioning is included in most busses on a tropical island like Taiwan.) It might have been bearable if I could open the window, let in some air. Windows in Warsaw busses are sealed, or very difficult to open. That makes them like toasting ovens! After walking under the scorching sun, sitting in those "ovens" for two hours, I decided to go somewhere cooler – somewhere with air conditioning, but not a fast food place.
Surely a museum will have air conditioning
Why not a museum? I could escape the heat and have some culture at the same time. From my experience in Taipei, New York and San Francisco, big museums usually have quite powerful air-conditioning systems. It is great to have artworks to further soothe you. But Poland's largest museum is not air conditioned. It is huge but its windows are sealed. Only two special exhibition rooms have air-conditioning, so I came back again and again. (Their Chinese bronze vessels exhibition is nothing compared to the collection in Taipei). After one hour, I felt more exhausted.
I planned to be in Warsaw for two nights, then Krakow. Because of fatigue, I prolonged my stay for another night. I didn't want to remain longer; I didn't find Warsaw that beautiful or interesting. The heat drained me. Fortunately, the museum I visited on the third day, Warsaw Rising Museum, was air conditioned. It is dedicated to the heroic and tragic uprising against the Nazi regime in 1944. Though its interactive exhibition was a bit tacky, it was still a touching experience.
Although Warsaw is not as beautiful as Prague and Budapest, it is an interesting city to visit. Its old town is small, looks fake (the old town was destroyed in World War II, the current "old town" is merely 50 years old). But there are some engaging museums to see. Warsaw is obviously a boomtown after Poland joined the European Union in 2004. Many skycrappers are being built; some famous international hotel chains also.
Most famous skyscraper
The most famous skyscraper will always be its oldtimer – the Stalinist style "wedding cake" Palace of Culture and Science. It is an enormous building right in the center of Warsaw's central business district. I could see it from the windows of the Oki Doki. After communism fell, this building still provided cultural activities. However, its kinoteca, cinema, now features movies mostly from Hollywood. In its front entrance, I saw the huge banner of the upcoming attraction "Garfield: The Tales of Two Kitties". People were lining up for the new "Pirates of the Caribbean". Poland has definitely left its communism past behind.
To further "capitalize" their country, it would be a good idea to install air conditioning in the National Museum.
You can read more of Saricie Kuo's complete travelogues for his 2006 Eastern European trip in chronological order at this link.