From Berlin, I made the decision to venture westward – to Poland.
I have a couple rules for where I stay: they must be easily accessible by walking or using public transportation from my arrival point, and they must have wi-fi since I have no cellular service. I tell you this so you will better appreciate my misadventure in Mazovia.
Mazovia is the region encompassing the heart of Poland. The apartment that I booked in Warsaw required me to pick up the key prior to 6 PM. I reserved a seat on the train that left Berlin at 9:50 AM to arrive in Warsaw at 3:07 PM. For some reason, I woke up very early in Berlin so took my time getting ready and walked the half-mile or so to the Central Station. I had breakfast, lounged around, and did some window shopping in the huge mall-like station full of stores. I glanced up at a departures monitor to see what track my train would be leaving from. I noticed that there was no indication of any train to Warsaw and no notice of any trains leaving at 9:50 AM. My pulse quickened as I rushed to find the nearest ticket window to ask for help. I was told the train for Poland was leaving at 9:50 AM but from a different train station! I was now in panic mode as I raced to get to the correct train station which was miles away. I was told I needed to take a local metro train in order to get to the correct long-distance rail station, from where my train was leaving at 9:50 with or without me. I ran to the local metro-rail center and asked a worker how to get to this train station – he barked at me in German, obviously having no idea what I needed. I consulted a huge metro map posted on the wall and figured out how to get to the correct train station and then discovered that I needed a metro ticket. I saw people in line to buy tickets but I did not have time to stand in line and a metro train had just pulled up and was ready to go. I quickly jumped onto the metro with no ticket and crossed my fingers, feeling lie a thief as the train sped away. When the metro arrived at the train station I ran to the track for the train bound for Warsaw – I had made it just in time! The train started rolling right away and we were off to Poland. After only about 20 minutes into the 4.5 hour journey, we came to a halt. An announcement was made in Polish so I did not understand why we were stopped. After 30 minutes of just sitting there, I got up and ascertained from a female Polish train officer that “the machine broke”. Translation: we would sit and wait a couple of hours to get a new engine car. We sat for two hours, and then started moving again toward Warsaw. I was sharing a four-seat cabin with a couple from Malaysia and a fellow bachelor from Dubai. The two of us decided to have lunch and the Polish chef cooked me some tasty perogies – the small, pan fried, meat-filled dumplings, which are famous throughout Poland. My lunch-mate ordered soup but upon arrival discovered it contained sausage, and being a Muslim, he was unable to eat it so offered the bowl to me, it was a very filling lunch while my poor table-mate had almost nothing.
We arrived in Warsaw at 5:10 PM. I was in another country, with a new language and foreign everything. I was able to find the rental office on the 9th floor of an office building and as I entered, the only employee left working past 5 on a Friday, informed me that she had been trying to call me since she was about to go home. She stated that the apartment I rented had some “technical issues” and they would set me up in another place. I had little choice but to agree and she walked with me to negotiate a taxi which she paid for. The cab ride was a long one. I arrived at a huge complex of gated apartments with no English speakers to be found (including the cabbie) and no shops or restaurants or public transportation in site. The driver helped point me in the right direction and I eventually made it in to my apartment. The apartment seemed okay, however there was no wi-fi and then I found that the shower and commode were not working! I found a security guard and tried to get help but he spoke no English. I took some pictures to show him the problem but there was little he could do. It was getting late so I decided to camp out and wait until morning.
I was awakened at 11:40PM by a knock on the door. There was a man at the door with a bottle of wine, apologizing and saying he had heard of my issues. He was from the rental agency and was offering to take me to a hotel if I wanted. I agreed and quickly packed my things. We took another cab ride and I checked into the hotel just after midnight. The next day, the owner of the agency, who was very apologetic, picked me up and took me to his private condo in the heart of the city. It was a very unique penthouse in the middle of an upscale office complex. The next evening when I came home, there was a bag on the door – inside was a personalized t-shirt they had made as another expression of their apology for the problems during my first night in Poland. I decided that all was well that ended well!
During my stay in Warsaw, I met a beautiful attorney and asked if I could buy her dinner. She spoke multiple languages and we shared a similar sense of humor, and passion for travel. We had dinner together at a Polish restaurant where she helped me order a traditional pork knuckle. She then led me on an amazing tour of Praga, Warszawa; describing the spirit of old Warsaw and telling me about the history of the Jews here, as we ducked around the crooks and corners of old town Warsaw – where the filming of The Pianist took place. The town was filled with wooden houses, atmospheric pubs, historic buildings, and artisan studios. When the weekend arrived, we drove to hear the “Chopin in the Park” concert, where a pianist recited works from Chopin’s oeuvre amidst the rose-edged gardens of Royal Lazienki Park. We walked past the Belvidere, the stately palace depicted on the Belvedere and Chopin vodka labels. In the park, we fed wild red squirrels and spotted some peacocks strutting their stuff.
Before leaving, I hung out in the executive lounge at the Warsaw Marriott for some free coffee and chocolate.
Here is a map of this trip…
To better view this map, click on the “expand” icon in the far lower right corner and the map will open full size in a new window.