The train ride from Berlin to Warsaw was lengthy. It was scheduled to be 6.5 hours, but for unknown reasons, the train stopped several times along the way for extended lengths of time. So, we arrived a bit later in the day than expected.
We had reserved seats in the first class section of the train. For this particular train, that meant that we were in a small compartment that seated six. It was quite cramped and the seats were very uncomfortable. On the positive side, we were offered coffee and croissants (no charge). Our cabin mates were two German couples that looked to be in our age group. Though we could not communicate with them, they were friendly. It’s a good thing they were friendly people – when I tried to get out of the cabin to use the WC, I could not open the door. I pulled and pulled; it eventually opened but somehow I ended up sitting in the lap of one of the men, spilling his coffee all over both of us! I was mortified, but at least it gave everyone a good laugh.
We arrived at Warsawa Centrale around 5 pm. Since it was dinnertime, we went in search of food before heading to our hotel. One of the first things that struck me about Poland was the language barrier. I have a limited understanding of German, French, Spanish, and Italian – but Polish was a mystery. I had no idea how to pronounce any of the words but fortunately, there was enough English signage that we could figure out what to do. Our first stop was an ATM to pick up some zlotys (local currency). Then, off to McDonalds for dinner. You may laugh, but when you are tired and in a new place, sometimes familiar is easier. They also have kiosks where you can order in English so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. And, they have different menu choices than you would find in the US. I had a really delicious Greek chicken wrap with tzatziki sauce and loaded with fresh vegetables.
Our hotel in Warsaw was the H15 Boutique. Clayton found an excellent deal on Expedia for this 5-star hotel that is located in the former soviet embassy. It was a little over a half-mile from the train station which is our outer limit distance for walking rather than taking a cab. A half-mile may not seem like much, but when you are dragging suitcases over cobblestone in 90 degree heat, it is plenty far!
I had visited Warsaw in the summer of ’74 while it was still under Communist rule. My memories of the city centered around everything being grey – the buildings, the clothing people wore, the food they served us, the weather. The toilet paper in the WCs was shredded newspaper. It was a grim time. It was apparent immediately that the city had changed dramatically since my prior visit. Maybe some of it was that it was sunny and beautiful this time around, but I think that life here has improved drastically.
Our room was beautiful. We were in a suite which was a pleasant change from the other hotels we had stayed at so far. We like having a couch in our room when we travel; it makes it easier to relax. We are not always on the go; we always build in some “down time” into our schedule.
It’s a good thing we had a comfie room. When we got up the next day, it was pouring down rain. We don’t mind a little rain (we are from Seattle, after all), but this was a torrential, soaking rain. So, we opted to have breakfast at the hotel (very pricy, but excellent) and went back to our room to wait out the storm. It was still raining at noon but not as hard, so we headed out in search of lunch. There are quite a few restaurants near the hotel, but most were only open for dinner so we headed back towards the train station. Our secondary goal was to find a tourist information office (there was not one located in the train station). We found one in the Palace of Culture and Science, a very impressive looking structure built by the Soviets. It houses museums, a cinema multiplex, a performing arts center, and much more. We needed to know how to get to Old Town. We were given a map and told to take bus 160. The woman that helped us circled where to catch the bus and where to get off the bus. Unlike in Germany, you cannot purchase tickets from the TI so we went in search of a kiosk to purchase tickets so we would not need to look for one in the morning.
We decided to wait until the next day to do our sightseeing of the Old Town area. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the central Warsaw area and relaxing in our room.
The following day, we were up bright and early (our norm) so headed to the train station to grab some breakfast. The breakfast at the hotel cost $40 (for 2) which is a ridiculous amount to pay, especially in Poland. The bus to Old Town was right outside the station. We purchased 20-minute tickets for 3.4 PLN each (less than $1). There are a variety of transit pass choices here; it pays to spend a little time researching which is the best option for your needs at http://www.ztm.waw.pl/index.php?l=2. We had initially thought to purchase a shared weekend pass for 40 PLN ($10) which would give us unlimited travel on any public transit, but since we had missed a day of sightseeing, decided to purchase the 20-minute passes instead. The ride to Old Town was supposed to be 12 minutes, so this was our best option.
We were able to use Google Maps to track our journey to Old Town. It was helpful to know which stops were coming up next. It is reassuring to be able to track our progress and know that we are on the correct route.
The bus dropped us off on the street below the Old Town area. There are steps leading up to the main street but there is also a modern building that had escalators and free toilets (yeah!) that most people walked right by.
The Old Town (Stare Miasto) area is charming. When we first arrived, the streets were deserted; no tourists had arrived yet. The only other people were those attending Sunday mass in the many Catholic churches in the area. We briefly considered joining a worship service but knew that we would be hopelessly confused because we would not understand a word of what was being said. Also, the services had already begun and we did not want to walk in late.
We ended up walking through Old Town, New Town, past the palace, past the university, ending up at the statue of Copernicus – about 5 miles in all. The entire area is picture-perfect. We are glad we got there early because by noon, the area was overrun with people. I hope you enjoy my photos of the area:
One cool thing we noticed were the Chopin benches. In various locations in the Old Town area, there are benches that have information related to Chopin engraved on them. There is also a button you can push that plays Chopin’s music. And, if you have the app on your phone, you can take a selfie with Chopin. I can only assume this means that you take a picture of yourself using the app and Chopin magically appears in the picture with you. I wish I had known ahead of time – I would have taken some Chopin selfies for sure!
If you are a music lover, there are plenty of opportunities for you in Warsaw. There is a free Chopin concert every Sunday in one of the local parks. The churches have organ concerts many evenings.
One interesting and completely unexpected thing we saw were displays honoring Herbert Hoover. Really? He is definitely not one of our most revered presidents, but is highly thought of in Poland due to his humanitarian work.
We felt like two days was sufficient to see everything we wanted to here. Next stop – Krakow.