San Francisco Glacier in Chile

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Warsaw, Poland

The overnight train to Warsaw passed through the tip of Belarus.  I had looked at a map before by my ticket, and never really considered we'd be crossing the Belarusian border.  Had I known that, especially after the experience in Russia, I would have for sure procured a transit visa.  So, when the border agents got on the train and checked our passports, I didn't have the proper stamp.  After a moment of hoping they would let it pass, I was escorted calmly off the train - we were stopped anyway for the train to be fitted for the different track width we'd be on soon in Poland - and into a crowded depot, where I had to fill out some paperwork and get a transit visa.  All along, I thought it was a "racket" of some kind, but retrospect, every country would ensure passengers had the right paperwork to enter and exit.   I forked over $30, and got the stamp in my passport.  Back on the train, I got some more rest.  When I wasn't resting, I talked with my cabin mate "Richard," a math teacher from Lithuania who enjoyed discussing politics and basketball.  Initially, when I met Richard and greeted him in Russian, he quickly tried to teach the Lithuanian word for 'hello' and promptly started talking about the present-day tension between Russians living in Lithuania and the majority Lithuanian population.  I just remember trying to sleep on train, and not feeling so well.  Had a massive headache.  The train being jerked around (from the fitting of "new" wheels) and the whole visa thing certainly didn't help.  In the end, though, I arrived in Poland, in the capital city of Warsaw. Before exiting the train station, I went ahead and purchased my ticket to Prague, where I was supposed to meet in a couple of days.  I was staring up the arrivals/departure board, and all the city names were in Polish, and a few were in English.  It was just overwhelming.  A lady, likely Polish  and having just arrived perhaps on the same train, walked up and asked if she could help me.  And I let her.  I got my ticket, walked out of the train station and tried to figure out what to do next.

I walked out the station, and one of first buildings I saw was the "friendship gift" Stalin had presented to Poland after World War Two, and after they were swallowed up by the victorious Soviet Union.  Poland was now an ally of the USSR, and Stalin had a replica of one his wedding cake towers built in Warsaw - the Palace of Culture and Science.  I believe it's still the tallest building in the capital city.  I recall seeing a dirty KFC franchise near the tower, and I thought it looked very out of place.   Now, either in Warsaw or Prague, my next stop, I spotted a very modern Holiday Inn.  I went in and had a tremendous breakfast buffet.  Absolutely loved it.  And it gave me a chance to relax and plot my next steps.

In Warsaw, I ended up finding a moderately priced hotel.  That afternoon and evening, I walked within a 1-2 mile radius of the hotel, and I thought about going into the Old City, and perhaps seeing the area where Warsaw uprising took place. I ultimately did neither.  Again, I can chalk it up to being alone.  Also, I didn't have a guidebook or much background knowledge, both of which might have given me that extra motivation.  It's a weird thing:  You're in a foreign, rich in history, yet you play it too conservatively.  I did just that.  Language barriers, and the hassles I had just on the train from Lithuania had also zapped me of my energy and enthusiasm.  I was mainly focused on meeting my uncle at the Prague airport in a couple of days.  The architecture and people I saw in Warsaw were interesting, and I'm sure I found something good to eat.  I do remember coming back to my hotel, and underneath my door, someone had put a business card for an escort service.  The word 'escort' had really just been introduced into English as a nicer word for prostitute.  Having "the service" so overtly advertised was a new thing for me.



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