The flight landed ahead of schedule which was good but then we had to wait nearly an hour for the the express bus service to leave the airport for the city centre. To make matters worse it then waited twenty minutes after scheduled departure time to wait for passengers from a delayed flight!
Rather selfishly I didn’t care about the delayed flight I just wanted to get to our destination. It took about forty minutes to take the forty kilometre motorway journey into Warsaw and thanks to what seemed to me to be a very efficient transport infrastructure with big wide double carriageway boulevards there were no real hold-ups and we arrived at our destination in the car park of the soaring monument to the communist era, the Soviet built Palace of Culture and Science.
Apparently the roads in communist cities were built straight and wide so to accommodate tank advances and troop movements should they be necessary!
We had dressed in anticipation of a sub-zero Warsaw winter so it was rather a surprise to find blue sky, a blazing sun and temperatures well into double figures and we didn’t want to waste this so we walked the short distance to the Polonia Palace Hotel, checked in, found our room, shed a layer or two of unnecessary clothing and stepped straight back out onto the street in search of the famous old town.
To get there we had to negotiate a couple of busy road intersections which required using a network of confusing underpasses, underpasses that were so big that there were shopping arcades and street entertainment down there. Being underground we became disorientated and surfaced a couple of times in the wrong place but at the third attempt came up on the right exit. I really don’t know how animals like moles who live permanently underground manage to navigate around so easily!
As I mentioned before (and will do so again) Warsaw was completely destroyed in 1945 so the entire city was redeveloped in the 1950s in the Stalinist style of architecture and the streets here were lined with buildings built in the modernist, what architects call Socialist Classicism style. Personally I find them charmless, brutal and ugly and they are probably going to be here for a very long time so I suppose we will have to get used to them.
One of my first impressions was that there were a lot of shops here, far more shops than I am really comfortable with so with Kim stopping off every few steps to stare at shoes and sparkly things it took us rather longer than I had anticipated to reach the old town and by the time we arrived there the sun was beginning to drop towards the horizon and the photo opportunities were rapidly disappearing.
The other thing that was most noticeable was that it was very, very busy and this turned out to be on account of the fact that this was February 14th, Valentine’s Day and apparently this is a very big thing indeed in Poland with lots of street entertainment and bars full to capacity as families and lovers dawdled through the old town streets in the unexpected sunshine.
After completing a circuit just to get our bearings and identify some potential restaurants for later we found a bar with a vacant table and ordered our first Polish beers. The waiter tried to persuade us to eat but we said it was too early. He was persistent and told us this would be a good time because later everywhere would be full. Kim wondered if we should book a table somewhere but I passed this off as salesmanship and persuaded her that there was no need. This was a decision that I was going to regret later!
So we made our way back to the Polonia Palace stopping off at a mini-market on the way to get some essential supplies and then we squandered a couple of hours enjoying the room and a glass or two of wine.
Finally we made our way out at about eight o’clock and the place was heaving with people, the pavements were jammed and there were queues at the burger bars and pubs and that was when I first started to grow concerned. We tried a restaurant but were turned away because it was fully booked and then a second with the same result. At a third the waiter told us that everywhere would be fully booked tonight for Valentines night and slowly that “I told you so” look started to creep over Kim’s face like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.
We had a debate and Kim decided that there was little point walking all the way to the old town just to suffer multiple rejections so we walked back to the hotel in the hope that there would be a spare table there. My fingers were so firmly crossed that the blood circulation was slowly being cut off. We passed the Palace of Culture which was bathed in Valentine crimson light and as I glanced across I noticed that Kim’s face was a similar colour, flushed with irritation.
Luckily the hotel restaurant could accommodate us for a special Valentine’s Day buffet and we enjoyed a fine, if rather expensive, meal and a glass or two of wine. The day was saved!
One thing that intrigued me was that although this was Valentine’s Day with a special menu there were a number of people around us who seemed preoccupied with their mobile phones. A young couple at the next table barely spoke a word to each other as they endlessly scrolled through their digital lives rather than attempt a conversation with each other. I wondered if they had booked a table for four, him and her and their two tablets. It seemed like a waste of money to me to pay for an expensive meal and spend so much time on Facebook!
We had had a good first day so after the meal we returned to the room and looked forward to our first full day in Warsaw tomorrow.