Trip to Warsaw, Poland
  November 2014
Warsaw Old Town   Church door knob, Old Town, Warsaw, Poland  Winged horses outside public library, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw! Like Ukraine, it was a trip that was completely unexpected. I got the invitation while I was still in Germany in October - sick from a severe cold, missing Ukraine terribly, still aglow from an amazing time with Stefan in Ireland, isolated in a tiny German town far from a train station and with no friends... the invitation was a beautiful gift while I was absolutely miserable.

I was home in Oregon not quite three weeks before I headed to Poland. While I had been away for 11 weeks already and was really missing home, the idea of being invited to Poland to work was a huge thrill in a year of many professional thrills. I've been to Poland before - our epic 2008 motorcycle trip through Eastern Europe included Poland - but not Warsaw.

My time in Oregon between European jaunts was a blur, as the moment I arrived back in the USA, I got hit with a UTI that was so painful that I had to go straight from the airport to the emergency room (and, yes, the first reaction of the nurse was that I had Ebola), and the date after I arrived home, my wacky neighbor died, and I didn't even have time to mourn her - I had to find homes for her two dogs (please adopt Daisy!) and five cats (yes, I have officially adopted Gray Max). 

For once, my flight wasn't at 6 in the morning, requiring me to head to the airport at 3 a.m. - this time, it was in the middle of the day (woot!). One of my neighbors took me to the TriMet Sunset Transit Center in Beaverton so I could take the train from there to the PDX airport. Results:
Why Forest Grove, Oregon does not have an hourly express bus that goes from Fo Gro to the Sunset Transit Center and back, I don't know - it could have a stop one place in Forest Grove, one place in Cornelius, then go straight to Sunset. Such a bus would be PACKED, every trip. As I am personally paying a HEFTY TriMet tax because I'm self-employed, I REALLY don't understand it!

The Portland, Oregon airport is a great airport to wait in - great Internet access, great restaurants… it's just that people rarely wait there, because it's a takeoff or landing airport - rarely a layover airport. Pro tip: the best restaurants at PDX are BEFORE the security check point. And I got to enjoy La Petit Provence, a restaurant owned by a dear friend of ours.

I got on the plane to Amsterdam and realized I was seated in the middle of the middle section. For a 10 hour flight. The horror. I'd tried to check in online a day earlier and hadn't been able to. Darn. Well before take off, the older guy next to me said, almost immediately after he sat down, "Hi, I'm Jerry." Oh, no. A talker. On a two hour flight, okay, that's fine, but 10? Nooooooo…..
Me: "Hi, Jerry. I'm Jayne." (glancing back to stare straight ahead, hoping he would get the message: I don't want to talk)
Jerry: "Nice to meet you. You from Oregon?"
Me: quick glance at Jerry: "No, Kentucky." Back to looking straight ahead.
Jerry: "Oh, you've got that really famous Senator, uh..."
long pause.
Me: (as flatly as possible, starring straight ahead). "Mitch. McConnell."
Jerry:  "Oh. I take it your a Democrat."
Me: (starring straight ahead) "Yes. An a deeply ashamed Kentuckian.


I survived the middle seat in the middle section - it helps that I'm short and that I'm not as fat as I used to be. It also helps that the seat in front of me was usually empty, meaning no one put their seat back. Putting your seat back on an airplane is EVIL. Pure, unfiltered evil.

I gorged myself on the in-flight entertainment, as usual for a long-haul flight. I guess Delta and Virgin airlines have realized that, by offering a plethora of free stuff to watch on a long haul flight, it keeps the passengers quiet and well-behaved. First up: Philomena. I was blown away. My close, personal friend, Dame Judi Dench, deserved the Academy Award. Okay, I haven't seen Blue Jasmine… but Dame Judi brought such subtlety to her performance, such layers… her delivery in tone and timing was just perfect... reading that script would not have given you what that performance did. It didn't even seem like it was her anymore. Also: WHERE is the outrage regarding the Catholic Church's widespread ENSLAVEMENT of women and their baby-selling?! This is a story I've been following for a while, and the almost-silence if DEAFENING. I bet your bottom dollar they are still doing this in developing countries. That it happened for SO long in Ireland, and that the coverup continues TO THIS DAY… absolutely heart-breaking and CRIMINAL. But, I guess since it's not a Muslim group doing it, it's okay?

Then I watched Frozen. Again. Because it's awesome. Maybe perfect. And I watched the Let It Go number 3 times. Because it's awesome. Maybe perfect.

Since there were THREE screaming babies on the plane (10 hour flight! Woot!), and a Greek woman behind me who would start blabbing every 2 hours and would have to be told each time to please be quiet (and not by me!), I couldn't sleep on the flight. I wanted to sleep just two hours, maybe three. But noooo… So I watched several episodes of Flight of the Conchords, which I've seen bits of. The show is good, and I'm glad it was successful - but their live show is just so much better (thank you, Betsy, for introducing  me to them oh-so-many years ago).

I also watched The Adventures of Priscella: Queen of the Desert yet again, JUST to make the Republican next to me uncomfortable.

I tend not to work on planes. I don't even try. There's just not enough room on the plane for my lap top - and to top it off, people insist on tilting their seat back (and, therefore, they are evil - have I mentioned that?). I stick to reading, listening to audio books, watching movies or trying to sleep.

The food on the plane was dreadful. What happened to airplane food? It got good around 2000. Now, it's awful again. Sometimes I take food because I know how back the airplane food is going to be.

There was a young German girl next to me - obviously well-off, as she was visiting the family in the USA that hosted her as a student a while back, and she was loaded with the very best electronics. She told me she was having to repeat a year in school before graduation - I didn't even know that was a thing in Germany. She was sweet - but completely uncaring of continually coming into my space with her blanket or leg or arm or head. Actually, Republican guy was the same - his leg and foot, or arm, came right into my tiny space again and again. Look, people, I'm in the MIDDLE seat. It's miserable here. At least leave me ALL of my seat space - everything within the arm rests - and ALL of the space in the seat in front of me. You've got aisles - use them.

With the horrible food, being in the middle seat, the crying children or ever-talkative Greek woman, and people invading my space, it was the worst flight I've had in a long time, followed by the misery of going through Amsterdam airport, which is a horrible airport: it lacks signs outside of arrival gates to tell you where your next flight is, and you may have to walk 10-15 minutes to find one. It lacks a tram system to get you from one side of the airport to the other - and a walk between gates can be 30 minutes. I don't mind walking 30 minutes - unless I have even less time to make my next flight. It also lacks staff to help you. Also, parts of it always - ALWAYS - smell like pee. Always. And not just the bathrooms.

And I also need to say: on a moving walkway in an airport, STAND OR MOZY ON THE RIGHT, leave the left side for people RUNNING, like ME! And if you want to chat with someone as you walk slowly anywhere in an airport, please make sure you are still giving enough room for people running to catch a flight to be able to run past you.

I sound like I was a big crank all this time to get to Poland. I wasn't. All this happened, and I just would not let it upset me. Water off a duck's back. I tend not to get upset on my way anywhere - instead, I get upset on my way home.

I slept on a plane at last, on the flight from Amsterdam to Warsaw, but only 90 minutes - the length of the flight. I fell asleep before take off, I woke up when we landed. Even just that little bit helped.

I was thrilled to find a VERY nice airport in Warsaw! Well done, EU money! However, while it was EU money that helped make this airport and so much of Warsaw wonderful, Poland isn't using the Euro. The signage in the airport was excellent (listen up, Frankfurt and Schiphol!) - I knew exactly where I needed to go, I got right to a currency exchange, and then right out to the very nice tourist kiosk for free info to guide me on my journeys in town - I went without a Lonely Planet book this trip, because I did the whole trip with just carry-on luggage (two pieces!), and I didn't have much time to sightsee. I bought my 75 minute mass transit ticket at the kiosk right next door to the tourist kiosk in the airport, then found the bus stop outside, no problem - again, thank you, fabulous signage, Poland!

The bus was a bit late, but that was no problem - I wasn't in a hurry. I watched other people on the bus so I could know how to get my ticket canceled, and then I just enjoyed the ride, seeing Warsaw for the first time. And what I saw was a completely modern European city, on par with, say, Berlin or Brussels any other Western European city: buildings that were either built or retrofitted to be energy efficient, excellent roads, sensible cars, OUTSTANDING mass transit, interesting architecture, beautiful green spaces, people walking everywhere and looking confident, no trash - I was blown away. It is stunning that this country is right next to Ukraine, which is struggling in so many ways (and not just because Russia is invading and annexing).

I got to the Centrum stop to transfer to the tram that would take me to my hotel, and realized the directions from the conference organizers were NOT so good for finding the tram stop: you have use an underground area beneath the massive intersection to get to whatever stop you need, and the signs to go up the steps to a stop are by stop name, with no listing of which trams are at the top. I had no idea which stop I was supposed to use. I was lost for an hour underneath that intersection, walking up and down each set of steps, looking for my tram at each stop. Jet lag and carrying two bags didn't help the process along.

I finally found my tram stop, and got on the #4, and after 45 minutes, realized that I must have missed my stop, because we were now over the river and passed the old town. So I asked someone, they pointed back the other way, I got off the tram, walked over to the stop to get the tram going in the other direction - and was right back at Centrum. I should have walked over and looked at the list of stops for the tram, but I didn't - I was so severely sleep-deprived, I just got on the #4 again, going the other direction, convinced I was missing the stop. Then I did it again back the other way. Finally, I approached two older Polish guys discussing - something. They were WONDERFUL. Turns out that, contrary to the directions I got from the conference, #4 does NOT stop where I needed - I should have taken a different tram. But I also should have just stopped and checked one of the signs at ANY tram stop - unlike in Portland, Oregon, the list of stops for any tram or bus are always listed on EVERY bus or tram, as well as at MOST of the mass transit stops. Had I gotten on the wrong bus in Portland, I NEVER would have been able to figure out the right one just by looking at info posted at a stop - only the light rail has mass transit maps inside with a list of stops. Oh, Portland, you're just not a mass transit town, no matter how much you like to pretend.

So, why not just take a cab to my hotel? Taking mass transit is a point of pride for me, appealing to the travel me, the "green" me, and the proletariat me. In Europe, it's often the best way to get around, it often doesn't take much longer than a car ride, and I get to check out the locals. In Europe, unlike Portland, it's not just people that don't have a car license that ride the bus or light rail - a range of classes do it. Plus, it's SO much cheaper than a cab. With all carry-on luggage, I don't mind it at all, at least not one-way, and I get to see the key points in a city. That said - I usually take a cab to the airport, because I'm in much more of a hurry.

As I exited the tram across from my hotel, one of at least three Ibis hotels in Warsaw, and at least two hours later than I expected to be there, I noticed a 24 hour liquor kiosk next door. I'm rethinking my atheism. What's really funny - when I did a search for my hotel on Twitter, just to see if anyone else was tweeting about it, I found a tweet that also referenced said store (from a journalist that's a mutual friend of someone I knew in Kyiv). Aid workers and journalists: we know what to value. That said - I never did get to partake of that kiosk...

After checking in, getting to my room, and checking Facebook and my email, just to make sure there wasn't anything urgent, and then writing the conference organizers to tell them their directions were wrong, it was 6:30 p.m. - and I went to bed. I woke at 2:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. So, I wrote most of the aforementioned, tweeted, posted a million things to Facebook, and responded to some emails. By the time I was done, it was 5 a.m. - just one hour until I had to get up. So I stayed up. Which of course meant that, at 6 a.m., I was soooo tired….

I also looked for a package of cookies I thought I had put into my bag from the flight - I rarely eat everything that's given to me on a flight, and like to have a little something just-in-case. I couldn't find them. I was sad. And hungry.

I showered and went for breakfast at 7:15. At 7:30, everyone else in the hotel showed up. Wahoo, timing! I love that, in Europe, breakfast is almost always included with your room. In the USA, I don't mind that they don't, because there are usually plenty of places around a hotel to get a good breakfast. I just wish Europe offered turkey bacon…

This is my second Ibis hotel. My first was in Brussels, during that disastrous trip last year. Actually, I stayed at the Ibis budget hotel near the airport in Brussels, which was clean, and comfortable, and fine for just one more horrible night in Belgium before I finally got to put an end to that horrible trip, but it also had lime green decor and plastic furniture (type in ibis budget brussels airport into Google, then click on images). And the restaurant, over at the Ibis not-budget hotel next door, was one of the worst I have ever been to in my life - I'm not even kidding. But the Warsaw experience was FAR far better than Brussels - breakfast was more than tolerable, the room decor was not hard on my eyes (I really liked it, in fact), and the location for touring the city is FANTASTIC. And, hey, I ain't paying' for it, so…

Me at Discover e-volunteering even in Warsaw, Poland 2014Day one of the workshops were held at the conference room at Cafe Niespodzianka, a bohemian hangout I adored. Great coffee and very friendly staff - good place to just hang out and read on a rainy Warsaw day - though that is not what I was there to do. The conference organizers and attendees were all 15-20 years younger than me, and I found that incredibly intimidating. They represent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the European version of nonprofits, from Poland, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Armenia, Bulgaria, and are competing for a grant related to what they want to do with a particular kind of volunteering I frequently train on. In addition, there were people from two NGOs from Ukraine, who aren't part of the competition but were invited to attend because of their extensive experience with online engagement - I'd met one of the Ukrainian reps my last week in Kyiv, and we greeted each other as old friends. The energy of all attendees was delightful and inspiring. I tried to give them ideas they could really use - not just theory, not just "Hey, this might work." I will have so much more to say about them on my professional blog.

That night, I was invited to go to dinner with the other conference attendees, and I fully intended to go - but as I was looking for the directions on my computer, I hit a wall - my brain stopped functioning. Just STOPPED. As I had two more hours of training to do the next day, and I wanted to hear everyone else present. I hit the hay.

Me at Discover e-volunteering even in Warsaw, Poland 2014The next day, our workshops were at a very well-known phone company in Europe - one of the best known, featured as a sponsor in F1 races and everywhere else. Their facilities were breath-taking - I felt like I was in Silicon Valley. I know a lot of people in Germany who would be stunned to see such a thing in Poland - they still think of Poland as a poor, mostly-rural country, not the modern European country that it is. It was an invigorating day - I think I did a good job, but I really loved listening to the OTHER presenters, learning just how fearless Eastern Europeans are regarding Internet technologies.

Then we were back in our hotel again. Now I was ready to go out to eat - and had no one to go with, as everyone was having an early night because their flights were so early the next day. So I got a half a liter of Coke from a nearby grocery and a double order of chicken wings from the Ibis restaurant (you can take the girl out of Kentucky, but you can't take Kentucky out of the girl), took it all up to my room and found a place online to download more Flight of the Conchords episodes. I would have watched TV, but all of the movies were dubbed by that ONE Polish guy that dubs everything. I watched a bit of France 24 in English and EuroNews, but they repeat every 30 minutes or so. I also packed so that, the next day, I could get up ridiculously early and be out the door by 9 a.m. for a walking tour of Old Town Warsaw and various monuments, in Warsaw.

Madam Curie statue overlooking the Vistula RiverFor my tour the next day, it was a little cold, very overcast and gray, and I LOVED IT. I'm moving to Old Town or New Town in Warsaw. Oh, how I loved it. And there weren't that many people - I had Old and New Town to myself and the locals. New Town is older than Old Town, BTW - look it up.

I had forgotten that Madame Curie was from Warsaw, and I was pleased to see her honored at various points. I also didn't know that a mermaid is the symbol for the city.

The old town / new town is lovely - it was completely destroyed by the Nazis in retaliation for the Warsaw uprising, and was rebuilt using photographs and paintings. It overlooks the river, and it looks and feels the way an American wants old Europe to look and feel. And so many people live in and around the neighborhood - it's not just for tourists. Oh how I loved it!

Statue, Old Town, Warsaw, PolandIt's a city where you see many reminders of the destruction the Poles faced in World War II, and the oppression they faced by the Soviets. The country still feels quite victimized by these horrors, and they should. But I'm seeing an emergence of another side to Poland, not just the "look how we've suffered" side. I saw celebrations of their art, their culture, their history beyond tragedies… I'd really like to see more of that on a future visit. I'm very sorry that I didn't get to see more of Warsaw - I didn't get to visit any museums at all. Next time!

I walked all the way to the Royal Castle, then walked around it and looked down at the big main road, and the bus stop where I'd ask for directions days earlier, and out over the town. And I thought about how freaking' lucky I've been these last two years work wise, how I've had amazing opportunities and gotten to travel outside the USA in these two years. How I've felt like ME again, for the first time since 2007. I almost started crying. I need to work on keeping this feeling inside of me, at least a little, every day, no matter where I am.

I headed back to the hotel after my almost-two-hours touring, took off all my long underwear (knowing Barcelona would not be so cold), and took a chilly cab to the airport - since it was Saturday, I wasn't sure mass transit would get me there on time. The cab driver found me delightful - said I would be his favorite customer for the day. I was just me - nothing particularly special - but some people like it (so many do not).

Sadly, I still have never gotten my passport stamped for Poland. The first (and last time) I was there, in 2008, Stefan and I came over the border from Germany via motorcycle. We left via motorcycle, to Slovakia. No more border controls even then. So no passport stamps. I didn't get one coming this time either, because I came in from Amsterdam. I was hoping to get one when I left for Spain but NOPE! Still no official proof I've been here. I also forgot to register with STEP program  that I was in Europe this time, something I'm usually very good about when traveling abroad.

You know, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever had my passport stamped for Spain either…

I blogged about Barcelona separately.

I returned to Poland four days later, to take my flight back to the USA. I felt like I'd been gone two weeks in Spain. The conference organizer that flew me over was gracious enough to invite me to have the authentic traditional Polish meal I'd missed earlier in Old Town - and it was HEAVENLY. I had fried pierogi stuffed with spinach, and the Polish version of Glühwein. She was taken aback at how much I liked Warsaw. We also talked about the situation in Ukraine - it's something that citizens in Poland are eying warily and intensely, and that they take much more seriously than other citizens of Western Europe.

Somewhere between Barcelona and Warsaw, I lost my power adapter, so I couldn't go online much that evening, and not at all before my first flight the next day - I didn't have much power left on the computer, and I had to save it in case airport security asked me to power up my computer before I boarded my flight for the USA - I haven't seen them ask anyone, but if they ask you to power your phone, your laptop, or any other electronic device up and you can't, you have to trash it. Oh, the horror…

The next day, I took a cab from the hotel to the airport in the wee hours, traveling through Warsaw's empty streets. And the asshole cab driver ripped me off, doubling the price when we arrived at the airport. I blew a gasket. I always ask the price before I go in a cab, even in the USA, especially when I KNOW what the price should be. I should have done it this time but I was just full of Catalan and Polish love and wasn't thinking. I didn't have enough Polish money for his new, doubled price, so I gave him all I had and said, "That's all I have. I have no more. You don't like it - call a policeman." Actually, I had Euros, which they will take, but SCREW THAT. Oh, I was so angry... but I still love Poland.

Once I arrived at Amsterdam, I went ahead and bought yet another power adapter with the the last of my Euros. I'm so upset at losing my other one - it had sentimental value. I'm not even kidding. As usual, the smell of pee was here and there as I walked through Schiphol airport - and not just in the bathrooms.

I tried to sleep on the plane and couldn't - yet another screaming baby. For almost the entire 10 hours. Earplugs do not block out screaming babies. Read the latest issue of The Economist, which I found on the plane from Warsaw to Amsterdam as I was deplaning - wish I had the time to read it every week, truly. Re-watched SkyFall, which I think is just freaking' AWESOME on so many levels… Also watched Finding Vivian Maier, which is OUTSTANDING - a must see if you haven't. Finished season one of Flight of the Conchords. Tried to watch Monuments Men and Only Lovers Left Alive, but abandoned both 15-20 minutes into each - so many actors I love, so much waste of talent... And, yes, I watched Frozen again.

De-planing, I ticked off the woman in front of me because I pushed passed her while she blocked the aisle, not allowing anyone to exit while she thought about how to get her bag down. I have just had it with stupid travelers, I really have. She'd also pushed her seat back generously for the flight - that always makes trying to watch something REALLY great… have I mentioned that those who tilt their seats back on planes are EVIL?!?

By the time I arrived in the USA, at the Seattle airport, I was so tired I couldn't see straight - words and signs were blurring before me. As I drafted more of this travelogue, I would write the craziest things that made no sense. I should have saved that original version. I'd been up for 20 hours, with six more hours to go.

For reasons I will never understand, not only was passport control at the Seattle airport absolutely CHAOS, with not nearly enough people to deal with the masses of people, but in addition, people getting on another flight had to go through security AGAIN. Why?!? We had been in an absolutely secure area since deplaning, and gone through a super-tough check in Amsterdam. NO European country makes you do that - once you've been through security, you're good to go through a variety of airports so long as you stay in the secure area - unless you go to the USA, of course… And Seattle has these TINY prep tables for passengers to get their bags ready to go through the x-ray, meaning only one passenger at a time can get ready - the staff gets frustrated but, well, it's you're own damn fault! Seattle - your airport is embarrassing for international travelers making connections. Shame on you!

And, of course, the Delta transfer desk told me the reason my boarding pass didn't have a seat number for my flight to Portland was because they've over sold the flight & I would have to check in AGAIN at the gate in two hours - though she got mad at me when I said, "So, I have to check in again at the gate", telling me, "No, you are checked in, you just have to go to the desk and make sure you have a seat." Which I thought was a part of CHECKING IN, but me English not so good. ‪#‎grumpy‬

I got to my gate, oh-so-far away, and the Delta agent at the nearby help desk was equally unhelpful. Still no seat on my flight. I went to my gate, intending to lay down on some of the many empty seats and try to sleep until my flight, which was being delayed more and more - and the Seattle airport seats have armrests built to prevent you from laying down across seats. SEATTLE AIRPORT FAIL AGAIN.

Our flight was 2 or 3 hours late taking off for Portland. I forget which. I was on the verge of being delusional from sleep deprivation. I was listening to all these young, hip Nike shop employees from all over Europe complaining about the dumbest things ever and talking about how great Nike shoes are and I wanted to smack them. All of them. Each of them. We finally got on the plane, and I was thrilled to know it would be just 25 minutes. I was not thrilled when my bag arrived at the doorway of the plane sopping wet. Luckily, everything in it was dry.

I don't really remember getting from the plane to the light rail outside, and that frightens me now. I do remember that there was a Blazers game that night, and the train was suddenly full of Blazers fans - and then suddenly wasn't full of Blazers fans. I texted Stefan to tell him I was nearby, and then I fell asleep - I woke just as the train announced my stop. Whew!

And that is my travelogue to Warsaw. Which is way much more detail than most people want or need. Here are more photos from Warsaw trip.

Return to the broads abroad home page

Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.

A Broad Abroad | contact me

The art work and content of this page is by by Jayne Cravens, 2006-2014, all rights reserved