Day 01: Goodbye Chicago, Hello Poland

(A brief note to start out:  firstly, thanks for reading!  Secondly, the written Polish language includes a variety of letters that I don’t have on my keyboard, mainly letters with certain accent marks or lines through them.  If anyone from Poland is reading this, I’m really sorry for the adulteration of your alphabet.  Thirdly, I’ve included prices for a lot of things, transit specifics, and assorted links to vendor/museum websites.  This is largely for the benefit of anyone reading this who is interested in traveling to Poland, in the hopes it might answer some of the same questions we had before leaving.  Happy reading and travels!)

Our trip started by departing from Chicago O’Hare Airport on LOT Polish Airlines.  I’m not a super nervous flyer, or anything, but LOT had been expecting to get an order of Boeing Dreamliners several months prior to replace the old-as-the-hills Boeing 767 airplanes that I’m pretty sure were test-piloted by the Wright brothers.  Because of the Dreamliner issues, LOT was forced to keep these old clunkers afloat and, as such, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had continued to properly maintain them or if they’d become a bit neglected, like how one might treat their old car in anticipation of getting a shiny new one.  You know, maybe you aren’t as diligent in changing the oil, cleaning the filters, or rotating the tires anymore.  But the old girl made it across the ocean one more time, and on board we were treated to a viewing of Marley & Me, a movie 35 years old in Marley years.   However, this aircraft’s viewing was only available on a small screen way up in front, meaning 80% of the cabin was unable to actually watch it – although you were welcome to listen to it through the specialty headphones they handed out with the rubber 2-prong receptacle.  Someone actually still makes those?

Last in line boarding plane to Gdansk

Last in line boarding plane to Gdansk

We arrived in Warsaw roughly on time (to a round of exuberant applause from the Polish passengers) and proceeded through immigration, where I was relieved to find I was not on any kind of Do Not Enter list after my troubles in Poland last time I was there in 2005.  In brief, I was on a train between Wroclaw and the German border (they still had border checks in those days) when a rather corrupt Polish police officer singled me out and removed me and my passport from the train compartment where I had been sitting and led me to an empty compartment in a different car.  I initially thought he was the border police, which is why I had given him my passport in the first place, and once he had it I had no choice but to follow him.  Long story short, the end game was that in order to get my passport back (and remain out of the Polish jail he had threatened to put me into on charges completely unknown to me) I had to give him all my Polish zloty.  He wound up with the equivalent of $25 and I wound up with a bad – but not long lasting – taste in my mouth.

Back to present day, I am pleased to report there were no such issues at the Warsaw Airport and the immigration staff appeared to be quite professional.  We then had to queue up to go through security again in order to get to our connecting flight to Gdansk, and it was here we got our first real taste of the chaos that is a group of Poles lining up.  In short, there is no line and it is every man for himself.  We wondered what would happen if you suddenly announced to a mixed group of Poles and Spaniards (another country where we found line formation is not a strong suit) , “Line up quickly!”  What I imagine would immediately ensue is akin to what would happen if you dropped a bowling ball-sized magnet into a vat with thousands of tiny metal ball bearings.

Eventually we made it through security and onto the short connecting flight.  Upon arrival to the small Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport we found an ATM and bought tickets from the TI for the #210 bus into the city center (3zl each/$1).  It took the bus about 30-40 minutes in overcast weather with intermittent rain to get to our stop, the Brama Wyzynna (Upland Gate).  Now, normally I have an abhorrent sense of direction, but every so often I am struck by a moment of directional clarity.  It was here that I had one such epiphany, and without hesitation, led the team directly to our hotel for one night, the Kobza Haus.

Rainy Gdansk

Rainy Gdansk

Within minutes after dumping our bags we found ourselves back out onto the streets of Gdansk, where it was still raining and chilly.  The first order of business was to walk 10-15 minutes to the main bus station (located just behind the main train station) to get ourselves tickets to Torun for the following Tuesday by way of the Veolia Bus company.  We are no stranger to gruff train/bus station personnel, as it seems ubiquitous the world over, and this was no exception.  I had dutifully written down very clearly what we needed so there would be no language disparity, but the bus ticket sales woman was having none of it.  She glanced at my carefully prepared paper and immediately dismissed us, speaking in rapid Polish and emphatically pointing to a sign in the window that appeared to hold life’s answers but it was written in Polish and undecipherable by us.  Undeterred, we tried recruiting the help of two younger Polish women who were nearby and they were super sweet and happy to try to get to the bottom of the situation.  After reading the sign, they determined that the woman behind the bus ticket sales window does, indeed, sell bus tickets and they approached her with caution to ask if we might be able to ply a couple of them out of her.  The woman was equally gruff with them, barking out what I can only imagine was the equivalent of leave me alone, why are you bothering me with such frivolity, asking about bus ticket sales while I sit here behind the bus ticket sales window?  A bit confused themselves, they relayed back to us that we might be better off just buying a ticket from the actual bus driver, an option we knew we had but were worried the bus might be sold out.  We thanked the girls for trying to help and moved right along, as bus stations far and wide are similarly not that exciting or pleasant to hang out in for an extended time.

Still rainy - but pretty - Gdansk

Still rainy – but pretty – Gdansk

From in front of the adjacent main train station we hopped a tram north to go to Galeria Baltycka, a rather large shopping mall out of the tourist fray.  Our business to conduct here was twofold:  first, there was a kiosk inside that sold tickets and fan cards to the Lechia Gdansk football match (soccer game for our North American readers), a game we wanted to attend on Sunday, and second to stop by the Jack Wolfskin store to get Jimmy a fleece liner for his outer rain shell.  We stopped by the Lechia Gdansk ticket kiosk to get that arranged first.  What I can only assume is for security reasons, in order to attend a game you need to first register by purchasing a fan card (karta kibica – 12zl/$4).  It looks like a credit card and has your picture on it, which they take right at the kiosk.  It is also programmed with your tickets for entry at the stadium – ooh, la, la, high tech fanciness.  The girl selling the tickets was great, and she selected two seats she felt were appropriate for a couple of out-of-towners at their first European football match (35zl each/$11).

Next we found the Jack Wolfskin store and, as luck would have it, they had the fleece Jim wanted so he was now toasty warm out on the damp streets of Gdansk.  We looked around a little more and left the Galeria Baltycka feeling satisfied it was a successful mission all in all.  As an aside, we need to give a nod to the tremendous and easy-to-use public transportation system in Gdansk.  The trams and trains were easy to navigate from a tourist perspective, the signage was great, and we always appreciate the electronic signboards indicating when the next tram, etc., is due to arrive and wonder why, oh why, can’t Chicago be more advanced like this?

Gdansk riverfront

Gdansk riverfront

Back in the Main Town, we stopped for an afternoon hot chocolate on the pedestrian only main drag, ulica Dluga, at the Café Ferber to warm up a little and, truthfully, pass some time until we could go to bed.  We were beat, having been in our car, a taxi, two airplanes, an airport shuttle bus, a city bus, two city trams, and on our feet, all in 24 hours.  The hot chocolate stop recharged us just enough to get us back to the hotel to lay down for a bit before heading out for our first dinner in Poland.  As my mental acuity by this point was virtually nil and I didn’t have the energy to muster decoding a Polish food menu, AND because it was Pizza Friday, we settled on eating at a pizza joint called Sempre on the riverfront, where the pizza was decent.  Afterward we stumbled around the riverfront a bit in a jet-lagged state before throwing in the towel and calling it a night.

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4 Comments

  1. I always love reading about your travels. You are definitely gifted with an uncanny ability to describe thru words like noone else. You’ve got my vote for the next travel-channel journalist. Lookout Anthony Bourdain and Samantha Brown; here comes Howieroll!

    Reply
    • howieroll

       /  May 11, 2013

      Awww, Maxxx, you are making me blush! But I think AB & SB are safe; we are just a couple of unprofessional goofballs roaming around and reporting back on what we see.

      Reply
  2. Chris

     /  May 17, 2013

    “they still had border checks in those days”
    Read this
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Agreement
    There is no border checks from December 2007.
    Fantastic trip report 🙂

    Reply
    • howieroll

       /  May 17, 2013

      Thanks for reading! Oh, yes, the Schengen Agreement has definitely made for easier inter-country travel, and it’s a shame it wasn’t enacted in Poland in March 2005 because otherwise I may not have wound up in the predicament I did. But all’s well that ends well and it was quite the experience!

      Reply

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