Monday, August 4, 2014

DAY 44 – 29 July 2014; Kaunas to Warsaw

I looked forward to finishing the breakfast early to leave for Warsaw. The morning fare was set up in a small restaurant in the cellar of the hotel that had a Hanseatic theme. The walls of the stairway to the cellar donned many old pictures of the City. I got through scrambled eggs, sausages, fruits and coffee in the company of a large gathering of tourists. I realised a bit too late that I was overstuffed.

Once I had loaded the luggage into the car I went to the reception of the hotel and sought directions to get to the highway. The young man explained the route clearly. I requested the two youngsters t the reception to pose for a photograph. They did so and told me that the Director of the Hotel had wanted to know who had come by the car with the strange registration number. I asked them if I could meet him before we left. The Director came down to the car soon and we explained to him the journey we were on. I requested him to affix the green sticker on Lithuania and sign the log sheets. He seemed surprised when I told him that we had been warned to be careful in Lithuania and had found the country quite safe!

Even though the road to the highway was not as well signposted as it was in Tallinn and Riga I did not find it difficult moving out of the city on to the good road on E67 to Warsaw. The border town of Budzisko was less than 100 kms from Kaunas city centre and we made it there in slightly over an hour. The border was unmanned and looked abandoned in a long while. Just beyond the former border post we came to a Café Bar where we stopped for a cup of coffee and toilet. The café had a foreign exchange counter manned by a pleasant young man, Maciej Lisiewicz, who was completing his graduate studies. I asked if could give us a couple of small denomination currency notes of Lithuania to add to the collection of currencies we had travelled to. He readily agreed and I parted with a Euro 100 note. He handed me 2 ten Lita notes for Euro 7 and 150.5 Zloty (Polish currency) for Euro 43. I pocketed the balance of Euro 50. The café was manned by the young man’s girl friend. We ordered a cup of coffee and settled down for some online work. Later as we paid and left Lal handed over CDs and brochures of Kerala Tourism to the young lovers who were keen to know more about the country we had come from.

Crossing the border into Poland also saw a change in the topography. Flat lands gave way to undulating terrain and farming could be seen everywhere. Crops were harvested and the hay was being rolled away mechanically. Large trucks hauled the bailed hay away without littering the road. People were seen selling berries on the road side. As I passed a fuel station I realised that we had gained another hour after entering Poland. The towns and villages along the route to Warsaw was more densely populated that anywhere else along the route and therefore, the traffic moved slowly along the narrow roads. This added more time to the drive. However, not a single vehicle infringed the discipline established on the road and regular warnings kept reminding road users of the state of roads ahead and the restrictions, if any. Churches dotted the towns and villages and each one of them looked straight out of a postcard. Another feature of the landscape was well tended cemeteries that had fresh flowers on most of the tombs.

We stopped for lunch in a café in Orzyc, about 75 kms short of Warsaw. The two ladies in the restaurant spoke and understood little English but pointed to photos of meals that were on offer. That helped and we ordered two portions of chicken and fries with cold salad and a coke. While waiting for the meal to arrive we used the open WiFi network to access information and news. Not all of it was pleasant and some of it did hurt. It was quite a task getting through the huge meal, but eventually we did.

Accommodation in Warsaw had been arranged by a friend. Form the booking voucher I knew that the hotel was located in the Centrum. So I drove on, apparently into the City Centre, keeping my eye on directions to the Centrum. After a while we landed up at a place that looked more like some memorial to Olympic heroes than the city centre. I stopped the car just behind a taxi that was being disengaged and went around to the driver and requested if he could guide us to the Mercure Hotel. He did not quite understand me and asked one of the lady passengers who emerged from the car if she could interpret what I was saying. When I told her what I wanted and the same was conveyed in Polish to the old driver he readily agreed. When I thanked the lady for the help she floored me by mentioning that she had lived in Cochin for 6 months!

The drive to the Mercure Hotel did not consume much time thereafter; the hotel was in the centre of the city centre itself. It was just a 100 meters from the iconic structure of the Palace of Science and Culture, which loomed over the city, as it were. However, being unfamiliar with the surroundings I could not find the correct parking place. I took the car to the basement of the hotel and paid off the kind taxi driver in Zloty I had exchanged at Budzisko. Thereafter, leaving Lal to take care of the car, I went to the reception and checked in for both of us. It did take some time since the name of Lal Jose was registered in the hotel record as Lan Bose! I had the contact details of Manoj and Preetha Nair who I called up to inform that we had arrived at the hotel. Manoj agreed to come over after a couple of hours. I used the time to wash clothes and rearrange luggage that would be required for the next two weeks.

Preetha and Manoj came to the hotel just after 6.30 pm. While Preetha, a Doctor by profession, worked with a large Indian multi-national pharma company Manoj, an IT professional, had his own Consultancy Service. Manoj had relocated to Poland to study and continued there to work. He is a Polish citizen now after having been in the country for nearly 27 years. Preetha had relocated from Mumbai but is very much at home with the language and culture of the place where she has been resident for the past 6 years. Manoj suggested that we visit the Palace of Science and Culture to get a bird’s eye view of the city. We drove there and admired the massive structure that was, reportedly, Stalin’s gift to Poland. The huge and looming building, the tallest in Poland, is typical of Soviet architecture. It is now a multi-purpose building that rents commercial space to businesses and houses, cinemas, theatres, clubs, the Academy of Sciences and the like. Many connoisseurs find the monstrous structure ugly! Manoj told us that the building had been recently used to film Salman Khan’s movie, Kick. We went up to the 30th floor of the building that has a lovely terrace offering panoramic views of the entire Warsaw. The lift took only 20 seconds to reach the top at 114 metres. The Vistula River, Old Town, City Centre, Railway Station, grand modern commercial buildings blended with the old and churches are lovely sights from the terrace top.

From the massive building Manoj drove us to the Old Town, one of the most popular attractions of Warsaw. It was getting dark by the time we reached there. We walked around a bit before settling down to dinner at a restaurant in the Town Square. Before that, however, I spent some time in the ‘Military Church’. By the time we reached the musical fountain it had packed up for the day. Dinner consisted of Zurek, a traditional soup of meat served in a pot of bread! It was yummy and wholesome. A couple of glasses of the local beer, Zvwiec was the appetizer for the meal. I had a cheese cake with cream for dessert. Walking back to the car we spent some time at the building where Madame Curie lived. It is now a museum.


When we got back to the hotel we asked Preetha and Manoj to affix the green stickers on Poland and sign the log sheets. It was decided that Manoj would take us to Auschwitz the next day and we agreed to meet at 7.30 am.

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