Since my company changed its overtime policy earlier this year I seem to have ended up with rather a lot time off in lieu. At the beginning of August (after I’d just taken a week off to sit in Finsbury Park and read) my team lead took me to one side and said “Now look here… It’s August and you still have 25 days left. You need to start taking some.”
It’s not every day your team lead tells you to take holiday. So I did. One week every month for the rest of the year in fact. Thing is though, while I should be taking flights to here there and everywhere, there are only so many holidays a man can afford so for the most part I just sat around at home playing computer games and video-conferencing friends in far flung parts of the globe. I couldn’t face doing this again in December (no offence to my Skype friends intended) so I jumped onto a flight checker and searched for the cheapest flights to anywhere in Europe for a 3 night stay. First up… Warsaw, Poland. Three things instantly popped into my mind upon reading this:
- Joy Division (who wrote a song called “Warsaw” about Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s deputy in the first half of the war)
- The Second World War
The only images I could conjure up were of an emaciated Adrian Brody, walking across piles of rubble searching for scraps of food in The Pianist. I knew absolutely nothing of post-war Warsaw, or even Poland for that matter besides being told that there were apparently legions of hot raven-haired women and cheap beer. Both those things appealed to me greatly, but I am also deeply fascinated by WWII so I figured, why not? How cold can it really be anyway?
My next dilemma was where to stay. When I went to Rome in June I picked the hostel with the best reputation for partying. This was fine on the first night because I just went down to the bar on the Saturday evening, made loads of nice people and went clubbing but the second night I had been out walking all day and couldn’t wait to just read a book and pass out. Not likely in an 8 bed dorm at the front of the building with the noisiest fan in the world, no air conditioning and an all-night party outside.
I figured that evening, lying in bed staring at the ceiling while willing the snorer in the bunk below to choke to death on his own tongue, that I don’t actually need to do this any more. I’m not a penniless traveller trying to save money in every city I go to; I’m a working professional on holiday. The only reason I actually stay in hostels is so I can hang out with nice people while I’m away and in most places you can go to the hostel bar without actually needing to stay there anyway. So this time I booked a 4 star hotel, the Radisson Blu Sobieski, not far from the city centre. I had not one bed, but two, my own bathroom, room service, clothes hangers, a safe and a mini bar. Not to mention my own old man’s chair where I could sit, fingers on chin, and contemplate the day.
The flight was delayed by 6 hours. That is a loooong time to be sat in Luton airport, believe me. I solved logic problems and tweeted to Wizz Air. They laughed. Only because I was trying to be funny though; I’m pretty sure they don’t usually laugh at their customers. Actually the only thing I could complain about were the other people on the flight and there wasn’t a great deal the airline could do about screaming children. I discovered a helpful little trick on the way back, however… They all go in the front. Pick a seat near the back entrance and the journey is blissfully quiet. There’s one for your little book of holiday tips!
Once we touched down in Poland I walked off the plane into a snow-drenched airport and a blast of cold air that enveloped me like a bath of liquid nitrogen. It was then a half hour wait for a bus, an hour ride on said bus (while the driver attempted to compensate for the nitrogen bath by melting our faces off with the on-board heating), a short 10 minute walk and I was greeted at the hotel by Carsten, a friend of mine who popped up from Berlin for the night. It was midnight, so naturally we stepped out to find a club and ended up in “The Opera House,” a catacomb-y type place with red brick tunnels, red lighting, cheesy house music, a live violinist and beers for £2.50. It was free to get in and free to use the cloakroom. It was also warm. Oh so warm. Two Żywiecs and a Jägerbomb later and we were on the dance floor busting out moves that would make James Brown weep. With joy obviously.
Apart from this little escapade much of my time was spent chilling out, eating, drinking coffee and poking around the various districts of Warsaw. I also tried out my theory for infiltrating hostel bars, which worked a treat, and spent an evening playing card games with some new Polish, Dutch and Italian friends. Thoughts of the war prevailed thanks to the overwhelming number of communist buildings everywhere and the general look and feel of the place. Everything you look at seems to conjure up an image from one holocaust film or another, but then you walk around a corner and there’s a mass of steel and glass skyscrapers reminding you that democracy and capitalism did arrive after all. I bought a book on the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 to try and fill in some blanks, which was lucky because I managed to get flu on Monday and ended up spending the rest of the holiday in the hotel room.
A bit of a mixed bag then, this holiday. A good break from London but I’m left thinking that maybe I should just save up and go somewhere warm for my winter holidays. If for no other reason than to avoid catching a cold and having to spend another plane journey with head that feels like it’s going to explode every time I cough! I’ll save the European trips for the summer (ski holidays excluded obviously).