9/20/10

What's Up Warsaw?

Palace of Culture and Science


After visiting Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga and Latvia and getting spoiled by their relative peace and order - our first glimpse of Warsaw is that of a bustling, hyperactive capital city. Amidst the continuous ramble of trams, buses and taxis racing down its wide avenues, all sorts of people making up the roughly 1.7 million residents go about their business with that kind of urgency so common in Manhattan. And did I mention that the skyline is increasingly going more upwards?
 
Ever since Poland became a member of the European Union in 2004, there's obviously no slowing down for Warsaw. It's as if the city is on a frenzy trying to catch up with all things it lost after going through painful chapters in its battle-scarred history with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. So there are now more clubs, theaters, fancy restaurants, designer boutiques, you name it. Warsaw is experiencing a renaissance again, in a truly 21st century way.
The Mercure Grand

Of course, there are still signs of the past. Just like the Mercure Grand where we stayed. With a very austere facade, this is a hotel that goes all the way back to the Communist times. But that's all there is to it now. After undergoing a thorough makeover, there's no mistake this 4-star hotel will make guests feel like they're wallowing in the blessings of Capitalist investment. And it shows. Right from the moment we entered its cheerful lobby shrieking in loud colors, we know that the stern facade was just its old skin that won't peel away for a good reason.
Hotel lobby
The room

Breakfast wasn't included in our hotel rate but since we wanted to start our day fueled with food, we checked what's available at their only restaurant, the Grand Brasserie. The full buffet was really very pricey so we opted for the more affordable Continental. Lo and behold, just as we were waiting to be seated, a lady of Malay stock appeared suddenly in our midst.
"Pinoy ka?", my travel buddy boldly.
"Pinoy din kayo?", she shot back.
Never have I thought I'd meet a fellow Pinoy in Poland. Her name is Editha and she works at the Grand Mercure as a breakfast supervisor. She previously worked at a cruise ship where she met her Polish husband. We watched enthralled as she turns to her colleague and spits out a volley of Polish like she's a native.

Editha, our breakfast hero
"Akong bahala sa inyo. Basta kumain lang kayo dyan", she finally declares to us. In other words, we're still paying for the lesser Continental fare but upgraded to the expensive full buffet, courtesy of our kababayan. We got our table and while having our breakfast of assorted fruits and great mini-pancakes, she came up to us excitedly while offering hot cups of cappucino. "Na-miss ko nang mga Pinoy kasi kukunti lang kami dito. Kung may Pinoy na bisita naman, kadalasan mga government officials galing sa atin." Talk about government junkets. Aha!

Breakfast spread
mini-pancakes
Cappucino

We profusely thanked Editha for genuinely caring for us, not just because we were Pinoys but I could see that that's really a part of her personality. A check at Tripadvisor's review on the hotel in fact revealed one happy hotel guest from Connecticut who stayed much earlier this year:
 "...I also like to give special recognition to Editha M. who works in the hotel's restaurant. This woman is a gem. She went out of her way to cater to my father's special diet needs. After recommending a meal for my dad on our first night there, she personally delivered the dinner to his room. That was so nice of her and it's those little things that really makes the difference. She impressed us with her outstanding service and awesome personality. She really made our dinning experience truly enjoyable!!..."
Feeling so full from the breakfast meant we have to work it out. And work of course we did as we walked for much of the day. As the hotel is right within the city center, we only walked a few minutes towards what many locals consider as a major eyesore in the city's skyline - the 30-story Palace of Culture and Science, currently the city's highest building. As a legacy of Josef Stalin, this is a big protruding reminder that Warsaw (and to a greater extent all of Poland) used to be a part of the Communist Eastern Bloc.
The Palace of Culture and Science
is reflected on a puddle  while a local walks by


Warsaw Central Train Staion
We walked through the park adjacent to the Palace and back into the Central Train Station where we arrived the previous evening after that long train ride from Vilnius. We changed some of our money into Polish zloty as the euro is not yet slated to be used in the country until at least next year.

While the use of euro may have been delayed, there's no denying that Poland is on its way to keep pace with the rest of the European Union members. There's the noise of traffic and the noise of construction, but in the midst of all these, the noise of the past lingers on. We're heading towards Old Town.

12 comments:

  1. Wow, I'm amazed that Editha can blurt out Polish words as if she's a native. I can barely read and memorize them because all words seemed really long. Filipino's hospitality is the best! :)

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  2. I hope we can have more people like Editha. :)

    Those illustration of runners at the lobby is striking. And the second to the last photo, wow, thumbs up! Your photo concept is admirable.

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  3. when i was in japan two of my teammates were from sweden and hungary. they mentioned about warsaw and it looks nice.

    i like the shot with the reflection. astig shot!

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  4. Ok, I am putting Warsaw into my destination list!

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  5. I have fond memories from Warsaw... but that was 30 years ago... I guess too many things changed...
    Lucky you... free upgrade !

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  6. the hotel lobby looks like it belongs to something asian - chinese or something with all the bold gold and red colors.

    virtual pat on the back to our kabayan. the cruise ship crews too are very attentive to their customers/guest, but i applaud her for taking the extra mile.

    btw, inggit me with your exotic destinations - places less traveled ika nga.

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  7. pag kapwa pinoy talaga, warm (and overwhelming) ang pagwelcome. galing!

    and i like the reflection shot. Ü

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  8. there was a mercure hotel in davao once...ka inggit naman! nasa poland ka na! ui nasa blog roll kita! :)

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  9. It's kababayan like Editha that makes up for other kababayans I encounter in my travels who are on an ego trip. These are the ones who are cloaked with a little authority and want to show it off at your expense. Fortunately, there are very, very few of them....maybe just three and with my luck I ran into them during my travels LOL.

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  10. there's always that special secret code between pinoys in different places. instant friends and connection :) i like it. great pictures as always! i really love the reflection with the woman's shoes.

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  11. it's certainly pleasing to meet pinoys abroad. i felt the same when we recently boarded an overnight cruise where half of the crew are filipinos. like editha, they're also excited to see (for the 1st time for most of them) pinoy travelers/tourists like us. but we're not as lucky as you to have discount on buffet, that's truly something!

    btw, your "Palace of Culture and Science
    is reflected on a puddle" photo is simply wonderful! ang husay talaga, dennis!

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  12. Enjoying so much of my reading here...I'll be in Poland hopefully earlier this month or not end of the month.
    I'd certainly try to visit that hotel soon.

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