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Heading East – Berlin to Poland

Fri 17 May ’13 – day 6     Having risen early and done all my packing, it’s is down for breakfast before I check out of Ivbergs Premium, a good hotel, and go to the Berlin Hbf by taxi to head East from Berlin to Poland.  It was a bit of a scary ride through the rush hour traffic, but I get to the station in one piece and as I have some time to wait before departure am able to use the DB Lounge as I have a 1st class ticket for the Berlin to Warsaw Express due to depart at 0937hrs.  The lounge is a quiet place to sit and be away from the hustle and bustle going on outside the door; a bonus is the free coffee (or tea if you prefer) and biscuits, but it is definitely too early to be drinking the free alcohol.

I used ‘How to travel to Poland page on the magnificent the website Man in Seat to get all the info I need to be able to do this leg of my world tour.  Then just like my trip from Brussels I booked the train ticket for this journey on-line via the Deutsche Bahn (DB) website as soon as bookings opened (90 days before travel) and paid just €59 for a first class seat.  The train is operated by PKP (Polskie Koleje Panstwowe), the national Polish railway company and the carriages  are clean and very presentable.  After the train has come to a halt the doors open automatically, so an improvement on the British 125’s; in the door window is the destination board, so you should have no excuse about getting on the wrong train.

The 1st class accommodation is in 6 seat compartments, something that has not been seen on a standard British train for many years, but was very comfortable.  I stow my luggage in the overhead racks and have a reserved window seat, but not facing the direction of travel which is what I prefer.

As it is a Friday the train is almost full, but I suspect that as this train runs at the most convenient time of the day, it is probably well used on most journeys.  As we depart I catch a glimpse of the Fernsehturm through the buildings before the train makes a short stop at the Ostbahnhof.

It is just 85 km from Berlin to the German border town of Frankfurt (Oder) and once the train left the station it almost immediately crossed the River Oder with the adjacent road bridge just upstream.  There is no need to produce my passport as both countries are part of the Schengen Area; it will be very different when I cross the next border.

There is not much to see as the train makes its way across the flat farming country and it’s a bit like the Fens in England, but with lots of birch trees.

As we depart from Poznaǹ I am feeling hungry so I make my way through the train to the restaurant car.  PKP are now one of the very few train companies in Europe that still have what I call proper catering facilities and these are operated and staffed by the Polish train catering company Wars.

As it is very busy in the restaurant car the waitress tells me that it will be some time before I can be served; this is no problem as I sip my Polish beer while perusing the menu, then read my guidebook.  This is a civilised way to travel.  My order is taken and I have a second beer.

Lunch is served on china plates with metal cutlery while you sit at a table and this is a much better way to have a meal than you would get on an airline.  No plastic knives and forks, not crammed in and having to balance the meal tray on a shelf built into the back of the seat in front and that may be reclined at anytime so that you end up with the meal on your lap.

Three courses, two beers and a cappuccino cost just over €16, a good meal, great value and a superb way to sit and watch the world go by.

The train arrived in Warszawa Centraina  slightly later than the scheduled arrival time, but who cares.  The station was constructed in the early 1970’s and the architecture is rather brutal in its simplicity; but much more important from my perspective is that none of the lifts or escalators from the platform are working, so all the passengers have to carry their luggage while climbing up the steep steps to the lower concourse.  At least the escalators are working from here up to the main concourse, but it is not an auspicious welcome to a new city.

Once at street level it is easy to get one bearings as one single building dominates the whole area.  The Palace of Culture and Science  was a gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland and was built in the early 1950’s; it is the tallest building Poland and the sixth highest in the European Union.

Anne from John Allan Travel has booked my hotel, the Warszawa Mercure, and it is less than 5 minutes walk away, but you have to go through a shopping mall so lots of retail therapy if you so wish.

This is a modern business hotel and check in was quick and efficient; the receptionist was very helpful and gave me lots of pamphlets about the various attractions the city has to offer.

Once I had unpacked I had a short snooze before going out to explore.