Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stranger in Warsaw

I'm about eleven hours away from my checkout time, after which I'll be heading through airport screening for a two-part flight back to Manila. Despite my two-week stint here, I'm aware that I haven't put up a lot of posts about my stay. Part of this is due to the fact that I've been attending a long series of meetings in the meantime, and part of this is due to the fact that I have to pay through the nose in order to get an Internet connection outside of the office.

What I did do over the past two weeks, however, was put together a few paragraphs about life as a visitor to Warsaw. Because I'm really supposed to be heading to sleep in a few minutes, they'll be up here in no particular order. Hopefully I don't come off too strange or anything like that...

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For one, it's cold here. It's not just cold, mind you, but cold cold. In fact, it's so cold that the family air-conditioner back home would probably cry at these temperatures.

There was a spot of warm weather for the first two days, and I was able to walk around without my jacket for a while. Some of the people here actually complain about a 24-centigrade day, to the point where they start sweating around and wearing shorts. I have yet to see a building that has the heat turned up to Manila levels, although I suppose I can adjust the thermostat in my room to those numbers.

Warsaw ran into a bit of rain lately, which is strange for a city that's supposed to be so close to summer. It's dropped the temperature considerably, to the point where I feel as though my nose is going to freeze right off my face, and I have to ask for an extra blanket during the night. I've been in colder spots before, mind you, but I haven't found myself in these climates for over two years. I'd be wearing my sweaters right now if I didn't find them to be so moth-ridden a couple of weeks ago.

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For a place that's so cold, I find myself wondering why the ice machine doesn't seem to be working right.

My hotel room has a few amenities -- a separate bathtub and shower stall, a LAN outlet, the usual minibar and room safe -- but like most other hotel rooms, it doesn't have so much as an ice-cube tray and a freezer. If I want some ice, I have to pad down the hall in my shorts and go into a white-tiled room next to the service elevator; That's where the ice machine holds court among a mess of pipes and unused equipment.

I don't know if it's a little quirk of the ice machine, or if the people around here really do prefer their ice like this, but I don't seem to get any substantially-sized cubes at all. Instead, whenever I punch the button in front of the heavy, bulky machine, it gives me this grinding noise and then pours a torrent of shredded ice into the bucket I bring along. Shredded ice. You could probably pave a road with the stuff. There's a bunch of tongs enclosed with the ice bucket, but one of those little teaspoons has proven to be much more practical at this task.

I suppose that I'm probably crazy, looking for a way to make cold drinks in a place like Warsaw. But I just can't find it in myself to boil up a glass of Mountain Dew before consumption. That, and the shredded ice does melt in the glass after a while... although not before congealing in one huge, solid mass that would probably make the Titanic shudder in fear.

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I haven't gotten used to the sun still being up in the sky at a time when I should be having dinner. It just feels unnatural, especially when you come from a corner of the world where it gets dark before 6:00pm.
The good news, though, is that it lets me walk around and find dinner without suffering the insecurity of shadowed streets. The bad news is that it mucks around with my body clock; On top of the jet lag, it's all been pretty bad for me. Closing the curtains of my hotel room has made for a good solution, though.

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Polish cuisine mystifies me. I'm told that a lot of the traditional dishes have slowly faded from popular consumption, and that they're now only usually seen on special occasions and thematic restaurants. Ironically, I've gone to a lot of different restaurants during this trip -- English, Italian, Egyptian, Greek and Japanese -- but I was only able to experience what's supposed to be homegrown Polish cuisine once or twice.

Near as I can tell, Polish cuisine seems to be heavy on meat and carbohydrates. Apart from the standard chicken-beef-pork selections, the local dining scene also deals in duck, venison, rabbit, and wild boar. Potatoes seem to be a popular side dish -- they're either salted, boiled, fried or baked into pancakes. Where there aren't any meat or potatoes involved, there's an excellent trade in salted fish and rice.

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The topic of junk food has been one of my constant irritations lately. When I say "junk food"', of course, I mean those huge bags of crunchy stuff that tend to be cheese- or barbecue-flavored. I've gotten into the habit of delving into one every now and then, usually with a soft armchair and an interesting paperback novel involved.

Much to my chagrin, Warsaw seems to have little or no junk food at all. Apparently the people around here munch on biscuits, candy bars, fresh fruit... anything but traditional snacks. The bags of Cheetos available in the supermarkets take up a mere set of side shelves, cost a lot less than normal, and taste like cardboard for some reason.

Under these circumstances, I would normally adapt to candy bars and cookies... except that my doctor strongly advised me a few months ago to stay away from commercial sweets. As a result, I have nothing to do but grin and bear it in the meantime.

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The worst part about being on a paid Internet connection is the knowledge that you've got a time limit hanging over your head. It's no Sword of Damocles, but it's definitely sharp and pointy: If I even so much as miss the cutoff time by two seconds, I get forced to wait another three days just to put up my posts.

Aren't we living in a connected world nowadays? And for that matter, isn't the company already bending over backwards to pay for my bookings here? I should be getting an Internet connection for free. Otherwise the whole notion of "Have computer, will travel" makes about as much sense as a dancing monkey.

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And now I have to close up. Somebody made the interesting choice of scheduling me for a flight that leaves Warsaw at 6:45 in the morning, and I'm going to have to set my clock back a few hours just to wake up and check out. I just know that this is going to play around with my jet lag a little more; I can't even hit the hotel café in time for their buffet breakfast.

Ah well, chin up. They'll probably serve a good meal on the plane. That'll give me time to contemplate my six-hour layover in Amsterdam, too.

Then again, maybe I should have brought a shopping list.

12 comments:

kyutbabe said...

Thought you have a LAN outlet at the hotel; why do you have to rent?

Dominique said...

My question is: did you meet any Filipinos?

Clair Ching said...

Why didn't you bring a shopping list? :P

Sean said...

Geez, that's three completely different questions. :)

Kyutbabe: I have no idea. I was surprised when I found out about the pay-connection, considering that a number of hotels are supposed to offer free Internet nowadays. Maybe they just didn't like me or something...

Dominique: Nope, not a one. The closest I encountered involved groups of Chinese or Japanese tourists hanging around the hotel. Heck, the Japanese places in Warsaw all seem to have Polish sushi chefs, for some reason.

Clair: Because I wasn't expecting to get much shopping done during a business trip. That, and I also didn't want to have to shop around Amsterdam's Schiphol airport for stuff to bring home... although that did turn out to be the case.

Hailyn said...

Welcome home! :) Hope you'll be less stressed in your succeeding business trips.

Sean said...

Hailyn: You mean... there's more? :(

Ida said...

awww... you don't like taking trips? :(

Sean said...

Ida: I'm okay with travel. I just like pointing out the various weird stuff that comes along with it. :)

Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

At least you got to travel Business Class. When we went to Europe, we flew coach, and on the flight back, from Rome to Hong Kong, there were no empty rows to stretch out in. Plus there were a lot of squalling babies on the plane. Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep. :(

Sean said...

Ailee: Which airline did you take? Hopefully it wasn't PAL... I find PAL to be comparatively worse than other airlines, as far as transcontinental flights go.

I didn't get any squalling babies in Business Class, mind you, so I won't contest your lack of sleep. Regardless of that, however, I wasn't able to get a wink of sleep during any of my flights either. :(

Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

We flew Cathay Pacific, actually. I hadn't taken a CX flight in years, and to my surprise and disappointment, their standards have deteriorated in recent years. On aforementioned flight from Rome to HK, one of the toilets in our cabin was out of order, and on our flight from HK to Manila, the A/C was busted. Plus, two in our tour group had their luggage left behind in Rome. PAL doesn't seem so bad in comparison now.

Sean said...

Ailee: That's horrible... I heard that there were budget cuts of a sort that took place, but I wasn't certain about the fallout.

The lost luggage, however, seems to reflect a common problem nowadays. I've heard quite a few reports on it; I think it's something about contemporary security procedures that causes the issue. I remember packing an extra change of clothes into my carry-on just for this consideration.