I entered the east bloc for the first time tonight, after being right next to it for 14 years.
Obviously, it’s not like it might have been as the first gusts of the wind of free enterprise and industry began blowing through the region. It looks like most 2nd world cities and I mean that in a good way.
I came on a train, thinking it would be a perfect way to get some sleep without distractions. Unfortunately, I didn’t travel with Deutsche Bahn but ended up on a public Polish train, and traveled for nearly 6 hours packed in 6 to a cabin, 3 spots each facing each other, knees almost touching, with 4 ticket checks en route.
The food being sold on the way was quite expensive (for some reason I keep forgetting that Poland uses another currency, live and learn, it’s 4 Zlotys to a Euro) so I eschewed eating out of boredom and paying through the nose for it.
The staff were very polite and quite friendly. Everyone speaks a bit of English, although German tends to to draw a polite (or is it cool) stare. Anyway, everyone was real nice to me and I was quite comfortable, considering I was crammed into a cabin 2 meters x 1 meter with everyone just about not touching.
The folks around me in the cabin were all Polish and their haircuts were decent, which in itself was a clear sign of how things have evolved in ye Old East Bloc. Just a little joke in my boring travel report, Day 1.
The stations were all quite dinky until we reached a city called Poznan and Warsaw is a pretty normal looking station. But all the other stations before that, just after leaving Berlin, were little outpost-type stations, with open-air platforms and buildings that looked oddly colonial, or maybe I just have that feeling from the acid-rain covered old-style bureaucrat buildings with arches and yellow and brown paint combos.
I marveled at the foreignness of things. My fellow passengers marveled at my sudden attention to the view outside. It was just mainly trees and stations. And dark.
Warsaw in the 1920s, was apparently what Berlin is today and has been for quite a while. A place for artists and writers and creative sorts to gravitate towards, to spend some time, to see and be seen, to network, to live in a not-quite-but-sort-of Bohemian way…
Coming out of the station, I noticed that it’s three cities in one, going by the buildings. The 80s socialist nonsense that plagues all ex-socialist countries (also seen in New Delhi), the cute cake buildings from the earlier part of the 20th century, and the glass and chrome buildings adorned by the names that are familiar to urban dwellers all over the world be it Barcelona, Berlin, or Warsaw.
C&A, H&M, LG – actually, I think I just tuned out all the names because they’re so ubiquitous and familiar, all the logos that pay for these buildings to create minimum-wage jobs that allow everyone to be somewhat well-dressed for about a season.
But I also happen to like neon and it was night, so I didn’t mind so much. There was also an old palace called Palazzo Congreso (but in Polish) – “it’s a monument to the Ukrainians”, said my host.
Warsaw was extremely dark and quiet for a Friday night. I guess we didn’t drive through the other centers.
Having a car is pretty normal and my friends live in a beautiful little apartment where moi is warmly-showered and wrapped up in Burberry-flavored bedding on a lovely and comfortable bed-like couch.
I’m terribly tired folks, for all that the journey wasn’t horrendous, I really couldn’t sleep properly.
I now take your leave with the following information that has been hiding at the bottom of this draft:
I learnt two words that were repeated often, but quite frankly don’t remember them clearly enough, one means excuse-me (shabrasham?) and the other means thank-you (donki joo??).
Update: I believe it’s dinkoo-yay