Oh, Those Russians!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Where I was to meet Catherine and gang
The evening in Warsaw was nigh, and I was to meet Catherine, Emma, and whoever else might come with at 9:00 or 10:00. The place? The base of the famed King Sigmund III Statue in the old town of Warsaw. I made it there for 9:00, scarfing down some trashy fast food that was definitely not delicious en route. 10:00 was the backup plan because I had no idea what time they would get in, so when nobody showed up at 9:00, I went on a very worthwhile hunt for internet to discover the latest news and meanwhile discovered instead that the old town of Warsaw is beautiful and full of photo-ops at night. I don't get to do enough night shooting, I think I've only done it in Lisbon, Prague, and now Warsaw. I hope that they can convey how great it is here.

Old Warsaw by night
Anyway, I got back from my internet hike at 10:05 with the message that they were going to be meeting me after all. It turned out that I caught up to them from behind walking to the statue, so I snuck up on them and snapped a picture as I yelled something more incoherent than usual. It was so good to see them again, really, I only knew them over 20 days, and I've only not seen them for a week, but hey, I missed them. Catherine, Emma, and Danielle had trekked it over to see me, which was very nice of the three, considering it was a 45 minute "Jane someone" power walk and they got my message just before 9:30. Which also explained why there were only three. I hoped. They were to bring me back to the pub where everyone was, but a drink/rest was in order first, so we sat in the old town square with our assorted drinks and caught up on each others' tours. Sounds like Russia is quite the place, with people absolutely despising tourists (and blatantly charging them double or worse, refusing entrance to people they don't like, and generally looking for excuses to earn a bribe). Things sounded bad but very interesting and that really only got me more excited to go/disappointed that I wasn't, but also convinced me that I was not going to go alone. So that decision's been made, for the time at any rate.

We grabbed a nice drink at one of these cafes
After our brief rejoinder, we caught the bus back to their hotel (yes, I admit it was a right turn, not a left), which, I should say, compared to our Contiki campgrounds and my hostel, is the Ritz. 4 Star, Jacuzzi, big comfy beds, sandalless showers, and towels provided. But more on that later. The pub we were supposed to meet everyone at was reputed to be pretty close, but we combed blocks and blocks where it was supposed to be and even where it wasn't supposed to be, if we heard music coming from somewhere, and did not find it. We had to give up, and so I walked back to the hotel (just to give you an idea how unused to hotels I am, I mistyped hostel right there) and bam, Darren in the lobby. And there were the four of us (Danielle had gone to bed when we looked for the pub), just like our cabin in Mo I Rana, except instead of cards, it was vodka, which they were now old pros with. They had some good Russian stuff, and it definitely was good. Man, it was good to see these people again!

They let me tag along on their day tour
So back to this hotel, well, it turns out there happened to be an extra bed in one of the rooms, and wouldn't you know it, they'd already worked out that I could stay there with them. Dean is at the Ritz, baby! Of course, I'd be using the same clothes tomorrow as all my stuff is locked back at the hostel, and I had to borrow Darren's spray deoderant and brush my teeth with their toothpaste and my finger, but it was the Ritz. Better still, I got a nice, cheap as free breakfast the next morning. And then Mel, their tour guide, actually remembered me from our 5 minute meeting in Helsinki (perhaps because she's also Canadian), and before I could ask to tag along for the day, she invited me. What a sweetie! I also got to run into the rest of the old crew this morning, which was a great way to start the day.

Statue of Boleslaw along Royal Road
I boarded their Contiki coach and there was Jolanda, a local guide for Warsaw, who showed us all the sites and explained their significance. Then, free time. I wandered around with the twins, Dave (ah, The Simpsons juices flowed once more) & Belinda, Rob, Catherine, and Emma. However, that number quickly dwindled as the twins did some errands, Dave & Belinda had lunch, Emma went shopping, and Rob took off for the Culture Center. So Catherine & I strolled down the Royal Road, where all the landmarks are pretty much just lined up waiting. The thing with Warsaw is that it was systematically destroyed by the Nazis after the Jewish ghetto here had an uprising and then the entire city had a second one. They wanted it gone off the map. 85% of the city was levelled, shelled, burned, and blown up. And they rebuilt it, in some parts like the old town, exactly as it was (based on old paintings and photos) but other parts with the benefit of foreknowledge of the automobile. Which means nice, wide avenues and a pretty good layout, and that the monuments, most of which were either destoryed or pilfered and THEN destoryed, could be built again and put somewhere convenient. The rebuilding of the old town was so well done that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. So that's a little history to fill out this already sprawling entry.

The usual suspects
Anyway, Catherine and I passed the hostel on the way down our stroll, and I went in and negotiated to have the money I'd already paid go for a room tomorrow instead of today since she wouldn't give me a refund. It was quite the effort, but basically it meant I got my next night in the hotel free. And I could REALLY Ritz it up ala my own deoderant. That's right. I also tagged along on one of their optional excursions, to go see a Chopin performance, which was cool. The woman can tinkle those keys, let me tell you. Then, off to dinner with the usual suspects, and out for a night on the town with everyone from our tour that was on the Russian leg. Plus me. It was great to finally catch up with everyone else, too, I hadn't had much time up until then.

We only drove by this yesterday
The next day, they left at 8 AM, which meant I had to get back to my hostel at 8 AM, which was difficult considering I was tired and sick with a little bit of a stomach flu. Seems I caught the bug that went around their bus. I took some Immodium which did help (eventually) and got back to my hostel anticipating a nice solid crash. Instead, I discovered they had filled up the night prior and I couldn't check in until 2 PM. So no sleep for the wicked. So, I headed off and checked out some of the things we glanced by or missed the day prior, including the other side of town, which you could also call the other/wrong side of the tracks or the Russian district. It belonged to the Soviets and so it wasn't gutted and destoryed by them or the nazis, apparently, but it wasn't exactly the model of urban rejuvenation either. As well, I ran into the Contiki Eastern Europe tour and Jolanda again, and it turns out she's going to Krakow tomorrow as well, so we're going to meet at the train station and maybe I'll get some of the lowdown or a bit of a tour of Krakow. Or else some company on the train. Either way.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I'm a little under the weather but nothing bad, but I wanted to have an easy day (failed). So instead of going out tonight, I thought I'd finally see War of the Worlds. I went with the receptionist from our hostel (the one whom I negotiated my little reservation rearrangement) and quite enjoyed it. Spielberg did a great job, and Tom Cruise didn't even annoy me in any way. Also, I saw some of the previews for other movies and must say I'm quite looking forward to seeing a lot of those when I get back and maybe a few (King Kong) over here. And now, I'm going to bed. Tomorrow, Krakow, and then... the world.

Oh, and I just heard that Jess will be in Krakow on Friday night, so that's really great too, Contikites of Europe, unite!

<Warsaw Photos>


Dave Shishkoff said...

"Sushi Coffee", eh?

Sounds like a nice recipe for compost.


Anonymous said...

hello dean hi hi hi hi hi i miss you need to phone more often well talk to you later bye love your sister me the very famous one me me me me me me mariah and the very fun family them them them them them them ok bye

Dean said...

Heh heh, I'll compost you!

Hi Mariah, I phoned you but could only talk to your agent, and they didn't even let me talk to the very fun family at all! OK, I'll call again this weekend, sound like a plan (plan plan plan plan plan)?