Friday, June 30, 2017

arriving in Warsaw

For all the complaints people have about travel, I must say that most of the time, my experiences are really good. Oh, I have my share of war stories: gripes about unruly passengers, the occasional surly flight attendant, the bland food. Delays, too, and crazy rushes to make a connection. And always always (well, unless I get an upgrade) the uncomfortable seat that offers too little wiggle room.

But with the exception of the less than ideal seat, the rest of the stuff rarely upsets a trip. For the most part, the flight crew is superb, the flights arrive close to schedule or even ahead of schedule, things move smoothly. Passenger videos show horrific events up there in turbulent skies, but it really is true that odds are overwhelmingly in your favor: you're going to have a fine and safe flight.

But you do have to get used to bouncing around up there above the clouds (these days referred to as traveling through some "rough air"). And I read that with stronger jet streams, the dips and rolls will only get dippier and more rolly. And so when my transatlantic flight started off with an hour of big bumps and ended with an hour of big rolls, I told myself -- turn on the Beethoven (it goes well with turbulence) and suck it up. My airlines of choice (Delta-Air France-KLM) are just fine, but the skies are less friendly these days. Blame God, blame climate change, blame who you want. Just know that in long distance travel, chances are you're going to get some "rough skies."

(Breakfast, part two, in the Amsterdam airport.)


Once again I had been asked (by an independent quality review company) to be a "spy in flight," this time for the last leg of my trip (from Amsterdam to Warsaw). I get these requests at least a half dozen times a year and I get rewarded with a bunch of extra miles when I agree to submit a very detailed review of every single aspect of a flight segment. Thinking back to my filed reports in the past couple of years -- only one was truly negative. And it wasn't today's trip to Warsaw, which was (predictably) just fine, from the point of view of airline performance.

I could, I suppose, gripe about the weather: I read that it would be a stormy afternoon and indeed, as we approached Warsaw, the captain announced that the airport had closed because of the storms, but hey, not to worry, we had enough fuel to do a ten to fifteen minute circle, waiting for the storms to pass.

That's KLM for you. They're so honest on these European flights! Had it been Delta, information about fuel (which only breeds questions, such us -- what happens after ten minutes if the storm is still overhead?) would have stayed in the cockpit. Passengers like only happy information. Stuff like  -- you should pray for this flight or we have enough fuel for ten more minutes of this just makes people shaky.

And now I am in Warsaw. Storms have passed, the city is wet but fresh. Of course, in some ways, Warsaw always feels like it's freshly reinventing itself.  Oh, all cities change somewhat over time. New York. Chicago. Madison. All of them. But Warsaw has this curious thing about it: the changes are fast and furious, at the same time that at the core, the city feels the same as it did for me when I was a little girl growing up here.

Let me scroll back to the flight into Warsaw. Circling and waiting for the storms to pass had one huge upside -- it gave me a fantastic view at relatively low elevation of the beautiful countryside that I so associate with Poland: the Wisla River (that flows through Warsaw) -- meandering, graceful, with the sandy banks and islands that are so inviting! The ribbon-thin strips of farmland, the deep, mushroom filled forests...


As the pilot dodged the downpours and the lightening, I would occasionally catch glimpses of the gorgeous play of clouds, rain and even flecks of sunshine -- all bearing down on the Polish countryside.


And now I am in my city of birth, of childhood, of adolescence. I ride the bus and then transfer to the subway (and I think, after reading last week's NYT article about the decaying subway system in New York -- eat your hears out, people! Warsaw's subway is superb!).


I alight just by the university. I always take this metro exit -- which puts me on one of the hidden alleys of Warsaw that you grow to love so much. This one is adorably called Winnie the Pooh Street. I've always loved the impishness of that name! The street itself was rebuilt with the help of architect students right around the year of my birth. And in 1954, the evening paper announced a competition to select a name for it. Winnie the Pooh won.


I walk down to my street -- Tamka. There was an ugly old building that flanked its upper blocks -- gone now! We'll see what goes up in the months ahead.


Less than a block from my home, there is this wee little park which has been revamped and buffed up just this past year. In the middle of it, there, in the fountain, stands a golden duck. Tamka Street is known to Warsaw children for its legend of the golden duck. It goes something like this:

A poor tailor wants fame and fortune. He is told of the existence of a golden duck in the area of the Tamka palace (that now houses the Chopin Museum). He hunts for the duck, and he finds it, and he is told that he will be forever wealthy, on the condition that he spends a pouch of coins in the next day, but only on himself. He cannot share the wealth with anybody! 
 And the poor tailor does just that: he buys goods and clothing and foods for his own needs and toward the day's end, he finds that he has only a few coins left. As he walks along, mulling as to where he should spend them, be comes across a poor beggar. A war veteran, I think. Our empathetic tailor hands him the remaining coins and at once, a golden princess appears and she tells him: you shall be poor for the rest of your life because you did not fulfill my edits!   
The tailor shrugs and walks away, thinking -- what good is money if you cannot share it? I would never be happy keeping it all to myself.


After I drop off my bags at the apartment, I run out to pick up a few necessities.

(Looking up at my street...)


Fruits. It's the season for the finest berries and believe me, they are just superb in Poland right now! (Note, too, the price -- less than $1.50 for a glorious box of succulent raspberries.) In addition to the raspberries, I admire the sour cherries, the delicate strawberries, wild blueberries... It all looks so good!


And the mushrooms! The box of yellow in the photo is of chanterelles... I picked buckets of them as a little kid! It's lovely to see them now at the roadside stands which for many people are the go to places for fruit and vegetable shopping.)


And now I must think about supper. There are several pizza places nearby and it's time that I tried them. I go to the one up the block which claims to make stuff from scratch just to your liking. They pile on the veggies that I love and heat it up and then I rush to bring it home. I pour myself an Aperol Spritz. I exhale. A bit of an Italian touch to my first evening in Warsaw.