Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Krakow to Berlin, 10th September (beware, whining content)..

Ah, the joys of travel.... what are they again???

Oh yes, *I* remember.

Frantic packing, sorting, culling, stuffing, mangling, squishing, thumping and not a drop of booze in sight, the night before.
Failure of wake-up call in spite of two requests. Fortunately M has an alarm which wakes him up... the night porter knocked on our door THIRTY MINUTES after the designated time, saying our phone wasn’t working. I refuse to consider what may have happened if M’s backup had failed...
Needless to say, the waking up happens at some ungoddessly hour, with no breakfast possible because it’s too early ... evidently so early that the hotel has no electricity - it can neither boil a kettle nor open a fridge. SNORT.
M has scoped the railway station and told me there is a 10 minute walk between the entrance and the platform.. *I* see... HOW many pieces of baggage are we up to again?
Krakow Central Station also has no electricity at this hour of the day, so no coffee can be acquired* ... I did find a stall selling bananas and bottled water. Just as well (read on)
Train has three narrow but very high steps, suitcases for the hauling up of. Grunt.
Seat numbering goes like this (no joke): Left hand side 20, 24, 35, 37, 36, 34, 45. Right hand side 28, 31, 33, 32, 38, 41, 43, 32. U-huh ... we decide that our seats are two aisle seats, one in front of the other. Then the nice young lad in eleventy-nine D offers to move so we can sit together. [Several ticket inspections later (ie they didn’t notice this error), quite a bit of us shuffling around in the carriage to escape sun, heat, humidity (sigh), being backwards, loud talking etc (ie we didn’t notice the error either), M discovers our REAL 1st Class seats are two carriages away, in an air-conditioned compartment of 6 big, velvety, downright cosy seats. “Our” compartment is full of three people with their shoes off and feet (nasty horny men’s feet) up on the seats. We don’t mind SO much, it’s so far into the journey it’s not worth moving all the luggage (lugging the luggage, WHY have I never put the two together before??) ... but other compartments in this chilly paradise are completely empty... I spose we coulda decamped into one of them. Never mind, I was so very entranced by the Barbara Vine I was reading I didn’t notice the heat so much. Tummy rumbling demanding large pizza-sized pizzas was another matter.]
We decide to have lunch at 12.30, a civilised time and about half-way through our day-long trip. At the stop before now, there is a long delay, and several mysterious clangs and big thumps .. oh har har, this is the Polish diner car being disentrained. The nice Polish conductor who comes along just as we are walking up to the other end of the train, in case M was turned around and lost, says ‘No diner until 2 hours’.
At another hot, humid stop, indeed about 2 hours later (and past the border check, which was a cursory inspection of a few people’s, randomly chosen passports, there are more clanks and biffs and a German diner car is attached. This has an enormous range of about three things, and the annoyingly, alarmingly ubiquitous Nescafe pod coffee machine. [These things have taken over Europe; latte-sippers beware! They have made the delivery of ersatz ‘real’ coffee a snap for cafes and hotels everywhere. No nasty grinding of actual beans, or all that pesky business with the frothy milk. Just stick a paper cup under the nozzle and press a button, and pshhhh bbbrrp out comes black stuff, followed by thbbbbrrrrrrrrrr white bubbles. Doesn’t taste like coffee. The only resemblance is that it’s hot wet stuff in a cup. HUMPH.
[* When I returned with my bananas, I looked around at the station before taking the lift back to the platform, and saw a little kiosk open around a dim corner.. she had coffee, the same Nescafe pod machine stuff, but I wasn’t going to quibble at this hour - and with this great a need. If you add plenty of those wee milk pods, and plenty of sugar, it becomes a reasonably enjoyable sweet-ish hot milk drink. Not necessarily a coffee, but a hot slurp of something-or-other which gives one a bit of heart.]
M announces that on arrival in Berlin, we have a very precisely time-tabled three minutes to heave our selves and luggage off the train before it departs into the German yonder.

I’m having FAR too much fun. Hot, tired, starving, squished, confused and once again apparently able to access the train’s Free Public WiFi but of course I fail, again.

There was ONE good bit - the Hotel Monopol (which had certificates all over the place saying it was voted Best Hotel in Poland 2006/7) (more on this in a minute) had actually managed to get us a taxi, and the night porter stopped smoking long enough to help carry out our cases, AND say goodbye and have a good trip. Then the non-smoking (2nd miracle) taxi driver loads (3rd) our cases carefully (4th) into the boot and off we go. He takes a very different route to that M used the other day.. past a huge shopping complex - Galeria, which I’ve seen in Helsinki, St Petersburg and Riga so far - round a few corners, and voila! stops at Platform 3. Miracle no. 5, cos this means the 10 minute walk is avoided completely and we only have to go one floor down in a lift to get to the exact bit of the platform we need. Amazing. We don’t even (6th) get stuck going into or out of the lift.

[The Hotel Monopol stands out for us as one of the least comfy of our trip, mostly because of the scruffiness of the room: torn curtains, dirty walls, hard beds, a window which wouldn’t stay open until we operated on it with a tin of hairspray, a shower head which took ‘spraying’ to new heights - yep, into our eyes and right over the top of the shower stall and over our left shoulders onto the dry towel, because the shower spray head was leaky and couldn’t be tightened enough to stop the extra squirty bits - and the stench of cigarette smoke in the hallways. At first I thought the maids were working on Personal Best for Early Onset Emphysema, but then realised that the stairwell, being huge and open around a four-floor high atrium, was funneling up the smoke from the foyer lounge, where addicts could settle in for a fix. And the hotel has the slowest lift I’ve ever seen - even I could have climbed the four flights of stairs, with plenty of stops for wheezing and whingeing, and still beat the lift. My final grouch is that not ONCE did the reception staff greet us as we passed by. As for eye contact when asking purrfectly reasonable questions, like ‘can you order a taxi?’, or ‘when will the laundry be back?’... if this is Best in Poland, imagine worst! It could almost be worth going, just to see how low they can go...].

It’s nearly 5.30, and the train is very close to Berlin now. In a minute M will want to start gathering our bags together and standing at the train door ready to presto-heavo onto the platform. He’s also (yeah, his travel purrsona again) explained that we aren’t leaving the station until he’s found an information office to double-check our tickets to Freiburg. All this admin! I know it has to be done (I think). I will try not to think of a cool comfy hotel room with a nice cool comfy shower followed by a cool comfy big dinner and a cool comfy long sleep. Cool and comfy, how conservative and anal and middle-aged and unadventurous is that???

But I must stop talking about myself....


Later; 11pm....

Leaving the train was easy enough, in spite of the mangling of two hordes - departures and embarkations fighting it out with their suitcases through the small train doors. And us with our 4 suitcases etc, trying to leap on and off and get them all and me not fall down de steps or lose a case.. no little old ladies were ruffled in the process or anything. We saw the lift immediately (Berlin main railway station is a model of modern efficiency); then those pesky gods started to interfere again... first, I got into the lift with my two cases, pushing towards the 3 people already in the lift. Another woman got in with me, and it seemed that there would be no room for M. But he said something tersely, involving the words “meine Frau” (dat’s moi) and people moved back and, surprise surprise, there was plenty of room for us all. Up we went the one floor we needed to get to the main station area. Leaving the lift was a farce - M got out easily cos he was jammed into the doors and just popped out. Before I or the other person leaving could move, a little old lady charged in with her bag, bashing it into my shins and totally blocking my exit line. I started to say things like “Wait, bitte, I need to get out, fark, M what’s the word for ‘shove over’, bitte mein Mann’ and somehow the l.o.l. was sidelined into a corner and I got out without the lift doors eating me. I think I spoiled her perm but..

M saw a sign (no, not that kind of sign, just one on the platform) about Travel Information and set off to see if he could do the ticket confirmation thing. I was left minding our Rubik’s cube of luggage pieces, sweating quietly to myself and swearing ditto. While I waited (thinking that at least M was probably achieving something given the amount of time it was taking) a fellow with dreadfully deformed feet stumbled up to me and began some kind of begging or questioning. I felt a bit confronted by this, and after saying NO very firmly a few times, I tried GO AWAY with a gesture and this did the trick. Who knows, maybe I should have this dude on my conscience, he may have been asking me where the escalator was, or which way to the disabled dunnies, but I have no idea. I just didn’t like the way he held his hand out and stared at me. He came back just before M; I was preparing myself for some good old Aussie vernacular at high volume when he caught my eye and veered away. Hmm... will I be the subject of his nightmares for weeks to come? I hope not. I hope he just tells his mates at the pub tonight about the ignorant chick at the station who pissed him off when he was only asking about the public phones...

Tickets confirmed, validated, discharged, stamped, stickered and officially sanctioned as honest to goodness German tickets for German trains, this month, for us, all above board and ship-shape. One less bit of admin for M to let himself worry about. We found a taxi driver who drove us at high speed, talking most of the time on his mobile (very Rome-esque) to our hotel in about 30 seconds. AND it’s not a hotel room, but a serviced apartment, and we have a kitchen!!! with microwave, dishwasher, oven, toaster.. the delights go on forever. It even has a full-size bath. The only quibble I have is that the bed is a sofa-bed, and although very comfy, it has all that metal machinery on each side. The receptionist explained that this way we could have the room as a tv/entertaining room during the day if we liked. Hmm.. .a good rationalisation, but I’d purrfur, actually, a lounge AND a bedroom. Picky picky.. it’s gonna be nice to be in the same bed as M, and having hazardous bed edges is hardly new. At least this time it’s the outside bits rather than the middle of the beds against which it comes to pass that many an elbow and knee gets biffed in the dead of night when the rest of the slumberous body is merely trying to turn over. Ow.


Today brought to you by a rather nasty Polish train; some equally nasty German train coffee; the gem of a girl in a station cafe who pointed out that they sold Segafredo coffee (meaning that TA-DA!!! we can have decent coffee for brekkie tomorrow, made in our very own plunger, with real milk n everything); eau de hot train; and a bedtime shot of Gucci to get me through the night.


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