If the way things went at the start of this trip were a suggestion of what might happen, we should probably already be wondering what might be next. Travelling with the Pertons has always been something of a challenge and one of our journeys without some quite serious hiccough would no doubt feel incomplete.
It was around 14:45 on Friday last, a while before our housesitter was due to arrive to drive us to the airport, that she turned-up having heard that the N2 (the road we use to access the airport) was closed due to a protest in Somerset West. Added to the stop/go roadworks on Clarence Drive, the coast road that connects us to the rest of the world, an earlier than usual departure was suddenly necessary.
Curiously, the roadworks didn’t cause much delay, but my decision to parallel the N2 on what is quaintly referred to as Stellenbosch Arterial Road, did. The traffic crawled, while in the distance, the inbound traffic visible on the now cleared N2 was speeding along.
Much tension in the car…
Airport check-in complete in next to no-time and with only Immigration to go before a nerve un-jangling drink in the lounge, we passed security and ran into the longest queue it is possible to form inside Cape Town International. It stretched from the security screening section all along the concourse, down the stairs, into the usual snake for access to the Immigration desks; at least 100m.
There were hundreds of would-be flyers queueing, many for flights due to depart in minutes. Looking at the aircraft on the ramp, there were international flights leaving for Istanbul, Luanda, a charter to somewhere in Germany, London and our own aeroplane to Dubai. At a guess, possibly fifteen hundred passengers, most of whom were in the same queue. Mindful of the impending departures, there was a constant calling of passengers likely to cause delays, or worse miss flights, to go directly to Immigration, bypassing the monster queue.
Our inching forward continued for the best part of an hour, which eventually bought us face-to-face with an Immigration official who was swearing up a blue fit in her very best Afrikaans. With only five of the twelve desks Immigration booths manned, the workload and need to hurry was proving to be way too much for her. We were glad to get our passports stamped and head for a drink, now possible because our flight had been delayed for about twenty minutes by the late arrival of the inbound flight from Dubai.
And yes, it’s easy to say; “You should try this at JFK on a sweltering New York afternoon,” but the truth is that Immigration (and most of the other services) at Cape Town International have improved beyond recognition in recent years.
I’m wondering whether the return of Malusi Gigaba as minister of Home Affairs isn’t to blame.
Dubai at stupid o’clock was the usual silicone-smooth transfer point and in no time our Boeing 777 was touching down in Warsaw. The weather? Clear and a balmy at -3C.
City access is always one of the issues I deal with before committing to any city stopover. Most are pretty good, Warsaw amongst them. All the choices are there; train, bus, taxi and everyone’s current favourite, Uber. We opted for the former and in twenty-odd minutes, alighted at Warsaw Centralina – the main rail terminus for the city. A walk of less than 200 metres got us to our charming, recently renovated and snugly warm apartment – our home for the next four nights.
En route, we’d noticed a branch of Vapiano* and decided an early supper there would put a nice full stop on the day, with several hours unbroken sleep to follow.
Like several Eastern European cities, Warsaw was extensively damaged during the second World War. Most of the damage has been repaired and the buildings re-built. It’s unavoidable, but there is a distinct feeling of ersatz, especially in the Old Town and areas around what was the Jewish Ghetto and rebuilt city wall. Nonetheless, we wandered the streets and alleyways and sampled pierogi for lunch.
The walk back to our apartment – the Uber driver we were waiting for was snarled in traffic and the system eventually cancelled our call. We wanted to see more of this fascinating city and opted to walk instead.
The nation’s politics is described as a “unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic”, which by its very definition, has all the hallmarks of the preceding regime. The ousting of the communists has really changed everything in Poland and since the ‘80s, both democracy and free trade have become deeply entrenched.
The nation remains strong agriculturally, producing much of Europe’s vegetables, grain and meat products. Manufacturing is strong and membership of the EU has given the Poles yet more to work toward. The cost of living is surprisingly low, employment high and the standards of both education and living are at least on a par with many other European states.
The tell-tales of communism are being razed daily, but it is still possible to glimpse a reminder; patched stoneware, telling stories of bullets and shrapnel, or the tiny entrance ways leading into the courtyards of the era, blocks of grim, grey apartments that provided basic housing and little else.
Lost? Either look for the Palace of Culture and Science, a communist-era wedding cake whose 30 storeys dominate the city’s skyline and provide an excellent landmark from pretty much anywhere. Alternatively, do as the guide book suggests; ask anyone who looks under 30 – they all speak English because it’s taught in school.
The newly opened Koszyki food hall is just a couple of blocks away from our apartment. It is a re-modelled market and now boasts, food markets, bookshops, several bars and lots of restaurants. A stay in Warsaw would definitely be incomplete without a visit.
Self-catering as we are, we’ve noticed that food and drink and eating out in general is significantly cheaper than other cities we’ve visited in recent times. A pleasant change that. It also made us understand that closed on Sunday means exactly that. A few restaurants were open, but little else – be warned.
Then, it what seemed like moments and we were re-packing and heading for Centralina station for the train to Berlin and the second city on our mostly eastern European explore.
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* Vapiano is a chain of Italian semi-self serve restaurants, which produce good, sensibly priced, reliable food. We first discovered them in Stockholm.