Warsaw & Warsaw-Berlin ExpressBack to Forum
Anonymous16 Jun 2014
I’ve been very busy recently and hardly had time to look up between meetings, flying and another hotel room. I saw this coming and also saw an opportunity when I could take things a bit easier after a meeting in Warsaw when I was able to spend the weekend there and then travel by train to Berlin before flying on from there.
With the help of Seat61 and the DB website I booked a ticket on the Berlin-Warszawa Express as I more and more find train travel interesting and I’m trying to do a bit more of it.
I flew to Warsaw on an early flight. As far as the airport I was accompanied by Mrs JH who was leaving the same morning for St John’s, New Foundland to spend some time with her sister. The car dropped her at T3 to check in with Air Canada and me at T1 to check in with LOT. In just a few more weeks we could have both been dropped at T2!
The service with LOT out to WAW was fine, on time, friendly crew and a decent breakfast. As we taxied out I saw an inbound Air Canada A319 which I knew would be carrying Mrs JH to St John’s later in the morning. Like most others LOT offer 3×3 seating with the middle seat blocked and a moveable curtain. There were about five rows of C which was almost full though there was no one in 1F next to me in 1D. I got the impression that it was very full behind the curtain with apart from anything else a large number of Poles returning home and I learned that there were big celebrations for the twenty fifth anniversary of the fall of communism over the coming days.
I had done a bit of research on Warsaw and in an effort to get to know a city I had never been to before. It had never been on my list of places to visit and what I imagined was a fairly grey communist place with oppressive buildings and not much else but my interest in twentieth century history told me there was plenty to see of interest. There was no denying there was plenty of grey buildings I also found was a beautiful old town and a vibrant new town. I had booked the Sofitel which was ideally situated between them.
In the mood for an adventure I declined the offer of a car to pick me up at the airport in favour of trying the local bus service and I learned that the route that would take me to my meeting would also take me on to the hotel later in the day.
A few days before going I got a bit nervous when I read some awful reports about pickpockets and bag thieves at both the airport and the railway station and began to wonder about the wisdom of my choice of declining the car transfer and catching a bus and train. All I can say if you are going there and see such warnings is take obvious and sensible precautions but do not worry there are plenty of police and security men patrolling both places and anyone loitering will be moved on very quickly. It is at least as safe as any other capital city and a lot better than some places I’ve been.
My meeting took most of Friday which was the day I arrived and fortunately was hugely successful putting me in a great mood for the weekend. As I was on my own and planned to be out a lot I had booked a standard room in the Sofitel. From the outside it is a communist era heap but once inside it meets the standards one would expect of the brand.
I arrived about 17.00 and although reception was busy there were plenty of staff on duty and I was seen almost immediately. I was checked in by a very pleasant lady who started the process and then stopped and said she was finding me a different room to the one I had booked where I would be more comfortable the result of which was she booked me in to a suite on a newly refurbished floor. I was of course delighted. Accor do, I am finding have a pretty mean loyalty programme but as I am staying with them more and more I do find they recognise you at check in and upgrades are quite common. The lady took time to explain things about the hotel and asked if I needed any assistance with my bags which I didn’t and I made my way to my room which was very clean, smart and well appointed.
It was a dull and slightly damp evening so I caught up on my work and had dinner delivered by room service.
The next morning was bright and sunny and I set out to explore finding the old town first before carrying on to a few more sobering places including the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the Umschlagplatz and the Pawiak Prison Museum. The latter two were particularly chilling places. One thing I found strange was the almost parallel histories of Warsaw, one Polish and one Jewish and it was a bit like one never acknowledged the other. Neither is comfortable particularly during the Nazi occupation but together they create a very powerful and damning history of the period. The only real acknowledgements I found of the Jewish history in the main stream were lines in the pavement showing the path of the ghetto wall, two small sections of the wall and a street named after Mordechai Anielewicz which is quite close to the Umschlagplatz. The Ghetto wall was very moving. It is in the middle of what is now a residential development just standing there between two housing blocks. I was approached by a delightful Polish lady who started trying to explain the history to me. She spoke Polish and Russian which I don’t but somehow we managed to convey information between us and I understood that she remembered the Ghetto as a girl and how terrible the occupation had been.
On Sunday I looked more at the new town and Wilanow Palace Museum.
Pics of the Old Town:
Monday was time to travel to Berlin. I was up early and after another good breakfast I caught the bus to Warszawa Centralana always referred to as DW Centralana which is definitely a communist era build!
Across to the right however is evidence that capitalism is alive and well in Warsaw providing a contrast in style:
And behind is a building the Poles seem to love to hate which was a gift from the Russian people:
Entry to the station is almost insignificant and there isn’t as such a main entrance:
The ticket hall is a vast space which must have been very empty before there were retail outlets:
All the platforms are below ground and the organisation of them is different to anything I had seen before. At all Polish stations you seem to get a platform number and a track number which is different. Any island platform has a track number for each side and at DW Centralana there are four island platforms and eight tracks. It is also a through station rather than a terminus with all trains including Eurocity trains only stopping for about a minute so you cannot afford to be in the wrong place or you will miss your train.
The platform and track numbers for the train to Berlin were two and three. Now, just to confuse matters further platform two is the home of track three and platform three is the home of track two.
There was also the usual diagram of how the train was composed and where each carriage would be. I was in carriage 272.
Although I had enjoyed my time in Warsaw it was strangely comforting to see the departure board with a destination that is so familiar to me and know that was my next stop:
I was still confused about platforms and tracks but the assembling crowd on platform three, track two told me that this was the correct platform for Berlin:
The station at this level really is pretty featureless not that it’s much better upstairs:
The crowd was huge and I’m afraid I had to put my camera away as the train approached. First class was the last carriage of a corridor train. I was in the very last compartment with an aisle seat so right next to the door. The train was very full, seat reservations are compulsory in Poland. As the compartment was so full it was difficult to take photographs so this is all there are:
The view from the rear of the train:
and the corridor:
my seat was immediately inside the first door.
The seats were big and comfortable, a bit like business class seats used to be before flat ones. It was certainly very comfortable for the five and a half hour journey.
My travel companions were an American girl travelling to Berlin Ostbahnhof, a Polish gentleman travelling to Poznan his business partner a Polish lady travelling to Poznan and another Polish lady also travelling to Poznan. The three Polish travellers were very chatty but the American girl was rather surly. We had a few interesting conversations. I’ve found that people talk more when travelling by train than by air.
Service consisted of a trolley service which appeared four times during the journey. It offered hot and cold drinks and snacks. If you wanted more there was a restaurant car but I was quite full from a more than adequate breakfast and it was a very hot day so I confined my consumption to plenty of water.
The landscape was 95% flat throughout the journey, at first it was agriculture, almost all arable but I did see the odd animal. Nearer to the German border there was more forest and that was more of a feature once we crossed the border.
The stops were Warszawa Zachodnia, Kutno, Konin, Poznan, Zbaszynek, Swiebodzin, Rzepin, Frankfurt (Oder), Berlin Ostbahnhof and Berlin Hbf. Given that railway stations are rarely in the best parts of town I wasn’t expecting great things and the stops were of about a minute in duration. Kutno and Konin were fairly significant towns judging by what I saw though in both places the station was surrounded by grey concrete build. Poznan was obviously a major city and there were positive signs of prosperity. That is where my three Polish travel companions left the train. Zbaszynek, Swiebodzin and Rzepin were much smaller places and more had the status of a wayside halt than a major station. They appeared to be out of town and there was nothing to see.
The Oder was a fairly significant river that you could not miss on crossing and Frankfurt Oder was not exactly a pretty city with things to recommend it in so far as I saw it.
Announcements right up to Frankfurt were in Polish only. There were two ticket checks conducted while in Poland, each time by different personnel who were polite and appeared to speak Polish and English, I did not hear a member of the Polish Railway staff speak German. Once we left Frankfurt German staff had obviously boarded the train as announcements were in German and there was a further ticket check conducted by a man with a DB badge though the trolley service continued to be offered by the same Polish staff. The Bundespolizei also boarded in Frankfurt and while they passed the compartment by they did not enter. Having spent almost four days in Poland where I struggled to understand the language it was comforting to be in Germany where I am quite fluent.
The journey into Berlin passed without incident. There was a brief halt at the Ostbahnhof and then it took about ten minutes to pass through Jannowitzbrucke, Alexanderplatz, Hackescher Markt and Friedrichstrasse to arrive at Berlin Hbf where we arrived on platform fourteen, one of the high level platforms.
So what of my five plus hour journey which I could have flown in about an hour and on my outbound it took about forty minutes from passing over Berlin to landing in Warsaw. Well all I can say is I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Seeing the ground from ground level and chatting to some interesting people was all good fun. The slightly chaotic experience of DW Centralana was interesting but nothing to worry about and a bit of a contrast to the absolute order of Berlin Hbf.
When you think of a Polish city to visit everyone says Krakow which I’ve been to and enjoyed but Warsaw too has much to recommend it and there are far less tourists around. If you want somewhere to stay, the Sofitel and the Hotel Bristol are far better situated for the old and new towns than anywhere else. Others are in the main near DW Centralana except the Hilton which really is in the middle of nowhere and unless you are a Hilton fanatic and need the points avoid.
I’m really beginning to enjoy European rail travel and must start looking for my next opportunity.16 Jun 2014
I took one look at your report and openly admit to taking full advantage of being in an SPG (Westin) hotel, where I get away with, a lot!!
I forwarded the link to the exec club team and asked then to print out, with the pictures, if that’s possible and it will be my evening reading, over the JW scotch left on my desk.
Many thanks, it looks superb and I have only just scanned over it…16 Jun 2014
Wow, great review John.
As I’ve said once already this morning it’s great to see more rail travel featuring on this board and this review really raises the bar in terms of standards.
I almost want to make the journey myself and Warsaw looks like somewhere to visit.17 Jun 2014
Excellent review John – many thanks.
Warsaw has not been on my radar as a place to visit, it now is. From your pics it appears to have a similar architectural style to another beautiful city – Prague. Since my inter-rail days decades ago had not used the European rail network as a basis for touring, preferring m/cycle, am now reconsidering. Thanks again.17 Jun 2014
Great report JH, thanks. Makes my current trip by train, Lugano, Berne, Lausanne, Geneva then back, seems very tame by comparison!
As a by the way, just learnt one of my fellow directors is doing a 10 day tour of China returning to Berne by train. I’m so envious. It’s not the Trans Siberian however but some German one which is a bit more luxurious it seems.18 Jun 2014
Excellent review John and thank you for posting.
Just to add I’ve had a few experiences of LOT on short haul services and they are ahead of the game. They have some cost advantages like lower staff costs and presumably catering they uplift in Poland is more competitive than in Western Europe although IIRC the caterer is LSG.
Anyway, I’ve always found them a pleasure to fly with.18 Jun 2014
Very happy to a read a positive report about Warsaw. I lived there for two years and am a regular visitor. While the Old Town is well worth visiting, I very much recommend touring the southern parts of the central area. A pleasant walk would see you start in Plac Trzech Krzyzy (Three Crosses Square). The Sheraton Warsaw is nearby and then walk down Ulica Mokotowska. Have a coffee at Przegryz at Mokotowska 52, before heading down to Plac Zbawiciela (Place of the Saviour). A good place for another coffee is Cafe Karma. Then head over via Aleja Wyzwolena towards Aleje Ujazdowski. Have lunch at Quchnia Artystyczna (quchnia.pl) in Ujazdowski Castle. Afterwards have a walk in Lazienki Park before heading back up Ujazdowski towards Plac Trzech Krzyzy.
The Sofitel at which John Harper stayed is the original Intercontinental Warsaw. The new one (near the Palace of Culture and Science) is very good and has a very good gym and swimming pool on the 47th floor.19 Jun 2014