A Tale of Two Layovers: Warsaw Poland
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Lengthy flight layovers can become excellent opportunities to sample another city’s beauty and culture before arriving at an intended destination; a trip within a trip if you will. I first realized this potential prospect upon learning I would have 10 hours to spare in Warsaw Poland en-route to Eurasia and again upon my return. Why waste time waiting in
bleak confines of an airport, when I could be spending that day enriching my life? After confirming that my visa would permit me to leave the Warsaw airport, and seeking city directions from a friend who had lived in Poland, it was an absolute no-brainer – I would be spending both of my day-long flight layovers exploring Warsaw.
This article describes some of the knowledge I gained from my primary layover travel experience, I hope you will benefit from the newfound experience I gained, and also learn from some of my missteps in order to enjoy a smoother mini-holiday.
Layover 1:What not to do
- Account for possible flight delays.
My Canadian flight was initially destined to arrive in Poland at approximately midday Warsaw time; however, my flight was delayed and arrived in Warsaw closer to 3:00PM. By the time I had finally disembarked and cleared customs, the time was closer to 4:00PM. In my mind, there was still ample time to do some sightseeing, but my plan had a few hitches.
- Double check the local time and weather forecast.
My friend had provided me with very good directions and I found the airport train to Warsaw city center with relative ease. The time was now after 4:00PM, and I was surprised at how quickly the sun was setting in this city. The November skies also seemed unusually overcast, but as I was already en-route to the city center I would try to make the best of it.
To my great chagrin, upon emerging from the train it started snowing! My heavy parka was nestled away in my checked luggage, and all I had on was a flimsy fall overcoat. I could see a mall off in the distance; I decided to brave the weather buy a hat and scarf and continue sightseeing for another hour or so.
- Check your arrival date.
Upon reaching the mall’s entrance, I felt a sudden wave of relief wash over me – that is, until I tugged at the mall’s door entrance. The doors wouldn’t open! Surely, it was too early for stores to be closed on a Friday?! My thoughts running wild, I decided to investigate – today was November 11th – Independence Day. It never even remotely occurred to me that my layover would be falling on a national holiday! With no new hat and scarf, snowflakes landing on my eyelashes and everything closed within sight, I reluctantly snapped a few dreary photos of the town square and its monuments, but my heart was not in it because I was too cold.
I quickly surveyed the town square’s main area and intuitively made my way back to train’s underground tunnel, back to the airport.
- Check local transportation schedules.
It took a mere couple of minutes for the airport train headed to Warsaw Square to arrive. Not so on the way back; it turned out that about 7 different trains ran on that particular line, all going to different places. I had no choice but to wait for an hour in the relentless cold for my train back to the airport. Expectedly, I began sneezing and shivering violently in my flimsy fall coat; at intervals, I was mildly entertained by passing groups of young inebriated men parading heroically into the night with red and white Polish flags in hand.
- Have a translation handbook or device handy if you don’t know the local language.
In my own defense, I knew most Polish locals had knowledge of Russian; I thought it would be sufficient to use my Russian to communicate, if needed. Except for the fact that most Polish citizens prefer not to communicate in Russian, mostly due to unresolved turmoil of the past century.
Night was fast approaching. Train schedules all around me were written in Polish, public radio announcements were completely in Polish, Polish, Polish. A tall Polish man clothed in army fatigues approached me and asked something in Polish. When the response I delivered came in English, he let me be and walked away. Just when I was beginning to lose hope my train arrived. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see a train – and ultimately, to arrive at the airport!
I fortunately had the opportunity to try everything again a month later, as I had another 10-hour layover in Warsaw going back to Canada. although still badly stung by the follies of my previous layover experience, I was hopeful this layover redo would be a chance to right the wrongs of the past month.
Layover 2: What to do
- Connect with a local tour guide or friends who can show you around.
Of course, it is possible to be successful at sightseeing on your own, but having a tour guide really helps a great deal, and takes much of the pressure off allowing you to enjoy the experience. Although I hadn’t intended to bother or involve anyone at the expense of my explorations, my friend who initially gave me subway directions connected me to her friends living in Poland. They were delighted that I was coming; it was also their day off making them all the more eager to show me around.
My return flight was scheduled to arrive in Warsaw at 6:30AM local time; this time there were no delays. As promised, the two tour guide friends (now my friends too) arrived smiling from ear to ear as they greeted me in airport arrivals. They also had a car, magnifying the number of things we could accomplish by tenfold compared to being on foot. They were even so kind as to prepare and bring a lovely breakfast, complete with black tea and lemon; we ate in the car’s comfort as we drove to our first destination.