Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The short walk to the train station reminded me how much I like living so close to the centre. The bustle of office workers heading to their shiny glass offices; the sun breaking through the hazy but crisp air; even the hoots and shouts of annoyed drivers just added to the sense of a normal weekday morning in a normal working city.

As I know all too well though, Warsaw isn't completely normal. The station didn't fill me with the same kind of apprehensive dread as the post office might, but I still expected at least one unforeseen obstacle. Would the train be fully booked? Would they refuse to sell me a ticket on my credit card? I tried to imagine all the barriers I might face, in the desperate belief I have held since childhood that if you imagine the worst thing that could happen in theory, it is less likely to happen in practice.

We'd already called to reserve the ticket. We'd got the number from the official, impressively professional-looking, also-available-in-English website. Unfortunately, this veneer of professionalism was destroyed when the lady at the other end indignantly refused to make a reservation, demanded to know where we had got the number, and denied that she could do anything to help us. At all.

So, I had decided that a trip to the station was unavoidable. The station looks pretty normal, if ugly in a 70s kind of way, from the outside. Inside the main hall it is also pretty self-explanatory. The real danger though is being sucked into the rabbit run of kebab stands and newspaper kiosks that create a dark and dingy underground city on the way to the platforms. I was determined not to venture down there.

After scanning the hall for a sign indicating that someone might sell me a ticket to Vienna, I spotted a PKP intercity sign over a door. Victory number 1. So far so good.

I checked my watch against the opening times and found them open (victory number 2!) Going through the door, I came into a large open area, several desks lining the walls, each manned by a person in a smart PKP uniform. Nobody was doing a thing. They all turned to look at me.

I took a ticket.

My ticket said 8.

A man dinged his bell and a big 8 flashed above his desk.

No queue? No shouting? The efficiency I was experiencing was scaring me.

I went over, told him what I wanted and he started tapping away on his (new) computer. Emboldened by my dizzy success so far, I told him I was 26 and asked if there were any reductions. He asked when my birthday was, I told him next month and he told me I'd get a 25% reduction. I stared at him in shock. Not only were they going to sell me a ticket, they were going to give it to me cheap. Woah.

After admittedly a rather long time while he brought up details, checked times, wrote numbers down from my passport, told me it would cost 380 zlotys and took my card, he suddenly looked up at me.

'But Pani is 26 already!'

I nodded. Yes, that's what I'd said.

'No, but the ticket is only cheap until 26.' So much for my excellent communication skills in Polish.

Embarrassed, but determined not to over-apologise as I tend to do, I said I had misunderstood. He sniffed, shook his head and went about the business of annulling the card payment and recalculating my ticket price.

Suddenly something came to mind. 'I had a look on the internet and there was a promotion for Vienna tickets.'

The indignant attitude he had been displaying suddenly disappeared. He went slightly pink. 'Pani is right, I'll check availability.'

Tap tap tap.

'Yes. I can give Pani the promotional price on one of the tickets. The return is full price'

Tap tap tap.

'350 zlotys please.' He was red. I had managed to wangle an even cheaper price.

I tried not to grin too widely as I took my tickets and thanked him for his help. Victory number 3.

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