Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Warsaw and Hilton Warsaw

This was, to be honest, a bit of a mattress run. At the time it was booked, I was looking a bit marginal for Diamond re-qualification and it had some very attractive prices. In fact, very attractive prices were very much a feature of this weekend. 

Hotel arrival was, errm, standard. I got the room I booked, not even the teensiest hintette of an upgrade and a slightly robotic, "your Diamond status is on file". The room was rather nice with a separate shower cubicle in the well-appointed bathroom and a huge picture window which unfortunately looked out on an unprepossessing selection of Plattenbau interspaced with Chruschtschowka with a few high rise towers and what looked like an echt Palace of Culture. I noted the lack of a welcome letter and welcome amenity and after unpacking and showering went to the lounge for a cold beer and a bit of a planning session.

I designed a 3-4 hour walk, probably culminating in an evening meal and merrily got on my way. At least as far as the front of the hotel where I came a cropper as I failed to spot a small drop in the terrain - I blame my varifocals, it's one of the things they aren't very good at. Anyway, I dusted myself off and continued on my way, albiet in a small amount of pain. I was a lot more careful to look at the pavements etc from then on, which is probably a good job because some of them outside of the centre can be pretty rough.

Anyway, I kept my walk down to about 2 hours, directly down into the Centrum into the Saxon Gardens and the Memorial Flame and then back past the Eastern Wall and the hideously ugly central station. In this area where a lot of subways, which can be quite confusing and in them are a fascinating array of little shops selling all sorts of things.

My journey back took me through some quite, umm, interesting terrain. 75% of Warsaw was destroyed in the Second World War and the remaining 25% wasn't exactly in good nick, which is why parts of the Old Town and New Town don't quite look right. Some of the areas affected in the war hadn't had much done to them and there's a bit of that SSE of the Hilton, perfectly safe, actually rather interesting, but yes, those are bullet holes in the walls. 

Anyway, after the fall, I had decided to eat in the Hotel, so after patching myself up a bit - I went to the restaurant in the Lobby. The menu was very modern, but what struck me were the prices, considering this was in a five star hotel, it was all very moderate. I spent just over 120 zł including a couple of beers. My choices were scallops with radish and rhubarb, which were very good and some encrusted rabbit with a red pepper coulis, gnocchi. olives and pointless greenery. I passed on dessert.

The next morning I had a breakfast in the lounge, it wasn't that busy at 8am. It was the usual Mitteleuropa lounge spread, except for a better cheese election than usual and that hot items were on skewers. Decent bread, good cheese, properly ripe tomatoes, poor coffee and whilst the skewers were a nice idea, the bacon and sausage ones were not very good.

I then perambulated to the north of the hotel following Elektorna and Senatorska to the Old Town. I then walked up through the Old Town to the New Town and back on the Vistula side then down along Krakowskie Przedmieście on one side and back up it on the other. It was an interesting walk, where some of the reconstruction was a bit obvious like the Barbakan but in other areas it was more cleverly done. I did notice the preponderance of ice-cream shops and oddly enough of rather more Sushi Bars than I would have expected.

At this point it was time for a spot of lunch, the first half-litre didn't touch the sides, but I took the second one more steadily and concentrated on my meal. The bread was very good and the latkes with smoked salmon were satisfying, but my piece of zander was the high light.

After this I wandered back down to Nowy Swiat and started to explore the area around there, however, the weather started to turn so I decided on a more indoor attraction and it was off by tram to the Railway Museum, which was very interesting although pretty much exclusively in Polish. It was also very near the hotel - to which I retreated afterwards as my shoes were "full of feet". A quick cool drink and slice of cake in the lounge and it was time to shower, rest a bit and then take supper in the lounge. 

It must be said that the lounge staff work very hard to keep the food running during the evenings and to keep the tables clear, there were plenty of people in there and they kept the staff busy. The lounge fodder was decent but not brilliant - two hots, some "tasting spoons" some of which were a bit odd and a cheese board.

Sunday was much of the same, up early, breakfast and then a slightly different walk planned to take in some further flung areas. There is a very good one-day ticket available for 12 złoty, but the machines are only found at the busier tram stops (and railway stations) - for the Hilton that means the one to the north of the hotel on Aleja Solidarności. Unfortunately, the machine is on the opposite side to where I wanted to go, so there was a fair bit of road crossing to do, but it being Sunday morning there was not a lot of traffic. Warsovian trams seem to come in several varieties and there is a historic tram doing tourist tours, the new ones are very nice, the older ones are, well, getting on a bit. Mine broke down :-)

Anyway, after a bit longer than I though, I ended up in a very quiet Praga, walked around that area for a while and then to the National Stadium and then caught the train one stop over the Vistula. A walk down through the parks by the west bank of the Vistula to the Belvedere area where I stopped for an ice-cream whilst listening to a Chopin piano recital in the distance. Very pleasant.

After that, it was a long walk up Embassy Row (Aleje Ujazdowskie) through Nowy Swiat to go and buy a pile of chocolates for the office and then find quite a late lunch as it was past 2pm. This lunch was somewhat unspectacular, although reasonable priced, the chanterelles were good but the pancake wasn't brilliant. The trout was fine, but the roasted vegetables were meh.

Anyway, I then did some more tourist shopping and picked up another ice-cream before heading back via the old Ghetto to the hotel. Much of this area is now low-rise Stalin-era social housing, it's not an interesting walk nor an enlightening one, the ghetto monument is under repair at the moment, but I just about got back for the last slice of cake at tea in the lounge and then proceeded to have a bit of a doze as I'd done about a seven hour walk. I didn't mean to doze, but the bed was really comfy/

Anyway, I had a quiet evening, I was going to sit in the lounge for a while, but there were two families in there with a lot of kids, luckily, it wasn't quite "using the lounge as a creche" as I have seen before, but it was sufficient to drive me back to my room after a quick glass of coke. Oh, one comment, no turndown service at weekends.

On the next morning, check-out was just fine and I was swiftly found a taxi to take me to the airport.

On reflection, I really liked Warsaw and would happily return for another look around and I enjoyed the Hilton (and I very much enjoyed its room rate) and saw only the location as a bit of a downside. It had been hyped a bit on FlyerTalk and I was thinking that it might be in that rare group of exceptional Hiltons. It's not, but it's certainly in the good group although they could work on their customer service skills a little more.

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