Three weeks ago, I went again to Warsaw, Poland, a city I fell in love with on my first trip there in February. This time, my close friend Ania invited me to celebrate my birthday and hers together, since they are both in early August. I jumped at the opportunity to have a birthday party in Warsaw, as well as to see some friends I made the previous time.
Tickets there from New York City weren’t cheap, though. I guess being attributed to it being peak travel season, the most economical fare there was just under $1300. It was too much, and I almost threw in the towel, but then I came across a fare from NYC to Berlin for less than half that – $599! Berlin is a bit far from Warsaw, 10 hours by bus or 6 by train, but I booked the ticket regardless; I wouldn’t mind schlepping from Berlin to my final destination and back if it would cut the cost in half.
After booking the ticket, I looked up my travel options to and from Warsaw. A bus would take 10 hours, and costs about €50, but the train also cost €50, and only 6 hours of travel time. I love train travel, especially in Europe. I use some form of a train almost every day of my life, in the form of my NYC Subway. I found the Berlin-Warszawa Express, which was my ticket to getting to and from Warsaw. Warszawa is the Polish spelling of Warsaw, pronounced Var-SHAH-Vah. This train would take me from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) to Warsaw Centralny (also Central Station) in just over 5-and-a-half hours, stopping in several major cities such as Frankfurt and Poznań.
You can purchase the tickets online, but I am not the most responsible traveler, and I purchased mine at Hauptbahnhof. On the inbound way, I had about 5 hours between the time my plane landed at Berlin Tegel and the scheduled departure time of the BWE. My transport from Tegel was uneventful, and so I had several hours to kill before my train departed.
I went into the office of DB, the manager of the Berlin-Warszawa Express. Inside, I stood in a quickly-progressing line until I was asked to speak to a ticket agent. The agent spoke decent English, and I was soon given a full envelope with my documents – there was more paperwork in there than I had accumulated in my last 4 round-trip flights combined. Nevertheless, I was happy; I had my ticket and was heading to Warsaw.
The train pulled in only 5 minutes late, but there had been an announcement prior that it would be delayed by that much. It took awhile to figure out my wagon number, since there didn’t seem to be any posted within each car. Finally, I found my seat, located in a 6-seat closed cabin. Soon, four other Germans joined me, and we were off. The people that joined me seemed quite nice, and I felt safe enough to leave my luggage throughout the trip to get a bite to eat from the cafe car or to use the bathroom. However, I would generally recommend that a solo traveler think twice before accepting this seating arrangement; the tiny, enclosed cabins make for great sound insulation – if you are with loud seatmates, they will seem much louder than usual, affording you no sleep. Likewise, quiet and sleeping seatmates may cause you to go insane, as it does me; I needed to leave several times just to hear some noise and make sure I wasn’t deaf. Also, any sound you make (I’m sure I was snoring and my stomach may have growled before I hit the cafe car) will be amplified, which can be annoying to others and embarrassing for yourself. My other options, for the same, 2nd class price, included a “sleeperette” seat, which is like a large recliner, or just a standard coach seat.
The interior of the train was well-kept, defying the actuality of cars that had been on the tracks for several decades. Our cabin had plenty of space for luggage, with two tiered overhead racks, and adequate space beneath the two bench seats. A little trash bin was located near the wall with the window with a bag in it – a comforting touch. To make room for these large 6-person cabins in the train, the cabins are set along one wall of the train, with the corridor along the other side, rather than straight down the center.
My return trip was quite a bit more comfortable. Well, I developed some anxiety prior to buying my return ticket at Warsaw’s Centralny Station, but it was completely my fault; I could have purchased in advance, but didn’t, and then I arrived at the station 20 minutes prior to departure, and there was a huge line. I was almost about to call it a lost cause, because I was so far back in the queue, but my friend Ania took over. She got up in front of the whole room (perhaps 30 people in front of me) and started giving a speech, something to the effect of me being late and asking everyone if it was alright if I cut them all so I wouldn’t miss my train; I don’t know exactly as it was all in Polish. Anyway, I got on just in time.
This time my seat was in a car that was not divided, but rather had these “sleeperette” seats. These seats are so large, they resemble full-size living room recliners, and only 3 can fit the width of the train in each row. Two along one side, one along the other, and since I was traveling solo, I was given a seat by myself. It was very relaxing, as the chairs are so large that they seem to swallow you whole. There are electric outlets next to each seat, and a reading light built into every headrest. The seats recline almost all the way down, with a leg rest that comes out more and more the further back you recline. Needless to say, I slept almost the entire train ride back to Berlin.
Next time you are traveling in Europe and you have a bit more time to spare, consider taking a train to your final destination. Europe, especially the largest cities, is well connected by train, and the comfort and views of the countryside as you pass by can be quite beautiful and therapeutic at the same time.