on January 13, 2010
In a previous job I had the mixed fortunes of going at least four times a year to the Polish city of Bydgoszcz on business. Whilst I loved visiting in the summer, the winter was a nightmare and Bydgoszcz, a large but rather remote city, could at that time only be reached by flying to Warsaw and taking a four hour train journey each way or trusting your life to the vagaries of the Polish roads and more worrying exposing yourself to the lawlessness of Polish drivers. Sometimes I would stay at a hotel in Bydgoszcz but more often, if my meetings allowed it, I'd get the train up and back in one day and squeeze the meetings in the few hours between the arrival of one train and the departure of the next. When staying in Warsaw my hotel of choice tended to be the Holiday Inn. This was primarily because it was so close the railway station that I could fall out of bed and roll over to get the train in just a few minutes but also because at that time it was one of the few hotels in the city where I, as a woman usually travelling alone, felt confident about staying. I'd also stayed one time at the Marriott and loved it, until I heard afterwards that someone in the Penthouse on the top floor had been shot dead just a few days before I was there. This was the mid 1990s to the early 2000s and things were still a bit like the Wild West in parts of Poland.If I was unlucky I'd get sent to the Intercontinental - a place with so many prostitutes in the lobby that I swore I was probably the only woman PAYING for her room rather than being paid by the hour to be there. During one notable stay at that place my phone rang no less than 8 times in the night with strange men on the other line - I like to think it was a wrong number but needless to say, I didn't sleep well that night.This is not to say that the Holiday Inn didn't have prostitutes because it certainly did. A colleague and I would happily sit in the HI bar and watch them working their magic on poor unsuspecting potential punters but on the whole there were a lot fewer of them and they were rather more subtle than at the Intercontinental.As I mentioned the location was the main draw of the Holiday Inn - it's directly across the street from the railway station. It's also right next to a shopping arcade if you feel the need for a little retail therapy and it's just along the street from the Stalin Palace - a building much loathed by the locals for representing the worst of the Soviet oppression but undeniable an architectural novelty that tends to captivate western European tourists. I've seen these 'palaces' all over the old Eastern Bloc and I do rather like the look of them although I can understand why the locals would love to tear them down.Being a Holiday Inn you know that everything will be of a good international standard but is unlikely to be anything too out of the ordinary. The check-in staff were courteous and efficient, the bar was well priced (for the time) and the restaurant offered food that I actually sometimes wanted to eat and was a welcome relief from the horrible basement restaurant of the Intercontinental. The rooms were large and furnished to a good 'international' standard - more than could be said for many hotel rooms in Poland at that time which sometimes had some very strange beds. Rooms had a double bed, a good sized desk, tea and coffee making facilities, a minibar (with lots of vodka of course) and the bathrooms were clean with good showers and baths. The toiletries tended to be the very standard HI branded items but you could generally count on a shoe cleaning cloth and a sewing kit and the usual bits and bobs.I don’t recall a lot about the hotel which is always a good sign - I ALWAYS remember the horror-hotels. Most of my memories are of the kind efficient staff, the big breakfasts on the occasions when I was lucky enough to not have to rush off before they started serving, and sitting in the bar if I had colleagues visiting with me. The lobby was large and impressive and always gave an air of being somewhere a bit special. It's probably at least 6 years since I was last at this hotel but if I went back to Warsaw I'd be more than happy to go back to it. I can't say the same for most other hotels in Poland.
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