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Budget Rental Car with Mr Magoo

Navigating on the wrong side of the world.

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Day Two - Part One.

I woke at 3.30 am (11.30 am Melbourne time) and felt like I'd slept in. Funny that. I love those initial moments when you wake up in a different place and wonder where you are. Yes, there are some of you laughing here and would tell me that used to be expected of me wearing last night's nightclubbing clothes.

I needed a coffee and a cigarette, which I’d forgotten, but I managed to navigate like a zombie and buy the day before from a “Sklep.” Which, to me, resembles “Schlep”, which I vaguely remember being in English, as an undesirable person with few morals. No, I wasn’t down a back alley buying cigarettes from some dodgy guy. It’s “Shop” in Polish. Travel tip: Learn the foreign words of things you might need to know, as it’s easy not to find anything useful otherwise.

I only know a few Polish phrases, and one of these is “Marlboro papirosy pocha.” (Marlboro cigarettes, please.) The man behind the shop counter gave me the tiniest packet (like a pack of 10), and I was gazumped. I couldn’t change it with a queue of people behind me, so I just paid for them and left. I was surprised to find 20 cigarettes in the packet. “Micro”, it advertised, and yes, they have the disgusting photos on packs here as well as yes, I know I shouldn’t be smoking. They are filtered, skinny and long. About half the width of a regular cigarette. Like how some of my friends roll tobacco and electric poha. It’s a good idea because there’s little difference, and you only buy and smoke half the average amount of tobacco.

I made a “George Clooney” in my room (aka Nespresso) and headed to the ground floor with it. The hotel is open 24 hours, so the automatic doors aren’t locked. Warsaw and Poland have changed since 2000… a lot! Prior they were part of the EU, you could smoke anywhere, indoors and out. They have aligned with standard policies in Australia and New Zealand. I step into the street, and there’s a sign (I would’ve posted it as a photo, except this website wants links or Flickr.) It reads:

“No to Smoking” and a picture of a cigarette with a line crossed through it and underneath “Yes to Joking.” It’s supposed to be funny for guests, but with its double entendre (double meanings, kids), one could plausibly argue in a court it was okay to smoke where they said not to.

It’s almost 4.00 am, and men and women are going by in what used to be termed the ‘walk of shame.’ The nightclubs have just closed, and high people on amphetamines in any language act similarly. Raised voices, women carrying their heels, and guys checking out their long reflections in the city windows and dancing. A guy with pupils the size of dinner plates stumbles towards me and starts into sentences in Polish, wanting to know something. “Sorry mate, I’m a tourist. Do you speak English?” He smiles and replies excellently, “Never mind.”

There’s unique art everywhere around the hotel. It’s a crazy New York vibe, and I would embed the photos I took here when I can work out how. It’s a dramatic change from the washed-out colours and oppressive grey everything of 2000. There is, of course, a smattering of the old apartment blocks, some over 12 storeys high with no lifts, but some of these have been transformed with giant murals. Cranes are working early at pulling up what comes next, and it feels like a modern European city.

The other thing that I can’t stop noticing is the number of beautiful people here. They are frequently walking past. A tall brunette woman in a sprayed-on spandex outfit exits the hotel and starts her exercise timer on her phone, strapped to her forearm. She smiles and strides off down the street with her buttocks clearly showing. This city was never safe to do this in, and it's not 5.00 am yet. Everything has changed, including me.

It's later, and Budget Rental Car has opened at Chopin airport, so I navigate to a taxi stand where the driver doesn’t speak English. He doesn’t accept credit cards but understands the word EURO. He wants to charge me 40EU, which I say only cost me 33PLN (Polish Zloty) last night. He’s unmoved. I flash him 20 euros, and he points to a car, not in the queue. Again, it’s signposted 50kph, and we are doing 90kph, swerving in and out of traffic. He attempts conversation. Where from? Australia, I reply. Ahh, Kangaroos, he goes. Wallabies, but close, mate.

I arrive at the Budget counter, and thankfully the attendant speaks English. She’s a mature blonde woman with an attitude. “Tak?” Which is not hello, but yes. The exchange is unpleasant. They don’t have the car I hired and was supposed to pick up last night. Maybe she ate it for breakfast. The only vehicle is 20EU more daily (because it’s auto), but it is newer and automatic. Not impressed. Plus, they had to RECHARGE my credit card after I had paid and booked. We will credit you, she says in her Eastern European accent, which feels like a scene from a spy movie. I demand a better price. I say it’s unacceptable in a tone she doesn’t want to deal with. I will look after you, she replies. Well, you’re doing a crap job thus far, I muse. We completed the transaction, and she asked me to give a positive review when I received the feedback e-mail. Are you for real? I then realise her employment probably depends on it.

It’s a 2023 Kia Sportage with <5000 kilometres on the clock. I located it in the carpark and attempted to enter the vehicle from the passenger side. It breaks the tension a little, and I laugh at myself.

I’m flustered and unprepared to drive on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country. At least they have configured all the car digital displays in English. I navigate to the exit gate and remember Budget Face gave me a white card with a magnetic strip to exit, but I have no idea where I’ve put it! Swear word. There’s a queue of cars, and it’s nearly my turn. Swear word. I get out and smile apologetically at the vehicle behind me. I luckily see I was sitting on it and get back in and exit the car park. The only thing I now realise is that when I escaped into the hot blinding bright 29-degree day is that when I left the car, so did my sunglasses! Swear word. I’m losing my swear words, which are coming thick and fast.

I’m so swear-word angry that I nearly collect a vehicle approaching from my left on a roundabout that laughs sardonically in an anti-clockwise direction. Breathe Andy. Thankfully, my Android phone and Bluetooth and Google navigation work. The woman’s voice gave me the next movement, perfect for that moment. It was the funniest thing I have ever heard. It murders the Polish street name phonetically, and somehow there's a DW notation it pronounces as INCHES. “Slowackiego DW 65” sounds like this. Turn right 300 meters onto Slow-Whack-Key-GO-65 inches. I wet myself laughing.

No one obeys the posted speed limit as I follow traffic to the car park beside my hotel. The security gate is closed, and the parking machine is broken with a post-it note handwritten in Polish. Swear word. The attendant is 90 years of age and looks like Mr Magoo. He speaks no English. Here folks, is where technology saves you. Google Translate has an interpreter mode that I discover as I’m trying to communicate. I can speak in English and Mr Magoo in Polish, and he explains he can manually issue me with a parking ticket. I go to get back in the Kia in the passenger side. Swear word. The gate is open, and he probably thinks I’m on drugs. I park the car and notice a long scratch on the rear door while exiting—a brand-new car with no reported marks for which I will probably be liable. Swear word. Is it too early for Zubrowka Vodka?

I'm sorry for the detailed step-by-step part. I don’t want to report my trip like this, but I felt everyone needed to get on the same page and “swear words of a day” I was having. It gets better, and I mean positively.

To be continued…

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 06:22 Archived in Poland

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Loving the step-by-step and the swear-word inserts. I'm looking forward to living vicariously through you!

Your Southern USA friend!

by drtjenkins

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