Weekend Getaway

Wizyta w Warszawie

Date: 26 -28 June 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways Heathrow Express

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Hannah and Brett

Hotel: Novotel Warszawa Centrum

Here we go another BA holiday inspired by price.    When our friend Hannah suggested going to Warsaw we were initially hesitant.  We had been to Warsaw in 2011 and it didn’t wow us as much as the other Polish cities we had visited.   However once she told us it was £125 per person including flights and hotel for two nights we were sold!

As a group we like to maximise our weekends so we all took a half day off work and met at Heathrow around 12:30pm on the Friday.   Check-in and security was uneventful and once through security we headed directly to the pub for our traditional pre-flight drink and some lunch.  The pub in Terminal 3 is nothing to rave about but it got the job done and we headed to the gate.   Once at the gate it was evident that it was “training day” because they had 13 people attempting to check passports and boarding passes before entering the seating area.   We had managed to time it just right so once we were through they started pre-boarding which we were all able to take advantage of due to Dan’s Silver status on BA.

Once on the plane it was very clear it was an extremely packed flight.  As always Dan had pre-booked our group the exit row and a window and aisle for us.   As luck would have it no one sat between us which gave us the opportunity to stretch out a little bit.   Unfortunately a man in the row behind us has the most horrendous body odor and that was all I could think about for the two hour flight.    Other than that the flight was uneventful.

Once we arrived in Warsaw we quickly made it through passport control and baggage claim.    Dan had pre-booked an airport transfer with MKG Travel (www.warsawshuttle.com) a company we used previously in Gdansk for 90 Zloty each way.   The distance between the airport and the city centre was amazingly short and even during rush hour on a Friday we were at the hotel within 20 min.    We chose to stay at the Novotel Centrum which is an Accor hotel.  We typically stay with them when we are traveling in Eastern Europe because you know what you are getting and we usually get points.    Just as we finished checking in it decided to start pouring.    We agreed to drop our bags off and meet back in the lobby in 10 min.


Sadly no Minion view for us, but we could see it whilst waiting for the lift.

Fortunately for us during that 10 min break the rain had stopped.   We left the hotel in the direction of the old town with a mission of finding a place for a beverage to plan our night.    We didn’t have to go far before finding Kufle I Kapsle which was a Polish craft beer bar.   The beers were decent but it was a bit busy and we couldn’t find a comfortable place to sit so we quickly finished our beers and headed to the old town.   The walk to the old town took us about 45 min, due to a slight detour (ed note: and a hill, but who is complaining right), but we got there in the end.

When Dan and I had been to Warsaw before the old town was our favourite bit although it isn’t exactly old.   Warsaw was completely leveled during World War II so the old town was completely rebuilt in the 1950/60’s by the soviets.    While it isn’t necessarily the most authentic old town in Poland or in Europe it is still a pretty place to wander around and have drinks and dinner.

Once in the old town we quickly wandered from Castle Square to the Market Square where we went to Pub Leżaki for a drink while we decided what to do for dinner.     Dan and I had been to this pub on our first trip to Warsaw and while it isn’t the greatest place in the world it has a nice seating area in the market square.    While sipping our beverages in the market square we decided to go to a restaurant called The Mexican which is a Polish Mexican restaurant chain.   Dan and I had been to the ones in Poznan, Kraków, and Sopot previously.   The margaritas have always been great but after our last experience in Sopot we were a bit worried about the food.   Luckily The Mexican in Warsaw redeemed itself.   The portions were huge and more importantly the food was great.   After dinner we decided to get a lody (Polish soft serve ice cream) on the way back to the hotel. Due to lessons learned on the way to the old town we were able to cut the journey down to about 25 min by walking straight down Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street.

On Saturday morning we met in the hotel lobby at 10am so we could make the free walking tour put on by Orange Umbrella Tours at 11am.    We left the hotel and stopped by Carrefour for a quick snack and some water.   We were now experts and quickly made our way the Castle Square for the tour.   On the way we notice that several stages were being setup and banners for “Fashion Street” had appeared overnight on Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street.    The tour started promptly and the tour guide gave a very informative and insightful tour of the old town which ended with a shot of vodka and a traditional Polish drinking snack of bread covered in pork fat and a pickle.   As with all free tours the guide makes their money on tips so as a group we tipped 50 Zloty.

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After the tour we had already decided to go to the Warsaw Tortilla Factory for lunch.   Dan and I had discovered the restaurant on our first trip and wanted to go back.  We were a bit unsure of its location and received conflicting information from Google Maps and Apple Maps so it was decided that we would take a taxi there and then just wander back.    We found a taxi with little difficulty and he took us quite quickly to our destination, which turned out to be right by the hotel.   We had expected the journey to cost 50-60 Zloty but he wanted 210 Zloty.   However in the confusion of Polish to English we ended up paying the amount, instantly realising that it was way too much.

The restaurant is more of a bar/music venue so it wasn’t a tremendous surprise to find it pretty much empty.   We sat down and ordered our food as we were all starving after the walking tour. The server was friendly but the food took ages and was disappointingly average at best.

Once we finished our meal we decided it was best to head back to the hotel to freshen up.  Once at the hotel we agreed to meet back in the lobby at 6pm.

Well 6pm came quite quickly and we met in the lobby.  We decided to walk towards the river and then walk to the old town for dinner.    The walk to the river wasn’t a pretty affair and apart from the old town Warsaw isn’t a pretty city.   Once at the river we walked through a park and then along the river.   One thing that was nice to see was that across the river there were several beaches and bars that the locals were taking advantage of.     Our walk took us near the university library where Red Bull was hosting a basketball competition.   We watched the warm ups and had a few Red Bulls (summer edition was awesome and did not even taste like Rd Bull) while listening to the music.    Once the tournament started we continued our walk to the old town.

Our walk ended at the bottle of the Castle Square, which unfortunately meant we had about 100 meters of stairs to climb to the top.   Once at the top it was an interesting sight.    There had been a colour run earlier in the day so there were quite a few colourful people looking worse for wear as well as 20-30 dressed up military gear and another 20-30 dressed as zombies.    We decided to head to a craft beer bar Hannah had read about on Trip Advisor and that we had seen the day before called Same Fusy.   We walked along the old (new) city wall to our destination.  The bar was fairly busy but we managed to find a place near the bar.   The beer selection was immense and seemed to cater to almost any taste.     While enjoying our first beer we had the opportunity to see the food coming out of the kitchen.    The burgers and pizzas looked amazing. Fortunately for us a table opened up at the front of the bar so we decided to get a pizza and eat dinner there rather than heading out.


The pizza was AMAZING and possibly one of the best pizzas I/we have ever had.
After dinner we walked down the street to another local ice cream shop where Hannah and Brett got waffles with whipped cream and Dan and I got ice cream.   We decided on a leisurely walk back to the hotel down the “Fashion Street” to see what they had done.    During the day they had managed to install several tents and a stage with a catwalk.   Overall it was quite impressive how much they had done in such a short space of time.    As many of you know we collect Starbucks mugs when we travel.   However on our last trip to Warsaw I don’t believe Starbucks had opened yet so we stopped off in the way and purchased a Poland and a Warsaw mug for the collection.   As we approached the hotel the Palace of Culture and Science was illuminated in rainbow colours for Pride   I was able to take an obstructed photo with my phone but before I was able to take another they had turned off the lights.

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We met in the hotel lobby at 10:30am on the Sunday since this was our last day and we wanted to leave our bags.  Once we had checked out we walked over towards the central station to the adjacent shopping mall.   The mall is quite nice by anyone’s standards and was virtually empty. We made our rounds and discovered a Bath and Bodyworks!  I know this may not seem like much to our friends in the U.S. but they don’t have them in the U.K. and I love their hand sanitizer.      So after spending just over 100 Zloty on hand sanitizer we continue our wander around the mall.     As it turned out my purchase of hand sanitizer ended up being the only purchase for the group.

IMG_2243An old friend!

We left the mall and headed to lunch but since our flight didn’t leave until 6:15pm we were not in a huge rush so we took the long way around the Palace of Culture and Science on our way to Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street for lunch.    The “Fashion Street” event was just staring to get underway and many of the cafes near the catwalk were packed.    We decided to continue our journey further down the street and settled on an Italian place called Pizza Eataliano.   From the moment we sat down it was clear our servers English wasn’t that great (ed note, to be fair our polish is non existent) but we muddled thorough ordering and we all felt pretty confident.   That was until the mains came except one.  In the end we worked it out and the remaining main dish came out after everyone else had finished eating.  Overall the food was decent and hit the spot but nothing to rave about.

On our first night Hannah had spotted a cafe called Cheesecake Corner and we had planned on going back since.   Since lunch didn’t take that long even with the issues we had the opportunity to try this place out.  It had a nice seating area on the street and several varieties of cheesecake as well as other desserts.    Each of the desserts looked absolutely stunning.  We had a raspberry pavlova, New York cheesecake, a mini forest fruits cheesecake as well as a mini mango cheese cake.   Brett of course had to be difficult and get chocolate ice cream.   Overall the desserts were not the best I have had but given the price I wouldn’t complain and would recommend stopping by if you were around.

After the cheesecake we decided to walk in a different direction to kill some time as we still had two hours before the taxi was suppose to pick us up.    We ended up walking south past the road our hotel was on in the area with all the embassies.  After a few rounds of “name that country” we decided to head back to our hotel early and chill out in the lobby.

As luck would have it our taxi driver arrived about 20 min early and was the same driver that picked us up (same thing in Gdansk as well).   The journey to airport took about 10 min which meant we arrived at the airport about 45 min before check-in opened.   Once check-in opened we went through security.   It was a refreshing experience for there to be no line but it was clear they still took security very seriously.

Once on the other side of security we had the mission of spending our remaining Zloty and what is better thing to buy in Poland than vodka.   Dan took Brett into the lounge as his guest while Hannah and I waited by the gate and wrote our Trip Advisor reviews and discussed our upcoming trip to Stuttgart in August.

Boarding was fairly smooth again by taking advantage of Dan’s silver status.   Once on the plane I wrapped up my posting of Bilbao and wrote this lovely posting all before leaving continental Europe’s airspace!

In closing while Dan and I were not that impressed with Warsaw on our last trip it has certainly moved up in our estimation after this trip and I would recommend a short visit.     Poland is a great country with amazing cities, long history, good beer, great vodka and it is cheap.   Visit Poland!

Weekend Getaway

Bustling Bilbao

Date: 19 – 21 June 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways

Cast of Characters: Bruce, Jodi, Alyssa & Rowan

Hotel:  Sercotel Coliseo Hotel, Bilbao
So this trip was a rare trip without Dan. The trip was again one of those random trips that was planned after about 3 bottles of wine.    Our friend Alyssa travels quite a bit around Europe for work.   Her schedule combined with our schedule pretty much means we never seem to be able to meet up.  As such during one of the rare occasions we were able to meet up Jodi and myself decided to meet Alyssa in Bilbao on the back of one of her work trips.

Jodi and I booked our flights and hotel through British Airways on a BA holiday.   Return flights and 4 Star hotel for two nights came to about £220 per person so overall a pretty cheap deal plus I got bonus Avios and £20 cash back from Quidco.    I am generally not that fussed about hotels other than location so I left the decision up to Jodi and she picked the Sercotel Colissio.

The day finally arrived for us to meet Alyssa in Bilbao.    Heathrow Airport is in the process of decommissioning Terminal 1 by the end of June so our flight was one of 7 that afternoon.    I checked a bag and went through security into an area that was eerily empty.    By this point most of the shops, bars, and restaurants had been closed.   I waited on a bench for someone in our party to arrive.   Rowan (Alyssa’s fiancé) was the first arrive.   The two of us went into Giraffe which was the only remaining restaurant for some food and beverages.    Shortly after sitting down Jodi joined us.   It does however appear that Dan has brainwashed me.   The moment the screen said that we needed to go to the gate I became instantly paranoid that we were going to miss our flight.   Jodi and Rowan of course were taking a more casual approach to boarding the plane and were working on their beverages and we did not leave the restaurant until it said Final Call Gate Closing.   We of course made it with us being the last 3 people to enter the gate area. Clearly if Dan were there his head would have probably exploded.

The flight was fairly uneventful and we arrived about 15 min early.  We quickly made our way to the baggage area, much to everyone’s dismay since I checked a bag.   After about 15 min of waiting my bag finally came and we met Alyssa outside the secure area and hopped into a taxi to the hotel.    The taxi journey was exceptionally easy and took about 20 min and went by the Guggenheim on the way.   As it turned out our hotel was also a casino and more importantly just across the river from the old town.     Check-in was simple and the rooms were very well appointed and modern.   Jodi and I quickly dropped our stuff off in our room and met Alyssa and Rowan in theirs and waited while Alyssa wrapped up a few work bits.   We then headed to the hotel bar and terrace to enjoy our first bottle of rioja in Spain for the amazingly low price of €13.

It was about 9pm when we decided to head out from the hotel for dinner.   We headed to a place a few streets away that was recommended by the front desk called Restaurante Beraia.  We walked into the bar area of the restaurant and it was heaving with activity but the restaurant area was completely empty.   There were no issues in getting a table since we were at least an hour ahead of the locals.   The wine was great and cheap and the starters were amazing.    The main courses in my opinion were good but nothing too amazing.     After dinner we decided to find a place to have a couple drinks before going to bed.    Around the corner from the restaurant there was a bar called Basque Bar.   It was definitely more of a locals bar with the obligatory overly friendly chatty old man out front.     Rowan decided to stay with the wine while Myself, Alyssa and Jodi moved on to pint size gin and tonics.  We ended up sitting outside for a few hours drinking and talking and finally just after 2am it was clear that the bar was winding down so we took this as our cue to head back to the hotel.

Saturday morning Jodi and I woke up around 10am.   We texted our Bilbao Whatsapp group but there was no response from Alyssa and Rowan so Jodi and I decided to take a walk around the city ourselves.   It became quickly evident that a majority of the city was still asleep.    We finally found a bar that was open and was serving coffee.    After a quick coffee we then walked to the Guggenheim took a few pictures and then walked along the river to the old town.

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The old town was overall very typical with several bars, restaurants and shops.    Jodi spotted some tables in the sun and quickly made a beeline.  However despite our efforts to go someplace with a bit of local flavour the sunny tables belonged to the Liverpool Cafe.     We sat and enjoyed a beer while waiting for Alyssa and Rowan to wake up.   Just as we finished our beers Rowan texted that they were awake and were hungry.    Jodi and I then began our search for a lunch location in the sun.    As you might expect in Spain we didn’t have to search very far and found this pintxos (Basque tapas) place called La Ribera Bilbao bar just underneath the city market with plenty of out door seating.   Jodi and I ordered assorted pintxos and a bottle of Rioja that was chilled as is customary in Spain.    Shortly after sitting down Rowan and Alyssa joined us and we enjoyed our beverages and pintxos in the sun.

After finishing up our drinks we headed up into the market, which was just staring to close up.   Fortunately for us there were still a few meat, veg, and fish stalls open.   We made our way to a meat stall in the opposite corner of where we entered where Rowan sampled a few items and both Jodi and Rowan bought some chorizo to take back.   After the market we headed back into the heat of old town.   During our wandering we came across a rundown street crowded with people and chanting and laughing (apparently there was a football game on).    We continued down this street that was jam packed with little student bars and managed to find a table at one of the bars where he sun made it through he tall buildings.   There we had yet another bottle of wine and some papas bravas.   After finishing that beverage we continued walking down the street until we hit a main road near a Carrefour Express.  We went into the supermarket looking for water and after much searching we found it on the top floor near the largest milk section I have ever seen in a supermarket.

Once we exited the store we noticed there were some outdoor escalators heading up a hill.    Of course we had to see where these went.  After two sets of escalators and a moving conveyor we reach the top of the hill, which had nothing more than flats and a good view of the old town.   After a few pictures and a moment to reapply sunscreen we headed down the hill in the opposite direction.    At the bottom of the hill there was another street of cafe/bars but slightly more upmarket than the previous street.   We of course stopped for wine and some deep fried potatoes at the first place we could find with a table in the sun called 300 Montaditos and had a discussion about where we wanted to head next.    It was decided that we would head back across the river and head to one of Bilbao’s oldest bars, which was coincidentally near our hotel.

After finishing another bottle of wine we headed down the road towards the river.     As luck would have it we made it about 100 meters before ending up in a square bathed in sun and surrounded by restaurants and bars so of course we stopped at a place called Beatles Bar and found the sunniest table in the square.  This was my round so I went in to purchase the bottle of wine.   In all my years of travels I have to say this was one of the more frustrating language experiences I have had in ages.    I will admit my Basque is nonexistent and my Spanish is rusty but the word for bottle in both languages is pretty similar to English so I have no idea why they struggled so much but in the end I got a bottle and a separate glass of wine.   While enjoying the first bottle of wine in the sun we were approached by a woman in her 50/60’s that was sitting in the table next to us.   She came over speaking Spanish pointing at our bags.  I initially thought she was being nice and attempting to warn us of thieves.    The first clue that I was wrong was when she picked up Alyssa’s purse and turned it upside down spilling the contents to the ground.  She then started talking to Rowan while telling the rest of us to shut up in Spanish.    At this point Alyssa went inside to inform them of the “loco” lady and from their reaction it appears it was a common occurrence and they quickly came out and ushered her away.   Of course by this time the bottle of wine was empty and we were not quite ready to part with our seat in the sun so another bottle of wine was in order.

It was after this bottle we were then on a mission to cross the river and head to the bar we originally had intended on heading too.   However as luck would have it there was yet another amazing square along the way and yet another wine bar.  However we decided to be responsible and have 4 glasses of wine instead of a bottle.    Unlike the previous place we picked a table in the shade in a side street and didn’t linger after the one glass.   We crossed the river and headed to the intended bar near our hotel to find it packed.   As it was nearly 6pm we decided to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.

Once at the hotel Jodi and Alyssa decided to take a nap and Rowan and I decided to head to the hotel terrace and have another bottle of wine.     While the girls slept Rowan and I discussed real estate and of course the instability in the Middle East over a bottle of rioja.   Around 9pm we decided it was time to eat and we woke the girls.   Alyssa by text message and Jodi by me banging on the window since it faced the terrace.    After the success of last nights dinner recommendation by the note we decided to take them up in their other suggestion.   When we walked in you could tell it was a slightly nicer dinning establishment.   However, as with our previous nights meal we were well before the local rush.   We sat down and the menu was brought over.  It was quickly evident that the menu really didn’t call out to any of us and very few things on the menu that I would even want to eat.   In the end we all decided to get the €50 tasting menu which had the following:  white asparagus and tomatoes, black mushrooms and bacon, ox steak with a side of French fries, and ice cream for dessert.      In the end all I can say about the meal was that the wine was good.

We finished dinner just after 11pm.  We were all a bit tired but we’re not quite ready to give up on the night so we decided to go back to the Basque Bar and have a gin & tonic before heading back to the hotel.   End the end we were back at the hotel just after midnight and agreed to meet in the lobby at 10:30 the following morning.

The next morning came way too quick.   We all met in the hotel lobby to check out.   The checkout process was far from speedy but we got there in the end.    Fortunately due to the hotel having a casino there were always taxis down stairs and this morning was no different.    It was a quick 15 min journey to the airport and check in went fairly smooth.   Security was a breeze and once on the other side of security we quickly got some food at a local fast food restaurant and did some duty free shopping before boarding the plane.

I must say that the trip to Bilbao was an amazing success.   I had fairly low expectations at the start but Bilbao exceeded them at almost every turn.  I was so impressed that Dan and I have cancelled our trip next March to Marseille and we are going to Bilbao instead.  In short go to Bilbao for the weekend if you can.



Luxembourg for Christmas Markets Booked!! Plus what to do in early August.

We had been toying around with going to Prague for the Christmas markets in December but the flight times and cost didn’t quite work out.   So with a bit more looking we have decided on Luxembourg.   For a country that pretty much just makes money as its primary industry it was amazingly cheap.    Dan and I went to Luxembourg once before and had lunch in the summer of 2008 and the city looked amazing, so it will be nice spend a long weekend there with some great friends.

We are also planning another trip in early August..   Right now we are wanting to keep it quick and easy so we are thinking Amsterdam, Brussels, Ghent, or Liege.


Warsaw Booked!

Well it certainly didn’t take much time to turn inspiration into reality.   All booked for a look weekend in June with two great friends.  Great deal with British Airways £136 per person for flights and hotel for two nights at a 4 star hotel.

Bring on Warsaw!


Warsaw Here We Come??

First post from me (Bruce)! Was exchanging text messages yesterday with a friend about the cheap deals to Warsaw and now I desperately want to go. Dan and I went to Warsaw several years back on our self guided railway tour of Poland and it didn’t wow us that much. That being said our hotel was in the wrong location and we had to stand on the train for 6 hours from Gdansk to get there. I think this time I know just where to stay! Plus they have a decent Mexican restaurant called WTF (Warsaw Tortilla Factory) that we liked. I do love Poland, I think it is time to give Warsaw a second chance. Might have to get this booked in. ~Bruce