Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Poland Diaries - Day 2 & 3

I was sort of nervous and excited at the same time to meet the new team. I had barely managed to sleep the previous night and had left the bathroom light on due to my self imposed nyctophobia. I got ready and walked down to the breakfast area to have a heavy breakfast that included my favourite butter croissant and not so favourite cornflakes. On a counter near the breakfast area, I noticed a chef standing with a pan and eggs so I figured out I could do with a fried egg. This was a first, having breakfast in a new city in an hotel all by myself - I mean I have had breakfast alone, I have been to a new city alone and I have sat in an hotel but not in that combination.

A quick check on the weather app told me it was going to be freezing so I was in two minds on whether to be brave and take the public transport or to take a taxi, the choice was very easy also because I was running late. Once I was in the office, I was anxiously waiting for the call or email to go and pickup my new team from the reception. I was not sure on how I was going to recognize them. While I was thinking this, I got a ping and I went to get them.

Now the entrance to the office is a revolving door that functions on no specific logic. So as soon as you swipe your card, the door starts rotating. You have to be alert to quickly jump in the slot lest you miss it, then it doesn't really rotate enough for you to get out to the other side and you get stuck. At that point, the door realises that it has not fulfilled the duty of transporting the person to the other side at which point it starts rotating backwards until you are thrown out and the entire routine repeats again. It took me a day to perfect the art of getting in without creating a scene. So you can imagine the chaos that happened when four girls tried to get in.

As I brought them in, I very quickly realised that in their one had half day of induction, they were neither given any smart cards nor advised on how to login meaning it had suddenly become my responsibility to get them all the information to log in. Now the thing about the millennial generation new joiners is that there is no remorse in putting your hands up and waiting for someone to figure out things for you while you sit twiddling your thumbs because you are, well, new ! Now the consideration that I was almost as new to the place did not dawn upon them and I was running around trying to get them smart cards. I tried to pass away the time by showing them kitchen, stationery place and printer stuff but they didn't seem to be much impressed by this.

Some time passed and one of the colleagues who had helped me settle down yesterday strolled into the office. He gave me some old smartcards from employees who had left the organisation. However nothing in my office is simple. Now the only way to login to a machine is to insert the smart card in the keyboard and once that is detected, you enter your password to login. So what followed next was one hour of configuring the cards with their login - inserting the card in the keyboard slot, running the program, writing the chip with the login of new joiners. Of Course, needless to say the slot refused to detect the card several times until I mastered the art of pushing the card in just at the right time when the orange flickering light was switching to green, all in all total chaos. Anyways, after this routine, everyone was able to login and we settled down.

It was almost lunch time and today I had some company for lunch. A quick tour to the food court in the mall opposite the office building made me realise that there were only two vegetarian options for me for next two weeks - a bag of falafels or chinese oriental buffet. I rolled my eyes and settled for the falafels. When we were back at the office, we began the training session with introduction to the project followed by installing some applications in the system. Soon I was reminded in a subtle way that the Polish labour law requires that working beyond eight hours requires additional compensation and since that time was up, I had to let them leave.

I finished my work and made way to the tram stop opposite Grunwaldzki centre. It was quite freezing so I had no intention to walk home. Also, I had no clue how to order a cab so I gathered some courage and went to the ticket machine. Luckily, the ticket machine had 'English' as a language option along with few others like Spanish, German etc. I took a one way ticket costing about 3 zloty and waited for the tram number 33 to arrive. All along the way I was constantly looking out to make sure I dont miss the stop. So after three stops - Pilczyce, most GrunwaldzkiUrząd Wojewódzki, my hotel was finally in sight. I got down at Galeria Dominikanska with a great sense of achievement. I also did a small detour and explored the Galeria before returning to the hotel. I comforted myself with the leftover parathas for dinner and packed my baggage to check out tomorrow before slipping into a good nights sleep.

The next day, I checked out of the hotel and after yesterdays successful venture of travelling by trams, I took note of four possible tram numbers that could drop me to the office. I wanted to buy a ticket on the tram using the machine and two stops had passed but the ticket machine refused to accept my American Express. Time was running out and needless to say I panicked as I didnt have cash. After several attempts I decided to pay by my own debit card which thankfully worked so I heaved a sigh of relief. The day was pretty normal and I was excited to move to Hotel Monopol which was right in the city centre. I went back to the hotel and took a cab.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Poland Diaries - Day 1

The Poland trip kept dragging forever and it went into an infinite loop of one approval after the other for what seemed to me like a trivial amount of money for a company of this size - in short the delay introduced in the bureaucracy was more than what I would need to plan a round trip around the world. So in this whole process, Ryan Air which is the cheapest airline to fly to Europe doubled in price and hotels in Wroclaw started showing a 'Sold Out' sign on the intranet site - something I never thought I would live to see. I mean who would go to this small town in Poland in peak winter, but apparently people are and clearly my worldly knowledge is pretty poor.

Anyways so after much adieu, I booked a super expensive flight ticket on the cheap airline. Then it was the time to book the hotel. After careful research on tripadvisor and detailed look at the traveller photos, I settled on two hotels - one for first two days and one for later, the second being the more cozy one.

The flight sucked as always, the floor beneath the seat was dirty and obviously no one bothered to attend after pressing the 'attendant' button. When we got closer to Wroclaw, the view from the flight window was mesmerising - vast expanse of the land and the once green farms now covered with thick white snow, the brown roofs of the houses blending with the white colour of the ground, the trees mostly withered away trying to hold on to some snow instead of green leaves. Somewhere a kid had spend a good part of the weekend building a snowman.

All this view was interrupted by a sudden thud on the tarmac followed by the annoying tune that Ryan Air play when they land on time. I was just excited that I was in Wroclaw. Almost everyone who got out of the plane were EU citizens including some British citizens who are counting their days in the EU. Then they were some Americans, who, like Indians, are everywhere and then there was me. Brown skin and Indian passport - so I knew what was coming even though I secretly hoped that my precedents and fellow citizens who had dared to step foot into this country before me would have made my life easier.

When I reached the immigration office I decided to act tough. For a good 10 seconds both of us kept staring at each other and after carefully inspecting my face he said hello and promptly followed the first question "what is the purpose of your visit". "I am here for work". He raised his eyebrow in suspicion. "I work in London and here for few days". As soon as he heard London I was no longer a dubious person trying to sneak my way into this country. "Is this your first visit to Poland?". "Yes". Then he stamped my passport but not before he checked every earlier stamp on every page on my passport.

I picked up my luggage and stepped out to see the taxi driver standing with a board of my name - this was probably the  first time anyone was receiving me at an airport with a name board.

Wroclaw is pronounced something like 'vrastwaf' is situated on the banks of river Oder. It is also called the city of bridges and is the fourth largest city in Poland. It's a small city when compared to Warsaw or Krakow and the ride from the airport to hotel was fairly small and smooth. There were remnants from the snow from the earlier weekend. I was looking wide eyes like a small kid, taking pictures of the new scenery outside, somewhat nervous and somewhat excited.

While checking into the hotel, I am told that I dont really have the breakfast included and that I had to sign up to Hilton Honors to get the Wifi. I mean how on earth was I to survive without wifi for the next 18 days. Then I decided to use some of my negotiation skills and insisted that my company website showed both access. Soon they realise that my company has forgotten to book it under a corporate account (not a surprise) and then I suddenly have access to a super-super fast WiFi, an executive lounge and also the breakfast. The receptionist then also explain me the spa and massage options. Now at that time I was just glad that I had WiFi to survive my stay, so I made an excuse that I need to get to the office quickly. I checked into my hotel and gobbled up two methi paranthas with mango pickle. I think the person who invented the parantha and the thepla deserves a Nobel prize for Food. It has saved many a souls from going hungry. I zipped to the office and no one at the reception building could really connect me to the contact from the office. Ultimately I somehow got through the building after the usual struggle with the IT infrastructure, I settled in the office.

The work day was short and I got lucky as one of my colleagues offered to walk me back home. It's amazing how someone who I probably never thought I would meet helped me to find my way back home.  I was too tired to go out and explore the city in freezing cold and I was pleased to find a vegetarian ravioli in the hotel. I relished on my free drink and ate a vegetarian ravioli before slipping into the comfortable bed. Tomorrow is another day !

On the way - Airport to Hotel

Walking back from the office


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