A Russian President Selling Illegal Beer

Note: This is a continuation of my recent trip to Poland.  Read the first part here.

A cool old beer truck in Warsaw. (click to see larger)Two things that I really enjoy are trains and beer.  They’re great by themselves, but it’s an unstoppable situation when you mix them together.  If I have the option to ride a train, I’ll pick it over nearly any other form of transport.  And if it’s possible to drink some beer on this train, I will definitely make sure that happens.

I spent the majority of my trip to Poland in the capital city of Warsaw, but my buddy Jake and I decided that we needed to get out of the big city and see something else.  He started suggesting bus times, and I almost punched him in the face, so we redirected the plan to the train station.  I don’t know the time or price difference of the two means of transport, and frankly, I don’t care.

We were asking our (not very helpful) hostel staff about train times, prices, and when to go.  She told us that the time and day that we were going is the worst possible, but we shouldn’t have any trouble getting tickets.  Since it was Easter weekend, everyone would be leaving the city for their hometowns to spend the holiday with their family.  She said something like, “It’s not like an Indian train where people will be hanging out the windows and sitting on the roof, but it’ll be pretty close to that.”

I assumed we would need plenty of beer for this one.

The train station was a mad house, and after about 30 minutes in line, we were able to buy our tickets.  Somehow we managed to get an “Under 26” discount on one of them, but not the other – confusing since we’re the same age and tried to buy two.  It wasn’t worth getting back in line to try to exchange it.

Warsaw had some pretty areas... (click to see larger)We found the track (or so we thought) and went searching for a store to buy some sandwich stuff and the necessary beverages.  Conveniently, the train station was attached to a mall that had a big supermarket in it.  Time was short, so we frantically ran around the store (that was even more crowded than the train station) and threw various items in our baskets.

Finally, we went to pay and realized that there was only one line and it had about 100 people in it.  After thinking I might have to eat my food or die of starvation before I can even pay, I realized that it had a system to it all.  There were between 10 and 20 cash registers, and when you got to the front of the line, an machine would ding and show  the number of an open one.  It all seemed very efficient.

I let my buddy go first thinking it would be quicker if I went to the next open one instead of trying to leapfrog onto his cashier.  DING.  Lucky number 13 came up.  I counted my way down the line of numbers until I noticed that it ended at 12.  But I was supposed to go to 13.  But 12 was the last one.  Uh-oh.

...and many not so pretty places. (click to see larger)Past checkout 12, there were a few little counters that looked more like a place where people would return things or do other customer service related transactions.  They didn’t look like good old number 13, but I had to go somewhere, and I couldn’t go back to that zoo of a line.  If I tried to start all over, I would miss my train.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Then, one of the guys at these little checkouts starts waving frantically and yelling at me.  His arm motions said to come over here and hurry, but his tone of voice and body language seemed similar to a momma bear when you are considering approaching her cubs.  With no other options, I pushed forward.

The guy looked so familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why.  It seemed like I knew him from somewhere, or maybe I had just seen pictures of him.  But who was he?  I’d been in Warsaw for a few days, maybe our paths had already crossed.

I didn’t have time to think about it because the fear inspired by his words jabbered in an unknown tongue caused me to put my basket on the counter.  It’s a trend that I’m used to at smaller places like this.  The cashier can take it right out of your basket, scan it, and stick it in another basket so you can bag it up out of their way.

He didn’t like this plan.

Yelling something at me, I told him that I didn’t understand and asked if he spoke English.  The message of my sentence got across, but it didn’t change his attitude at all.  He kept pointing at my basket and shouting.  So, I took it off, put it on the floor, and started to unload it.  He also didn’t like this.  I tried putting it on the bagging area of the checkout to my left.  He really didn’t like this.

Through all the shouting, I realized I had one option – be like him.  I turned my basket upside down so the stuff all fell out in front of him, tossed it away, and gave him a dirty look.  He returned the glare but stopped shouting.

Maybe a bike with flowers is a common Polish form of transportation. (click to see larger)Once he was quiet for a second, I realized exactly why he was so familiar.  He was the spitting image of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President (or whatever title he calls himself this week).  I’m pretty convinced that this guy is Vlad’s twin brother who was exiled to a Warsaw grocery store to prevent any competition, and that’s why he was so pissed off.

After some more yelling on both sides, I parted with the last of my cash.  I was going to use my debit card to eliminate the necessity of finding another ATM, but I didn’t feel like going down that road with Cashier Putin.

I bagged my groceries, watched him yell at the next customer, and headed towards my train.

Oh yes, the train.  That’s another great story, but I’ll save it for another day.  It involves a pirate and the beginning of my life as a fugitive in the Polish countryside…

 A Polish beer billboard! (click to see larger)

Polish word of the day:


I struggled with the pronunciation of this word the whole trip, and I never really did get it down.  Since then, I’ve forgotten it completely, so don’t even ask me how to say it.  It means „thank you”.  Not surprisingly, I didn’t say it at the grocery store.