Bordered by Germany and the Czech Republic on one side, and Belarus and the Ukraine on the other, Poland in many ways has one foot in the past and the other in the future. The vast majority of Poland’s cultural epicenter, Warsaw, was destroyed in World War II but has been reborn in the 64 years since as a modern European capital. The PokerStars.com European Poker Tour’s Warsaw stop, though a bit quieter than the party-all-night rowdiness of Barcelona or the bustling glamour of London, still draws quite a crowd, the Main Event prize pool tipping the €1,000,000 mark. Players, pack your wooly scarves and mittens; the tour is about to blow through Poland and when it comes to making the most of your trip to Warsaw, we’ve got you covered.
Meet the Zloty
Poland may be a member of the European Union, but the country has retained its own currency, the zloty. At today’s exchange rate, one U.S. dollar is worth just under three zlotys while one euro is worth a bit over four. While currency exchanges can be found on nearly every corner in cities like London and Barcelona, they are a bit fewer and farther between in Warsaw. Change your money at the airport and if you end up short on zlotys, the cage at the casino gives a competitive rate. Players who are used to some of the pricier stops on the EPT will find a lot of wallet relief in Poland. Dining, shopping and transportation are far less expensive in Warsaw than in most major European cities.
Taxis are so inexpensive in Warsaw that they’re worth splurging on instead of trying to navigate the city’s public rail system, which seems to be perpetually under construction. A cab from Frederick Chopin Airport to the city center shouldn’t run you more than 25-30 zlotys ($8-10 US). With the exception of rainy days when taxis at a premium, they are easy to catch from major hotels, though they can be bit more difficult to hail on the streets.
Places to hang your hat
The tournament venue, the Casinos Poland, is located on the lower level of the plush Hyatt Regency Hotel. The Hyatt is truly a player’s best option for accommodations at the EPT Warsaw because not only are the rooms huge by European standards, but the combination of the winter weather and the short daylight hours makes the Hyatt the center of the social scene surrounding the tournament. During and after the tournament, the Hyatt’s warm, comfortable Lazienki Lounge is peppered with poker players, media and other members of the traveling tournament circus taking advantage of the free wi-fi while enjoying libations from the excellent cocktail list. You'll enjoy live piano music in the afternoons, and in the evenings, don’t be surprised if you catch one of your favorite pros tinkling the ivories after a few-too-many drinks.
For players looking for more of a budget option, both the Hotel Reytan and Karat are within a ten-minute walk of the tournament venue. The rooms are smaller and plainer but are a total steal at only €75 (about $112 US)
Like many gaming venues in Europe, Casinos Poland has a dress code. Don’t worry, your Ed Hardy hoodies are safe, just leave the ripped jeans and scuffed-up trainers at home. To gain entrance to the casino, you’ll also need to present a form of identification each day when you arrive. A passport works, as does a U.S. driver's license. A staff member will take your information and give you a slip of paper that is essentially your “ticket” inside. Hang onto it! You’ll be asked to present it from time to time when entering and exiting the tournament room.
Eating and drinking
If you’re looking to get a taste of the local cuisine, one of Warsaw’s best traditional Polish restaurants is located right across the street from the Hyatt. Restauracja Polska Tradycja serves up classics like veal liver and onions, roasted duck, mushroom soup, and of course, sausage, sausage, sausage. Despite being perhaps as far away from Japan on the globe as one can get, sushi is king when it comes to trendier dining options in Warsaw. Locals rank Tomo Sushi among the city’s best when it comes to raw fish, and it’s located only a short cab ride away from the casino. Grab a seat at the bar and check out the little sushi-topped boats that float past patrons. Grab a boat and eat straight off it, order from the menu, or simply ask the chef to whip you up something special with your favorite fish. In another oddity, there’s actually some pretty good Mexican food only a few blocks away from the venue. Blue Cactus doesn’t exactly have the swiftest service, but the margaritas are strong and the fajitas surprisingly authentic.
Autumn is here, the days are short, and in Warsaw the skies begin to darken as early as 3:30 in the afternoon. Because the tournament has a 12:30 p.m. start time, the morning is ideal for a bit of sightseeing. Start the day with a walk in Lazienki Park right outside the Hyatt Regency’s door. Check out the grand neoclassical architecture of the Palace on the Water, and if you see a few peacocks walking about, don’t worry, you’re not hallucinating. History buffs should definitely grab a taxi to Old Town. Completely leveled during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Old Town was painstakingly reconstructed after the war and now serves as a vibrant pocket of the city filled with shops and restaurants. The uprising is also commemorated in the city’s best museum, the Warsaw Rising Museum.
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