Arrival/Check-In: I arrived in Los Angeles early afternoon, grateful for the warm weather after a long flight from snowy Connecticut. The Beverly Hilton, legendary for its star-studded events and Old Hollywood glamour, knows how to roll out the red carpet. A cheerful doorman greeted me at my taxi and directed me to the front desk. The lobby shimmered with Christmas lights which, along with the sunshine, put me in a festive mood. My room was ready, and in a few minutes the friendly attendant checked me in. As I left the desk, the doorman appeared with complimentary bottles of water and wished me a happy holiday.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN. The idiom rings especially true in Warsaw, where 80–90 percent of the city was destroyed by the time Nazi soldiers fled. Only a smattering of buildings in the Praga neighborhood remained, one location where Władysław Szpilman, whose story was popularized by The Pianist, lived in hiding. The façades of weathered, block-shaped apartment buildings still display bullet holes, and rusted metal doors guard the entryways. The neighborhood appears locked in that horrific decade save a few gentrifying restaurants and bars like Zakład Mięsny, a relatively recent rehab project serving up Polish craft beers.