It’s just after 10 here and the restaurant is becoming a bar. Poznan is a college town and the weekend starts on Thursday. More cigarettes are lit – Poland still allows people to embrace two vices at once. Ties slinker out, skirts hike up, somewhere a bassline thumps.
I’m eating at an outdoor tapas bar (no, not a topless bar) that has been bustling for a half hour. Gas flames fuel the night but soon the patrons will file inside and to the basement down the stairs that are likely to be narrow and somewhat uneven, leaving the patio a lonelier place.
But I’m working tomorrow. Maybe I won’t go to Berlin tomorrow night after all. I’m not ready yet to leave this country, and Poznan is a great place to make a last stand.
There is one laundromat in Poland. It is in Krakow. That’s what I’m told at the desk of my hotel in Warsaw. “In Poland everyone has a laundry machine in their home. Not like in USA.” Well how about the other few dozen countries in Europe? Are there no laundromats there?
Maybe this is why Europeans have the reputation for smelling like they haven’t showered in weeks. I mean what’s the point if your clothes are going to stink?
So for the low, bargain, basement price of 76.5PLN (~$24) I can have three pairs of socks and three pairs of underwear laundered and returned to me tonight.
I’m back in Poland, one of my favorite countries. It is vastly underrated by tourists (which is a good thing), though they’re wising up and coming more often (which is a bad thing). Every time I’m here I hear more and more English being spoken both by the natives and the travelers (which is both good and bad). It is home to some of the most beautiful women Europe has to offer and some of the friendliest and welcoming people I’ve met.
I arrived in Wroclaw at about 10am and headed to Magda’s house. She’s one of Jack’s cousins. We met and had some tea (herbata) and some snacks, as is the custom. And as is the custom she insisted that I bloat myself on the delights. After that I made plans to head to Krakow (pronounced Krakoov by the Poles) for the weekend since the weather was so nice.
I found the Mundo Hostel online and it looked good. It’s set on a quiet street just off the old town, on the way to the old Jewish section. I called and booked with them, promising to be there by 10pm, as my train was set to arrive at about 9. Well my train was an hour late leaving and couldn’t make up much time on the way (actually it was delayed more) so I called back and let them know since they made me promise I’d show up.
When I got to Krakow it was dark and I strolled around the old town for a bit looking at the sights. It’s a really pretty area. I went and checked into the hostel and asked if they knew any places that would be good to hang out on a Friday night. Anita and Michal (if you stop by tell them I said hello) were friendly and spoke great English and one thing led to another and we all sat down and chatted. I offered some of my Jameson that I’d brought from Dublin and we ended up talking all night, about politics, music, culture and the general state of the world. They also revealed that before I arrived they thought I’d be an old man who didn’t know what a hostel was and who would be upset about not having a TV and a phone and room service. Do I give off that impression?
One other thing we talked about was whether it was better to be blind since birth or to have had the sense at one time. Michal’s argument was that you wouldn’t miss seeing if you were born blind and therefore would be better off. My argument was that you could rely on your memories and, though you may miss seeing, you would be happier having once been able to appreciate the sighted world. I think his point of view boils down to: absence of feeling is better than pain. My position, however, is that pain is better than numbness. This is a basic philosophical argument to which there is no clear answer. Your view, I suppose, is based on your your tolerance for pain and your experience with loss. Can predictions be made from this hypothesis? I doubt it since there are only subjective measures of both. But I think it can give a heuristic premise from which to work.
With the sun threatening to rise we broke up the festivities and I decided I’d head to the Jewish area and get some pictures and maybe some breakfast. I stopped at the market and got some pickles and apples and bread and headed back. I passed out before I ate more than one pickle and one slice of the bread.
The next day was also gorgeous so I hung out in and around the old town, just relaxing and taking in the sights, smells and sounds. Time went by and day became night and I headed back to the Jewish section. There was a little bar called Propoganda that I wanted to go see. It was pretty cool with lots of crazy Communist era stuff on the walls, but there were too many tourists. I went to another place called Singer, named for the sewing equipment and it was cool, too, but with the same drawback. That’s the problem with the tourist towns, they’re overrun with tourists.
Sunday I headed back to Wroclaw to meet Magda, her daughter and Marysia, another of Jack’s cousins. We had Easter dinner together and had a great time. Monday we got up, had lunch and I was off for Warsaw and back to working life.
Sopot is a cool little seaside town near Gdansk. It has been described as the Ibiza of Eastern Europe – by my guidebook at least. And it is somewhat. But I always imagined that Ibiza would be wilder. Granted, you can stay out all night long partying (as I did), but in general it seems much more family oriented.
If Gdansk is a tourist town, Sopot is an amusement park. Everything seems to be plastic and made to be looked at. Side kiosks sell souvineers and lite snacks. Overpriced restaurants feed those willing to trade more money for a place to sit. There are manicured open areas and if you’re wanting a hike, you can pay a few zloty and walk along the world’s longest wooden pier. But it is a very small town with only a few sights and not nearly as historic as Gdansk.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time there, but it didn’t live up to its billing. I do recommend taking a day or so if you’re in Gdansk to see the area. If you decide to stay the night, I highly recommend the University Dorms (part of the Trojmiasto system) in the summer. Though the receptionists don’t speak great English, you can muddle through and get a room. They are cheap, clean and recently updated. There are no rooms larger than 2 (that I saw) and each room of 2 shares a bathroom with another room of 2. It was a great break from the dorm style accomodations and just the thing to clean up after watching the sun rise on the beach bar.
Which is what I did. After I got a shower and did some laundry, I went out for dinner and a drink or two. After that I headed to the Copacabanna bar, built in a tent structure right on the beach. It was pretty cool. I guess I got there early because there were only a handful of people sitting, drinking, and dancing. But after a couple of hours the place started to fill up with all the beautiful people in expensive clothes. As beautiful as I was after a shower, I still didn’t have the expensive clothes. The upstairs area I learned was for “veep veep private party stay out” after one trip to the toilet. Despite the fact that I’d been up there all night long, I was barred. Apparently the party started without me. So I did my best Right Said Fred on out of there. No way I’m disco dancing.
I went to another club just down the beach. The door was locked though people were inside partying – more face control. Luckily I was behind a couple of people who it turned out were locals and frequented the bar. Using my awesome Social Engineering skills and just walked in behind them like I belonged there. I grabbed a beer and started talking to the guys I’d followed. They were a couple of Polish brothers; one was an artist, the other a photojournalist. They spoke great English so we just sat there and chatted into the night drinking Sambuca by lighting it on fire, putting out the flame, drinking it, then sucking the gas through a straw 3 times. It makes you very lightheaded.
Next door there was a theater with a small impromptu party going on with some of their artist friends. They were all complaining about the sad state of the world the way I imagine the famous American expats in Paris and Prague would do around the middle of the century. I tried to liven up the mood by grabbing the guitar from the stage and playing as well as I could given my state of sobriety. I was able to put a few chords together and then asked somebody to sing to the chords. It lightened the mood for a moment but then they told me the guy was singing about the sad state of the world.
As the sun came up, I wandered out to the beach, snapped a few shots, and then walked about a mile back to the University Dorms. I’d had a good but exhausting night and morning and needed to get 3-4 good hours of sleep for the 6 hour train ride to Warsaw to meet a friend. Checkout came early and I stumbled back into town to grab some breakfast and coffee.
Gdansk is an old city on the Baltic Sea in the north of Poland. Established by the Hanseatic people (who also built most of the Baltic states) in the tenth century, the city was formerly known as Danzig – not to be confused with the rock band. It was already several hundreds of years old when the Teutonic Knights turned it into a major port in 1308. Destroyed by the Germans in World War II, it was painstakingly rebuilt by the Polish who are rightly very proud of the city. It is still maintained well today. The attention to detail shows in the incredible architecture of the old city.
There are some really huge and impressive buildings here that transport you back to when they were originally constructed. The largest brick church in the world is one of those – it dates from the 14th century. These old buildings really stand out in the old town as they look so different from anything we have in the US and even in many other European cities which lost their Medieval buildings.
Two neighboring cities, Sopot and Gdynia are also quite old and picturesque. Sopot has been described as the Ibiza of Poland – for American readers, Ibiza is a Spanish island (in)famous for its nightclubs, ravers, wealthy European tourists and non-stop party culture. With tourists flocking to the seaside town in the summer months, the Tri-Cities (Trimiasto) area has become quite affluent.
Most of the tourists here are Polish, but there are also several groups of foreigners to avoid tripping on. Gdansk is a stop for some Princess Cruises so there are quite a few tourists roaming around who don’t know and aren’t terribly interested in speaking the language. I’m often mistaken for one of them. When I speak and order exclusively in Polish (it’s not that impressive, the words are written on the menus) I get English in reply. I suppose that’s to be expected, I am probably butchering the subtleties of the pronunciation.
There is an immensely tall tower in the church and I made the decision that I would climb to the top of it. It only cost 2zl to enter and 4zl to climb. Some sadist bothered to number the steps, which number over 300. Apparently the Polish tour guide has such helpful commentary as “at this point you’ll wish you’d quit smoking” and “here you’ll wish you’d gone to the crypt rather than the tower.” Yikes! The walk is quite strenuous, but even my overeating underexercised body was able to struggle through it. At the top you’re treated to a gorgeous view of the entire city and surroundings. Or I imagine you would be if there weren’t dozens of heads packed like sardines into a small observation deck. But I found that the worst part was the walk down the winding spiral staircase barely 3 feet wide. The gentle upward breeze carried the smell of hundreds of European tourists who have done strenuous exercise in an enclosed area in Summer.