The Uprising – visiting Poznan

The Uprising- Poznań, March 2013

poznan square
A guest post by Ben Gould.

Day 1 – Greeted by machines

A ticket to my weekend lodgings bought from the tourist desk for less than a quid leaves me prematurely beguiled. The number 59 to Kaponiera roundabout and I’m off. Two Frenchmen (I think) on the bus loudly converse in English about the approaching 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. An elderly woman beside me is reading a gossip rag. I can’t see anything through the fog stamped on the window save intermittent flashing light.

Poznań was a city I never envisaged seeing, and a few weeks prior didn’t know existed – an offhand remark from a chap at work informing me that it’s Poland’s fifth largest city, and formerly the nation’s capital, initiated a Ryanair bargain hunt. Krakow was tempting, and being in the throes of alcohol withdrawal syndrome the last time I was there, I subsequently longed to experience it in a different frame of mind/shape of body. When a set of return flights are a mere £40, though, a pauper opts for the cheaper option.

Roundabout: a glance at Google maps back home suggested a rudimentary, perfectly normal circle that cars go around; instead there are diggers, cranes and various other machinery ripping holes where the circle should be, and the darkness doesn’t help matters. This calls for an emergency, and I manage to rendezvous with my friend Lewis in the underpass, he having been here and checked in since the morning.

We spot an off-licence en route to the hostel, where after some deliberation I purchase a few bottles of Desperados beer and 1 litre of red vermouth, attempting in vain to converse with the proprietor concerning the awesome cheapness of his booze stock. He politely smiles, no doubt wishing I’d exit the shop and stop broadcasting the cocktail potential of my items.

I check in. The dwellings are post-modernistic, minimalist, with this silver sheen that only serves for me to draw futuristic parallels with the ‘machines’ at the roundabout – the progress of industry. James Cameron’s Terminator films are in my head with a slash of Kubrick’s 2001, and only vermouth will extinguish these thoughts. There are no souls in the hostel save us. No party music (it’s Friday evening), no mandatory screaming. This is unusual. I’m scared.

After pretty much drinking all of our bottles we order a taxi to the main square. A paradigm of the old – museums, taverns … architecture not being torn up by robots – it is a lovely sight, and immediately recalls to me squares I’ve visited from previous continental adventures. It has – much like Bruges, Tallinn and Prague’s old town centres – all the mod cons, in particular the bars that are calling our names.

The salient establishment is Medieval in interior, dimly lit, green ceilings with swords piercing out of them; it’s at least how I see it, though I am a little prone to hallucination whilst under the affluence … I mean influence (see what I did there?). It is disconcerting to not hear English voices in an alien drinking den; one feels paranoid that at any moment someone will take offence at your boorish non-indigenous ‘craic’, that you are indeed intruding. We proceed outside to track down and explore other bars, but are denied entry to their quaintly beer bosoms for I am slurring my words like a tribute to the Denzel Washington drunken couch scene in Flight (2012). No one will let us in. I think we go home at this point.

Day 2 – Museums, restaurants … bars

poland 1956 memorial poznanAfter a run – during which I get lost for 20 mins before realising I’m on an adjacent street – we eat breakfast in an exceptionally priced restaurant; even after 4 drinks with the meal it’s still under £20. There’s a film crew over the road – students most likely – filming a drama piece beneath some monuments. We edge out of the way in case we’re ruining precious tape, segueing to a museum about the 1956 uprising, a lovely little exhibit, your usual mandatory educational enclave for these kind of trips. It’s eerily bereft of humans, only a shy curator at the desk who refuses a tip, then ‘facepalms’ as I take a photo of Lewis sitting astride a plastic mock-up tank. Telling ourselves that in 1956 we’d verily be running from a batch of legit tanks instead of lusting for a decadent kamikaze of cocktails, we do feel a little bit grateful for our current modus operandi, and decide upon seeing another museum before hitting the sauce.

We arrive back in the square from the night before, via a newsagent where I buy some cigarettes and a bottle of Desperados, which I blithely drink from whilst slightly stumbling down the street. This museum is chock-full of paintings and nothing much else. The softly-spoken lady at the desk kindly asks us to remove our jackets, ominous for there are no other items on the wall hooks – without my cloak I would be lost and naked in Poland. We compare the portraitures to people we know, which is highly amusing, the staff curiously observing from a safe distance, praying we hastily depart.

We do so, venturing into a plush but tumbleweed-embracing cocktail cafe by the square, indulging in piña coladas and Mai Tais before gracing another bar, this one of the McDonald’s variety – it actually reminds me of McDonald’s. A McDonald’s in Texas. Not that I have ever been to Texas, though Tennessee is in that region. Kind of. I think. Too much bourbon in this saloon ….

On our return to the hostel we stumble across a Lidl and I’m overwhelmed with joy. I purchase some more beers and a bottle of vermouth for indoor drinking. Boozing back in the dorm, it occurs to us that we’ve not bumped into anyone who speaks native English yet, which really is a first. I’m also convinced that Poznań is an extended transit area of an airport. It’s a stopgap between more populous Polish delights. Pleasant yet not quite serene, normality approaching the perfunctory, ethanol is the crucial ingredient required to make the city that little bit transcendental.

We promptly polish off our supermarket findings, end up in a taxi, and then a series of bars, the only remaining narrative from any of them a nice relaxing tavern where we have an epic conversation about something I will one day remember, the exterior featuring a vexed local screaming “English c***s” at us. Another night for the books ….

Day 3 – The same as Day 2 but with a market

poznan market

It’s 3:00 p.m. and we’re just up. No gut-busting run – there is no energy. Even the shower is a trying test. We eventually scale the hostel walls and graduate to a stroll around the square that is now a Sunday market. We shimmy in and out of stalls looking for treats to present to loved ones, but see nothing really of interest save some very authentic-looking air rifles, the tables the most densely populated of the array.

Breakfast is eaten at about 5:00 p.m. Its denizens keep leaving the door open, the cold draught an annoyance forcing me to drink more. Yesterday’s cocktail bar really can’t be resisted after this. Sat inside, we get sniggers from the staff, surely mocking our ‘girly’ cocktail choices. The prices never cease to astonish me, to the extent that it’s the centrifugal aspect of discussion. I declare I could visit some parts of Poland every weekend instead of ‘partying’ in Edinburgh, and end up a richer man. It’s feasible.

A last joyous visit to Lidl as it’s the final night. Amaretto is purchased along with a coffee liqueur concoction. I can’t find the milk. The checkout operator is clearly exasperated with my checkout behavior (putting a carrier bag over my head), and spouts out information – perhaps vitriol – I cannot discern. I quickly move on. It’s dark now, my lovely Lidl bag masquerading as a beacon for any cowardly cyclists moonlighting on the pavement. Not that there’s anyone about; the place is a ghost town.

visiting PoznanIn our hostel dorm sits the first human we’ve come across, a Polish dentist in his 30s. He seems bemused at our chat, and then swiftly concerned as I get increasingly intoxicated with the emptying of the amaretto bottle. Lewis shows him a copy of a book I wrote; the gentleman is genuinely gobsmacked that the inebriated presence before him has ever written anything in his sordid, decadent life.

We say our goodbyes, as he’s working the next day. I’m not sure if we get a taxi or walk into town but it’s definitely cold either way, my cheeks a purple hue, hands shaking. All this research about trams and bus routes and it’s only walking or taxis we’re experiencing. It is indeed a frightfully small town, and we stick out like a sore thumb. BRITS: OVER THERE.

A very tall chap in a bar bickers with the patient member of staff pouring his pint. Aggressive, excruciatingly loud, I put ordering a drink on hold in case he overhears my accent. Sat at the table, peering out onto the deserted square, I register that all this drinking would be more logical if there was a community of travelling backpackers to legitimise the indulgence – peer pressure, I guess.

I never thought I’d be one for being successfully accosted by leafleting strip club staff but, well, it’s happened. When in Poznań. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to do so we decide to venture into this anachronistic decadence on the edge of this pious – beer excepted – old town square, and don’t emerge for 7 hours ….

Day 4 – Getting out of Dodge

poznan squareMy phone alarm clock generates a beeping noise I’ve never heard before in its existence and I try in vain to locate it. I finally do, almost tossing it across the room. It’s time to check out. A quick shower is necessary. I’m all over the place and nearly slip twice. Nothing will fit in my bag. I bequeath the hostel my underwear and some airport-purchased toiletries. That was nice of me.

We return to the restaurant we endowed our presence with on the Saturday. After that it’s the bus to the airport. Glorious duty free: Poznań-themed coffee-filtered cigars, and a cute lighter. And two miniature spirit bottles – Jack Daniel’s and Cointreau. And a bottle of Żubrówka. Yes! I have some of Poland to take home with me. We take off, departing what was essentially a three-day jaunt to an archaic multiplex of bars. It is not the milieu that remains, but the sheer temerity of the alcohol induced, and yes, it did facilitate some very gnarly chit chat. Farewell, Poznań. We may return one day, but Krakow must surely now beckon ….

by Ben Gould

 


This article was published in March 2013.


Backpackers Guide to Poland

Backpackers Guide to Poland

Poland backpackers guide

Warsaw Old Town, CC BY 2.0

NOTE – This article is over 5 years old and may contain some inaccurate info.

Basic Shizzle

Population: 38 million
Size: 310,000 km ² …Poland is pretty big, bigger than Britain and Italy for example and only slightly smaller than neighbours Germany.
Weather: Summers are decently warm (70-85°F), with the southern part of the country leaning towards the warmer side. Winters are cold (0-35°F), with temperatures dropping below that in the mountains.
Law: Unlike some European countries, drinking in public isn’t legal, however you will see many people doing so. The Poles like a drink and drink driving is a problem here despite the zero tolerance approach of the police. Most laws are pretty comparable to those in Western countries such as the US or UK.
Exchange Rate: As of Sep 2010, the Polish Zloty trades at £1=4.8PLN €1=3.96PLN $1=3.1PLN
Time: GMT+1 (Central European Time) same as most of continental Europe including Germany, France and Czech Rep.
Religion: Poland is a staunchly Catholic country and the previous pope John Paul II is a source of great national pride. Younger generations tend to be slightly less devout.

Vaccinations/Health

No vaccinations are strongly encouraged for Poland. However, for any traveler, Hepatitis A and B vaccinations are good to have. You can also ask your doctor to prescribe you some antibiotics to bring along just in case you get traveler’s diarrhea but you are no more likely to get ill in Poland than back home.

Getting In

There are loads of cheap flights to all around Poland from the UK. Fares can be as low as £5 with Ryanair when they have flight sales on (which is pretty much always). Coming from further afield it may be cheaper to fly into a major European hub and then catch a budget flight to your destination in Poland. Direct trains and buses link Poland to the neighbouring countries. If you’re coming from the Belarus or Ukraine the journey might be a slow one, but there are modern and fairly quick links to the other countries.

Border Crossings

Poland Ukraine border crossingPoland borders seven countries, the four in the EU (Germany, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Lithuania) are easy to travel to and from. The situation is a little more complicated for Ukraine and Belarus which are worth visiting if you want to get a better feel of what Communist Eastern Europe was like. Travelling into Ukraine (left:border crossing) is smoother than coming back due to the large numbers of people who smuggle cheap Cigarettes from Ukraine into the EU where their value increases tenfold. You don’t need a visa for Ukraine but you do for Belarus and Kaliningrad (a Russian outpost between Poland and Lithuania).

Best Places to Visit

Kraków is without doubt one of the finest cities in Central Europe and a fitting rival to Prague. What was once Poland’s capital, this Renaissance city is now left as one of the most enchanting cities in the world. Start your time there by exploring the Rynek Glówny (market square). This is the heart of the city. Go into the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) in the middle of the square and look at all the beautiful jewelry, furs, and trinkets the vendors in it have to offer. Then go to Kośćiół Mariacki (St. Mary’s Basilica) and check out its beautiful Gothic design. However, the main attraction of the church is the trumpet player that plays a historical tune atop the tower every hour of every day. Notice that the tune cuts off midway. Legend has it that the trumpet player in the 13th century was shot in the throat by attackers of the city.

Afterwards, go to the large statue of Adam Mickiewicz and sit down to enjoy some people and pigeon watching. This is the spot to feed pigeons and watch the excitement of everyone around. It’s very similar to what you may see at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Enjoy the rest of the day by exploring all the little shops and cafes of the artery streets of the Rynek. At the end of Floriańska street, you’ll see a wall/gate. It was made in the 14th century to protect the city from attacks. And behind it you will see a barbican, which was also a part of the fortifications of the city.

krakow

Enjoy another day in Kraków exploring the Wawel Castle. Make sure that when you get to the top of the Wawel cathedral’s tower, you place your hand on Zygmunt’s Bell and make a wish. Two more legends fill the castle: that the castle is one of the seven chakras in the world and that a giant dragon once inhabited a cave by the castle. Finish off your day at the Kazimierz district of Kraków. This is the Jewish district and is filled with intriguing cafes, clubs, two synagogues, a beautiful church, an eerie cemetery, and the best zapiekanki in the city (located in the new square of Kaziemierz). Another day go take a tour of the Collegium Maius of the Jagiellonian University. It’s beautiful inside and exciting to see where Nicolaus Copernicus went to school. End the day on top of the Kościuszko Mound to get an amazing view of the city.

There are three places to visit not too far from Kraków. One is the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps (Oświęcim and Brzezinka in Polish). Located about an hour and a half outside of the city, it is an eerie and surreal experience. You can still see the famous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign and the massive amounts of clothes, shoes, hair from all the people of the camps, along with the barracks and the train tracks that brought the people out there. Buses go from the main train station of Kraków very often and a shuttle runs between the two camps.

polish mountainThe second place outside of Kraków to visit is Zakopane, a mountain town. Again buses go from the main train station and it’s about a two hour ride. Enjoy good food and bargaining for fur, cheese, and much more on the street of Krupowki. Spend whole days in the mountain hiking. For those who enjoy mountains without hiking go up to Gubałówka to Kasprowy Wierch by funicular. Make sure to bring a light jacket when you go to Kasprowy Wierch as it gets cold up there. For a pleasant hike, go to Morskie Oko. A small bus will take you to the starting point of this hike. Finally, the last city outside of Kraków to visit is Wieliczka. The thing to see here is the huge salt mine. This is a quick day trip from Kraków, but it is definitely worth seeing.

If you are looking for a more metropolitan city, you must visit Warsaw, the nation’s capital. The city is rather new, because the majority of it was completely destroyed during WWII. It’s “Old Town” was carefully reproduced after its destruction and still offers an old charm to it. Look for the mermaid in the center of the Old Town. She is the symbol of Warszawa. Enjoy some greenery by visiting both the Wilanów Palace and Łazienki. Learn some history by visiting the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising and then enjoy the architecture of the city, such as the Opera House. Finish off your trip to the capital with a day at one of the malls, particularly Złote Tarasy.

If you have time there is plenty more to see. Gdansk on the north coast like Warsaw was completely destroyed in WW2 but has been restored to some of its old charm and is a nice stopping point if your heading across the Baltic Sea. Finally if Krakow is getting too touristy for you then you should definitely head to Wroclaw (which people are starting to call the new Krakow!). The city has alot to offer built on islands much like Venice or Amsterdam, it has a ridiculous amount of bridges and boasts buzzing nightlife every night of the week to please the enormous student population.

Getting Around

Trains and buses run between cities. To find your route use this website. You can also always go to any train and bust station and get information there. Most stations have at least one attendant that speaks English (usually someone younger). In Kraków, you get around everywhere either by walking or taking a tram. In Warszawa, you will find a plethora of buses and the Metro. Avoid cabs in Warszawa as the traffic is extremely awful and you’ll more likely get somewhere faster by taking the Metro. In Zakopane, you’ll be walking everywhere. However, there are small buses going from the main station that will take you to hiking starting points. At certain spots you will also see horse and carriage to take you up and down mountains.

Nightlife

If you are looking for the best nightlife, head to Kraków. This party city has more bars/clubs per square metre than any other city in the entire world. Most of the nightlife occurs underground below the architecture of the city. A great place to visit for a chill night is C.K. Browar, which is a local brewery on Krupnicza Street just outside of the Market Square. There you can get table tappers for a decent price. Some of the best clubs within the Market Square are Frantic, Prozak, MusicBox, Cień, Carpe Diem I and II, and Ministerstwo. If you really want to hang with the locals, visit Pod Jaszczurami in the Square. Finally, some of the most interesting and exciting nightlife exists in Kazimierz (theJewish district). If you are looking for a few drinks with a great atmosphere, visit Alchemia in the New Square of Kazimierz. If you are looking for some great all night dancing, head over to Łubu-Dubu and Kitsch (in the same building). Kazimierz also has a great Hookah bar called Flower Power. And every night in the Market Square stand attractive guys and gals with discount cards for their bars and clubs. Grab one and see where the night leads you. It saves you money and opens up the doors to new clubs.

Warsaw also has a great nightlife. The Old Town offers some cozy pubs but you’ll also find some great places down Nowy Swiat street. Platinum is a hot club with great music. Piekarnia is a hot spot and then party into the after-hours at Luzztro. If you are looking for a chill night, head over to Browarmia, a brew pub with a great crowd.

Outside of these cities, university towns tend to have an array of nightlife to choose from. Nightlife in cities such as Katowice can get a little rough at times and despite it’s history Poland has it’s fair share of right-wing white supremist skinheads who often go out looking for a fight so stear clear of bars that look a bit dodgy.

For an idea of what going out in one of the less-visited cities is like, see Ben Gould’s account of an alcohol-fuelled weekend in Poznan.

Local Lingo

English is fairfly widely spoken amongst the younger generation but most people over 40 will speak little if any English so it is necessary to learn a little Polish and it will definitely earn you a bit of respect of the locals.

Good morning/hello: Dzień dobry
Good evening: Dobry wieczór
Please: Proszę
Thank you: Dziękuję
Good-bye: Dowidzenia
Yes: Tak
No: Nie
How much does this cost?: Ile to kosztuję?
What time is the bus at?: O której jest autobus?
At what time is the train to ___ departing?: O której odjeżdża poćiąg do ____
Where is ……?: Gdzie jest…?
Chicken: Kurczak
Pork: Wiepszowina
Fish: Ryba
Bread: Chleb
Salad: Salata
Soup: Zupa
Milk: Mleko
Beer: Piwo
Water: Woda
Toilet: toaleta or WC (pronounced voo ceh)

Typical Backpacker Budget

As always the budget depends on you. Poland is cheaper than all of Western Europe but the gap is narrowing and fairly quickly so expect to see it moving down our world budget travel table.

Accomodation:
You can take advantage of midweek discounts in Krakow especially which is full of weekend vistors from across Europe. Roughly 7 Euros should get you a bed for the night in any of the major towns.

Food/Drink: There’s some groovy cheap Polish restaurants to be found serving up pirogi among other local favourites. Polish beer and vodka is exported all over the world and it is as you would expect cheap and of high quality in Poland. There’s a good mix of bars and clubs and the ones at the bottom end of the scale are dirt cheap by anyones standards.

Transport: Single tickets on the metro/trams are about a Euro and if you’re staying anywhere for a while then a month pass is excellent value. The express trains between Krakow and Warsaw and also Katowice and Warsaw (there’s not alot to see in Katowice!) are very quick, much quicker than any of the trains in Britain for example and cost about 90PLN with discounts for students/under 26’s. There are also slower trains and buses that link these cities and the rest of the country at a much cheaper rate. Poland is a major crossroads between East and West on the European rail map and there are sleeper trains you can catch to pretty much anywhere from Berlin to Kiev or Bucharest. It’s cheaper going east and it might be worthwhile getting an Interail pass if you intend to travel around alot.

Thanks to Ann Opalka for writing the main part and supplying pictures for this guide. If you enjoyed reading it then you can also check out her travel blog!

 


This article was published way back in October 2010.

Therefore some info may be out-of-date.