A Polish Adventure
Poland is fast becoming one of the hip places to holiday, with cheap flights regularly available. Anna Docherty takes a mini trip and falls in love with the country and its edgy culture
As the anticipation builds for visiting an unknown foreign land, my brain often starts making its own mental images. These are usually a deconstructed, or reconstructed, mish-mash of images already gleaned from travel brochures, the internet and similar places I have been before. All the same, I enjoy this strange mind map of illustrations – mainly because they are usually a little off-the-mark and so give way to the inevitable and joyous line: ‘ooh, it’s different to what I’d imagined.’
But this time my brain fails me. It seems unable to build any coherent mental pictures in advance of my mini trip to Poland. Instead I have this: images of my favourite Polish sweet (cream fudge, don’t mind if I do); favourite Polish band (The Warsaw Village Band, thanks for asking) and, strangely, some beetroot (probably because, as a vegetarian, I plan on maxing out on borscht).
And so, arriving in Poznan, in the west of Poland, one sunny Thursday, I am pleasantly surprised by what I find. The country that rises up to greet me buzzes with life, character and a real sense of self. I am instantly charmed by it, but then I am notoriously easily charmed – in fact, I should probably stop making a habit of it. However, in this case it is utterly warranted. Poznan itself is one of the oldest cities in Poland and it has this pleasing mix of ancient architecture fused with an ultra modern social scene.
One of my first stops is the central square, which has an old-fashioned look and quiet disposition (think ancient cathedrals, horse-drawn carts and cobbled stones). This is juxtaposed with clattering live bands oozing from pub doorways and open-air bars with fancy beers lined up like soldiers. I also visit a tiny backstreet cinema and take in a ‘Guerrilla Silent Disco’, which is an open air show where the performers communicate with the audience via headphones. We are rapped to about Hitler (‘he was bad’), privy to the planting of a pink flower in a public park and encouraged to dance in the street. It is more than a little bizarre, but one thing is clear – this is a city unafraid to push the artistic boundaries and for that I salute them (but, alas, I ain’t dancing in the street for no one.)
The next day I move a little further into central Poland and a two-hour train ride takes me to Wroclaw. It is a slightly larger city, but with the same glowing spirit (and, yes, I am again charmed). Even the evening’s thunderstorm is epic and unforgettable. Every part of this country seems injected with colour – from the beautiful old painted houses in the central squares to the coral pink cherries being sold in alleyways. Then there’s me, in a green and purple floaty shirt dress, wading through puddles in my gold gladiator sandals – blending right in, naturally.
Wroclaw, like Poznan, has a rich and dynamic arts scene and it sometimes seems like the general artisitc rule of thumb is the more obscure the better. I see a ‘Three Penny Opera’ at a local avant garde theatre, watch a subtitled documentary in a packed-out cinema (where I have to crouch in the aisle and have people rest jackets on my head, it’s that busy). And then, on the evening of my last night, there’s a musical theatre show from a man called Sambor Dudsinski.
He rides into an open air bar on a big stainless steel bicycle, which resembles an old farming appliance that’s been tinkered with by fairytale elves. On, in, and around this magical machine he performs his own compositions of Polish poets work, as well as original lyrics set to traditional Chopin tunes. Woven through all this, like a mix tape made by Mother Nature herself, are wind whistles, bird tweets and gentle popping sounds. It’s a little piece of midnight magic and I slope off to bed with his twisted lullabies still chiming in my ears.
I may not have done the traditional tourist things, but I have unearthed a little pocket of the world that is lively, pushing artistic boundaries and has a sense of freedom and spirit often missing from mass tourist destinations. And so what if I didn’t visit any museums or climb to the top of the tallest building; I did take a ride in an olive-green single carriage tram and have a drink in a thunderstorm. And you know what, I reckon I came home with a better sense of this country, because I lived more like an artsy local than a tourist.
Most major airlines offer cheap flights to Poland and if you keep your eyes peeled it’s possible to grab a real bargain. We recommend Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) and Wizz Air (wizzair.com) who all fly from Scotland to various destinations in Poland.