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Poland: Urban Fervour

Observations of Poland

Having come to Poland from Germany one of the more noticeable differences between the two countries is the train system. Obviously we all know the Germans are super freaks but it is a breeze arriving at a pre-announced train station with multiple well-signed platforms, electronic display boards and escalators compared to rolling in to a concrete platform (ie. slab between two tracks) that has a rusty sign with the station name. You have to push your nose against the window and look for the sign to see if it’s your stop.

The smaller stations are old concrete blocks, graffitied, dirty and smell like a hobo has marked his territory. You need to watch your step as you disembark so as to not trip in a pothole and roll back under the moving train. The area around the station generally seems like a great place to be murdered so you move through quickly and towards the old town.
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Poland has not quite got the tourism thing down. I have done my part, I know the Polish words for old, town, town square and centre all I need is a sign to point me to it. I get out at the train station hoping for an info point, a map or a sign saying “old town thatta way” instead nothing but urban fervour and I just stand there like a schmuck, weighed down with my bags looking into the sky for oldness and churchy steeples and then I just follow my nose, “Now if I was a Stary Rynek where would I be?”.

One thing I love about Europe is they keep their old cities and build their shopping malls, high rises and H&Ms in a new area they ultimately call new town. We come from a culture of tearing down and rebuilding, Australians love a good renovation project and I hate to think what would have become of these cities if they had to money and some funky young amateur DIYers to turn them into cosmopolitan warehouse apartments.
The centre of life back in the day was around the market square, nearly every Polish town has one. The square is 'ensquared' by beautiful often colourful buildings with a town hall and a market hall in the centre. These building have their origins as early as the 13th century in some places. Many had to be painstakingly restored after WW2. The Old Town Square in Warsaw, like much of the capital itself was completely flattened and rebuilt exactly the same as it once was.

Once you leave the old town for the new town you start to see the Poland on the grow the influence of consumerism, massive shopping malls, a coffee shop chain selling a frappe for the price of a whole meal. This is a country that had nothing in the stores 20 odd years ago, no food bar an odd potato. Now the young generation are lunching in cafes and texting on their phones. It must blow the minds of the older generation and not the old generation, literally those only 10 years older than these ‘fall of communism’ babies.

I love how in Europe people literally live in the city centre. People live in these beautiful old buildings that open onto the street. Behind a great old door is a flight of stairs with dozens of apartments hidden from the street view. People who were not lucky enough to own these old inner city apartments or outgrew them move outside the old town. Here you can tell that the money hasn’t been poured into restore the residential areas and while you get some beautiful old street front buildings that just need a bit of replastering and a new paint job you also get the old relics of communist era, the apartment block. Ugly square boxes row after row. It is amazing to see the contrast of the postcard town square and the urban high-risers with their satellite dishes and washing hanging from the windows only a few blocks away.

Poland is one of the only countries that you can still see how life was in the East. While the cities have grown and western corporations have moved in to take advantage of cheap land and labour there is a lot of Poland still unspoilt. You can still find the old kiosks to eat in. You have the big old buildings and the town square, painstakingly restored.

It’s different and that’s the appeal. Of course you can get McDonalds and Coke but they have traditional food. It is a place where English is only still establishing itself, one of the only places left in Europe where you still have an evident language barrier.
While Kraków was the first to explode on the map, the huge Polish expat community in the UK has meant an opening up of the whole country into the Low Cost Carrier flight network which is bring stag nights and all sorts of western horror into this quiet country.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 06:19 Archived in Poland

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