A Travellerspoint blog


Poland: Statue art

Observations of Poland

Poland seems to have an unhealthy obsession with sculptures. Every city has half a dozen artistic wonders. Obviously there is your national heroes, Kopernicus and JP2 but there might also be a gnome at tripping height outside a building. Animals are also popular, just a donkey on a street corner or a chicken eating pretend grain. It’s hard to say why. I think sculptors made their biggest comeback since Ancient Greece in Eastern Europe in the post-war period when a statue, a monument or memorial was placed on every corner.

It doesn't stop at statues. Monuments are a big thing from Eastern Bloc times. The Soviets loved a good, giant, ugly memorial with happy communists farming or just a big, omnipresent Lenin in a town centre. There are sculptures every where you look from confronting, skeletal sculptures honouring those who perished in WW2 camps to big dramatic, often morbidly styled pieces of bronze to honour the heroes of communism, great battles and the fallen.

With the fall of communism much of the socialist art was destroyed and many statues ceremoniously toppled as a symbol of the fall. Nowadays where a Stalin the size of a building loomed is something less confronting, a nice statue of a national hero, a fountain or in Prague they replaced theirs with a giant metronome.

It seems in Poland they couldn’t quite do away with this love of statue art. As throwback to old times perhaps they keep putting up statues but now, obviously they are not going to have a Stalin so how about puppy? Or a donkey? Or a gnome watching TV?

The types of statues Poland replaced its socialist art with:

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Some of the Communist era memorials that survived:

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 02:33 Archived in Poland Tagged art statues poland sculpture Comments (0)

Poland: Shoe-Polish-Polish-language

Observations of Poland

In Poland people would come up to me and ask me something in Polish. I could have a backpack and a camera around my neck and they would still ask because I don’t think they honestly believe that anyone else would ever be in their country.
On my Polish excursion outside the tourist cities even in the hostels most people were Polish. I had found non-Australian dominated lands. When I told them I was from Australia they would double take and gasp “Australia?..ooo wow” then as the lady I met in the Laundromat then followed that with, “koalas”. Australia is so distant a concept I think they are not sure it exists.

The thing with Poland is, they speak Polish and while English is the new big thing with youngsters, most Polish people speak only Polish. I speak only English. There is a mutual understanding that I don’t speak their language and they don’t speak mine. Therefore there are no expectations. Of course I am not going to know Polish. They could never expect me to. And I don’t expect them to speak English. Before ‘the fall’ they would never have even heard English spoken, even on TV.

In Germany you can either have a go in German and have them most likely speak back to you in English but if you expect them to speak English then they probably won’t and you feel like a Western twat who wears an ‘I speak English’ crown. If you ask them if they “sprechen sie English” and they do, they will often give you an offended of-course-I-can-we-are-educated-people look. This makes me anxious so I usually eat at the self-service bakery.

Surprisingly Poland is easy when it comes to conversing, buying tickets and ordering food. It’s not easy because Polish is easy, Polish is alphabet vomit. Sometimes I think I can’t see properly when I am reading a street sign then I just realise I can’t read it not because I have early onset glaucoma but because my brain refuses to read a word with that many z’s. It’s a little confusing navigating a city with streets like ‘Ul. Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego’ which runs parallel with ‘Ul. Wojciecha Bogusławskiego’.

There is no angst in approaching someone in Poland. I don’t have to risk offence. A conversation between me and someone else involves pointing, gesturing, words going back and forth. I can order a ticket with “Bilety. Poznan. Proszę” the equivalent in Polish of “ticket. Poznań. Please.” Easy. They will come back with a “Poznań. Yes”. And a “one?” and we have both exhausted our English and Polish respectively. I nod. They nod.

I had a whole conversation with two Polish men in a hostel about boxing. How? I'm not sure. The boxer Adamek is Polish. That I got from boxing actions and the word Adamek over and over and over. That night was a match between he and a Ukranian. I think they wanted me to lend them my computer to watch it.

Me sorry nie Polski, nyet, no. I don't know what you want.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 02:07 Archived in Poland Tagged language english polish Comments (0)

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.
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 Comments (0)

Poland: People from Poland are Poles not Pollacks

Observations from Poland

One of my daily travel activities is to people watch and guess nationalities. An Australian male under the age of 30 will most likely be wearing thongs and board shorts regardless of the climate or terrain for instance. Germans usually look like they are about to go hiking, often looking like poster children for Hitler’s Germany with Aryan good looks, tanned skin, blonde hair and usually being sporty like riding a bike. Americans always seem to be lost and are looking at a subway map and saying “Bob, are you sure this is right? Is this the yellow line because this train is red. Bob? I don't think we are going the right way. Look at that Bob, oh that’s really neat”.

What about the Poles?
At times Poland seems to be in a bit of a time warp, not stuck in terms of ploughing fields by hand though they probably still do in parts but it’s like some people are perpetually stuck in 1989, the momentous time of the fall of the Communism and the USSR which restored their independence. It is like some people are scared that if they get out of their acid wash jeans it all might have been a dream.
The Slavic men you can spot a mile. They nearly always have a conscription-style buzz cut a grandfather would be proud of. They still rock the jeans and a sports jacket look and for some reason still use a duffel bag to carry their change of clothes and the two beers needed for the two-hour morning train journey. Now correct me if I am wrong but the only people who use a duffel in this day and age are the ones carrying a sawn-off shot gun in it but it’s the bag size and style of choice in Poland. You still see the occasional mullet, parachute jacket and a lot of denim. Polish men are pissed 90 per cent of the day which is why they think they think it’s still 1989 and think they can get away with denim on denim. I am sure alcoholism contributes to most of this nation’s woes.

The Slavic women are steps ahead of their male counterparts. Oft fashionable, tall and modelesque, all the models these days are Ukrainian or Russian. There is however a segment of female society that seems to favour white jeans (after Labour Day) and denim jackets and I have spotted several scrunchies. The more press studs and diamontes the better, especially on the back pocket of your white jeans or the denim jacket. Also as a massive generalisation, also seem to play good tennis. The younger generations are 100% dressed from the racks of European chain stores like H&M so sadly I think it is a dying trend.

One thing that I always loved about Eastern Europe is the old men who will still wear a hat when the leave the house and a nice jacket. They look classy. The old ladies in Poland are always dressed nicely, with their hair combed back and wearing a nice pressed blouse. They are also partial to a red hair rinse which I cannot deny them; it takes years off ones look. I have been looked up and down so many times by Polish women. I think they think I am homeless. I think if I put my hat out I would pick up a Złoty or two.

The Polish people are coming out of their shell after all these years being ruled by arguably the two most unaffectionate, stern and reserved nations.
Now they are in the EU and EasyJet connects a stag party from Liverpool with the beautiful, quiet cobbled streets of a Polish city, Poland is on its way to losing every bit of the secluded, quiet life they once knew and eventually they will lose all their little quirks and just wear H&M and drink coffee at Starbucks like the rest of Europe.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 03:05 Archived in Poland Tagged people poland fashion style slavic Comments (0)

Poland: Back in the Habit

Observations of Poland

One thing you notice in Poland is that the Poles are mad for a bit of God. It is handy for getting around the town on Sundays because most people are in Church. But super, dooper Catholic. And not just at Christmas and Easter.
Pope John Paul II, everybody’s favourite Pope was Polish. He is my favourite Pope because he is the only one I know. I call him JP2 mostly because it makes him sound like a robot. I find great pleasure in finding JP2 statues and also any streets, squares, universities, libraries all named after the honorable JP. This can become difficult for navigation. I would not at all be surprised if Kraków passed a decree to retitle itself Jana Pawel Town. He was a great ambassador and a sign of great hope in Poland during their rough times so it is understandble adoration.

On this visit I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of nuns. In Kraków you cannot walk for tripping on a rosary bead. I had seen four my whole trip before I arrived in Wrocław. One was wearing a hoodie over her habit so I was somewhat satisfied but wondered why there were nun nones.

I love nuns. Being as I am, a firm believer…that Sister Act was one of the best movies of the early 90s, I just get a kick out of seeing nuns. It’s not that we don’t have them at home I am sure we do but they aren’t just kicking about, catching trams, wearing sneakers, listening to iPods or under the age of 70. Do you thing they just have like a pair of Adidas tracksuit pants underneath? How does their hat veil stay on? Bobby pins? Are they in a Motown choir? I have a lot of questions. Especially when I see a young one.

On my city walk I had made my way to an area where there were a few cathedrals but more importantly a park which I wanted to sit down in and low and behold nuns. Nuns aplenty. Every few minutes I would spot one and try to casually take a photo meaning I basically spent the better part of an hour stalking nuns. I am not sure if that’s allowed. But if they weren’t dressed like penguin people I would have to chase them with my camera.

Finally satisfied I had seen what I’d come to Poland for, pretty buildings, nuns and cheap vodka I was set to depart from Wrocław to Dresden. I had caught a bus to the station at 6:30am and this is not an hour I happily see in a day. As I was waiting for my train there it was, the highlight of my whole trip. Standing by the platform stairs was an older, slightly rotund nun carrying a rucksack. The bag was pulling her hat/veil thing back and she had it buckled around her waist over the rope belt-thing they wear. I didn’t know where to look; I didn’t know whether I wanted to give her a hug for amusing me so or topple her because she looked so back heavy to amuse me further.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good snap and be discreet. So I pretended to take a photo of the completely under construction, nothing to see train station, obviously a ploy and typically all I got was this one blurry one. Ah the things you do to get a photo of a nun going hiking.

One of my photos from my afternoon stalking nuns.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 12:25 Archived in Poland Tagged religion poland nuns catholic wroclaw Comments (1)

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