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Go to Poland

by Alex in Toulouse Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:22:27 AM EST

A very short "on the road" diary about my trip East (with a few pics).
Back from Poland yesterday.

I started my trip with the 3 day Open'er festival in Gdynia with a lot of big scene names like Manu Chao, Franz Ferdinand, Placebo, Basement Jaxx etc etc. But I only really saw the groups on the first day as after that we partied on the parking lot with Poles and Lithuanians we met. (which made me and my buddy think that next year we'll just take the parking ticket and skip the festival zone entirely).

The parking had thousands of cars, some people camped in tents in another section. We had a camping car so no need for a tent. Few cars were from the West, but there were a lot of Czechs, Russians, etc etc. And it was interesting to see all of Europe's Eastern youths (should I say central, Dodo?) speaking together in English.

Manu Chao was impressive, and his repeated "Thank you Polska" and repeated interpretations of Clandestino's line "Marijuana illegal" got him a lot of cheers from Poles raising fingers holding fat grass joints in the air.

A few pics, including of the beach nearby:

Then we went to a Baltic sea resort:

Then down to Toruni, headquarters of the Catholic church and the influential Radio Marija (and home to Copernicus):

Then on to Lodz, the most broken city in Poland that also has the best bar in the world, the Lodz Kaliska Klub (click on the outdoor and level buttons on top to see what it looks like):

Then on to the mountains, near Zakopane, through Krakow:

Then back to Lodz. Which is probably the biggest city in the world not to figure in the Guide du Routard guide book (they say there is nothing interesting to see in this 1 million inhabitant city).


My quick thoughts on Poland:

Poland is an unfairly depreciated country here in France. People imagine a broken down country, where people travel on horseback and have no electricity. I'm exagerating, but when I told friends here I was going to Poland, they all seemed surprised ("why don't you go to Portugal/Greece/Spain/Italy" (etc) ) It's a complex country, with varied landscapes and people.

To be trendy in Poland means to be a centrist (left wing is bad, right wing is bad). Most hippie girls and rasta boys we met said they went to church at times, but - and this is another trendy thing apparently- do not appreciate the church's meddling in political affairs. I also had many conversations on Communism and Capitalism with many youths. They accused France of being too communist. My take was that in both systems 10% of the people exploit 90% of the others - but capitalism is probably better because you can make it out of the 90% and into the 10%. Generally. Is that good? Don't know. But I did see some positive aspects of communism in Poland (public transport for example).
And a lot more wild advertising than in France (see top picture in this diary).

Most of the hypermarket distribution outlets are French, I have no idea why (ie. Carrefour, Bricomarché etc):


Drinking seems to be generalized. Weddings rarely have wine or beer, generally only vodka that even the grandpas will drink. I've also never seen so many drunken blondes in bars in my life, which is frankly amazing.


None of the youths I met (and I met heaps) understand why the twins' party won the elections. They are disappointed to have such a right-wing conservative bunch in control. Here is a picture of a political party ad you see all over the place (a party in the government coalition), it reads: "family work poland", which reminds me of Vichy's slogan.


In the Ruda neighbourhood of Lodz, a broken down, social case/alcoholic part of town, there are graffitis everywhere by the town's two football team fans. Each time one fan writes the initials of his team, a fan from the opposite team writes a Star of David on top of  it. So it seems that stupidity exists in Poland too.


Finally, a lot of the socialist buildings look like French social buildings. Except these are in the center of town and are perceived as good/high standard. Which means it's not the architect's fault in France - but we already knew that. Also to be noted, all the workers on highways for instance are white.


Ok I'll write in more detail later, I need to get back to Frenchness for now. In the meantime I quickly went out and bought a Polish language CD-Rom today so that I can learn the language before going back this year or next, so that I can seduce the barmaid of the Lodz Kaliska Klub, who is my idea of the perfect woman.

When I last stood in front of the Lodz Kaliska barmaid at closing time and couldn't find any words to tell her, she smiled and said "see you tomorrow night" and I answered "thank you Polska" with both arms raised in the air.

We were something of an attraction there, outdrinking some of the Poles. I highly recommend the best vodka in the world, the "Jouandkova Goshka".

by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:32:54 AM EST
It was also my first experience of an early rising sun. Which is kind of a problem when you're drinking at the late hours of the night. If you leave a pub at 5am, it's already full day time outside (the sun rises around 3). Which is really confusing.
by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:35:40 AM EST

You should come up here a summer, preferably around midsummer. Then you would feel the power of the lack of darkness (or something). And there are a lot of drunken blonds of all genders.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 09:49:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yo, Alyosha! How hot was it in Poland? Did you notice?

Nice pictures. Nice to have you back.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:41:01 AM EST
Dobre dien afewski!
Actually it was very hot in Lodz (where I was longest). A good 37 degrees like here in Toulouse. Who would have guessed huh? I met my brazilian neighbour when I was coming home with my luggage, and he said "hey wow you're all tanned, where were you huh?". I said Poland. He said "oh? you went to ski or something?". Ahhhh these Southern Hemisphere people, ahhh.
by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:45:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the heat and the vodka (and the best bar in the world), made me conclude that if I spend too much time in this town in summer, I'll end up with only one word left in my vocabulary: ouch (which is how Lodz is pronounced, but the French way, not the American way of pronouncing "ouch").

For some reason this joke made a lot of Poles laugh.

by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:48:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"if I spend too much time in this town in summer," you might end up with the barmaid... Now that's a thought.

No picture of her on the club site, pity.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 11:53:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Olek would be the standard diminutive here, not Alyosha. The closest diminutive to Alyosha would be Ales, pronounced Alesh. To make life more fun there's a vocative case in Polish so Olek, but 'Yo Olku'. And while we're speaking of Alex/Olek/Ales it's Dzien dobry, not Dobry dzien. Glad you're enjoying Poland btw. Though why you're hanging out in Lodz... (pronounced Wooodj btw).
by MarekNYC on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 12:28:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yo, Olku as in Yo, Blair?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 12:33:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yo, Olku as in Yo, Blair?

 'Yo, Blairze' if you apply the vocative to Blair. Which in Polish would be pronounced something like Blezhe.

by MarekNYC on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 01:53:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which looks like "bleh", which is about right.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 02:02:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, for several reasons:

Because the first person to introduce my group of friends to Poland was a Polish person from Lodz (who lived in France for some time, whom we mingled with for some time here, so speaks perfect French). Now he's married, with a kid, and is a local candidate for some small centrist party, in Lodz.

Because it has the best bar in the world.

Because when a tourist guide says "don't go to wooodj" it makes us feel like going there.

Because it's central, from there you can go to the sea, the mountains, the old towns, the capital ...
(and I want to add for the next time I go there: because of the level zero barmaid at Lodz Kaliska - well one of them, there are several)

As for why other people are going there, Ryan Air recently opened a line from London to Lodz (and Krakow too, and maybe other towns in Poland), and it's brought its number of low-fare tourists. We only crossed a few English tourists in Lodz however. They were at the window of their first floor room in the Grand Hotel on Piotrovska Avenue, listening to music extremely loud, totally drunk (on tequila apparently, from what they were screaming), and insulting everyone passing by in the street. The papers also had something about a group of English tourists in Krakow who insulted everyone in a bar, pissed in all the glasses. Sometimes I wonder if charter flights are really that good for tourism ... I'd rather have the trendy/sophisticated English tourists come to Lodz than the abominable ones. Just like I'd rather have people like myself go to Poland than even more arrogant French tourists who'd spend their holidays criticizing everything and acting superior.

by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 12:42:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Because when a tourist guide says "don't go to wooodj" it makes us feel like going there."

I've got your next vacation spot!  You'll be taking a road trip on Highway 50 in Nevada.  From a Life magazine article called The Loneliest Road (quoting the AAA guide):

"It's totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don't recommend it. We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they're confident of their survival skills."

Great diary and it's good to have you back, Alex!

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 02:22:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hehee Izzah' !
maybe you could write a guide of all the places not to see, i'll buy it
by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 02:28:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the great motorcycle trips in the states is the trip across Nevada and Utah on 50 if you get decent weather, which you often do.  It is across the range and basin portion of the desert and you go through the little towns of Fallon, Austin, Eureka, Ely, Delta and so on into Grand Junction across some of the most open land you can find.  I like to stop the bike out on top of one of the ranges and just sit there and listen to the silence.  You can see about forever in all directions.

Next time in Europe I'd love to go to Poland.  Sounds great.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 07:38:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh. Regarding routes with "don't go there, nothing to see" recommendations, Alex could find one close: the highway from Metz to Calais...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 06:21:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More anecdotes:

I met one homosexual in Poland. The cousin of the wife of our friend in Lodz (who is the reason why we went there in the first place). He's open about being a homosexual in closed circles, but is totally against homosexual rights in any circle. Which made me wonder whether this is the trend in Poland (ie. that gays are not even at Stage 1 of emancipation). But I did also see a number of girls kissing in the Lodz Kaliska klub.

by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 12:11:14 PM EST
Given the recent actions against homosexuals in Russia and Latvia, I think this part of the world missed the boat of progress that pulled out of our harbors in the 60's-90's.  Poland has the added joy of being conservatively Catholic, and we know how the Catholics feel about "Adam and Steve"...

So they have a ways to go.  But there is hope. Apparently there is an active gay subculture in Moscow now.  Just ten years ago I would have told you there are no gay people in Russia, meaning no one was "out."

Girls kissing in clubs does not count, of course.  So long as sexual deviancy accomodates the wants and needs of straight men, it's generally acceptable, in the right venues.  Girls kissing in clubs are also usually not identifying as gay.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 06:09:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the diary!

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 12:59:12 PM EST
I have another colleagen who told me some fine stuff about the Polish countryside...lots of beautiful lakes...but also about some cool towns. Lodz sounds fun! Welcome back off the road, alex, and thanks for the pics!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 01:28:49 PM EST
They still have pretty girls left in Poland? I thought they'd all immigrated over here!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 01:50:31 PM EST
Places to go:  
Wroclaw - not many tourists, very pretty restored old town, crumbling very nice nineteenth century  German bourgeois architecture (do not wander around those areas at night). Good student/alternative scene.

Lublin: Pretty unrestored crumbling old town. No tourists. Close to Zamosc which is a tiny beautiful Renaissance town in the middle of nowhere built by one of Poland's big aristocratic clans back in the day. It's also close to the mountains in the southeastern corner of Poland which are quite nice and empty - very different from the sort of mini alps flavour of the High Tatras. Lots of villages with the traditional local style architecture as well.

And if you like nineteenth century industrial towns frozen in time with no redeeming features except how about a tour of the Upper Silesian industrial area.

Warsaw - don't bother.  Gdansk - very  touristy, nice restored old town.

by MarekNYC on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 03:14:41 PM EST
I almost went to Wroclaw because one of our Polish female friends (ahhh, the allure of women) was going there for a film festival. According to her it's a great town.

Let me add this to your interesting list:

Places to go:

- Oswiecim (we passed by it twice, but the people I waw with had already been and we were tight on time so it will have to be next time, but I think it's a trip one must make)

Places not to go to:

- Lodz (I can't let any of the men -or women- come anywhere close to my favourite barmaid)

by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 03:31:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another note about my trip:

After 3 weeks away from home and on the road, you get disconnected from the news. You know that Israel is fucking around, that people are getting blown up in India, that there is a heatwave in France, a tsunami in Java, a football final lost to Italy - but you just don't care (you know from the occasional spell on the internet or the occasional dated Le Monde or Libération paper you find in some stores). It's spooky but not that bad a feeling either.

ps: about the world cup, I watched the semi-finals in a place called "Truck Stop" by the German highway (we stopped to watch it, and then drove another few hours before parking the camping car somewhere for the night). The crowd was, well, big truckers. And this very fat one seated next to us who kept on saying something like "auschspitz" (or aufspitz). Anyone know what it means?

The final was watched by the Baltic sea, in a sea resort pub packed with pro-Italian Poles. We yelled louder than them, cheered when Zidane hit Matterazzi, and booed when Italy lifted the cup. Then I got drunk and didn't find the way back to the camping car (it was parked in the middle of a forest). So I stumbled upon a group of Polish youths (maybe a dozen boys and girls on holiday) and I spent the night talking with them and making them taste French alcohol. I don't remember much, but the next day two of these guys were at the camping reception, in front of my French friend and a Polish female friend of ours (waiting in line). And they were saying to the receptionist (translation by our Polish friend): "wow there was this incredibly drunk Frenchman yesterday who was on fire. he couldn't find his camping car or his dog and got in trouble with the security guys, are there any other French tourists here, they're wild?". And the receptionist said "yes, right behind you". The guys were sort of embarassed. I saw them a bit later in the day (their tents were actually 10m away from the camping car, which I had found again in the night to get the French booze back to their tent) and could only distinguish one or two faces (which was embarassing, so I chose to just say hi to everyone I met on the camping just to be ok). They were leaving that day and when they left they chanted when passing us by "Alex is the best! Alex is the best!".

And it made me think that it made sense. Normally in France we hallucinate when this hallucinatingly drunken Polish guy crashes a party. This time it was the other way around.

I was a bit embarassed about that, because I had mainly drunk Jouantkova Goshka, which can be lazily prounounced by some Poles "Geontkova", which is exactly like saying, in French: "I'mashamedkova". My french friend told me this was normal, this was a brand of vodka that made you feel ashamed the next day.

(sidenote: the trouble with the security guys, apparently, as I was told, was because I was calling my friend's dog too loud, so the security guys came - but they got angry with me not because of that but because I kept on saying to them that I was sorry for not being able to speak Polish)

by Alex in Toulouse on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 05:12:22 PM EST
My french friend told me this was normal, this was a brand of vodka that made you feel ashamed the next day.

I love the way you tell stories, Alex...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 06:12:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome back Alex! Sorry the lovely barmaid is so far away. Good luck with the Polish classes.
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 08:21:23 PM EST
Great story and nice pictures! I love the one of all the tents.

Next time you can't do without Lodz ;-), and if you find yourself without benefit of a camping car, you might want to look into Eurolines [overnight coaches to destinations all over Europe].

A friend of mine told me about this a few years ago. My first thought was 'yuk', but he says it's perfectly fine. At the time he travelled regularly from Paris to Prague, for 45 euros round trip. Hard to imagine a cheaper way to go.


A tidbit for those who like to travel to off-beat places, hidden europe is an imaginative publication run by two women who scope out unusual travel destinations and write about them; many in Central Europe, the Balkans and such.

Pdf of topics covered in back issues.

by cigonia on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 05:24:35 AM EST
Actually the camping car is always available because it belongs to my friend. But should I want to go without him I can always take the bus. I did come back by bus (my friend stayed on to go to Prague), but only to Paris (24 hours) as the Lodz-Toulouse bus was 40 hours (I preferred to go to Paris and take a TGV from there to Toulouse, for the same price too).

Eurolines can be fun when you meet new people. But you can also get unlucky and get seated next to a fat person who stinks. And since your leg space is limited, it can also be hell. There are toilet/cigarette/shop stops every so and then (1h30-3h) so it's not that tough. I passed 4 borders on the way back (German, Dutch, Belgian, French), and the most annoying/tedious passport controls were at the French border.

by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 05:34:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Glad to have the practical info re Euroline travel.
by cigonia on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 02:02:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another anecdote (they come as I remember them):

I saw a lot of "Stomalogia/Stomalogist" signs in Poland. And thought "wow, Poles must really have bad stomachs, which is not surprising given how much they drink". Until someone told me this meant "dentist".

by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 06:37:18 AM EST

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