Poznan, Poland

Poznan is a Polish city located midway between Warsaw and Berlin.  For most of the year 2009 I called this place home.  Not for work or school but just because I wanted to try a different Polish area after living in Warsaw.  L1040212.JPG

Usually I hate flat areas but I fell in love with Poznan straight away, and it is perfectly flat.  The highest point is a man made ski hill by lake Malta which is about 15 meters high.  Speaking of artificial places, Lake Malta is a man made rowing lake.  So two of Poznan’s “natural” attractions are man made.  L1040182.JPG

Most of my days were spent walking around the city.  Back streets, front streets, side streets.  I probably covered every square meter of the city by the time I left.  My favorite area, as is everybody’s, was the rynek.  Rynek is Polish for main square.  Dozens of pubs, discos, cafes and restaurants crowding for space.  I would stop here for a lovely Polish beer every once in a while.  Tyskie I highly recommend.  If you are of the fairer sex or dislike the taste of beer you can order one with raspberry juice which completely changes the taste to uber delicious and sweet.  Uber is a carryover from German since we are close to the border.  Old Town Center 1.JPG

Now I would only stop at the rynek for a drink every few days.  Then I met an Irishman and everything changed.  I suddenly started spending more time in the rynek than at home.  It would always start as let’s just meet for a cheeky pint outside under the sun.  Then one more please(jedno piwo prosze), and one more, and one more.  Then we would say we really had to go and walk away.  After three blocks I would turn around and right as I’m stepping back into the rynek I see the Irishman coming from the opposite corner.  We throw back a few more and then seeing as we had nothing going on for the night continue into the pub and then perhaps the disco.  Polish discos are the only discos I like in the world.  They are the same as anywhere else but I always enjoyed everything in Poland more.  L1040204.JPG

The Irishman being gay took me to an underground gay disco which was also fantastic.  The girls were friendly since all the guys weren’t trying to grope or take them home and all the guys were a hoot, even after I told them I wasn’t gay.  Sadly I found out that night that Poland is not friendly to all people as the disco had a bolted gate that the bouncers would only open for people they knew.  A stain on this otherwise beautiful country.

When not being kept busy with the Irishman I would continue my walks.  Cytadela Park was one of my favorite locations.  A beautiful and large park with a soldiers cemetery(Russian and Polish) and a military museum.  In the summer people come and lay out or have a picnic on the large grass fields.  I spent many a days walking those paths. I also went to an Easter Mass here with friends where tens of thousands of people filled the fields echoing an archbishop as he spoke.  Scariest day of my life. Grass field in the park.JPG

Stary Browar is the old brewery turned into a fantastic mall.  The most beautiful mall I have ever seen.  It was just a five minute walk from my flat so I spent quite some hours just admiring the building.  Inside the mall is split into two separate areas which they decorate beautifully for holidays.  A must see while in the city.  Stary Browar 1.JPG

Out by Lake Malta is the zoo.  This is a fantastic place thanks to the EU.  Whoever was in change spent the money well.  This might be the nicest zoo I have ever been to.  It feels like a park with superb and large enclosures for the animals.  The entry price is also extremely low for the quality of it.  It is a very long walk to the entrance from the nearest tram stop but there is a zoo train.  It is actually a mini train that goes from the tram stop to the zoo entrance.  An extra cost but worth it as it goes along the edge of Lake Malta so the views are nice. You will probably catch some rowers practicing on the lake .PoznanZoo36.jpg

I could talk about Poznan for hours as it is one of my favorite places but I will leave it off with a picture of Willa Wonkas factory.  I loved walking past this place as it felt so creepy and reminded me of the movie.  I never could decide if it was abandoned or not.  WillyWonkaGate2.JPG

Torun, Poland

Torun is a beautiful town near the middle of Poland.  I enjoyed the few months I got to spend there, even though most of it was Winter.  Let me begin with why I went there.  The truth is, I have no idea.  I guess I got bored in Poznan and wanted to try somewhere new.  Maybe I threw a dart at a map or perhaps somebody told me about Torun, but no matter.  Somehow I ended up living in this lovely place.

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I rented a very small flat one street from the rynek(mainsquare).  My neighbor was supposedly Copernicus but I walked a lot every day and never saw him, so it is probably a lie to get tourists, similar to every church having a piece of the true cross.  I should let it be known here that Copernicus was from Torun. And there is your fact of the day.

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I did not work while I was living here so spent most of my time walking the streets looking around, investigating the quality of the cafes and pubs once the cold had chilled me to my bones.  The river was a fantastic place for a walk.  The view on one side of the walk was a white sheet of ice while on the other was the brown and red of the old city walls.  It is a majestic sight and I highly recommend trying it once.

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Most of the stories I would tell would be quite boring for a reader.  Trying different restaurants and cafes, walking to Auchen or the mall(Which are a long way from the rynek), hanging out in the rynek and shopping streets, seeing the old buildings, walking in the non-tourist areas, having my Russian girlfriend come visit me.  But there are two stories that I believe will be interesting enough to tell, or at the very least they are interesting enough for me to write and conjur up the memories once again.

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On one of my early days in the town I went to a small cellar pub just a few doors down from my flat.  I have never been a shy or uncomfortable person and therefore have never been ill at ease going out by myself.  I actually prefer it as it is a great way to meet people as this story will demonstate.  I was enjoying a beer and people watching in the pub when a group of five people came and sat down with me.  One girl, Dominika, told me that the bartender said she should sit with me and make me comfortable since I was a foreigner.  I guess the bartender and her were friends.  So we started chatting and became friends(I’m a very likeable person and not just a looker).  We weren’t attracted to each other but that made going out and sightseeing together much easier.  We talked, drank tea and coffee, and just had a jolly good time.  I guess I was a sort of attraction in Torun as she enjoyed showing me off, which was fun.

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Later I also had another wonderful experience resulting from my going out alone.  This time was New Years Eve.  I was walking around trying to find somewhere to have a few drinks before watching the fireworks.  I settled on a pub in the rynek.  Again it was a cellar pub and I was the first guest.  Not another soul apart from the bartender.  I was offered a menu with two choices, which were in Polish so I didn’t understand and the bartender didn’t speak English.  At this point I should have noticed something was not right as pubs do not usually offer menus with only two choices.  But I was oblivious and just smiled and asked for a beer(which I could say in Polish) .

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The hours passed on and the pub got quite busy.  Finally a gentleman came up to me and tried to ask me something.  When I said that I don’t speak Polish he responded in very good English, asking how I could work for(some company that I don’t remember) without speaking Polish.  It turned out that I had crashed a companies New Years party.  In that wonderfully receptive Polish style I was welcomed not as an intruder, but as a guest of honor.  I started to get drinks for free and everybody wanted to talk to me.  I was a god among men.  The night finished off with the watching of a spectacular fireworks show and receiving many invitations out in future.

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My few short months in Torun will be forever imprinted in my mind as some of the best in my life.  I have nothing bad to say about the town.  Even the biting cold is a warm and cherished memory.

An Overview of Poland

Poland is my second favorite country on the planet.  That might sound strange, especially to a Pole, but it is the truth.  My reason for this is not a sound one based on any tangible facts, it is merely because I always felt comfortable and at home while there.  This opinion is not based on a weekend or summer holiday in the country, but on living there for about two years in multiple areas.

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As this is an overview I will stick to generalities of the country, with individual stories of the cities and villages to come later.

First off, Poland is a very large country but is not a melting pot like Germany.  In my two years there I cannot remember ever seeing a black person outside of Warsaw.  So it is highly Slavic, which is fine by me as I love Slavic women.  And that takes me to my first love of the country, which is the people.  I have already mentioned that the women are beautiful but beyond this they dress well and are good with cosmetics.  I have found that only Russian are better are showing themselves off and are the only people on the planet trained from birth to walk in heels.  But beyond the superficial beauty I found them all intelligent, educated, fun, and interesting.  Some of the best nights of my life were sitting in a pub drinking wine, laughing and having interesting conversations with a Pole.  And I do not mean only the women.  I also had some male friends that were the same.  This is a huge difference from Russia where I found all the men to be worthless drunks.  So the people are a huge attraction.

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My next love was the safety.  I have never felt so safe before.  I would walk anywhere by myself at any time of day or night.  Many times after leaving the pub I zigzagged my way through dark streets and never had an issue.  There was only once that I felt uncomfortable and turned around and that was a street out of the center in Krakow with a few locals hanging outside  their BMWs in a group.  For comparison there were many places I would not walk in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and all other US cities.  I never felt safe or comfortable in Hungary, and I didn’t even like going out alone in the daytime in Russia.  Maybe I was just lucky, but I tell it like it is.

Here is my biggest love of Poland.  The history!  I am a fan of military history and Poland has it is spades.  Yes, Hungary has an interesting history as well but the Turks don’t interest me near as much as the Nazis.  The Polish history is facinating.  I couldn’t get through their history books fast enough.  The only reason I liked Warsaw was that every corner of the city has some mark from the war.  Walking the streets it would take me hours to go a few blocks as I would stop and read all the plaques and touch the walls.  I dreamed of the Warsaw Uprising when I slept.  It was all so magical.  I’ll sure the locals would call the memories by a different name but for me it was incredible.  I also know of no other country that didn’t exist, then re-existed, then didn’t exist again and so on.  I recommend you read some history books about the country before visiting or while riding the trains around.

The ryneks! These are the main squares.  Warsaw doesn’t really have one but all the other cities do.  Full of restaurants, clubs, and pubs, they are beautiful areas that fill with people sitting outside in the summer.  I used to spend hours sitting outside with my friends drinking beers and watching people walk by.  It is darn near my idea of a perfect city center.

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Should I continue?  I think not.  I try to keep these posts short so you don’t get bored, but do not think for a moment it is for lack of material.  But I will discuss some of the problems with Poland.  Oh yes, it has problems just like anywhere else.   It is so religious that it is scary and that holds them back a bit.  They are homophobic, racist, etc.  Gay bars have to lock their doors and only admit people they know(My best friend in Poland is gay). The government is poorly run, though they have improved by leaps and bounds lately.  In the winter the whole country smells of coal, but I actually enjoyed the smell, plus I don’t mind losing a few years of my life.  I think we all live too long anyway.  And I think that is about it.  I’m sure for residents there are more complaints but I don’t really have any.  It is a wonderful country to visit and just icing on the cake if you enjoy military history.  In later posts I will discuss my experiences in the individual cities  where I lived, inlcuding Warsaw, Krakow, Torun, Poznan, and Wrolcaw.