Poland is buzzing with culture
Look beyond the divided political atmosphere in Poland and you find a country filled with culture, cuisine and creativity.
There’s so much to be positive about in Poland. Politics aside, the country has a huge amount going for it and it is often the foreigners who live here or visit Poland who see it much more clearly than Poles themselves. Poland regularly plays host to some of the world’s biggest bands, sporting events, and other hidden gems. The country is embracing its history and culture, with museums, festivals, and tourism all designed to show it off. And it appears to be working – budget airline Ryanair has announced it expects Poland to be Europe’s fastest growing airline market in the next five-to-10 years.
Music to my ears
So, what will tourists find when they get here? And why should Poles be more excited about their own country? Every country loves music, it’s true, but Poles really love their music – and bands reciprocate. British band Bastille picked out the country after their recent world tour, saying they are “constantly overwhelmed” by the atmosphere and the fans here. Now regularly scoring headliners as big as those at world famous festivals such as Glastonbury, the Open’er Festival in Gdynia is becoming one of Europe’s biggest and most essential music events. Complemented by other popular summer festivals such as Orange Warsaw, Woodstock Festival in Kostrzyn nad Odra and OFF Festival in Katowice, as well as less mainstream fare such as Audioriver – a three-day electronic music festival in Płock – concert-goers are not short of options or quality if they stay at home. The festivals not only attract revellers from across Poland – increasingly backpackers through central and eastern Europe make Poland an essential stop off point to join the party.
The way to someone’s heart…
But it’s not just music that has got Poland buzzing. The country’s passion for food is spreading. A popular celebration of Polish cuisine takes place in Kraków every August with the city’s Pierogi Festival. One of Poland’s most famous foods, the little white dumpling comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and fillings – including chocolate. And bigger players are sitting up and taking note, with UberEats (an offshoot of ride-sharing app Uber) one of the latest international food crazes to launch in Warsaw. The services complement the growing culture in Poland to enjoy eating out as well as home cooking. Or, you can choose a mix of both. New service Eats Me is just one of many such small companies which have sprung up to bring those who are too busy to prepare their own food a fresh, ready-to-eat meal, delivered daily. Locals highlight a change in culture during the last decade as eating out becomes more regular for Polish families.
As an Englishman living in Poland, popping back to my home country, seeing the uniformly “perfect” (read “flavourless”) fruit and vegetables, it’s hard to revert back to the supermarket culture there – packaging, “fresh” from New Zealand, and ready-meal aisles. In Poland, ready meals are virtually impossible to find. Instead, the markets are packed out with fruit and vegetables that are actually fresh, and most importantly – seasonal! From late May until early July you can gorge on fresh strawberries. In June you can eat plums to your heart’s content. In August and September it’s time for all different types of apples. And who can resist the sweet, flavourful little garden-variety cucumbers available throughout the summer months? As an added bonus, put them in salted water with garlic cloves, and you have the moreish ogórki małosolne.
As the days shorten and the nights draw longer in Autumn, forest mushrooms make their appearance on the dining room table, and in winter you can have all the fruits and vegetables you enjoyed in the summer – but pickled, often by a beloved babcia or ciocia. At the market, the bread is fresh, the meat is fresh – it’s all fresh. Who would want packaged, processed microwaveable ready meals when you have hearty, healthy ingredients like these?
Getting a move on
On the sporting front, Poland is no stranger to success on the field, tracks and slopes, but it’s only recently become a country organisations feel able to look to host events. After successfully co-hosting the 2012 European Championships with the Ukraine, UEFA has handed Poland the sole-hosting responsibilities of this year’s European under-21 football championships in June. Four cities will welcome teams and fans from all over the continent to Lublin, Kielce, Gdynia, Bydgoszcz, Kraków, and Tychy – some of these cities showing themselves off on the national and international sporting stage for the first time. It’s an opportunity that must be grabbed, and if successful, will have football fans returning to countries across Europe telling their friends and family all about what Poland has to offer – just as it happened after EURO 2012.
Too cool for school?
And Poland is becoming hip. As a young Australian visitor recently put it after traveling from Berlin, Warsaw is “edgier” than Germany’s capital, he said. Praga, one of Warsaw’s districts on the right bank of the Vistula river, until a decade ago had the highest crime rate in the city – and suffered from a bad reputation across the country. Now the UK-based Culture Trip website, has described the quarter as a “must see” – up there with areas of London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona, and boasting some of the best clubs in the city. Staying along the river, where else can you enjoy beach life in the heart of a major capital? The area is full of life with bars, music, and sports – groups of friends just relaxing, and even bicycle tours through the wild areas that line the riverbank. And Praga is not unique. In cities large and small across Poland, there’s a vibrancy in the air that foreigners seem to pick up immediately. But it’s not only happening in the cities. Poles have an affinity to the countryside, and why wouldn’t they? The land has a fantastic coastline and beautiful landscapes – awesome mountains, great lakes, deep forests, hidden valleys and farms. Poles like to take advantage of the opportunities there are to go cycling, walking, skiing and sailing. And culturally, the Polish countryside contains some gems – churches, castle ruins, palaces. There’s so much to see and do.
Poland is a country with a story to tell and history plays a large part of the fabric of the country, which is reflected in the new-found quantity and quality of its museums – the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and the National Museum in Warsaw paint the story of Poland’s past. Across the country, regional history museums such as the Silesian Museum, the Kraków History Museum, and Brama Poznania ICHOT, tell the many stories that make up the rich historical heritage of this great nation. It’s not just history. The Copernicus Science Museum in Warsaw is internationally recognised as one of the best science museums in Europe, and has been praised for its interactivity. There are museums marking famous creations. Toruń’s Live Museum of Gingerbread, Kraków’s Stained Glass Museum and the Museum of Soap in Bydgoszcz are more interesting than they sound!
Watching the headlines in the international news, the mood of Poland can sometimes be misunderstood. What’s happening on the political scene doesn’t fully represent all the positive things going on here. Foreign visitors generally glow with positivity when talking about the country. One travel blog describes Poland’s capital as “cool and upcoming and full of surprises”, while one of the authors of Intrepid Travel described Poland as Europe’s “most underrated destination”, remarking: “I always assumed the secret would eventually get out on Poland. I assumed its rolling hills and awe-inspiring Tatra mountain range would benefit from snow-loving thrill seekers. I had to believe a trip to northern Poland on the country’s constantly-improving train service to Gdańsk – a must visit for any 20th century history buff – would be commonplace.”
It seems the secret may now be getting out – but it’s as much about convincing Poles about their own country as potential foreign visitors.
With a buzzing music and cultural scene, and one of the most interesting cuisines in the world, it’s not just business that’s sitting up and taking note of Poland and its high-rise buildings – it’s everyone who comes into contact with the country. This may all seem obvious to those who know Poland well, but sometimes people just need to be reminded about how abundant this country is with natural gifts.
William Tomaney works as a creative writer in marketing for an international company in Warsaw, where he lives. He is a British journalist and has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in England. He has interviewed politicians about British/Polish relations and has helped develop the English language section of the Polish Press Agency website. He has a degree in journalism and politics from De Montfort University in Leicester.