Walking through the park in Krakow and this bloke had a huge long thing over his shoulder. At first I thought it was a barge pole – probably because it’s an item I’m familiar with, having been told by many women in my twenties, that they weren’t going to touch me with one – but it wasn’t and then it clicked.
“Are you a pole vaulter?” I said to the tall thin man, with a neatly trimmed tache.
“Nine” he said in reply with a thick accent, “I’m a German but how did you know my name is Walter?”.
That’s actually an old Billy Connelly joke and I was probably thinking about it as I walked through the old town of Krakow, as I was going through one of those moments you get on the road, where you were longing for home comforts. We’d been on the road for a couple of weeks and the constant moving, along with letting go of the security that comes with a permanent base, was setting in. For each a road.
No one tells you about that. The culture shock of changing from a ‘settler’ to a ‘nomad’ with little preparation puts you all at sea.
I was also missing music. It’s an important thing to me and I recall getting homesick in Australia, as a much younger traveller and how being glued to my headphones helped me through that moment. For everyman a religion.
My instinctive antidote at this time was to party. Hit the bar, club, music halls, bottle and escape. Forget everything and remember to have fun. And there are far worse places to be in than Krakow, when that urge hits you.
HEVRE on the edge of the Jewish Quarter, south of old town, fitted the bill. The place is ‘hipster’ but that feels okay in Poland, as opposed to the gentrified hell that is London, these days. Minimal techno and electronic soundscapes backtrack a shabby but beautiful old multi-level venue.
Track by Pointless Geometry.
Alcohol can often be a crutch for people on the road. it might give you a little courage, to spark up a conversation that you might not have otherwise had. Of course, I had Kate to talk to as a constant but lots of people travel alone and loneliness often hits them. I know we met someone new that night but I can’t get my head around how?
All I know is, the next day it seemed that we spoke no common language with our new friends but somehow we ended up being invited to their Polish families Pierogi dinner and although the dinner conversation was hardly sparkling, there were other ways we could communicate.
The warmth of being invited into someones home – a real home, not a hostel, hotel or airbnb – is more powerful when you a) don’t have a home of you own b) have no common language and c) are feeling incredibly fragile due to an epic hangover.
Rolling up Pierogi’s and eating a fresh beetroot soup called borscht, in that bright Polish family kitchen was a tonic, timed by fate. For everything a reason. I can’t even pronounce ‘Pierogi’ without getting it wrong but I sure as shit, can make them now.
Whilst Krakow is classy, old and sophisticated, Warsaw is almost its exact opposite but not in a negative way. It’s huge sprawling streets where so badly bombed during the war that no old buildings survived. Contrast that with Krakow, which was well protected by the German’s, as it was intended to be a well utilised city, after their extermination program, due to their racist ideology, if the Nazi’s had won the war. Find everybody and rule was their disgusting approach.
So Warsaw is a post-war, industrialised, collection of concrete blocks, hastily thrown up in the late 20th century. It is a gritty and restless place. It has taken an absolute beating over the centuries but because of that, what it lacks in old town charm, it makes up for it heart and determination.
A lot of Polish music draws on the countries fraught past and as a result, despite virtually no investment for the government or EU, Poland is a hotbed of amazing modern music. Take Stara Rzenka for example. Most metal music is uninteresting thrash bullshit these days but they inject layered complexities, electronic wizardry, off-kilter oddities and wall-of-sound power into an often clichéd genre.
Album by Stara Rzenka
I laugh as I think about all the nuts back in the UK who think Poland is a hole. Yes, a lot of Poles come to the UK and work and earn a few quid because we have higher wages. Newsflash: that doesn’t mean we have a better society. Our music scene is in the bin, whilst Poland is thriving on pure passion, invention and talent. Also, relative poverty is lower in Poland, so get of your high horse. We have a bit more money but all we do with it is give it to rich people to hoard.
My search for more music led me to Hydrozagadka in Warsaw and I’m back, staggering around in one of Poland’s many darkened rooms, listening to doom-laiden sounds and talking utter nonsense to Poles, who nod along to my words, just to humour me.
Track by Arabrot
These are the people that keep getting knocked down but always get up again. Auschwitz for example – forgive everybody and remember. Maybe it’s the inverted snob in me talking but this is the closest we’ve come to finding an oasis in the dessert so far. Rich in culture, history and depth. Poland is better described as the engine room of Europe – the motivation for peace, a powerful people, with tenacity.
This post was not sponsored by the Polish government, EU or any other flawed institution.