“You’re my favourite dad in the world” said Jack randomly, “you’re my favourite 5 year old son” said I.
Followed up with a smile we continued our seemingly endless search for the workplace of Oskar Schindler.
Outside of international travel we actually hop around Europe quite frequently. In fact I have been to just about every Western European Country and many Eastern European countries. But travel within Europe tends to be a private a affair with the kids, for instance filming the life of Anne Frank across the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, or remembering how much I love Disney with Jack and Abi in Paris. But earlier in the year Jack and I travelled to Poland, I promised him that we would go again sometime.
And so as the plane took off from Leeds in high winds it was a bumpy ride. The plane (as like any en route to Poland) stunk of Vodka and was peppered with hard worn faces, cheeks red from alcohol with the odd granny thrown in for good measure.
Poland is one of those places, that, depending on what newspaper you read will probably determine whether or not you like Polish people. For instance, comments I’ve heard range from “they’ve taken all the jobs” to my good friend Andy stating (several times…infant many times) “Polish birds are the tidiest birds anywhere mate”
I won’t agree/or disagree with either, but what I will say is that despite the tumultuous history – And not just recent history such as the atrocities of WWII, nope, the Polish have been getting chinned for centuries, and have had just about every form of government/kingdom/communism going. They recently joined the EU after also spending centuries being skint and the first thing many people did was bail. Not what the country had hoped, not what other countries had anticipated. But slowly and surely the working mass are returning and the once vacant streets of decrepit buildings and crime are being revamped into excellent, modern facilities worthy of a spot anywhere in Western Europe.
But what separates Poland from most other places in the EU for me is two things – money and people. Poland is probably the cheapest place in the European Union, by far. For instance I’ve just eaten out at a restaurant in one of the swankiest areas of Krakow and the total bill, including starters, drinks (alcohol) and ice cream was 56 Zloty (£10) calling at the off licence on the way back to our hotel and a can of beer costs about 50 pence.
The second reason is the people, speak to anyone under the age of 25 and they will probably speak a little English, speak to 90% over 25 and they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. But the Polish are perhaps the friendliest people in Europe, seriously. This is my third trip to Poland and I have yet to get any attitude or anything other than a helpful, welcoming manner from anyone. It’s what separates the Polish from say France. A place where in my opinion half the population wouldn’t give you the time of day for a euro. And the thing about the Polish is that you can ring fence them into 4 types. All the females under the age of 30 are slick looking, slim, pristinely dressed individuals. Come the 30th birthday and bang, grandma central. Whereas all the guys under 30 look super dodgy, wearing all black they look like they’ve just eaten their parents and are looking for desert, all the 30+ guys look like they’ve just spent the last century working in harsh temperatures lifting 100kg rocks and living on a diet of vodka. But what unites them all is their smile, that welcoming, genteel, international expression. A sometimes rarity in big cities, and often replaced with a suspicious glare in smaller towns. But in Poland people have just learnt to smile despite it all. And it’s easy to wonder, outside of the magnificent national parks of which there are 23 – Poland between cities is pretty grim. It’s almost iron curtain, communist, steel factory style grim. And though I’ve only visited in Autumn and winter I can confirm its freezing. Not tender freezing, like “it’s a bit cold” no, it’s freezing cold. And you can’t escape it.
In terms of infrastructure I was boasting to a guy at the train station yesterday “I’ve never known a Polish train arrive on time” as it pulled in 5 minutes early. The fact is Poland is a bit weird, the sort of place where 4 trains will depart in one hour, and then none until 4 hours later. Or where a return ticket costs more than double the single fare and where a can of beer costs less than a can of coke. No doubt Poland has its problems, but lets not forget that just half a century ago it suffered some of the worst atrocities in history, and was pretty much bombed to the ground, boundaries moved, and left on its knees begging for mercy. Since the war cities have been rebuilt and the country was deemed eligible for admission to the EU (whilst the likes of Turkey were blown out) And like it or loathe it the Polish are now our European brethren and for Jack and I – we love it. And so as the plane defied all odds and climbed out of Leeds/Bradford airport, the stench of vodka floating around the cabin – we were a little bit excited since we knew, just what Poland had in store.