You know you are in Poland when…


Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

1. You can’t figure out how to greet other people. Your friend’s grandparents give you three kisses on the cheeks — left, right, and left again. Their father kisses you on the back of your hand in an outdated fashion while their mother gives you a flimsy handshake and their brother just says, “Cześć” from a distance.

2. When people speak, all you hear is “shhh chhh shhh chhh.”

3. You have no idea what the deal is with those ą, ę, ó, ć, ł, ś, ż, ź letters. How are you supposed to pronounce city names like Szczebrzeszyn, Łódź, Wrzeszcz or Trzcianka?

4. There is a flat voice speaking Polish over the original voices in English in movies on TV. It’s the same voice that reads the lines of all characters in the movie: men, women, and children.

5. The Polish voice in movies heavily euphemizes the language. “Get the f*** out from here, you motherf****!” is read in a monotonous intonation as “Odejdź stąd, ty szarlatanie.”

6. You are required to take your shoes off and leave them by the door when you enter someone’s house. You get guest slippers to walk around in inside.

7. Buying bread becomes a mind-boggling decision. Bakery shelves are lined with a selection of bread you have never seen before. You find round brown whole-wheat bread, oval white with crunchy crust sprinkled with poppy seeds, square sunflower seed sourdough bread, rectangular soy or flax seed loaves, as well as croissant-shaped milky rogale and different flavored buns: cheese and onion, 7 grains, pumpkin seed and Italian herbs.

8. Your breakfast is huge. You get your favorite bread, spread some butter on it and prepare open sandwiches layered with ham, cheese or cottage cheese, lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, tomatoes, radishes and spring onions. You then sprinkle some salt and pepper over. Instead of coffee, you drink hot tea with a slice of lemon in it.

9. You are grateful for the substantiality of your breakfast, because the main meal of the day isn’t until 4pm. Around noon you get “second breakfast” — a piece of fruit, a sandwich, or a sweet pastry and a coffee.

10. All the dishes in typical restaurants contain potatoes. Boiled, mashed, fried or baked potatoes accompany any main course, but there are also kopytka (Polish gnocchi), potato pancakes, pierogi filled with potatoes and cottage cheese.

11. With your meal, you are served a drink of warm strawberry water, a few boiled pieces of fruit floating in it. You learn that it’s called kompot and that it can be made out of any fruit.

12. You eat all kinds of food made out of “rotten” ingredients. Sauerkraut is just rotten cabbage, ogórki kiszone are fermented cucumbers, traditional barszczis made out of beets that had gone bad (now vinegar is used to gives it the sour taste), żurek is a soup based on fermented yeast dough.

13. You are surprised to discover that none of the “rotten” foods make you sick.

14. You go for a walk in the forest and run into people picking wild mushrooms and blueberries.

15. Everyone lives off seasonal fruit in the summer. You eat jagodzianki, blueberry-filled yeast-dough sweet rolls, every day.

16. You can buy beer and vodka in a shop dedicated entirely to alcohol sales. Any time, any day.

17. You order a beer at a bar and you’re asked if you’d like raspberry syrup in it. You decide to give it a try. Your beer is served with a straw.

18. You can never have another type of vodka again after tasting how delicious Żubrówka is.

19. You discover that Polish people indeed make great use of their seasonal fruit when you try nalewki, fruity spirits. Many households produce them for own personal consumption.

20. Zapiekanka is your anti-hangover food. At the end of the night, you eat an entire 50-centimeter long baguette cut open, topped with mushrooms and cheese and grilled, then served with cabbage salad and slices of ogórki kiszone on top and lots of garlic sauce.

Henry Sapiecha

Do not believe Poland is grey. These images show how beautiful it is.

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If I were to have colored a picture of Poland before my trip, I would have used steel blue, muddy brown, various greys, and maybe a little bit of green. I pictured Poland as industrial and dreary. Instead, what I found as I explored the country was a palette of many colors: pinks and plums, cardinal reds, and many different shades of green. With my camera in hand, I set out to try and capture some of these colors.

Just outside the Poznań Town Hall in downtown Poznan, I spent an afternoon watching the wedding parades. The couples pulled up in flower-clad vehicles while street musicians capitalized on the opportunity to make some extra money. Little girls, like this one, got to watch fairy tales on repeat with each new bride-groom. The couples entered the Town Hall, tied the knot, and drove off about 15 minutes later. I grabbed a table on the square at the microbrewery Brovaria, ordered a Grodziskie, and toasted the happy couples.

Navy blue, bright red, and a whole lot of locks

The Jordan Bridge is a 100-year-old section of bridge that used to be about 2 km upstream. When the city wanted to build a new bridge to support a tram line, they moved this section north of its original location here. These days, as in many cities around Europe, couples that want to publicize their love come armed with locks, decorated with initials and images, and clamp them to the bridge.

Fading yellow sunsets and sweet pastel buildings

Biking around downtown Poznan at sunset was a dream. I zipped past adorable restored homes and shop fronts, up and down cobbled streets, by churches and towers, and soaked in the last rays of sun wondering if this was all a fairy tale.

Aged yellows and two battling goats

Every day at noon people assembled around Poznań Town Hall to watch as two mechanical goats emerged, cuckoo-style, from the Town Hall clock. They were commissioned by the 16th-century mayor to remind the people of one of their favorite stories: two goats escaped the mayor’s chef, climbed the tower, emerged from the turret, and began battling before a large crowd. The town was so entertained by the goats that the mayor decided to spare them.

A myriad of colors (and ice cream) in downtown Poznan

Wandering around the Old Market Square in the Old City section of Poznan you can find architecture features inspired by Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism and Modern styles. I also noticed the number of ice cream shops and people walking around with cones, especially right after Sunday church. Some of the most interesting flavors I found included lemonade sorbet with parsley, mascarpone with black currant, and yogurt with fresh peaches. Kolorowa was my favorite shop but some others include Wytwórnia Lodów Tradycyjnych, and Marina where they use liquid nitrogen.

Green, green, and more green

With forest covering almost one-third of the city — approximately 70 thousand square meters – there is plenty of greenery to take in. On my second day, I hiked on narrow trails for four hours around Wielkopolska which began at this lookout tower over Lsowa Mountain. Runners and bikers were scattered throughout and people were picnicking along the lakes. I stopped at Castle Island, built in 1830 by the owner of the land as a wedding gift for his sister. When the couple broke up and abandoned the castle it was used by Polish rebels in 1848 to defend against German invaders.

Hazy white castles in the sunset

The original owner of the Rydzyna Castle redesigned the structure in the 19th century based on the calendar: there are as many windows as days, rooms as weeks, representative halls as months and towers as seasons. Today it is a museum, hotel, and a venue for special occasions.

Brown bottles of local brew

One of the first assumptions I had about traveling to Poland was that some form of vodka tasting would be involved. To my surprise, I quickly learned there is a whole other revolution taking place with craft breweries. I tried craft brews flavored with accents like pine, elderberry, coffee, and maple syrup. Some of the best local spots in Poznan include Brovaria, Nepomucen and Browar za miastem. Grodziskie is the only original-style beer produced in the Wielkopolska region of Poznan — it dates back from the 13th century. It is made of smoked malt, is very light and bubbly, and comes with its own champagne-inspired glass.

Brick Orange Castles

I got to spend a couple nights at a castle and it was as good as it sounds. I ate roast duck with apples, walked around manors and moats, sipped polish vodka called Zubrowka, and woke up to a rooster crowing at 6 am. With more than 800 castles, palaces, and manors in the region of Wielkopolska, it is easy to indulge one’s inner prince or princess.

Jet Black and a Locomotive

I grew up watching the PBS television series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, so I got nostalgic at the Steam Locomotive Station in Wolsztyn. Seeing this 100-year-old facility with real operators running the trains, loading coals and fixing parts in the workshop, I felt like I was back on the carpet in front of my television set.

Red, White, and Love

Poland is full of much, but what I felt most was history, culture, and love. I was very wrong to picture Poland as cold and grey. Its people are warm, its culture is vibrant, and its history is long – and there are beautiful colors everywhere.

Kristin was a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office.

Henry Sapiecha



Henry Sapiecha