Catalonia inspires Poland

During my last trip to Poland and bearing in mind my nationality, I’ve noticed the Catalan presence in Marie Curie’s country.

There’s the old classic: people speaking Catalan in every city. We’re a few millions, but we travel a lot. Anyway, after running into a Catalan family in Reykjavik, a couple of Catalans in Polish capitals are not that surprising.

Moving to more interesting matters we find Catalan cuisine. First, they sell this bułka katalońska wieloziarnista, or ‘multigrain Catalan bun’; then, you can find a Romesco bar-restaurant. Don’t ask me about the bun. It’s probably just a fancy name. But romesco [pronounced ‘rumescu’] is the delicious traditional sauce for calçots—which deserve their own post.

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

Other cultural imports are these three books by Jaume Cabré: Głosy Pamano (English title: Voices of Pamano), Jaśnie pan (Honour) i Wyznaję (Confessions). Staying on the culture lines, Dalí stares at us from a guy’s bag.

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the Barça T-shirts everywhere—not from other teams. A special one caught my eye, though. It was all yellow with the initials FCB below the four red stripes of the Catalan flag on the chest. However, one can’t manage to discretely take someone’s chest picture.

Dalí's characteristic mustache

Dalí’s characteristic mustache

Tour around Poland 2014: Traveller’s diary

Once again I leave the linguistic experience aside because we don’t talk about serious stuff on holidays. However, next time Poland shows up in the blog, its language will too.

Day 1: The plane lands in Warsaw, the capital, at midday. My first host shows me around the most touristic parts in the centre and I remember those three days I spent there four years before.

Days 2-4: As my host works a couple of days, other friends in the city tourist-sit me in parks and bars. Even so, I stay in one morning to put together a jigsaw puzzle of his flatmate. It’s a picture of the Pope John Paul II—what did you expect from a Pole?

Summer palace at Łazienki park [photo: Alexander Teglund]

Summer palace at Łazienki park [photo: Alexander Teglund]

Day 5: It’s Saturday and Polish night life awaits. It’s not that different from ours, except for prices and the moves. The international move—stepping to the sides ad eternum—is very popular there. With my waist all over the place and the colours of my body, I’m easily noticed and two sentences ensure me lots of conversations: Mówię po polsku (‘I speak Polish’) and Jestem z Barcelonii (‘I’m from Barcelona’).

Day 6: I use every single minute I can to sleep before taking the bus that takes me to Gdynia, at the seaside, in seven hours. My next friend welcomes me with a brief stroll in the neighbourhood to buy pizzas for dinner and we go to bed early.

Days 7 and 8: The most beautiful and important city of the Trójmiasto (‘tricity’) is Gdańsk, but I keep it as a reason to go back and spend my morning on the beach and my evenings walking around Gdynia.

Day 9: After a last morning in the sun, the train delivers me to Poznań in less than five hours. This time I’m adopted by a couple who take me to a stand of delicious hamburgers and show me the city under the moonlight—and specially the lamp posts.

Days 10 and 11: My step-fathers [no mistake here] keep me really busy. We visit shopping centres (they build one every other year), cycle to the lake (and spot a deer!), I ride a one-person roller coaster where I control the speed and… we go to a water park… in Poland!… from 9 to 11 p.m.! Surreal. All that and more in a day and a half, for on the second day I go back to Warsaw and last week’s club; it’s Friday.

Days 12-14: My last host want to share my custody with a friend, therefore on Saturday in the morning a bus takes us to Wroclaw for further walking and party. On the bad side, we miss the musical fountain on Sunday in the evening because some rookies try to have a nap and just wake up next morning.

Market square in Wroclaw [photo: Maciek Lulko]

Market square in Wroclaw [photo: Maciek Lulko]

Days 15-17: Back in Warsaw, I spend an evening by the river, cycle around the city at night and go up to the floors 40 of a hotel and the Pałac Kultury, which offer great views on the capital. I even delight my host with a Spanish omelette and Iberian ham one night and the next we have a barbecue. On the following day I arrive to Barcelona at midnight; and I thought it was hot in Poland…

Tour around Poland 2014: About the country

Last year I toured around Europe just visiting friends; this summer I’ve visited friends around Poland to learn their language.

Allow me to keep the linguistic experience for another occasion and to focus on the most remarkable details about the country, which might be of your interest if you’re considering visiting it.

Staying with my first host I discovered the warm Polish hospitality, recurring phenomenon on the following visits. The Poles give their guests all the honours; they make everything in their power to ensure your comfort and entertainment. I was even cooked breakfast every morning—and breakfast doesn’t need to be cooked!

It’s a very green country, with parks everywhere and trees and grass in most of its streets. Maybe that’s what saves Warsaw, which is not especially nice—its centre, with no urban planning, is even ugly. The other cities are far more beautiful.

The Old Town in Warsaw is not that old; it was completely rebuilt after WWII [photo: Dennis Jarvis]

The Old Town in Warsaw is not that old; it was completely rebuilt after WWII [photo: Dennis Jarvis]

When it comes to money, Poland is a cheap destination. For instance, a meal at any place can cost about 16 zlotys (3 £) and a bottle of 0.5 litres of beer in a club, about 10 (2 £). Bear in mind, however, that it’s not so cheap for them, since their minimum wage is about 1,200 zlotys (230 £) and the average wage is close to 2,500 (477 £). Therefore it’s a cheap destination, but not a cheap country.

The information I’d have liked to know before my trip, nevertheless, was how the sex signs in toilets work. In Poland there’s a circle and a triangle pointing downward. The triangle doesn’t represent knickers or bikini waxing. Some say it’s a hanging penis, but Polish penises are not triangular—I have spoken. It’s also argued that the circle is the vulva (in labour, maybe) or a breast. Be it as it may, triangle is for men and circle is for women.

Regarding law and order, always cross the street at a zebra crossing when the light is green to avoid fines. Polish police is amazing; they’re everywhere, they work—fine—constantly and they seem to be taken from deodorant advertisements (quite a contrast with the Spanish lazy fat Manolos with moustache).

Should you want to use the public transport, you’ll find proper bus and tram networks and a bicycles service available even for sporadic use without a subscription (take note, Barcelona). Moreover, it just takes 5 or 6 hours and less than 12 £ to cross half the country by train or coach (take note, rest of Europe).

But let’s take a break now and look at the more specific aspects of the places I visited next time. There might even be some personal experiences for the gossipers.

TE13: Sightseeing in The Hague and farewell in Amsterdam

Being physically tired and not having enough sleep, but still joyful, I left the country I’m linked to by my second surname to visit the Netherlands. I had been there when I was eighteen—when I meet the Slovene girl—although that time I visited other places, except for Amsterdam.

The flight, or rather the boarding, to the Netherlands was the most interesting of them all. When almost everybody was on the plane, some uniformed people came looking for a man. There happened to be two passengers with the same exact name, but just one ticket. After a long discussion, one of them left the cabin and off we went, twenty minutes late.

Isn't Delft beautiful? [photo: Edwin van Buuringen]

Isn’t Delft beautiful? [photo: Edwin van Buuringen]

I spent some days in The Hague with the Scottish guy who held international barbecue parties when he lived in Barcelona. Of course, our first night in The Hague was also international. He also prepared a route around Delft, Vermeer’s birthplace and de facto capital of the country, and Rotterdam—where I was tortured in an all-you-can-eat sushi place in which you can order unlimited food, except there’s a 2 € surcharge per piece remaining on the table, and you always order too much food.

The tour around Europe ended in Amsterdam with my Cork corker friends for a festive farewell. The city is crowded with Argentinean and Italian restaurants, sex-shops and canals and there’s the well known Red Light District and a not-so-well-known sort of Chinatown. No wonder we spent a whole morning looking for Dutch pancakes because of a carving of my friend.

The weirdest moment, however, was when she sent me to some German guys with a mission: ‘Excuse me, I’ve got a sort of weird request for you. My friend there smokes—I don’t—but she can’t roll her joints and was wondering if you could roll it for her with this. You can keep what you don’t use for the joint [which was a lot] because we’re leaving tomorrow.’ And my tour around Europe ended the following day indeed.

TE13: ‘Berlin is ugly’, native dixit

I left Le Mans to take another plane, this time from Paris to Berlin. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled taking off, the boarding gate was changed and the plane took off twenty minutes late. This wasn’t, however, the most interesting flight of my trip.

Why do people have profile pictures in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe? [photo: Juan Gómez]

Why do people have profile pictures in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe? [photo: Juan Gómez]

My first impression of Germany was that the Germans aren’t excessively clever, organised or welcoming. How is it possible that, in the train station of the airport — where scores of people show up every half an hour — there’s only five ticket machines, which, to top it off, don’t accept a card as common as a VISA. And there were no ticket or information offices.

In the end, I joined my friend thanks to the directions he had given me. What he told me that night can be summarised as: Berlin is ugly. Apparently, the war destroyed the most beautiful parts and the new buildings were ugly just because. There are, nonetheless, small oases of beauty that a friend who lives there can show you.

Caring about my culinary education, he took me out for German-style pork and deer. We also had dinner in a Polish restaurant because they are neighbours and I hadn’t eaten Polish food for years, since that visit to a friend in Warsaw almost a lustrum ago.

City planning was included in my education as well. There seems to be a height restriction law for buildings in Berlin, which pleases both my likings in aesthetics and inner poise. I was told that during a film-like scene on the roof watching the sun set.

TE13: Streets in Paris, fancy dresses in Le Mans

Having left Cork, I flew to Paris with a stop in London. Changing airports opened my eyes to two revealing facts. First of all, 221 B in Baker Street is not at all as it looks on Sherlock. Secondly, an advertisement in the underground claims that a 3 £ donation can supply a family with clean water for a week. What on earth am I paying for then?

My first day in the city of love — on my own — was enough to find the hostel, get comfortable and go for an evening walk to the Sacré-Cœur and the Moulin Rouge, which had so long a queue that I couldn’t be bothered to visit it. Along that street, there were also those most annoying men insisting on me entering the cabarets to see French charms who failed to understand I meant it when I said I wasn’t interested.

I spent hours reading comics and watching the news in French in the library of the Pompidou Centre [photo: Guillaume Baviere]

I spent hours reading comics and watching the news in French in the library of the Pompidou Centre [photo: Guillaume Baviere]

The following day was all about visiting the city of light [Paris is the city of everything] on foot. My route included the Bastilla Square, the Pompidou Centre — especially its huge library —, the Notre Dame cathedral, the Orsay, the Hôtel national des Invalides, the Eiffel Tower — where I run into some identically gorgeous square triplets —, the Trocadéro, the triumphal arch, the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre. Of course, I didn’t have time to go into those places; but I’d rather know my way around the city than see paintings and sculptures. After the walking, there was still time to enjoy a concert with different French groups in the city centre.

On the way to take the train to Le Mans to visit my blond French friend, a street full of second-hand book shops stole my heart; the Luxembourg Gardens were awesome as well. The French guy picked me up at the station and took me to McDonald’s that evening, where a worker asked me ‘Do you speak English?’, ‘Yes.’, ‘I don’t.’ Fortunately, my French is not perfect but good enough.

Apart from showing me the beauties of the city, my friend also took me to a fancy dress party where I could only speak his language to celebrate a girl’s birthday. So, his cousin, he and I — or a priest, a banana and a vampire — showed up to a fancy dress party that actually wasn’t… At least everybody realised there was a Catalan and an obvious topic to start a conversation with him.