MISJA 21: Podróż dookoła Polski w 21 dni Euro

Nasi wysłannicy z Londynu i Łodzi - Petter Larsson z City University i Maciej Stańczyk z Gazety Wyborczej - przemierzają kraj w poszukiwaniu największego sukcesu i porażki Mistrzostw Europy w Piłce Nożnej UEFA - Euro 2012.

Szczecin - Zlata Rodionova

  • poniedziałek, 27 czerwca 2011
    • Szczecin - A diamond in the rough

      There were many frightening things about Misja21. We were sent to a country we knew very little about, with a completely different culture and language.

      The aim? Examine if Poland was ready to host Euro 2012.

      I remember sitting in the train to Szczecin, thinking this whole experience was a big mistake. I was afraid people would be hostile towards me, that I would be too shy to approach them on the streets and simply would not be able to complete the tasks I was assigned to.

      In the end, it turned out that I had nothing to worry about as Poland in general and Szczecin in particular surprised me in many ways.

      For me this city, a beautiful mixture of old and new, is a diamond in the rough.

      With Berlin being only half and hour away by car, there is a big probability that many tourists heading for football games will be travelling through it.

      Although, Szczecin has a lot of potential, to be able to welcome them properly it seems to me that it should make small changes that would transform it from a simple point on the map to a key city to visit in Poland:

      First of all, the biggest problem I encountered during my trip was the language barrier. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be taking English lessons. In places like restaurants and touristic information’s centres people often do speak the language, nevertheless it is often not enough. While travelling through the city things like tram schedules, maps in touristic sights such as the Cemetery or safety instructions at Glebokie beach were not transcribed.  More worryingly, in Szczecin Glowny, a woman simply refused to communicate and sell me a train ticket because I could not speak Polish. While, exhibitions in key touristic sights such as the Castle were not translated.

      Imagine the disappointment of a foreigner who would have paid the price to visit the place and could not understood a word about its history.

      Second of all, it seems there is a problem in regards with the city’s cleanliness. Szczecin has many beautiful pedestrians streets however while walking there I couldn’t help but notice empty bottles and cigarettes’ packs lying around.  Something you could encounter in very central places such as ul. Boguslawa.

      Similarly, road works around Aleja Niepodleglosci were not protected by fences or plastic sheets, which could be dangerous and created a big impression of disorder in one of the biggest shopping streets of the town. It would be great if by next year these could be finished, and more dustbins (perhaps even recycling ones?) put around the city.

      Finally, Szczecin’s last problem is related to restoration. Some of the most interesting buildings in the city from the 19th century were in a very neglected state. In places around ul. Narutowizca it was sad to see these houses, which corresponded to Poland’s stereotyped grey image. Furthermore, the Northern part of the city was completely cut-off from its heart. It is a shame as it is in this area that the landscapes are the most bewitching.

      How about restoring this places so that people could have a look at them and see how much beauty Szczecin is hiding?

      In a similar way, I was very intrigued by Szczecin “Floating Garden” project. As the city biggest pride are its green spaces (which is something I completely agree with) it is a great idea to transform some of its industrial parts in green areas. But why wait until 2050 instead of taking care of it now and fixing a more challenging objective such as 2020.

      All of this said, it seems to me that Szczecin has a lot of things to offer and to be proud of. Talking to people I often noticed that they were overly modest. By this I mean that they would see Western Europe as such an ideal world and would try to copy it (with places like Stare Miasto) instead of embracing the things that made the city special.

      I’m sure that any Londoner would love to see a movie in Pioner Kino, have a look at Glebokie beach, stroll around the market in Pogodno, area or eat a Pasztecik on Aleja Wojska Polskiego. These are things very rarely seen in the West, which is why they are intriguing for any foreigner. Szczecin should be proud of them as it adds character to the city and makes it unique.

      Misja21 was an interesting project, as  young students or graduate in journalism, we saw this country through fresh eyes and were confronted to the same culture clash, football fans will be experiencing next year.

      I think that Euro 2012 will be a great opportunity to put more focus on this country, erase some of the negative stereotypes associated to it and help it moving forward.

      It will also encourage tourists to visit less renowned town such as Szczecin in order to discover all it has to offer.

      On a personal level, this trip completely destroyed many of the preconceptions I might have had against Poland and I am already eagerly planning another trip to the country with my family. I can’t wait to have a look at bigger cities such as Warszawa and Krakow but will undoubtedly also making Szczecin part of my trip. I’m hoping that soon, I will again be walking around the Cemetery, buying Paczki on Manhattan market and relaxing in a restaurant on Waly Chrobrego.

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      poniedziałek, 27 czerwca 2011 01:12
  • sobota, 25 czerwca 2011
  • piątek, 24 czerwca 2011
    • A glass of water that tastes like a Virgin Mojito

      A glass of water

      This week we all wrote about and have tried a lot of Polish vodka and/or beer.

      However, it seems like these are not the only typical drinks of the country.

      When ordering a meal in a restaurant, I also always ask for a glass of water.

      As I discovered in Szczecin, it can be served in a very peculiar way.

      Although I often previously saw still water being presented with lemon, in this city, everywhere I would go, fresh mint leaves would be also added to it.

      I didn't necessarily mind it as it gave a very refreshing taste to the drink and reminded me of a Mojito cocktail without the sugar and alcohol in it.

      It made me wonder, is it something common over here? Or just a coincidence that I encountered in five different places?

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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 19:37
    • Communicating in Szczecin

      Since our arrival in Poland, all the journalists from Misja21 and I have been blogging about communicating in English and the struggles we encountered along the way

      Here is a little summary of what I think on the subject: 

      Getting around Szczecin I had many funny adventures while speaking with people on the street (or trying to). From people addressing me in Polish while I was looking at them with my eyes wide open, to others counting  on their fingers in German to explain at which station I would need to get out, it seemed that generally people had little if no knowledge of English.

      Although younger people seem more likely to know the language (they are learning it at school) they were often too shy to try it out on me, even though I could hear from their accents and the few words they would tell that it wasn’t bad at all.

      When it comes to the older generation, I found out that most of them had some knowledge of German but apart from a few exceptions no one above 40 could say a word of English to me. This might seem logical as the city is on the border with Germany (only one and a half hour away from Berlin) and there are therefore much more German-speaking tourists.

      However, English, wherever you like it or not, has become an international language and I was disappointed that key touristic sites such as the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle exhibition about its history was not translated.

      Also, in places like Glebokie beach safety instructions about where you should or shouldn’t swim or rules regarding children were all in Polish. So I definitely think that to become a more touristic friendly town these sorts of basic details should be transcribed.

      Furthermore, the women selling train tickets at Szczecin Glowny, simply refused to talk to me today after I’ve waited to buy my ticket back to Warsaw and pointed at another till. Needless to say that after waiting in another line, the lady working at the other counter had no more English skills than the previous one. She was however more patient and we managed to understand each other after I wrote down the number and time of departure of the train I needed. All in all, it took me about 30minutes to buy one simple ticket for the next day what would have happened if I had chosen to buy it in the morning with more people around?

      It wasn’t all so bad, in both of the tourist information centres I went to, people were quite friendly and spoke very good English. The same goes for the restaurants I’ve visited where waiters didn’t always speak but could understand basic words such as “water” or “bill”. Menus were generally available or translated in English.

      To conclude, I also wanted to point out that if people couldn't speak to me they were always eager to help me in anyway they could.

      Today, for instance a group of elderly women even started arguing angrily all together in Polish about which directions I should take (I didn’t know if I should laugh, or worry that one of them might hurt the other) and which way should be shorter, before one of them proudly told me: “Tramwaj tryz” then talking and counting on fingers, “stacja jeden, dwa, ok?”

      Of course Szczecin is not Poland’s biggest town and football matches will not be played in its stadiums however it is a city that has a lot to offer, it seems to me that with small adjustments (maps, safety instructions, guidebooks available in English) it could become a more tourist friendly city and be recognized for what it’s worth.


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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 18:56
    • Szczecin’s best and worst

      Before my arrival in Poland, people voted for the five places I should see as well as the five they were ashamed of and hoped I would avoid. These were:

      To see: The Castle of Pomeranian Dukes, Waly Chrobrego, the Old Town (Stare Miasto), the boat tour around the shipyard, the Central Cemetery, Park Kasprowicza, Jane Blonia and Ogrod Rozanka

      To avoid: North side of the City, Galaxy Mall, Center of the town, Glebokie beach, railway and bus station.

      After a week in Szczecin I must say that most of your suggestions were right. However, there are still a couple of things I don’t agree with and some places that you forgot to put on the list. I hope that my stay here will put more emphasis on them for future tourists.

      Here is what I think:

      Things to see:

      Green places

      Szczecin’s green spots:

      In my opinion, anyone living in this city will agree that its most beautiful features are its nature and landscapes. For this reason the Central Cemetery, Jasne Blonia, Park Kasprowicza and Ogrod Rozanjanka are definitely the first things to see in Szczecin. The four of them are very different, Kasprowicza and the Cemetary being very wild and Ogrod Rozanka very organised with rows and rows of colourful roses.

      While Jasne Blonia is a very impressive green open area.

      However to this list I would like to add places like the Emerald lake and Glebokie beach. I did not understand why the first was not on the list while the other figured in the places to avoid. Perhaps, these places are more unconventional for a Western European person but I think it is exactly why they should see it. After all why travel if everywhere you go looks like home? The beauty and quietness around the Emerald Lake immediately calms you down. While Globokie beach is just an interesting spot to observe, as it is a very typical Eastern European beach surrounded by a forest and reminds you of the kind of things you would see in movies or postcards coming from the Soviet Era. Furthermore, the beach and water are both clean, you can do boat tours on the lake and the landscape is stunning. So why avoiding it?

      Waly Chrobrego

      Waly Chrobrego: Nothing to add here, this area is a must-see of the city and great place to walk around. The architecture of buildings such as the Marine Academy is stunning and the opposite view of the port is breathtaking.

      Pogodno Market


      Pogodno area: Although this was not on the list, I think this zone is great place to walk around. As a tourist it is always interesting to have a look at local products that you can find on the lovely Pogodno market. It is these kinds of places that will give you an idea of how people live and behave. Furthermore, the nearby modern-looking church is a very peculiar building and is definitely worth to have a look at. The same goes for the villas around the area.

      Pioner cinema

      Pioner cinema: The oldest operating cinema in Europe, it opened in 1909 and was refurbished in 2002. Being a movie fan I could not spend the week in Szczecin without seeing it. It has very unique retro atmosphere and I had the pleasure to see that movies are played in their original version with Polish subtitles. The movie is either watched in small but cosy big-screen room or downstairs in a very intriguing café where you could enjoy your movie while sipping tea and eating polish chocolates.

      view from the boat

      The boat tour: The tour gives you an overview of the port and also the chance to glimpse at the Northern part of the city (beautiful landscape but perhaps a bit dangerous to walk alone in). A fan of industrial landscapes I very much enjoyed looking at the shipyard but also the beautiful view on Waly Chrobrego.

      Things to avoid:

      Building in the centre 

      The Centre: Ironically enough it is the place I saw in Szczecin on my first night as it the area where my hotel is (although it is a bad area the place I stayed in was great, safe, clean with the most friendly staff I’ve ever seen). Some buildings around it are truly beautiful but they are neglected and it leaves you with an impression of discomfort when you walk around it even during the day. It also corresponds to the cliché image a Western European person might have of Poland – a sad neglected grey place with lots of odd looking people drinking during the night.


      Bus and railway stations: As I said in my previous post I travel a lot by train as I try to avoid flying as much as I can. For this reason, I want to be fair to Szczecin and say that except of London’s St.Pancras station I’ve never seen a friendly looking railway station (even in places like Paris, Moscow or Luxembourg). They are often dirty and are the spot where you can meet the most strangest people.  Unfortunately, Szczecin railway and bus stations are not an exception. For instance, when waiting for my “shadow” this morning around nine at Dworcowa bus station I had the pleasure to talk with a visibly drunk person who as I understood was from Ukraine, kissed my hand and wanted to take the bus to London with me. On my first night I was also chocked by Szczecin Glowny lack of indications, I did not know where to go and no information or map was provided. While today none of the staff selling train tickets could speak in English. Perhaps something that could be improved before next year?

      Galaxy Mall

      (picture from: www.panoramio.com)

      Galaxy Mall: There is technically nothing wrong with this mall and it has all the Western European standards. It is very clean, has a lot of shops, restaurants, a good-working Internet café as well as information points where both of the women I talked too spoke perfect English. However, and it is a completely personal opinion, I just hate big shopping centres. It seems very impersonal, completely wipes out the town’s personality and doesn’t fit with its architecture. For me to have a glimpse at local food and people it is much better to go to an open-air market.

      Stare Miasto

      The Old town (Stare Miasto): You might disagree with me on this one, but I did not like it at all.  Although the restaurants over there are very nice. It seems strange to me to rebuilt something new on an old model. In the end it just look like you are walking around a theme park. This “old” town seems rebuilt on a model that you could perhaps see in Vienna or Germany but it just looks fake and unnatural. For me there are many beautiful things to see in Szczecin that will characterise the city in a much more better way.

      View of the northern part

      I VERY reluctantly have to say the Northern part of the City: Let me explain myself. It seems to me that this part of Szczecin has the most beautiful nature and houses. However left in a neglected state, it is hardly reachable by tram and completely cut-off from the heart of the city. For this reason, I think it might be a bit of a dangerous place for a tourist to walk around on its own. I would advise to still see it but do it as I did by travelling by car or from the boat trip. I sincerely hope that soon enough (why not for Euro 2012?) this part of the city will be refurbished and people living in it helped. It has a lot of potential and could transform itself from a place to avoid to a must-see.

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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 13:35
  • czwartek, 23 czerwca 2011
    • The truth about Polish stereotypes

      Stereotypes exist for each and every country and nation. Some of them are closer and some further away from the reality, some are inoffensive while some might offend others. French are seen as lazy people who demonstrate instead of working and eat frogs, Italians are known to love their mothers and seek for romance while English are often characterised as prudish people who drink tea all day and like to complain about the weather.

      When thinking of Poland I imagined a very grey and industrial country. I was also concerned about its security. While I visualised Poles as people who like to drink, do not speak English and are not very friendly towards foreigners especially when it comes to Russians (before going my grand-mother strictly forbid me to speak Russian on the street and was horrified when I told her that the first line about me in Gazeta Wyborcza stated that I was from Russian origins). Finally, I thought they would be very religious and conservative.

      So how much of my different believes turned out to be true? On my train journey to my Szczecin I discovered that my image of the country was completely false as all I could see were large green open lands as well as great areas of birch woods. On Tuesday, walking around Park Kasprowicza, Ogrod Rozanka and the Cmentarz Central I was amazed by the city’s nature and wilderness. Of course some industrial areas subsist around the port or the shipyard but they constitute small parts of the town, blending with the water and the forest surrounding them to constitute a unique view and landscape.

      As in every country there are some areas that one should avoid during the night (as I quickly discovered walking around my hotel after ten in the evening). However, although I felt uncomfortable, nothing happened to me and I concluded that Poland is not more dangerous that any other European country provided you are a little careful of where you are going and how you behave.

      Undoubtedly, as I expected, the culture of alcohol is highly developed in Poland. Looking at the menus there is always a big variety of vodka and beers. People also seem to gather in groups in parks and on porches of their houses to share it with their friends. However, I do not think that Poles drink more than Russians or British famous for their pub culture. It is just part of who they are.

      Generally speaking English is not Poland’s best feature. Although the younger generation seems to have a better grasp of the language, when approaching them on the street they seem a bit impressed or embarrassed to speak it. In Szczecin it seems that older people are more likely to have some notions of German or Russian due to the city’s history.

      But of course you will always find exceptions to the rule. As I met an elderly lady at a bus station who spoke perfect English when the day before a teenager was only able to answer “I don’t know” to the question I asked him.

      Religion is a big part of Poland’s culture. It is a predominantly Catholic country and the church still plays an important political role. In addition to that, the election of Pope John Paul II strengthened that fact as he paid numerous visits to the country. In Szczecin a statue and street are even dedicated to him.

      Finally, I am still undecided when thinking about my last stereotypes: Poles being closed and private people who don’t really like foreigners. On the one hand, so far, I’ve met really welcoming people. Always eager to help and indicate the way using body language and a mix of German, Polish and Russian. Inviting me to parties or advising me on places I should go to. In venues like restaurants and bars I’ve also noticed that although some waiters can seem a bit rude in the beginning, probably due to the fact that they are not use to be dealing with English speaking clients, once I would start saying a few basic words in Polish such as “dzien dobry” or “dziekuje” they would immediately relax and smile. Perhaps it takes a little effort on both sides to change the situation and once it is achieved every signs of closeness disappears. On the other hand, especially when thinking of some of the comments people from the Misja21 have received on the Wyborcza website, some Poles seem very sensitive and suspicious about the fact that foreigners are visiting and commenting on their country.

      To conclude I would say that all in all, there are many negative stereotypes about Polish people and this week I learned that one should always take them with a pinch of salt. Poland is much friendlier that often seen and depicted in Western Europe. However, we also have to remember that there is an element of truth in every saying, So for football fans my advice would be to arm themselves with a good map and dictionary, not to insult the Pope, be prepared to share a lot of beers with Poles and have a great time.

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      czwartek, 23 czerwca 2011 16:37
    • Corpus Christi - A very spiritual morning that ended at KFC


      Corpus Christi 1

      Corpus Christi 2

      Corpus Christi 3Corpus Christi 4

      Corpus Christi 5

      Corpus Christi 6

      One of the stereotypes existing about Poland is that Poles are very religious people. Today I had the chance to observe it first hand.

      Not baptised, I have never received a religious education.

      In fact, I’ve previously attended only one mass in my life, which was at my friend’s Monika’s (Misja21’s journalist covering Warszawa) wedding in Austria.

      This lack of knowledge always made me curious about things such as religious traditions and celebrations.

      For this reason, this morning I’ve decided to do everything by the book and attend the full ceremony starting by the mass at 9 am held at Bazylika Mniejsza and ending a little bit after midday at Bazylika Archikatedralna sw. Jakuba.

      I must admit that I was very impressed by the whole celebration.

      The mass itself felt long to me as I don’t know the prayers and couldn’t understand the words.

      I walked out ten minutes before its ending and was surprised to see a huge crowd outside of the cathedral, singing.

      After a few moments during which the people from the parade organized themselves we started walking.

      The whole process was bewitching from the priest's long robes, to the little girls dressed in white throwing flowers on the ground, finishing by the uniforms of old veterans.

      Unfortunately I couldn’t fully understand the ceremony. As the crowd was mainly composed by older people, no one spoke English and it seemed as if they didn’t want to be disturbed.

      However, I'm glad I was there, it felt like seeing a musical where you don’t really get the story or lyrics but are just enjoying the music, costumes and dances.

      You could feel the power of people’s faith in the air as the majority kneeled down on the street while the parade walked by. I was particularly surprised when seeing really elderly people with canes doing a visible effort to kneel down on the floor and stand up again. There was something very sad and beautiful about it. In Szczecin between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended the event. I can tell you, when you see that many people singing prayers and going down to the floor you almost start to believe in some highly spirit yourself. As a matter of fact, with respect for the people standing behind me I often found myself kneeling down with the crowd.

      Beforehand, I was told that the ceremony is often seen as family event, where grand parents take their grand children to church and then come home to relax or have lunch together with the family. I guess this is true as the streets of Szczecin became completely empty once the ceremony ended.

      Nevertheless, I got the chance to observe a much funnier tradition. Just as the crowd was splitting up I saw a big group of elderly people, wearing their best Sunday clothes, going to KFC to enjoy a big mac, perhaps the perfect way to come back to a more earthly activity and relax after the long morning walk.

      I don’t know if it was due to shyness or because they didn’t want their priest to know that they went for fast-food after praying, but they would not let me take their pictures. Fortunately this man, eating on his own in the same place, did not seem to mind so much.

      Corpus Christi KFC

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