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.

Olsztyn - Rebecca Suner

  • piątek, 24 czerwca 2011
    • No, Poland is not only grey

      Last night I had a very interesting exchange on FB with readers of Misja21. They were complaining or surprised about the fact most of us show only grey and poor Poland. I personally think it is due to the way Polish history is taught in schools: the country is evoked twice, for the Second Worlds War and about communist occupation. It is a shame because far, far from the impression I have of Poland.

      Olsztyn is green, the 'garden-city', the 'Gate to the lakes'. The river Lyna flows throw the city and the forests and lakes are very accessible. The Old Town is anything but grey and absolutely charming. Even the big blocks of buildings in the periphery have colours painted on them.

      It is not fair to associate Poland perpetually with a sad history. It's, I hope, what will come out of Misja21: the focus to attract tourists has to break this underlying stereotype. You have to expect people to be shallow, and surprise them.

      A couple of pictures of Olsztyn and no greyness, I promise:

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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 09:49
  • czwartek, 23 czerwca 2011
    • On Polish religion

      Is Poland truly a catholic nation? With astonishing figures showing 95% of the population identifies as Catholic, there had to be some truth in the most widespread stereotype about the Poles. At Olsztyn’s „Corpus Christi” procession today, I got to encounter the true face of that religiosity, and a new Poland I had not met yet.

      So far, religion seemed to be the ultimate tourist gadget in Poland. You have the Eiffel tower in France and the Queen in England. In Poland, you have Jan-Pawel II. The late pope is everywhere. While I was visiting the Old Town in Olsztyn for the first time, I saw the pope’s smiley face in the window of a religious shop. I encountered him again, in the form of a waving plastic miniature at Święta Lipka’s gift shop. But today was serious.

      The first surprise was the number of people attending the „Corpus Cristi” celebration. I found the crowd massive, mostly made up of old people and families, with a scarcer youngster presence. Esthetically it was superb- the smocking box the priest was shaking around, the different robes and the flowers young girls were throwing in the Old Town on the way to the cathedral. It was all very mysterious, and I could not understand a word of the prayers either. It sounded to my non-Polish ears like a very sad rumbling. The procession did not look like 21st century Europe, rather like the Middle Ages, expect for the trendy trainers showing under the robes of younger priests and the curious sound-system: two old megaphones which sounded terrible, giving the priest’s voice a funny resonance as if he was ill and shaky.

      But still, the mystic atmosphere impressed upon me very much. While the priest was singing, there was an eery silence in the crowd. And all of a sudden, all of them were down on their knees, even reckless old women carrying sticks and young kids messing their trousers, nuns, monks, priests... It was a disturbing experience. I did not expect such a massive public display of faith. However, Olsztyn residents remembered bigger attendances in previous „Corpus Cristi” processions but they explained the event came late in June this year, so a lot of people have taken the opportunity to take a long weekend off.

      All the people I had met this week told me about the celebration and encouraged me to attend it. But what it exactly meant, no one could tell. Neither the staff at Gazeta, nore the Polish couple I had dinner with. Wikipedia was not much more help and I finally had to go to the padre superior of Święta Lipka’s church to get some clarifications: „Corpus Cristi”, he said, is the commemoration of the episode when Jesus multiplicated the bread (the flesh of God), the wine (its blood) and the fish. Jan-Pawel II re-introduced this celebration in Poland thirty, forty years ago, he continued. While I was lucky enough to have a man of faith explain the meaning of the celebration to me, I was wondering, as I watched the crowd today, how many of these people know exactly what this is all about?

      The first Polish lady I encountered was praying next to me on the plane that took us to Warsaw. She prayed as we took off, as we flew above Europe and as we landed. It was a crude introduction to the central place of religion in Polish society and identity. It was therefore very interesting to see it ‘in action’ today. Catholicism may have marked the architecture of the towns and Polish mentality, but it seems like this mentality is evolving. The more I talk with young people here, the more I discover that most of them are not religious, don’t go to church, and sometimes, don’t even believe in God. They don’t think the church should have neither power, nore the money they have today. I was shocked to learn that religion is taught in public schools and abortion still very restricted: I think it is not worthy of an European country in 2011.

      Religion as a culture, as a tradition, is important and can be beautiful like today’s celebration. It makes for the identity of a country. But religion, as any other important feature of a society, has to evolve with the times. I doubt it will happen here any time soon.

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      czwartek, 23 czerwca 2011 16:00
  • środa, 22 czerwca 2011
    • The man behind Olsztyn's revolutionary ideas

      Olsztyn may not be one of the four host cities for the Euro Cup 2012, but Maciej Rytczak, the director of the culture, promotion of town and tourism department at Olsztyn’s town-hall, has a killer plan.

      In September 2010, Maciej proposed to turn Olsztyn in a ‘football-free town’: „during the Euro Cup, without the Euro Cup”:

      Our plan is to organise numerous artistic and sports events around town - all kinds, except for football.”

      Very controversial among the local population, Maciej is convinced this is Olsztyn’s best chance to attract tourists during the Euro Cup next year.

      It was an atomic bomb. The public and the media took the ‘football-free’ idea literally. There is nothing to worry about, we are not planning to close the football fields in town nore forbid TV sets showing the games!

      „We think there is no point in offering football-related attractions. We cannot compete with other towns on that, but we can offer an alternative...”

      To Maciej, the focus of the organisers is solely driven on the four host cities and on improving their infrastructures.

      It’s a great challenge for Poland who hosts such an event for the first time. But engaging with the people and making sure there will be a soft atmosphere for the million of tourists expected, are only second or third priorities.

      None of the UEFA people in Warsaw asked smaller towns for support and help.”

      But Olsztyn wants its share of cake. With its 15 lakes and 1050 ha of forests, Maciej and his team are counting on Olsztyn's peaceful atmosphere to attract tourists.

      The football national team plays only every four days. In between each games, some supporters or tourists might want a break.

      Olsztyn’s advantage is to offer a a place to calm down in the week-end 200 km away of Warsaw. The region is still very wild, the nature undiscovered.”

      The city is also one of history, with its castle and medieval old town. Maciej shows a brochure that ‘proves’ Copernicus belongs to Olsztyn rather to Toruń, his birthplace.

      Copernicus lived 40 years in the region! His spirit belongs to Olsztyn: he lived in the castle and drew there the astronomic table that helped him determine when seasons start and end.

      Torun is our ‘enemy’ in the battle for Copernicus. It’s a constant competition.”

      Proudly standing behind Maciej desk, a Che Guevara Copernicus flag: a „Che Copernic” that had too, caused controversy. The number of stickers, flags, mugs spotted around town with the Che Copernic logo, show one thing: the revolutionary ideas of Mr Maciej Rytczak in the end, come in good terms with Olsztyn's population.

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      środa, 22 czerwca 2011 08:23
    • Zapiekanki, Olsztyn's old cinema and a great traditional dinner

      I changed hotels and am spending my first night in what my friends told me to be a “hotel where the rooms are rent by the hour”. It is still however, central and a cheaper alternative to the lovely Pod Zamkien which I have left today.

      Last night, I went to see “Melancholia” at the Awangarda2 cinema. I am not in Poland to write film reviews so I'll go straight to the point. The cinema will be closing soon. It is a hundred years old and this should not happen. Two multiplex cinemas will remain in Olsztyn, with great seating, yes, but with no soul.

      Today was very eclectic. I visited the castle, and as you know Copernicus loo's. The castle was beautiful and wisely chosen by Gazeta's readers as one of the best places in Olsztyn. What I also appreciated is the mix between the old history the castle has, and the exhibitions displayed in the building: Polish cinema posters and Edward Dwurnik.

      I tried Zapiekanki and was worried like hell about it. It's actually OK, not my favourite dish so far to be honest, but OK.

      With Marta, we went to meet a couple who had cooked a traditional Polish dinner for us. It was amazing. Potatoes with dill, green beans fried with breadcrumbs, tomato salad and meat I cannot find the words to describe how good it was. I tasted the local honey-flavoured beer. The only moment of awkwardness or probably just cultural clash, is when my lovely male host picked me up in the air kissing my cheeks to thank me for coming to dinner at theirs.

      Tomorrow: Great Masurian lakes and night out in Olsztyn's best and worst clubs. What a plan.

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      środa, 22 czerwca 2011 00:45
  • wtorek, 21 czerwca 2011
    • Loo-nely planet

      One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Olsztyn was to see Nicolaus Copernicus toilets. This morning, my dream became true when we went to visit the castle where the scientist lived. Of course, this very special rest-room was not the only interesting feature of the castle, but more on that later...

      THE BEST: With no doubt the train station’s toilets. The contrast between the grey and sad atmosphere of the station* and the fanciness of the toilets is shocking. Downstairs, it's a completely different world. I don’t understand why only this part of the building has been renovated and it seems like a lot of money went in the rest-room. Unfortunately, I have no picture of the WC-heaven but anybody who stops in Olsztyn station should pay the loo a little visit.

      *the train station is on my top-5 ugly places in Olsztyn

      THE WORST: The Old Town’s public toilets are particularly gross, even by public toilet standards. The smell is undescribable, the furniture broken, the toilet paper wet and the whole thing filthy. And there seems to be no alternative as it is the only public toilet I have spotted in the Old Town. Marta told me that it is a problem for pubs and restaurants located in the area as they have swarms of tourists queuing up to the lavatories, but some of the businesses also take advantage of the problem, and ask for money in exchange for using the bathroom.

      Something should be done about that. Olsztyn, stop building fancy toilets, build more toilets! The Old Town needs you!

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      wtorek, 21 czerwca 2011 15:47
    • Olsztyn's mystery tourism office

      One quick note about Olsztyn’s tourism office.

      Usually, tourism offices are easy to find. They have flags floating at the front that are visible from a great distance. So when I saw a German, Russian and EU flag I thought that my mission had been quite easy. Bad luck, it was only a restaurant and the journey to the tourism office had not began yet...

      Now that I think about it, the tourism office is not situated in a particularly odd place. 20 meters left from the High Gate is a good location. But I did not spot the little „i” symbols at the front of the building and asked for directions to locals.

      It took the help of seven people to reach my destination. One even told me that there was no tourism office in town. One sent me to the library instead and another one told me the building looked like a church, which is certainly not the case. But everybody was good-humoured and tried their best to help.

      Once I got there, the lady was very helpful and spoke very good English. Many of the brochures were in English as well.

      Even though the service was good in the end, shouldn’t locals know better where the tourism office is in their town?

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      wtorek, 21 czerwca 2011 15:10
  • poniedziałek, 20 czerwca 2011
    • Three grumpy ladies

      Today, I met three old grumpy and unhelpful women at different ticket offices in town as our mission was to test public transports and tourist information, I felt the first confusing moments of my trip.

      The first lady at the bus-ticket counter was pretty old and spoke no English. She gave me ten ickets, but when I asked for directions she shook her head -"nie nie nie".

      At the train station, a very odd information panel was everything but informative, though artistic and colourful. It did not however list my destination and I went up to the counter where I met grumpy lady number two. She spoke no English and we reached a dead-end when I asked for a train on Saturday. The young lady in the queue behind offered to translate and I got my ticket.

      I tried to get the coachs timetable as well, and yet another grumpy lady told me to go to the 'international information point', where they spoke no English either.

      Today's conclusion: younger people speak more English than their elders, and that's fair enough, as the photographer from Gazeta explained that most of them were taught Russian in school. But hopefully for the tourists coming to Olsztyn, there are some young heads here to help.

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      poniedziałek, 20 czerwca 2011 18:18

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