Cześć friends! Izzy and I left our camp at Fort Gorgast and waited for what seemed like FOREVER for someone to pick us up and take us the short 7km across the border to Poland. Once over the border, we were preparing a sign so that we could hitch to our next destination, when a fun young couple pulled over and offered us a lift before we'd even stuck our thumb out! What a fantastic welcome to Poland - to meet people so generous and thoughtful within minutes of arriving in the country. Poland is definitely the land of hitch hiking – everyone we met was very friendly and we never waited long for a lift. We even managed to hitch a lift on a 52 seater air-conditioned coach! Hitch-hiking in Poland was extra fun, because not many people spoke English, and Polish words have way too many consonants in a row for us even to hazard a guess as to how to pronounce our questions, so we may not have learnt many concrete facts about our drivers, but we did manage to make a lot of people giggle – most of all ourselves.
When we arrived in Łódź (pronounced “woodge”) our couchsurfing host Mariola, picked us up and whisked us off to dance to some seriously cheesy euro pop at a beach party in the city centre. She was the perfect host – so friendly and generous and always had time to show us somewhere fun in her city. She was so great that we didn’t even mind when she kidnapped us to watch El Perro in an amphitheatre…..the film was in Spanish with Polish subtitles!
Izzy and I spent two days meandering the gridded streets of Łódź, which had been described as “the Manchester of the east”. This comparison puzzled us until we arrived and found ourselves in a city of slowly decomposing industrial buildings, whose history and purpose fascinated us. We spent some time admiring the independent shops full of handmade treasures, and tasting local craft beer in Off Piotrkowska.
In the centre of Łódź is the epic Manufaktura – a palace of entertainment, culture and modernity which boasts shops, cinemas and art galleries – all housed in gigantic ex-factory buildings. Surrounding it are smaller roads which support crumbling grey buildings – a stark contrast to the majestic red brick of Manufaktura. It’s as if parts of the city had been forgotten about, peeling away in steady decay. The apartment blocks look partly inhabited and partly in a state of abandonment, and we imagined the lives of the people who lived in them.
We’d only been in Poland for two days, but we got the impression that the people are intrinsically optimistic – as if things hadn't been so great before, but are now looking up. When we arrived in Gdańsk, explaining that we’d come from Łódź, everyone looked at us like we were crazy, asking what on earth we had wanted to go there for – but as Mariola expained, Łódź is in a state of change, at an intersection of old and new. Mariola and her friends seem to be quietly loving their city, as if it were Poland’s best kept secret. Perhaps it is. I thought it was ace.
For the next destination on our Polish adventure, we headed north to Gdańsk.