50 Things I Miss About Poland

kiosk
A Polish Kiosk

My last trip to Poland was slightly more than one year ago, and sometimes I find myself reminiscing and missing my time there. Today, as I walked into a large Polish store in the Chicagoland area, I was struck with “the feels” for Poland. It was a full force collision with the nostalgia train, or, shall I say, the nostalgia pociąg.

In any event, I thought I would share short phrases of things I think about when I miss Poland.  I hope that some of you identify with a few of these thoughts as well. Although many are very specific to me, others are more universal. Even if you’ve never visited Poland, perhaps they  will trigger memories of your busha growing up or of those delicious pierogi your mom used to make.

Here are 50 things I miss about Poland (no particular order)

…my grandma looking out the second story window as I play in the backyard.

…Polish Nesquick cereal in the yellow bag

…the small kiosks on the street corners

…walking, instead of driving, to the town center

…encountering random stray animals

…Polish MTV

…a kotlet dinner

…having a different soup for “pierwsze danie” every day

…grandma listening to Msza Święta on the radio

20150901_143144…medieval churches and cathedrals

…picking cherries in my grandma’s yard

…picking raspberries in my grandma’s yard

…picking red currant berries in my grandma’s yard

…picking gooseberries in my grandma’s yard

…picking plums in my grandma’s yard

…shelling peas with my grandma

…walking in to visit neighbors or relatives at a moment’s notice

…neighbors or relatives visiting me at a moment’s notice

…taking the bus to town

…grandma bringing me a large, delicious loaf of bread, freshly baked, before a long trip

…helping my grandma walk to the kiosk down the street

…castles

…deciding whether to watch TVP 1, TVP 2 or Polsat

…feeding chickens on my relatives’ farm20150903_170803

…having a goat try to eat my clothes

…walking all day

…riding in my uncle’s Fiat

…homemade pierogi

…buying fresh vegetables from an old lady on open market day, aka “na targu”

…Kinder eggs with the surprise toys inside

…watching Dobranocka before bedtime

…walking up the stairs of an old kamienica (tenement)

…being struck by how beautiful Polish girls are

…listening to that Polish narrator that seems to dub every foreign film

…homemade naleszniki

20150907_170915…watching the rural countryside while taking a train

…seeing rolled hay on farmland

…lying in a hammock near my grandma’s garden

…that feeling  after exchanging dollars for złoty at the Kantor

…playing with the latest kitten at my grandma’s house

…buying a Prince Polo

…reading Kaczor Donald magazine

…hearing the legends surrounding a local castle

…freshly-cooked kielbasa

…watching the old Godzilla movies, dubbed in Polish, with my grandma at night

…getting up early because I couldn’t sleep but not being able to watch TV because it was still off the air

…giving and receiving gifts with friends and relatives

…Tymbark juice

…the reklama announcement before a set of television commercials started

…that moment I step off the airplane onto Polish soil

The Best Things About Poland: Episode II

It’s time to conclude my two-part series on the best things about Poland (Check out episode one here). Like I said two weeks ago, this could be a 10-part series, but there’s so many other wonderful topics to write about. If enough of you comment on this one, though, I won’t be able to help myself. Here it goes…

The Language

The Polish Alphabet
The Polish alphabet, with some extra crazy letters. Notice the 3 types of “z.”

Polish is not a language for the faint of heart. If your native tongue is English, it’s guaranteed to be one of the most difficult languages you can possibly learn. With seven grammatical cases, a boatload of various word-endings and three versions of the letter “z,” it will unleash hell on your brain.

So why is it so great? I can’t say I’m fluent, but I’m good enough to begin realizing its beauty. Unlike German, which sounds like yelling, or French, which sounds very nasally, Polish sounds soft, fluid and innocent. I especially become entranced whenever I hear Polish women speak it on TV, the radio or in person—it’s such a delicate and soothing collection of syllables.

If you ever read the Polish literary masters—Mickiewicz, Sienkiewicz, Kochanowski—even if you don’t understand everything, you’ll definitely see how beautifully the language flows from the page. It makes learning it, even a little bit, worth it.

The Music

When it comes to music, Poland has so much to offer. For traditionalists, there are plenty of folk songs that will whisk you away to old Poland with their violin and accordion sounds. Folk fans should check out Rokiczanka and Brathanki. There is also, of course, Polka music and the Polish-favorite “Disco Polo.”

In the early twentieth century, tango was big in Poland. When you listen to these old songs, you can’t help but feel like you’re in an old café or saloon in pre-war Warsaw or Kraków. Check out Sława Przybylska for an example.

For rock and pop fans, Poland has a ton of music from the 1960s through today. Lady Pank, Wilki, Elektryczne Gitary, Perfect, Marek Grechuta, Gosia Andrzejewicz, Ewa Farna, and Urszula are just some examples. I purposely didn’t add hyper links to all those names—stay tuned to my blog for much more on Polish music in the near future.

Oh, just don’t listen to Polish rap. It sucks.

 

Soup

Żur
Polish Żur soup.

Ok, soup isn’t just Polish, but it definitely plays a big part in Polish life. I remember visiting my grandmother in Poland during my childhood. After the long, tiring, transatlantic voyage from the U.S. to Poland, and the additional journey from the airport to my grandma’s house, the first thing she greeted us with was a hug and kiss. The second, a bowl of hot soup. So soup plays a pivotal role in my conception of Poland.

Traditionally, soup is the first course in a Polish meal. From rosół, to tomato soup, to żur, Poland has no shortage of belly-filling, heart-warming soups. Polish soups are especially delicious and gratifying when you’re sick—a spoonful of warm vegetable, chicken and broth can often provide relief from the worst colds or flu.

Customs

Slavic beliefs
An imaginary painting of Poland’s Slavic origins.

I’ve written a lot on this blog about Polish traditions and customs—from Wigilia to Zaduszki—and there is much more to come on that front. The reason I can write so much is that Poland offers a seemingly infinite supply of intriguing cultural and religious practices.

Remember, before Poland became Catholic in 966 AD, it adhered to the ancient Slavic beliefs. Like many pagan peoples, the ancient Poles worshiped nature and believed in numerous supernatural entities. With the arrival of Catholicism, many of these beliefs were eliminated, but many were absorbed. This is why, even today, many Polish traditions are loaded with superstitions.

Aside from that, each region in Poland has its own customs—from the Górale in the southern mountains, to the Kashuby of the northern shores—you will find a rainbow of local costumes, dances and dialects across Poland. It’s a “melting pot” in its own right.

The Polish National Anthem (Mazurek Dąbrowskiego)

Poland has not yet perished. Those lines begin the Polish national anthem. They symbolize the Polish people’s undying hope and strong desire to preserve their identity. Written in 1797, just two years after Poland had been partitioned and erased from the map of Europe, this anthem was, from its inception, a statement that the Poles weren’t just going to lie down and die. As we have seen, there are just too many great things about the Polish nation for that to happen. Generations of Poles have fought and died to protect the idea of Poland, of its customs, food, music, language and people—it’s this Polish spirit that is embodied in the national anthem, making it perhaps the greatest thing about Poland.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Things About Poland: Episode I

As a guy who is crazy about Poland, I think there are many great things about it. In fact, I could fill 10 blog posts on the topic. But to spare you from monotony, I will only write a couple articles on the absolute BEST things. Here’s part one. Like with all my lists, no particular order:

 

The Land:

Poland's beautiful Tatra Mountains
Poland’s beautiful Tatra Mountains

Poland has a little bit of everything when it comes to geography. The name Poland derives from the Polish word for field (pole), and, indeed, the countryside is littered with fields and farms. But that’s not all.

In the south, you will find several mountain ranges. Chief among these are the Tatra Mountains, which form the border between Poland and Slovakia. Skiers and hikers flock here in the winter and summer from across Europe.

In the north, you will find lots of water. The Masurian Lakes region contains over 2,000 lakes, perfect for water sports, while the Baltic Sea offers beaches and a watery gateway to the rest of the world. Of course, many rivers meander through Poland, the largest of which is the famous Vistula (Wisła) River.

European bison in Poland's eastern forests.
European bison in Poland’s eastern forests.

Finally, the mysterious, primeval forests of the east are bound to captivate the naturist, as well as the romantic. One of the largest is the Białowieża Forest. It’s home to many European bison. I’ve never been there, but it’s one of the top places I still want to visit.

 

 

 

 


Castles:

I don’t care if you hate history. If you don’t think castles are cool, there’s something wrong with you. Even if you don’t care about what happened there long ago, you can at least admire the beautiful construction and architecture.

Wawel Castle in Krakow
Wawel Castle in Krakow

Poland is dotted with beautiful castles that once belonged to numerous kings, queens and nobles. Today, most of them have been restored and are absolutely must-see attractions. Wawel Castle in Kraków, Malbork Castle, the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Łańcut Palace….these are just some of the most famous.

The ruins of Ogrodzieniec  Castle.
The ruins of Ogrodzieniec Castle.

Interesting too are the ruined castles. Deserted and forgotten, these castles are the relics of a foregone era. Untouched since their abandonment, they stand as mysterious, ghostly reminders of what was—a romanticist’s dream come true. You just have to be careful. Neglected for ages, these castles often have holes in the floors and unsupported railings. So be sure not to die if you visit them.

 

Krówki

The amazing Krówki!
The amazing Krówki!

This should have made the upcoming post, The Greatest Polish Snacks Part II. But these chocolates are so good that not only are they among the greatest Polish snacks, they are one of the best things about Poland in general.

Krówki are chocolate fudge, toffee candies produced in Poland since before World War II and doubtless a principle cause of why the Germans and Russians wanted to invade so badly.

The chocolate’s outside shell quickly and delicately melts in your mouth, releasing the soft, chewy toffee inside. Before you know it, the heaven-sent delicacy has completely dissolved in your mouth and you want another one. So you run to the nearest Polish store to buy another pack. I attribute Poland’s recent economic growth solely to the existence of Krówki.

 

 

The Polish Spirit

The brave Polish resistance during World War II.
The brave Polish resistance during World War II.

Whenever idiots make fun of Poland getting conquered during World War II, I always tell them this: Poland lasted a month against BOTH Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. France, supposedly a powerful western European nation at the time, lasted about a month and a week against ONLY Nazi Germany. There is something to be said about the undying Polish spirit.

Let’s face it, Poland has been screwed over countless times throughout history. Each time, though, it didn’t go down without waging a bitter fight to the end. Even when it lost, it didn’t lose. After Poland fell during World War II, many Poles escaped and continued fighting on other fronts, not to mention the Polish resistance that kept fighting back home.

The fact that Poland exists today is a true testament to the Pole’s strong national pride and independent spirit.

Check out the best things about Poland part II here!