Poland was never on my list of places to visit. It had not even crossed my mind once. It didn’t strike me as a touristy place or a place black people will even want to visit. My impression to date was a poor country with Neo-Nazi skin-heads. However, when the opportunity came for me to spend 2 weeks on an educational tour in the country (organised by Barka), my response was swift. Five days later, and some frantic emailing between myself and the organisers, I was on a Ryanair flight to Poznan; still not entirely sure what I was going to Poland for.
Let’s all go to Poznan
On board the flight was a whole load of Polish nationals and 3 black guys: me, Enoch (from Kenya) and an older man who had to return to Liverpool after being denied entry at Polish immigration. We landed at Poznan airport at 9am, had my passports checked, then straight to baggage collection picked luggage (which was already on the carousel). This was the fastest I had ever gone through airport protocol. The whole process from landing to walking into the arrival hall took about 20 minutes.
Outside waiting for us was Marisha (Maria). I had been exchanging emails with her about the trip all week and I had somehow got it into my head that she was an old blond woman. Imagine my shock when this rather fetching brunette rushed in to the arrival hall, holding an impromptu ‘Barka’ sign.
After exchanging some pleasantries, we head off to Hotel Lech in Poznan city centre. On arrival we’re given 40 Zlotys (£10) each for the remainder of the day (don’t worry, £10 travels a lot further in Poland). I immediately set out to look for some food, except I cannot speak a word of polish. Looking for a place to eat then was going to a bit difficult. But Alas, I spot a McDonalds.
Luckily the girl at the counter spoke a bit of English – and even that is stretching it too far. After some miming, hand waving and pointing, I was able to get my order across: 10 chicken wings a large Fanta. I headed back to the hotel with my feast. The idea was to devour my McChicken, take a short nap, and then head out with Enoch to sample the Poznan nightlife. A short nap I said, totally forgetting the fact that I hadn’t slept the night before due to the early flight.
Anyway, I woke up around 11 am the next day to host of missed calls from Maria. She had also sent us a text message of our itinerary for the day. We were to check out at the hotel at 12 noon and then we could go walkabout till 3pm. She will then pick us up at the hotel to go pick up the Congolese group (who are also coming on the trip) from the airport. At least that was the plan. So after checking out and leaving our bags at the hotel, we decided to have a proper tour around Poznan city centre.
Old town, new adventures
We walked around the old market town sampling the scenery and looking for a place to eat. The old town square looks delightful; full of outdoor bars and restaurants, and the weather is deceptively hot. End up at Kebabistan, a kebab shop with arguably the best kebab I’ve ever had. Mind you, I’m no authority on kebab palates; plus I was pretty hungry at the time.
With our kebab boxes, we decided to catch our breath under a tree nearby a castle. It was there that we met Adam, a Dutch tourist who was driving around Poland (he had his reasons – too long to explain). He came over because he, like us, was struggling to find anyone who spoke or was happy to speak English.
We sat and had a chat for about an hour before going to visit a nearby church to watch the mass. By now I was totally oblivious to the fact that it was actually Sunday. As Adam leaves, we receive some bad news that the Congolese group have also missed their flight. So with her sorting out admin, we will now be picked up at 8pm. On the positive note, we have an extra 5 hours for exploration.
We whip out our Euro 2012 tourist map and head deep into the city centre. It is one of the most beautiful and cleanest places I’ve been to. We end up on a hilly park where a number of Poznan’s finest are sunbathing. We decide to join in by relaxing under the shade in our deck chairs.
Despite what seemed like an eternity, we had actually only spent 2 hours at the park. Who knew relaxing could be so tiring. We set off for more sightseeing walking through the mall (which was the old Lech beer brewery), to the Poznan cathedral and then to the lake Malta.
We had intended to go around the lake, up to the grandstand, where there was an amusement park and then head back to the hotel. However, as we reached about a quarter point of the trek, it became clear that this was a massive lake. Though we were now tiring, we couldn’t turn back as it would have been a waste of time. We may as well have sat on a bench – which admittedly we did.
What kept us going was a sheer number of women in low cut tops and mini-skirts, riding their bicycles along the lake. Sure, it was a hot day but this was just ridiculous. I also happened to walk past the girl who served me at McDonalds at the lake and we shared a brief look. I’m not surprised we remembered each other’s faces after yesterday’s shenanigans. We got well acquainted.
My moment of the day came when this little boy (about 3-4 years old) in his push cart saw what must have been his first time seeing black folks. His face was priceless. He kept looking back probably to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. I knew Poland wasn’t the most culturally diverse nation but throughout our walk, we literally just saw 1 black person; and such was his surprise in seeing us, he tipped his hat to us. He knows there are now at least 3 black guys in Poznan.
Back on the lake, we’re now ‘high-fiving’ a group of “closely shaved haired” guys who were shouting “shemaaa” at us. My initial thought was that it had racist undertones as they were cavorting around. However as later I found out, it was an endearing term akin to a “what’s up” in English. So I was the racist one after all.
We finally reached the grandstand and as expected, the place was buzzing with activity. There are fair grounds, bars, restaurants, water jet packs and a concert scheduled to start later in the evening. We agree not to bother walking all the way back to the hotel but rather wait for the concert to start. We still had 2 hours to wait so we called Maria to pick us up later only for her to turn up with a van 30 minutes later just as the whole thing was about to get started. We couldn’t stay because we had to go back to the airport to pick up another group from Ireland.
We really should have come out last night.
So I was finally in Poland, and the place had already made a big impression on me. Hopefully, In the next chapter we will find out what this trip is all about and what activities are in store for the next two weeks