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University Krakow, Poland

Blog entry 3 - By night bus across Poland

Wed, 6 Apr 2016 | Universität Krakau

The Easter weekend was approaching and one thing was clear: If I have am free from Thursday to Tuesday, then I can use the time for a little trip. Fortunately travelling costs in Poland are very low, there is a well-developed network of long-distance buses and with the cheapest provider called the Polskibus, which goes to every major city in Poland.

So after ten hours in the night bus I got a little rumpled and tired and finally early in the morning reached Gdansk. The port city in the north of Poland, is just like Krakow; a tourist magnet. However, the two cities are very different, at first glance falls on that architecture, which is completely different here.

Colorful facades alternate with imposing churches of brick. Unfortunately, the whole city is very strongly oriented on tourism, but has its season, which is only in the summer months. One can see that many museums have reduced their opening hours or do not open at all, shops are closed and the ferries and excursion ships do not run. The whole city seems a bit deserted and when one leaves the pretty but manageable Old Town area, there are the industry and paid-rich large construction sites, and nothing else to see.

Danzig had since its inception an important commercial center and at times even an independent city-state. On the Westerplatte peninsula, on the first of September 1939 the second World War broke out. And about 40 years later, the workers went on the Lenin Shipyard at Gdansk harbor strike, which marks the beginning of the Solidarity movement. For people who are interested in history, for them there is a lot to see. The Solidarity Museum in European Solidarity Centre documents the history of the union, and you should take a few hours for the informative and elaborate exhibition. The Westerplatte is accessible by bus, a memorial and numerous information boards inform about the events of 1939. A museum about the Second World War is being built, from modern and interesting architecture and from the size of the exhibition space, it can be concluded that this museum will also be worth a visit.

There is not only the sometimes quite depressing historical facts be-employ, of course you can also just go to the beach. By regional train 20 minutes travel, there is  one in Sobot, a contemplative dinky seaside resort on the Baltic Sea. Out of season, so that is also not particularly busy. Although very interesting, for me a visit in Gdansk all in all was a little disappointing, somehow I had expected more from the city. Where certainly the bad weather had somewhat muted the atmosphere , at six degrees, clouds and rain; no city is probably nice to visit.

Three days later, we went back to the South, specifically to Wroclaw. To save time and money, of course, again we took the night bus. The current European Capital of Culture greeted us with blue skies and sunshine. The bell tower of the Elisabeth Church, one can see a fantastic view of Wroclaw. The town lies on a total of twelve islands that are connected by over 100 bridges and footbridges, which has earned its the nickname "Venice of Poland".

A favored photo subject in Wroclaw are the dwarves. The last few years in the city encountered everywhere are figures, which were a project of the School of Art and reminds of the resistance movement against the communist regime. Particularly what I liked was to stroll on the islands along the beautiful promenade of the Oder, and the university district. From local student life we have however noticed very little, since most restaurants, cafes and bars are closed over Easter. Religion has taken in Poland a much higher value than in Germany and therefore here the Easter holidays are taken very seriously and celebrated in style.

In the days before "Wielkanoc" (Polish for Easter) often you see people on the street, carrying some book tree branches with them. These are placed in a basket in accordance with the Polish Easter tradition with bread, eggs, sausage and biscuits, taken into the church and blessed there. Then at home there is a big breakfast with the whole family.

On Easter Monday one should brace themselves, as possibly going to get a cold shower, because that is the day of "Smigus Dyngus". The tradition is that the girls are splashed with some water and they get wet, nowadays mostly these turn into real water fights.

Another Slavic tradition is the goodbye of winter. Under the guidance of the Erasmus team from the University, we have our own "Marzannas" tinkered. These dolls made of sticks, cloth and colored paper representing the winter, are to be burned by traditional custom or thrown into a river. So this is symbolically celebrated the end of winter and the spring is welcomed.

Actually the fireworks were not allowed, but we wanted to have fun. Luckily no police patrol passed us, otherwise it would certainly have been expensive. The police is very present in Krakow and crossing the road at a place with no crosswalk or at a red light, one should rather not want to be caught. Just as alcohol drinking in public is strictly forbidden and cost a penalty of 100 PLN or even more. From personal experience I can say that the police can not act, not really with the foreigners who do not speak Polish properly. Also apartment parties are often broken up by police. The presence and police surveillance is definitely more pronounced than in Germany, and sometimes are unable to feel free to live here as free as at home.

Apart from this small confrontation with the police, to get on with life is really easy in Poland, also it is improving my language skills slowly. You can do a language course in the University. Although it is not exactly cheap, but it also really good and intense. It's nice when you can not just say "hello" and "thank you" and the people in Poland rejoice when they notice that one tries to learn their language. Quite simply this is of course not, at first glance what you notice, as many Polish words are like a consonant-accidents and the pronunciation is what one has to get used to. But if you practice every day a little, you make tangible progress.

Moreover, I enjoy the many benefits and discounts that you have as a student in Poland. There are often discounts, for example, you pay in all trains and public transport only half the fare. Two weeks ago there was a special offer in Krakow, where one can enter many of the museums completely free of charge and also to a football match of Ekstraklasa (Polish Bundesliga) I was just charged € 1.25. Many Erasmus students who are here for a whole year can no longer even imagine how will it be back home and how will they get used to the prices and also reminds me of the heavy, tasty and great lunch for only 12 to 18 zloty...


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