I just returned from my first trip to Poland in eight years, and WOW, what a fascinating, exciting and inspiring experience. The trip has infused me with an even greater passion for all things Polish. I just feel like sharing everything with you at once, but that’s impossible (and not reader-friendly). This trip will certainly influence all of my future posts, and I am already thinking of new ways to engage all of you on my blog.
In this post, I just want to share the general impressions of Poland that I gained from my vacation. In the posts leading up to my trip, I recollected all of my prior trips and how they instilled a love of Polish culture within me. I knew this trip would be different because I’m not a kid anymore. A part of me wondered if I might be left disappointed after seeing Poland as an adult and fully understanding its realities. That didn’t happen. Although I did have some negative impressions, overall the trip has only reinforced my love for Poland.
Poland has developed a lot in my eight-year absence. The most immediate improvement I noticed was the roads. The new expressways Poland has built since joining the European Union have vastly improved travel from place to place. The expressway from Krakow to Katowice, for example, basically allows for an hour commute. It used to take at least two hours by car and nearly four hours with public transportation.
Modernity has permeated Poland in other ways too. Just like in the U.S., seemingly everyone under the age of thirty has their nose in a Smartphone at all times. At one point, I saw two girls, probably in their early teens, walking home from school and giggling over something on their Smartphones. At that point I realized that Polish and American kids were virtually indistinguishable—they both are growing up around, and becoming proficient in, technology that was unheard of even 10 years ago.
Add to this the rise of consumerism in Poland. Beautiful, giant malls are popping up all over the place, even in small towns. Some of these malls actually put American malls to shame because they are so new and modern-looking. Stores like Saturn and Empik have all the latest gadgets, movies, games and books. Indeed, people are buying things, lots of things. Poland ceased being a commercial backwater long ago. The European Union and the West is present everywhere you look.
This westernization is also a curse to some extent. American society and youth is often criticized as being robotic and overly-reliant on constantly-changing technology. You can say the same thing about Polish society now. In a way, the increased technology and consumerism has made Poland and Polish people seem less personable and approachable than in the past.
Additionally, the influx of western pop culture has made American and English music more popular than Polish music in Poland. I see this as a problem and will rant accordingly in a future post.
Although much has changed, you don’t have to go too far to still see Poland as it once was. The old market squares, churches, castles, cobblestone streets and town halls are all reminders of Poland’s long and rich past. The awe-inspiring rural and hilly landscapes in Southern Poland where I stayed awoke my romantic spirit and continue to play a major role in my love for the country. At one point, I came across a herd of cows blocking the road—it was as if I had traveled back a couple hundred years. Yes, Poland is becoming a highly-developed nation, but that doesn’t mean it’s losing its unique, old-style charm.
So those are my first impressions. My brain is still digesting everything, and I will certainly hit on these points in greater detail in future posts. For now, I invite those of you who have visited Poland recently to tell me about your own experiences. Maybe we can compare.