Walk down any high street in any British town and you are constantly dodging other people, weaving in and out and trying not to bump into people. We are used to it, it’s what we do. Transpose the scene to Poland and people, not all I grant you, but most seem to instinctively walk on the right. I first noticed this in a pedestrian underpass come shopping arcade in Warsaw. On this side, people were walking towards me, on that side people were walking with me.
Nie jestem turystą
Not wishing to appear a complete tourist I quickly fell in on the right and then began surreptitiously looking for the signs saying “Keep Right” only in Polish, obvs, but there were none. The worthy burghers of Warsaw had taken it upon themselves to do this and I have to say, it makes a lot of sense.
I have also observed this in other Polish cities, as I indicated above, it’s not 100% effective but you do see a certain pattern of keeping to the right. Any political puns here are purely coincidental and in PiS-poor taste.
Of course, having written that, which I did on the train to Kraków, I got off of the train at Kraków Główny into a maelstrom of people in the Galeria Krakowska shopping centre through which you are obliged to walk to get to the outside world if you can’t remember the escape route through Tunel Magda. As I struggled through the melee with my bag over my shoulder I came to the conclusion that they must all be foreign tourists.
Kraków is a lovely place, the market square, the castle, the river, the sausages. Yes, the sausages. If you ever pitch-up in Kraków you must get yourself down to ul. Grzegórzecka, just past the railway bridge. A couple of guys with an old blue van, a wood-fired grill and the best sausage you are going to taste for a long while…
And the tourists. I had forgotten just how much of a touristy place Kraków is in the summer. Having escaped the Galeria Krakowska I strode across the plaza towards the pedestrian underpass, up the other side, and into ul. Szpitalna towards my hotel. After dropping-off my bag I ventured back out onto the mean streets, down Szpitalna then right into a side street towards Floriańska and… tourists. Yes, yes, I know, technically I too am a tourist but there were hundreds of them coming at me from all angles, this is where my British dodging and weaving skills really come into their own.
OK, so where is it?
Whilst in Kraków I was asked by some friends to meet in a pub. Easy, no? No.
In Britain you know what a pub is, what it looks like and what it does. In Poland it is slightly more difficult. The term “Pub” is applied to a variety of places, all selling alcoholic drinks but ranging from one-room boozers to quite swanky eating places.
I knew which street this particular pub was on, I found the street, I started looking at street numbers displayed on the buildings. I was in the right sort of area so I followed the numbers, descending towards my goal of 97. This must be it but where is the pub? I almost walked right past it but lodged at the side of a cavernous doorway leading to a flight of stairs was a small chalk-board with “POLI PUB” (yes, it’s a pub called Poli) and an arrow pointing up the stairs.
And this is the thing, once you decide to step into the building and up the stairs, there you are in a perfectly normal looking bar, there’s beer and spirits, sport on the TV, even a smoking room but to find this little gem of a place you really have to keep your eyes peeled. From the outside, you’d never know it was there, were it not for the innocuous chalk-board.
Also in Kraków there is a nice little bar called Viva la Pinta, it’s what you’d call a brew pub, there is a small courtyard fronting the pub proper and a great selection of beers inside but you could easily walk down the street and not know it was there, hiding down that alleyway with the “Antiques” sign above it. Yes, there is an antiques shop but if you enter the alleyway and walk past the antiques shop suddenly you are in that courtyard and tempting brews beckon. The only giveaway was again a very small sign, high-up this time as I recall but this seems to be quite standard, but once you get-your-eye-in you can start to spot these places.