Tag Archives: poland

Poland and Ukraine: The Homelands

Canada: Winnipeg, The Great Canadian Shield bus trip, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto
Poland: Warsaw, Łódż, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Sopot, Toruń, Poznań, Wrocław, Kraków, Auschwitz, Rzeszow, Lubaczow, Stare Brusno, Przemyśl
Ukraine: L’viv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Yeompil, Sokolivka

Although my trip to Poland and Ukraine was not as epic in terms of breadth as my Asian adventures, it was much more epic in terms of its personal meaning and maturation. I’ve added another 2 country stamps to my passport and a bunch more cities to my little Facebook travel map.

Polish FlagIt was an eye-opening experience to visit Poland and Ukraine. I can’t say I ever believed I’d go to Ukraine, nor Poland for that matter. The idea to go to Poland came as a result of meeting a very lovely Polish girl while travelling through southeast Asia in 2010. After hearing her talk about the country, the seed was planted to explore my ancestral homelands. And so, after 6 months in Canada, I ventured across the Atlantic ocean again and backpacked through Poland before doing a 4-month stint teaching ESL in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Visiting Ukraine was a shock to my system, however, and I’m still not sure I could formulate the reason why. I’d travelled before, I’d grown up in the Ukrainian-Canadian community and heard so much about the country, both good and bad. Several of my friends and family had gone there before me. But visiting the country myself was a shock. Thinking back, Ukraine isn’t as poor as folks make it out to be and despite numerous forums and message boards that boast horror stories of run-ins with the cops, nothing too major happened. The worst was brought upon me by overstaying my visa.

And now for the summary:

Canada

Greyhound busTaking the bus from Winnipeg on January 1st, we managed to hit a snowstorm as we crossed southern Ontario. During one stop for the night I managed to get myself into a little trouble thanks to a guy who fancied himself a fighter from “the other bus” that had left Winnipeg about 9 hours after we had. That left me with some busted glasses and my first story.

Finally making it to Ottawa, I stayed with family for Ukrainian Christmas and discussed my plans to go to Ukraine. I also had the chance to meet the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada. Although they gave me several contacts in Ukraine, I still felt the need to go exploring by myself.

Poland

Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland.On January 14th, I took off from Toronto to Warsaw, Poland since I’d heard that flying into the Boryspiel airport in Kyiv was extremely corrupt. I stayed in Poland for two months, immediately loving it. I was in Warsaw for a week before being persuaded to attend a crazy party in Łódż. While there, I auditioned for a Polish ice cream commercial… and failed.

After Łódż, I reconnected with the Polish girl who I had met in SE Asia in Bydgoscz and stayed there for a week. Her family was more than gracious in allowing me to stay in their apartment for such a lengthy period. We used Bydcity as a centre from which to explore Toruń, Gdańsk and Sopot. But Ukraine was calling.

Back to Warsaw I went and stayed for another 3 weeks contemplating getting a job there. Being a Canadian citizen, however, I thought it would be too difficult to get a EU work visa so I decided to leave. You might want to note that I didn’t try very hard to attain a work visa. It was Ukraine I wanted to go to. But before getting to Ukraine I had another little missions: finding an old cemetery in which a few of my ancestors are supposedly buried. But why go straight there when you can take the more adventurous and interesting route?

Poznan Goat ClockI took the train over to Poznań for a few days but there wasn’t much there other than an embarrassing run-in with the cops. I stayed for the great goat clock spectacle then boarded a train for Wrocław.

Wrocław was a neat city and it was there I met a former travel agent while we were both drunk and stumbling home at 5 in the morning. She gave me her number and we agreed to meet up later that day. She acted as my tour guide the entire weekend, showing me points of interest, facts about the city, and she even brought home made chocolate cake. She recommended I go to Kraków before Ukraine and, once in Ukraine, if I stayed in Lviv, she’d come and visit me.

Krakow Rynek at night.So off to Kraków I went. A much renowned city, Kraków was used by the Germans both as a ghetto for the Jews and a hang out for German officers. Steeped in history and untouched by the bomb-fucking that Warsaw got, Kraków is a picturesque city overrun by tourists and students. Kraków also serves as the base of operations to visit Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. I contemplated settling down and signing up for Polish lessons here. It was close to Ukraine, architecturally interesting, and I was beginning to run low on cash. But no, I had in mind to find a cemetery first (I don’t know why I didn’t think I couldn’t find it after getting a job.)

Rzeszow street at night Taking the train into Rzeszow, another picturesque city, I met up with a couple of hard-drinking Poles who introduced me to the daze-inducing Spirytus. After I recovered from that little adventure, I changed my mind and thought it would be possible to find Stare Brusno by bus. It would take longer, but be much cheaper than renting a car. Boy, that was a mistake.

The cemetery, located among the ruins of an old town called Stare Brusno, was about two hours outside of Rzeszow and the easiest way to get there would be to rent a car. My first attempt at trying to find Stare Brusno was to take a bus from Rzeszow to neighbouring Lubaczow whence I would take another bus to Stare Brusno. But while in Lubaczow, looking at the map and considering the infrequency of the bus schedule, I opted to return to Rzeszow and rent a car… my first time driving outside of Canada!

Back I went to Rzeszow to rent a car. Preparing for my solo roadtrip I brought some food and my recently purchased Behemoth and Lanki Lan Cds. The Great Steven Sirski Polish Solo Road Trip In Search of A Cemetery in Southeastern Poland had begun! (We are now in talks to make it into a feature length movie. Xaxaxa!)

Well, after a few wrong turns and sporadic blizzard-like conditions, I found the cemetery nestled amongst a forest, resting peacefully, stilted in time, sheltered from the rest of the world developing around it.

Snowy crosses in Stare BrusnoAnd such peace there was in Stare Brusno! Isolated cemeteries are very quiet and peaceful, but not in a frightening way. I noted that many of the tombstones had faded or been washed out. As a history graduate, you take note of these types of things. I also wondered who would care for such an old cemetery? Kinda makes you put life in perspective. I would find out later that there is a book being written about Stare Brusno and its inhabitants. If you’re interested, I can send you the contact details.

Goal accomplished, I had no more reason to stay in Poland unless I got a job. I debated the idea for another day but I knew where my heart wanted to go: Ukraine, my ancestral homeland, the country I’d heard so much about.

Ukraine

L'viv train station at night.I decided to go to Lviv. My cousin had been there two years prior and knew some folks who could help me get settled. Lviv it was.

Crossing the border into Ukraine wasn’t such a big deal, though the train station in Rzeszow wouldn’t sell me a ticket through to Ukraine. Instead, I took the train to Przemyśl and then had to find a bus that would take me over the border only to get in at 11 pm. I remember thinking just how unreal the entire situation was. I was finally visiting Ukraine!

What a rush it was! 11 pm. Lviv. I was in my ancestral homeland. If Stare Brusno was memorable, the fact that I was now in the country my grandparents came from was simply astounding. Hopping into a cab, I got a lift to the Kosmonaut Hostel near Shevchenko Park. This would be my base of operations while in L’viv. I was too excited to sleep and, after checking in, immediately went out for a walk in my new city. I didn’t stay out too long as I was wary of the cops and other thugs out at that time of night (it was a university district after all!)

I would spend a week getting drunk in Lviv – what would my grandparents think??? – sampling many types of vodka, experiencing the club scene and investigating the cafe culture before I would secure a job in Kharkiv on the other side of the country.

St Michael'sSo it was off to Kyiv on an overnight train to get trained for a few days before I was back on the night train again to Kharkiv. I would revisit Kyiv and spend a few days there taking in the sights, noting the split in the country that happens from West to East.

Stepping off of the train in Kharkiv, I simply had no idea what to expect. Nothing. For all the stories out there, all the blog posts, all the alcohol I’d consumed, nothing could prepare me for how I was going to react staying long term in Ukraine. I told my family back home I wouldn’t return until I was fluent in Ukrainian. Well, things didn’t turn out that way.

I stayed in Kharkiv for four months teaching ESL, touring around the city, sampling many types of horilka, making acquaintances with many of my students, and befriending a very nice lady in the neighbourhood. I spent Easter in Kharkiv and almost survived the full 5-hour church marathon, but retired an hour and a half shy of the finish mark. We went back for the blessing.

Kharkiv LeninTo be honest, I wanted to quit teaching in Kharkiv a week after being there. I didn’t like it but my boss talked me into staying. Not only would it make her life easier since the term was already starting (and she was pregnant), but she was sure that my view would change if I gave Kharkiv a chance.

She was partially correct. My view of Ukraine changed but my discomfort in Kharkiv didn’t. Not having the proper work visa was one problem, the other was the fact that I wanted to study Ukrainian and in my mind I could only study Ukrainian in L’viv. I wasn’t very happy about settling for a primarily Russian-speaking city with architecture that paled in comparison to L’viv.

I gave notice I would be leaving after my second semester. I just wanted to go. Not only that, a couple of my cousins were getting married in Canada and I wanted to attend the weddings. I didn’t want to be that cousin who disappeared from the wedding photos because of some reason like “he was busy working in a country he didn’t want to be in.”

Ukrainian village houseI made my way back through Ukraine on train (again), finally met my extended family in Ukraine and visited their village. Not only that, the friends I made in L’viv took me to see their home in the village as well. Such a difference between Ukrainian city and village life! By now I had less than a week to get back to Canada for my cousin’s wedding.

I said my goodbyes then made my way through the Polish-Ukrainian border, through Przemyśl and up to Warsaw. I flew back to Toronto in time to snag another bus from Toronto to Winnipeg. I got back just in time to attend the first wedding.

Back to Canada

Mission accomplished. I’ve been to Ukraine. I’ve seen the graves of my ancestors. I’ve walked on the land they called home. I’ve studied and learned a bit of Ukrainian and Russian. I’ve learned much more about Ukraine and Poland and those lessons are much more vivid as a result of being there myself. And now, after being out of the country for over seven months, I want to go back.

But not just yet. I have over adventures in mind and, really, I need to make more money before I head back to Ukraine so I’m not so broke the next time. Sure, Ukraine is cheap, but it’s not a good place to be if you don’t have much money (just ask the people who live there!)

For now, I’ll take the pictures and the writings and be content with the fact that at least I’ve visited my ancestral homeland. As for my Ukrainian, well, I’ll have to find a way to keep that alive while out of the country.

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Poland and Ukraine

Warsaw in summertime.
Warsaw in summertime.

Below I review of some of the coffee and coffee shops I tried and visited in Poland and Ukraine.

Poland

Sowa in Bydgoszcz, Poland
Sowa in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

First is Sowa, a small chain of stores started in Bydgoszcz and spread around Poland. Depending on the store you go to, the ambiance and decor will be different, though the prices are similar in every store. The first was at ulica Mostowa 5 is more properly called a Confectionary Shop, Wine Bar, and Restaurant. The restaurant closes at night but the wine and coffee bar stay open serving small appetizers and desserts. A pianist played classical music which greatly enhanced the already romantic and luxurious atmosphere. The second place right across the street (ulica Mostowa 4), has a large, naturally-lit cafe area but no late-night wine or coffee bar. I liked this one cause I could sit by the window and watch people. Not only that, these cafes don’t just serve up regular cafes, they make their own. Some are served with alcohol, others not. Overall, highly recommended for both the coffee and atmosphere.

The Bookhouse Cafe was probably my favourite cafe I visited in Warsaw. Located on Swietorkryszka Street just around the corner from the Oki Doki Hostel. The atmosphere was laid back and had a bookish feel. Can you guess why? It was located right beside a bookstore! Their double espresso was generous but sold for the same price as other coffee shops in the area. Internet was free, but limited to 1 or 2 hours. As for alcohol, only wine was served. Tried one of their wraps, the chicken one I think and that was pretty good. Never tried any of their desserts.

Wedel's in Warsaw.
Wedel’s in Warsaw.

I should also mention that if you’re looking for a neat cafe and chocolate shop in Warsaw, head to Wedel’s Chocolate Lounge where you can sip your espresso and sample any number of their pralines served on a silver platter. 😀

Finally, the chain stores. Coffee Heaven, iCoffee, Empik Cafes and the foreign entries Costa Coffee and Starbucks all offer a similar experience… clean, uniform, and comfy business-like atmospheres supported by pretty good drip coffee and espresso. Lots of places play jazz music over their stereo but don’t offer any live music. All had free internet. Exclusively Polish were Cafe Trakt, near the Royal Palace, it looked good from the outside but was kinda small on the inside and the coffee was only so-so. Biegu w Cafe is also a chain store, but is some sort of quasi-cafe/pub. They serve up all sorts of dishes and also serve alcohol. Though a nice place for a date, the serving sizes, unfortunately, don’t match up with the prices.

Lastly, for a picturesque cafe culture, head to Krakow. I preferred a place called Momento’s in the Kazimierz District on Plac Nowy. Though not a cafe strictly speaking, it had a neat atmosphere, good food, and double as a cafe and pub. Free WIFI to boot. Other than that, Krakow itself, like Lviv in Ukraine, offers a great atmosphere in which to sit back, enjoy great coffee, and watch the world go by.

A view from a Lvivian cafe.
A view from a Lvivian cafe.

Ukraine

If Ukraine is a country in transition, so is it’s coffee culture. More renowned for vodka than anything else, instant coffee seems to be the de facto standard here. However, “natural coffee”, that is, ground coffee beans, is becoming more popular. Cost is usually the biggest different, “natural coffee” is about double the price of instant. While living in Kharkiv I was able to find very good natural coffee from all over the world. If you’re not a coffee aficionado and don’t care to be, the supermarket offers good Ukrainian coffee under the name of Zhokej. Most of all I enjoyed their dark roast (the black packaging) but their orange flavoured coffee (the orange pack!) also tasted pretty good. Although I don’t usually drink flavoured coffee, Zhokej’s orange flavoured coffee was a delight to smell walking into a room. That being said, who knows how or where they got the orange flavouring from.

Zhokej coffee line
Zhokej coffee line. From left to right: Hazelnut, Dark Roast, Caffe Italiano, Medium Roast, Classic Roast, and Orange Flavoured.

If you are a coffee connoisseur or wish to be, your best bet to find coffee beans from all over the world is Dom Coffee. Doubling as a cafe, Dom Coffee imports beans such as the Jamaican Blue Blend, Kopi Lowak and beans from Sumatra, Java and Ethiopia. Although they boast a wide selection of coffee beans, the cafes themselves are rather Spartan. The cafes look like places to buy coffee machines rather than cafes to lounge around it.

Espresso and water.
A typical espresso and water.

Other cafes in Kharkiv include the Art Cafe, which boasts a much more comfortable, tribal, though smokey, atmosphere. WIFI was free. Like Dom Coffee, they have quite a selection of coffees from around the world so don’t be afraid to ask in broken Russian or Ukrainian for something other than your regular drip coffee. And if you’re looking to hang around the university district, try out the IT Cafe, which also offers a selection of moderately priced meals and… music at night. 🙂 (Though I never got a chance to any bands play there, I did see the drum kit and one of my students said he always had gigs there.)

For the chain stores, the idea of non-smoking sections is a foreign concept to most Slavs, preferring instead to be able to smoke outside and in. The smoke-free atmosphere I could find was McDonald’s. Every other coffee shop I’ve been to allows smoking. Coffee Life is another big chain store throughout Ukraine. Just about every cafe I walked into had WIFI.

Lviv Ratusz
Lviv Ratusz from street level.

For a burgeoning and immersive cafe culture head to Lviv. In downtown Lviv (where I spent most of my time), you could generally walk into any cafe and watch the world walk past. Let’s face it, when looking for a cafe the coffee itself is typically a secondary or even tertiary consideration. Instead, you want atmosphere and scenery. Well, just about ever downtown Lviv cafe offers just that. A couple of cafes that stood out to me were Gloria’s Beans cafe located in the same building as the George Hotel on Procp. Shevchenka. I was also told to try the Blue Cup Cafe, a small cafe located in a naturally-lit nook at 4 Vulica Rus’ka that serves up coffee “Lviv-style”, among other varieties. From what I could tell, “Lviv-style” coffee is none other than Polish-style coffee: coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup. But what Lviv offers most of all is a centrally-located, picturesque, cafe culture, especially in the summer months. You think Krakow is the place to be? Try Lviv, I bet you’ll change you’re mind.


Przemyśl and Warsaw, Poland: A Return to… Civilization(?!)

Przemysl at night.
Przemysl at night.

And so after four months in Ukraine, I wanted to make my way back home for a cousin’s wedding to happen in July. After enduring yet another 23-hour train ride from Kharkiv to Lviv to visit my Ukrainian family, I took the bus from Lviv to Sheheni, on the Ukrainian-Poland border. I had overstayed my visa by a month and was anticipating some trouble at the border. I intended to renew it when I went to Lviv two months prior but I just never did.

The border guards were nice about it. “You overstayed, go see my boss.” So off I went to a little room where a mid-20s female border guard explained what I did wrong, scanned my passport, got me to sign a document stating that I knew what I was doing and under no duress, paid a fine ($65), and then walked across the border to Poland. Not so bad as I’d heard worse stories. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter too much but next time I visit Ukraine I’ll be sure to renew my visa anyway.

Hopping an inter-city bus I made my way to Przemyśl.

Przemyśl is a nice little town. I saw some signs for ESL schools and seriously thought about posting up shop there, or at least coming back at some point. I spent the day wandering around the ornate streets and visited several churches.

Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemysl pink building.
Przemysl pink building.
Franciscan Church interior.
Franciscan Church interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Przemysl street at night.
Przemysl street at night.

Przemysl sunsetI’d like to note the change between Ukraine and Poland is vast. First, it was difficult for me to switch back into Polish after speaking surzyk for the last four months. I tried to remember the Polish words I was taught but often Ukrainian or Russian came out instead. Further, life itself seemed different in Poland compared to Ukraine. As more than one ESL teacher I met told me, Ukraine offers more excitement compared to the Western world. In a word, Poland, Canada and other such Western countries were, simply “boring”. Both sets of women are extremely gorgeous, but the Polish seem to be a little more conservative in their manner of dress. Gone were the six-inch heels and visible underwear! The cost of things is noticeable as the Polish zloty is valued considerably more than the Ukrainian hryvnia. The cost difference is best realized by the Ukrainian babas (grandmothers) who offer Ukrainian horilka (vodka) and cigarettes on the Polish side of the border. Had I not been going back to Canada I would’ve bought a few bottles.

Speaking of bringing things across the border, the most notable difference between Ukraine and Poland – for me at least – was that there was no general distrust the law, unless you are breaking it. By way of contrast, in Ukraine, no one, absolutely no one would suggest you talk to a police officer unless there was no one else around. The cops in Poland, however, were very nice (which I can sadly tell you from experience.)

And with that, I hopped yet another late night bus back to Warsaw. The bus trip wouldn’t be without it’s uniqueness, such as a drunk man serenading another elderly lady. Four hours later I arrived in Warsaw. Again, the difference between Warsaw in winter and summer was huge. In winter Warsaw had such charm and colour. In summer? It looked like any other western city. I don’t hold it against Poland, however, as I had just come from a developing country. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with my former co-worker who had described the West as “boring”! It’s kinda shocking to go from a developed country into a developing country, especially when they’re right beside each other. How can it be that these things happen?

I took another walk around Warsaw to enjoy the last of my stay in my homelands. Another chapter, another trip, was closing. Although I was glad to leave Ukraine at the time, as time passes I miss the country more every day. I’m excited for the future for both Poland and Ukraine and truly hope that things will improve for both peoples.

So, after visiting my homelands I could only wonder, what next?

Warsaw in summertime.
Warsaw in summertime.

Przemyśl and Warsaw, Poland: A Return to… Civilization(?!)

Przemysl at night.
Przemysl at night.

And so after four months in Ukraine, I wanted to make my way back home for a cousin’s wedding to happen in July. After enduring yet another 23-hour train ride from Kharkiv to Lviv to visit my Ukrainian family, I took the bus from Lviv to Sheheni, on the Ukrainian-Poland border. I had overstayed my visa by a month and was anticipating some trouble at the border. I intended to renew it when I went to Lviv two months prior but I just never did.

The border guards were nice about it. “You overstayed, go see my boss.” So off I went to a little room where a mid-20s female border guard explained what I did wrong, scanned my passport, got me to sign a document stating that I knew what I was doing and under no duress, paid a fine ($65), and then walked across the border to Poland. Not so bad as I’d heard worse stories. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter too much but next time I visit Ukraine I’ll be sure to renew my visa anyway.

Hopping an inter-city bus I made my way to Przemyśl.

Przemyśl is a nice little town. I saw some signs for ESL schools and seriously thought about posting up shop there, or at least coming back at some point. I spent the day wandering around the ornate streets and visited several churches.

Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemsyl street during the day.
Przemysl pink building.
Przemysl pink building.
Franciscan Church interior.
Franciscan Church interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Greek Orthodox Church Interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Catholic Church interior.
Przemysl street at night.
Przemysl street at night.

Przemysl sunsetI’d like to note the change between Ukraine and Poland is vast. First, it was difficult for me to switch back into Polish after speaking surzyk for the last four months. I tried to remember the Polish words I was taught but often Ukrainian or Russian came out instead. Further, life itself seemed different in Poland compared to Ukraine. As more than one ESL teacher I met told me, Ukraine offers more excitement compared to the Western world. In a word, Poland, Canada and other such Western countries were, simply “boring”. Both sets of women are extremely gorgeous, but the Polish seem to be a little more conservative in their manner of dress. Gone were the six-inch heels and visible underwear! The cost of things is noticeable as the Polish zloty is valued considerably more than the Ukrainian hryvnia. The cost difference is best realized by the Ukrainian babas (grandmothers) who offer Ukrainian horilka (vodka) and cigarettes on the Polish side of the border. Had I not been going back to Canada I would’ve bought a few bottles.

Speaking of bringing things across the border, the most notable difference between Ukraine and Poland – for me at least – was that there was no general distrust the law, unless you are breaking it. By way of contrast, in Ukraine, no one, absolutely no one would suggest you talk to a police officer unless there was no one else around. The cops in Poland, however, were very nice (which I can sadly tell you from experience.)

And with that, I hopped yet another late night bus back to Warsaw. The bus trip wouldn’t be without it’s uniqueness, such as a drunk man serenading another elderly lady. Four hours later I arrived in Warsaw. Again, the difference between Warsaw in winter and summer was huge. In winter Warsaw had such charm and colour. In summer? It looked like any other western city. I don’t hold it against Poland, however, as I had just come from a developing country. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with my former co-worker who had described the West as “boring”! It’s kinda shocking to go from a developed country into a developing country, especially when they’re right beside each other. How can it be that these things happen?

I took another walk around Warsaw to enjoy the last of my stay in my homelands. Another chapter, another trip, was closing. Although I was glad to leave Ukraine at the time, as time passes I miss the country more every day. I’m excited for the future for both Poland and Ukraine and truly hope that things will improve for both peoples.

So, after visiting my homelands I could only wonder, what next?

Warsaw in summertime.
Warsaw in summertime.

Polish Reggae, Jazz, Traditional and Classical Muzyka

Finally here’s my second post on Polish music. You can read the first part on rock and metal here.

Reggae(muffin??)

Artist: Maleo Reggae Rockers and Goście
Album: XVI Przystanek Woodstock 2010
Maleo Reggae Rockers on Amazon
For some reason, reggae seems to be huge in Poland. Maybe it’s cuz the European Union to freely move all sorts of things, such as weed from Holland, into Poland. Is it any wonder that Holland has one of the largest populations of Poles in the EU? In any event, the Poles are a pretty relaxed bunch, and reggae would suit a lot of them. This is a solid reggae disc, recorded live at the XVI Przystanek Woodstock 2010.Although I couldn’t find the live disc online, Amazon carries a couple of their discs.
***
Artist: Vavamuffin
Album: Vabang!
Vavamuffin from Warsaw, PolandJah jest Prezydentem! Jah jest kierownikiem! Jah jest blah blah blah…. I can hardly speak Polish, let alone rap/reggae at their speed. Think Ukraine’s Tartak mixed with reggae and you have an interesting combination of rap vocals with dance music. Apparently this band is huge and I neglected to pick up any of their discs while I could. In any event, the music I heard had me hooked. Good party music and, I guess, great music to hear and see live. The song that got me hooked on this group was called “Jah Jest Prezydentem” from their Vabang!album. Unfortunately, couldn’t find much for them on Amazon. That be no problem, however, as they have a bunch of their music on their website.
***
Artist: Zakopower
Album: Na Siedem
Zakopower on AmazonI’m not sure if these guys are actually traditional since they have such a reggae/dance beat to them that marks them more as a modern band. Songs like “Tupany” have such a Middle Eastern influence that you wonder why a Polish band is playing it. In any event, the album I heard, Na Siedem, started off with the reggae-dance number “Galop” that had some catchy moments with chants of eeya-eeya-eeyeh! Available on Amazon.

Jazz

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any jazz bands on disc, but I did see a few bands live. I went to Tygmont Jazz Club on a Tuesday night and was disappointed by the offering. It’s possible that the better musicians play toward the end of the week, though the bar looks as if to offer a more club-like atmosphere on the weekends. There was one day I attended a high school jazz recital. Why? You may ask. Well, I had informed the front desk of the hostel of my desire to see some live jazz and they pointed out an ad for a show on Monday night. Well, yea, it was jazz alright, but it was a high school jazz recital. I was the foreigner in more ways than one. In any event, the female lead vocalist really stood out with her powerful vocals and her classmates were equally good on their instruments but, just like at Tygmont, stage presence was lacking.

Traditional

I found one disc of traditional Polish music titled Powiśle Maciejowickie, a collection of songs recorded by one group throughout one region of Poland. I’d love to tell you which region but I seemed to have lost the disc. Most of the 36 tracks are just over 2 minutes in length. I found this disc at the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. Neat collection. Good for those who want to hear rare music from the countryside. I couldn’t find the disc online.
***
Artist: Kroke
Album: Various
Kroke on AmazonAlthough I never bought one of their discs, I had heard a lot about Kroke and their klezmer music. This band, although they started as traditional, has taken steps to broaden their scope of klezmer music. I wasn’t too impressed, though maybe I just didn’t find the right disc.Available on Amazon.
***
Artist: Grzegorz Turnau
Album: Fabryka Klamek
Grzegorz Turnau on AmazonFolk rock? Easy listening? Jazz Not sure how to classify this guy. I’d recommend this band if you were looking for something to put on the background. Some of the tracks I was given were from the Fabryka Klamekalbum, which I couldn’t find online. Some of those songs were like circus music. The albums available online would probably fit into jazz. Overall, very good chill-out music to remind you of sunny days.Available on Amazon.

Classical

Artist: Chopin
Album: Various
Chopin on AmazonCurrently unsigned, this classical composer has great potential. Live appearances are rare. He’s a little ahead of himself by setting up an interactive museum in Warsaw but the place is pretty neat. You get a little keycard after you buy your ticket (entrance is free on Tuesdays) which is set to the language of your preference. When you wave your keycard over the sensor at each exhibit you can read or listen in your native language. They also had these cool benches which you could open a folder of his compositions and the scanner would, in theory, recognize the barcode and pull up the appropriate music. Interludes, sonatas, arias, etc. Moreover, the image displayed on the page was supposed to be touch-screen, a cool feature for sure. He needs to re-check some of the exhibits since some of them weren’t working.In any event, my favourite work by this dude is his “Funeral March.” Not the happiest tune out there but it puts you in a contemplative mood. It is also a very easy song to learn on piano, and so I hold it dear to my heart as one of the first songs I learned on piano. Other than that, I also like Opus 66, “Fantasy Impromptu,” which I remember first hearing while on a cruise ship on the Mediterranean. Some of his music can be a little hard to digest and his genre certainly isn’t for everyone. I respect his ability and see a great future for this man.Available on Amazon.

And there you have some of the muzyka that I found while travelling through Poland!