Poznan and Gdansk: An insider’s guide

*Poznan has never been on the tourist trail — something it’ll prove hard to believe when you find yourself rambling through its myriad of cobbled streets or sipping a cool beer on a sweltering day in the old town square. Although parts of the suburbs are clustered with social-realist blocks of flats, the city centre’s 19th century German architecture is eye-candy for building lovers — Poznan was part of the German Reich for 150 years until it was handed back to the Poles at the end of WWII.

With a population of more than 550,000, it’s roughly the size of Belfast but one in four citizens are university students. So, if you’re looking for cool bars and clubs, frequented by hip young Poles, you won’t be disappointed. Almost all the craic unfolds around Stary Rynek (Old Town Square, left) where chic restaurants and bars populate its narrow lanes.

Poznanians are really friendly folk, although they have a reputation as being the meanest people in Poland. They follow their local club Lech Poznan passionately. Try singing ‘Heja, Heja, Hej Kolejorz’ (Hey, hey, the Railway men) — a favourite chant of Lech’s fans when you get into a taxi and you might get a more favourable fare. A 5km journey should cost 20 zlotys at most, but add another 15% to that at night. Trams and buses go everywhere, they’re punctual and cost a mere 3.40 zloty (80 cent) for a 30-minute journey.

Accommodation

There are a lot of beds and tent spaces still available. The city’s mayor, Ryszard Grobelny, told me the city can accommodate 60,000 fans per night and 25% of accommodation is still available on match days. Some hostels are charging a barmy 1,000 zlotys (€250) per night. Don’t do it. Kildare man Paul Trainer owns Blooms Hostel (ul. Kwiatowa 2), can cater for 220 people and (at the time of going to press) still has rooms available. It’s clean, comfortable and the staff members are lovely too.

The camping site on Jezioro Maltanskie (Lake Malta) still has tent spaces for 50 zlotys a head, but a two-bed apartment has hefty price tag of 790 zloty per night during the championship. The behemoth Carlsberg Fan Village claims to be able to hold 15,000 camping fans and some people are still trying to rent their flats — many are stuffy granny flats out in the suburbs costing 250 zlotys per person for six people sharing.

Things to do

If you like zoos, you’re in luck. Poznan is the only city in Poland that has two of them, one of which is home to a gay elephant called Nino. Lake Malta has kayaking, water polo, a ski slope and a roller coaster. And, if you’re feeling groggy after one too many pints, Termy Maltanskie (also at Lake Malta) has nine different kind of saunas, an Olympic swimming pool and eight massive slides for the kid in you. For shoppers — Stary Browar on ul. Polwiejska is worth a visit — it’s a stunningly converted old brewery, packed with all the top high street stores. The area around Poznan’s cathedral, where as legend goes, Poland’s first Kings converted to Christianity, is a must see for its pretty gothic architecture.

One restaurant you must try

Gospoda Pod Koziotkami, 95 Stary Rynek

Gospoda Pod Koziotkami — literally meaning ‘The Guest Under Goats’ — doesn’t just lay claim to a quirky name. Located on the north side of Stary Rynek, it serves traditional Polish cuisine and won’t burn a whole in your pocket — a three-course meal will cost you about 70 zlotys (€17) including a small tip. Try any of the soups: Zurek or the three different types of Barczcz — a tasty beetroot soup that is as Polish as the last Pope. Or, try Chlodnik litewski like I did — it’s a cold beetroot Lithuanian soup which will cool you down on those hot days.

If you’re really hungry, the chicken fillets in Hungarian sauce served with dumplings and coleslaw salad are very tasty. Like us, Poznanians are mad about spuds — the city is nicknamed Pyrlandia meaning ‘Potato-land’ for its many types of potato dishes. Try Placki ziemniaczane, a fried flat potato cake that Poles splash in a tasty mushroom sauce.

One pub you must try

Brovaria, 73/74 Stary Rynek

A lot of fans are bound to gravitate towards Poznan’s Irish-themed pubs — most are of the faux variety. The thing is, you can drink in Irish pubs all year long. Do yourself a favour and try out Polish bars — you might even get chatting to one of the many gorgeous looking locals. One must-see bar, again on Stary Rynek, is Brovaria (below). Don’t be fooled by its chic, modern interior — this is a real beer lover’s haven. They produce four of their own beers on the second floor: the Czech-style ‘Pils’, a sweet honey beer called ‘Miodowa’, the smoky wheat tasting ‘Pszeniczne’ and the eponymously named ‘Brovaria’ which is brewed in orange peel and tastes a bit like a tangy English ale. This writer happily sampled all of them. Have a chat with the head barman Marcin and you’re head will be brimming with information on Polish fermentation techniques. A pint costs 9 zloty (€2.25).

Where not to go and what not to do…

Wilna, a suburb in the south-west, has a few rough spots and it’s not advisable to go there after 10pm. That said, arty types have started moving into the area and thanks to cheaper rents, a number of interior design shops and bohemian clothes boutiques have sprouted there in the last couple of years.

One bit of advice is to tread delicately in Brogans bar. Claiming to be an Irish pub, it has become a denizen for far-right followers of the ONR (Polish national front) who see the Celtic cross as some sort of white supremacist rallying cry. One Irishman living in Poznan was attacked in the pub by one of these metal loving skinheads. He got an unprovoked kick in the head whilst watching our 2008 friendly match against Poland. We’re not into that sort of thing so maybe best to let them scrap it out by themselves this June.

* If we think that Irish history has a turbulent past, then take a look at Gdansk. Polish for centuries, it flirted briefly with Napoleon until it was swallowed up by German Prussia in the early 19th century. A short spell as the Free City of Danzig was stubbed out by Hitler — by the end of WWII, large swathes of Gdansk lay in ruins and it took decades for its citizens to rebuild the city. You’ll appreciate their efforts when you stroll through Stare Miasto (Old Town, inset right).

In 1980, the city’s famous shipyards gave birth to Solidarity, a movement led by a moustached electrician called Lech Walesa — it would lead to the collapse of communist rule in Poland nine years later. Once a Mecca for shipbuilding, the city has propelled itself forward as a hub for Polish cultural activity — theatre troupes, artists and musicians from all over the country choose to live here. For many Poles though, Gdansk is just a great place to unwind — the big brother of the Tri-City area — Gdynia and Sopot being its sister cities.

Eating and drinking

The city’s beating heart revolves around the pedestrian thoroughfare Dlugi Targ (Long Market) and its neighbouring streets. Enjoy a beer or coffee in one of the many bars along the chocolate box-like Dlugie Pobrzeze, before heading across the bridge to the even more picturesque Old Town. If you like live DJ music with a cool crowd, then try Miasto Aniolów on ul.Chmielna 26 — it’s on island that separates the new and old parts of the city. For a good meal and cosy atmosphere, try Czerwone Drwi at 53 ul.Piwna in the Old Town — lads, it’s the one with the red door. In the true spirit of Polish hospitality, they close when the last guests have left. For meaty, Polish cuisine — try Gospoda Plac Zebran Ludowych on ul. Gielguda 4. It’s about 500m west of the central train station (that’s the opposite direction from Old Town) — a main course here will cost 20 to 40 zlotys (€5 to €8).

What to do by day

Ramble down to the shipyards and visit the Roads to Freedom exhibition (Drogi do Wolnosci) on ul Waly Piastowskie 24 — a humbling tribute to the city’s ship builders who, in 1980, struck the first blow to free Poland from the shackles of communism. For mass-goers, Saint Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka) is a must. If you fancy a break from the arched passageways of Gdansk, head to the beach at Sopot (14km away) and try to fit in with the model-like sunbathers — take the local SKM train from the central train station (Gdansk Glówny) or get a taxi for 50 zlotys (€12.50). Don’t forget the sun block.

Don’t go to …

Avoid wandering into Nowy Port, a northern suburb crammed with graffiti-strewn blocks and home to a few unsavoury characters — they’ll spot your green jersey and smiling head a mile off.

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