They say first impression is very important, and I couldn’t agree more with that. Taking into account all my experiences of perhaps not so much travel but more of my expat life, I have to admit that the first impression has almost always been the one that, in a way, marks my stay in a country. This happened with Chile, Belgium and now with Poland. Let’s be honest, I had prejudices about Poland, I had never been to this country before and in my imagination, I drew it differently. It was a combination of what I heard during all my life from the media, from older people in my country who remembered Poland in Soviet times, travelers, foreigners who at some point in their life lived in Poland, Poles living abroad,… A lot of people said a lot of things, and some of them knew something about Poland, and some knew almost nothing. When I stepped into the Polish ground in Warsaw in August 2020, I didn’t come with high expectations, but yes with curiosity.
In short, my first impression of Poland literally stayed with my mouth opened from surprise of acknowledging how beautiful Warsaw was. I loved the city. That afternoon (and night) I was captivated by a place like few times in my life. There was a surprise effect, everything was much more beautiful and modern than I expected. I walked until my feet started to hurt. If not, I would have continued my walk until dawn. And that was actually just the beginning of this, for the moment, beautiful, Polish experience.
Many Europeans of the so-called West believe that they can have an opinion on everything and that this opinion is valid and very valuable, although in reality it’s the most false and in the end it’s useless. Sometimes I think it’s just because they want to show that they are the best and that everyone else, despite the eventual effort to develop, cannot ever beat them or their incredibly developped and open minded countries. I could see that living in South America. Every Western European ever has an opinion, often somewhat negative and absolutely wrong, of that continent, its systems, its climate, its culture and its people. But well, it’s something that we can connect with Eurocentrism combined with a high level of ignorance and that’s it, but in the case of Poland I don’t understand.
Poland is a country of 40 million inhabitants, which has been part of the European Union since 2004, which means that Poland and, for example, France have the same parliament. Yes, Croatia too, Denmark the same. The European Parliament, the one that is in Brussels. In other words, one could hope that among the countries and peoples of such a small continent we know each other a bit better. But no. Poland is one of the countries with the most negative publicity in the entire EU. I still thought, in my small Balkan brain, that Poland is a less developed country in every sense, than for example France or Italy. And I thought about it without ever setting foot on that land. Very stupid and prejudiced, another slap that my travels and expat life gave me, although I thought that after Turkey it was no longer possible for a country to be so different from what I imagined. Yet it is. And here my Polish adventure begins. Warsaw is the beautiful Polish capital. Definitely a city worthy of being called a capital. It has it all, nightlife, impressive skyscrapers, people from everywhere, lights, large avenues, interesting architecture,…
And yes, the answer to everyone’s question: Where is the Soviet architecture, there must be a lot of it? Yes, it can be found there, I leave an example below. But no, it’s not something that predominates in the city.
And, as I just mentioned, Warsaw is in many ways a typical European capital, the city center is full of restaurants, bars, fancy places, people like to dress up when they go out, it’s a city of almost 2 million inhabitants and it’s living 24/7. It looks magical and vibrant at night, and quiet in the morning, before people get up to go to work, or do whatever they want. We already know that in large cities you can find everything. Having said all that, we can talk about the differences between Warsaw and other European capitals. Besides some remnants of Soviet architecture, the other differences seem to favor the Polish capital more than the other capitals. Oh, is that so? Yes it is. In Warsaw, if you are a woman, you can walk wherever you want whenever you want, without fear of being harassed, mugged … it’s a very safe city. It’s something that in the center of Brussels, Athens or Paris is no longer possible. In addition to that detail, which is still quite important, there is another. Warsaw is a very clean and well-kept capital. It’s difficult to find rubbish lying around or unpleasant smells spreading around in the streets, something that cannot be said for the center of Rome or even Prague. Luckily I have something to compare with and I am a person who quickly frees myself from prejudices when seeing that they have no foundation. It’s not so serious to have them, it’s serious not to accept our mistakes even when the evidence of how wrong we were are before our very eyes. Warsaw was totally destroyed by the Nazis, but the Poles raised it from the ashes and today it is a true capital that welcomed me with open arms and in all its splendor.
In case you haven’t found out yet, Poland ceased to be part of the Iron Curtain in 1989, now we are at the end of 2020. Polish cities are cheerful, full of life and colors. Many people speak English, even more people travel at least once per year. The country developed incredibly fast in the last 10 years, not only because they received the money from European funds, but also because someone made smart decisions and because people work hard and want to advance in their professional lives. Anyway, it’s time to get over the “east and west” thing.