Tuesday, December 08, 2009

In Poland - Day 1

I am currently in the Polish town of Lodz, pronounced Wootz, if this could be pronounced at all in English. It is a 200 mile, 4 hour train ride from Krakow, which I found every bit as lovely as I imagined it to be. I was pretty scared of the train ride though, given that I speak no Polish and I was told I may have to fight for a seat, conjuring up memories of fighting for a seat in India, particularly Bihar. So, I bought myself a first class ticket and the first class turned out to be every bit as royal as expected [though not very different from Second class and as empty]. One can't buy food at the train, which I was warned about, but a friendly vendor did pop in somewhat around the middle of the journey with some cold beer [which I had to refuse, because I was travelling with a colleague and she said before she did not like drinking].

But, despite the adorable journey, I find the town somewhat strange. A sort of Ghost town, except for one very lit up, very posh street. Somewhat like the towns in Bihar, though those towns never look deserted and never, like it happened to me yesterday, you fail to find dinner because all restaurants close by 9:30 in the evening. I must say that this is universal in Poland, this punctuality about the closing time, and I have seen people being refused a dessert while still having dinner because they were too close to the closing time.

So, I am not surprised when I find this insightful note on the 'In Your Pocket' guide in my hotel room:

Whatever the mode of transport you choose, entering Lodz is a pretty discouraging experience. Shabby tower blocks stacked like devil's dominos stretch as far as the eye can see, before being replced by classic factory tenements that haven't seen a spruce since electricity was considered edgy - indeed, it probably still is in these parts of the town. Traditionally, a working class city, Lodz did not do much work in the 90s, the result being a grim ghost town left to rot while the rest of the Poland cartwheeled away in a capitalist head rush. The state sponsored grants ran out and unemployment hit 20%; this bastard child of industrial age was dying.

So, here is some good news. Rather than waving the white flag, the town is on its way back, buoyed by a surge of local pride and international investment. True, much of it looks like post-combat Beirut, but this is not a town short of charm. What it lacks in traditional tourist material it makes up with the obscure; put Lodz on Mastermind and its specialist subject would be the bizzare. Where else, for instance, will you find sewers open for spectators, or rickshaws in blizzards. That there is a cinema handing out discounts to anyone who arrives with a lemon shouldn't come as a surprise. It's not a little leftfield, it's positively bonkers, with a young, youthful spirit intent on celebrating the strange. It all makes for a potent cocktail, and nowhere is this energy more evident than the main thouroughfare - ul. Piotrkowska. It's here, no doubt, you'll spend most of your time, but don't forget the side streets, themselves home to shadowy courtyards and peeling palaces, or the Manufaktura project to which the city owes much of its renaissance. Just as exciting, the area around the train station is in line for a massive redevelopment that would see it assume a new role at the heart of the city. Exciting times, enjoy them.

So very apt.

Interesting, all three of Poland's largest vocational training companies, which receive its funding primarily from the EU, are based in this city. That should come as no surprise to me, as I represent the largest vocational training company in Northern Ireland.

So, nothing much to write home about at this time. Except that I am in beautifully trendy hotel with modernist design where a Russian lady just got stuck in the lift and the staff was mostly laughing and idylling around outside while she was panicking and pressing the alarm. The hotel is really in a good location and next to a huge shopping mall with all the European and American flagship brands - McDonalds, Zara, Tesco etc. However, what caught my eye and dominated my imagination since I came is the huge office on the other side of the road, which bears a big sign visible from quite a distance - INFOSYS.

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